April 30, 2007

Counterinsurgency Discussion At A Higher Level

Filed under: — Chap @ 10:24 pm

We’ve talked about Colonel Yingling’s article a lot lately. I’d like to point to a discussion that seems a little more graduate level of a discussion.

Edward Luttwak, an academic who wrote the piece “Give War A Chance” (pay site link), has a foray into counterinsurgency in the latest Harper’s: “Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice“. He doesn’t like what he sees in the new Army manual.

That decision reflects another kind of politics, manifest in the ambivalence of a United States government that is willing to fight wars, that is willing to start wars because of future threats, that is willing to conquer territory or even entire countries, and yet is unwilling to govern what it conquers, even for a few years. Consequently, for all the real talent manifest in the writing of FM 3-24 DRAFT, its prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principled and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents, the necessary and sufficient condition of a tranquil occupation.

Luckily for us readers, some of the guys who wrote the thing can write, too. David Kilcullen has some thoughts, including the point that Luttwak was working off a draft version, and claiming that fieldwork indicates completely different conclusions than the ones Luttwak makes.

The methods Dr. Luttwak mentions are thus not a prescription for success, but a recipe for disaster. As he quickly admits, U.S. and Coalition forces would never consider such methods for a moment. And this is just as well, since this approach does not work. The best method we know of, despite its imperfections, has worked in numerous campaigns over several decades, and is the one we are now using: counterinsurgency. I admit (and have argued elsewhere) that classical counterinsurgency needs updating for current conditions. But the Nazis, Syrians, Taliban, Iranians, Saddam Hussein and others all tried brutalizing the population, and the evidence is that this simply does not work in the long term.

Dr. Luttwak’s final point is one of his strongest. He argues that there is ambivalence in the United States approach, that America is “willing to start wars because of future projected threats…willing to conquer territory or even entire countries, and yet is unwilling to govern what it conquers, even for a few years”. What he calls “the critical ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern” is indeed worth discussing, though it is properly an issue of political will, strategic culture and national character, rather than counterinsurgency technique. As a colleague said to me in Iraq last year, “we need to either make a serious effort to govern these people, or get the hell out”. But Iraq and Afghanistan now have sovereign governments; and we (with many other countries) are helping these governments to do exactly that—make a serious effort to govern their people effectively. And we have no plans for permanent presence: as the President said, we will stay as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.

Overall, I found Professor Luttwak’s viewpoint fascinating, and a thought-provoking addition to our ongoing professional discussion, but ultimately not quite convincing. Perhaps that’s just me—things do tend to look different, and more complicated, from here in the field. But I would encourage people to read both the Harper’s piece, and the actual final version of FM 3-24, and make up their own minds. On-the-ground facts (like language improvements, partnering with Iraqi forces, the drop in sectarian violence, joint operations, and improved governance) are also worth taking into account.

The entire post is worth reading, and it’s much more restrained in its language than perhaps I could have been if placed in Kilcullen’s position. (By the way, Kilcullen also points to a typically restrained and mild Ralph Peters article on the COIN manual.)

Later on, Frank Hoffman weighs in with a criticism that the manual doesn’t spend enough time discussing the role of religion, and spends some time in his post explaining why.

I see this discussion as more graduate level debate about counterinsurgency than what we’re seeing revolving around the Yingling article–including my own comments, frankly. This is another reason why I’m not happy that Yingling’s article was the one that made the papers. I’d like to see my own writing jump to this level, and that will take experience I don’t yet have–but more importantly, I’d like to see some blogospheric discussion get to the level of what I’m seeing on the SWJ blog about COIN.

Filed under: — Chap @ 10:20 pm

Yon’s latest is pretty powerful. Take a look.

April 29, 2007

More On Yingling

Filed under: — Chap @ 5:52 pm

I think my previous comments are still valid in light of what I’ve read the last couple of days. The commentary is still pouring in on LTC Yingling’s article, though…

Phil Carter likes the article a lot. I guess he either didn’t read Yingling’s recommendations, or they somehow are better than I thought they were. Also, I don’t see how changing generals to fit this war makes the next one better.

Skippy thinks Yingling’s piece is a good article for a military journal. If so, his point only underscores how terribly lame Proceedings and related journals are these days. Me? I think the article is ehh, particularly since we’ve had the Small Wars Journal on the sidebar there for a long time–and there you can get your Nagl and Kilcullen unfiltered. I may be overstating it but I see one article sort of like Yingling’s every month or two…but none of them get on two daily newspapers at the same time.

Gee. I wonder why that is.

Update: Cobb weighs in. I think he’d enjoy a dustup with some of the more procurement-minded military folks such as CDR Salamander–the generals that buy stuff are in a different position than the ones who shoot stuff. Cobb’s got an entertaining point:

Whenever I hear about some general or military officer fussing about what went wrong in Vietnam or what is going wrong in Iraq, the first question I want them to answer is the following fill-in-the-blank. The reason I’m not teaching at the Army War College is: _________.I suspect the most common answer to that would be, I’m not smart enough, but they would likely answer ‘politics’.

In the Navy’s case war college time is not exactly the career plum it is for, say, Air Force. For instance: the Permanent Military Professor program takes officers who agree to finish their career in academe to stay there and teach. Not exactly the Brownian motion between academia, business, politics and think tanks we see in American government.

I Did Not Know This

Filed under: — Chap @ 5:40 pm

Lincoln was a Robert Burns aficionado.

Aguing On The Internet Is Like…

Filed under: — Chap @ 5:36 pm

Skippy has a post that I find myself nodding in agreement when reading. It’s hard to argue on the Internet, and it’s easy to be loud and irritating. Fortunately, on rare occasion I get into a good discussion, one that involves argument as in argumentation, with the implicit assumption that either side might be able to change their minds.

Unfortunately, other times the difference of opinion is a really big gap–either one where one side has extensive background and context that changes what appears obvious at first so that getting anywhere in a debate requires extensive effort in retracing steps, or where the entering assumptions are too wide to do more than note the disagreement and leave. It’s difficult to visit a place where your first principles don’t seem to hold–and thus the different spheres spend more time talking to themselves instead of to each other.

Ed Husain Changes His Mind

Filed under: — Chap @ 4:18 pm

An extract from an upcoming book is in last week’s Times:

Two weeks after the terrorist attacks in London another Saudi student raised his hand and asked: “Teacher, how can I go to London?”

“Much depends on your reason for going to Britain. Do you want to study or just be a tourist?”

“Teacher, I want to go London next month. I want bomb, big bomb in London, again. I want make jihad!”

“What?” I exclaimed. Another student raised both hands and shouted: “Me too! Me too!”

Other students applauded those who had just articulated what many of them were thinking. I was incandescent. In protest I walked out of the classroom to a chorus of jeering and catcalls.

My time in Saudi Arabia bolstered my conviction that an austere form of Islam (Wahhabism) married to a politicised Islam (Islamism) is wreaking havoc in the world. This anger-ridden ideology, an ideology I once advocated, is not only a threat to Islam and Muslims, but to the entire civilised world.

YouTube Surfing On Saturday Night

Filed under: — Chap @ 4:44 am

Yep, this is as exciting as it gets this week.

  1. Tom Waits For No Man — 1979 rotoscope of the Artist riffing on a bass line.
  2. An obscure Kazakh quartet that doesn’t know it’s prog rock
  3. Bad video, bad sound (way too harsh), no idea what you’re listening to: This song was the title track to a record that I listened to, too many times, lying in bed on the boat too tired to sleep, on the headphones almost fifteen years ago. You don’t know how good this record is from this video, but I’ve worn out copies, oh yes I have.
  4. The guitarist blowing himself apart on that above solo is Marc Ribot. He payed with John Zorn in Bar Kokhba (imagine jazz that uses Jewish folk music–same scales–instead of blues as the base, and in this case a hit of cubano rhythm). This piece will blow your mind if you dig acoustic string work. (This is a string trio from the same concert, and this a quartet.)
  5. And now that the rye is hitting, let’s check out Ribot playing in Los Cubanos Postizos in a Sunday morning reflective moment.
  6. If you needed to wake back up, this is a classic: Totally Wired.

April 28, 2007

Filed under: — Chap @ 1:36 pm

Oh, and Phibian does a Hitchens-style obit on Halberstam.

Robbing V-Peter To Pay V-Paul

Filed under: — Chap @ 1:22 pm

CDR Salamander has an interesting anecdote about an unhappy fellow in the P-3 community. Worth reading if you like inside baseball.

My $.02:
–P-3 guys are flying missions essential to the nation…but not necessarily to the Navy. I heard a very senior naval officer opine once that he thought maritime patrol aircraft, because they didn’t take off and land from ships, should not be in the Navy. You know, we tried that once, after WWII, when the Air Force had the maritime patrol role. Didn’t work. You get what you care about. Nation needs long dwell overhead intel. Sometimes it’s needed over oceans.
–P-3 guys are really good at putting officers in billets useful to their community’s political viability. That’s one reason we still have P-3s. The submarine community didn’t learn that lesson around 2000 and it resulted in nobody with dolphins in the E-ring or on deck to run the Navy.
–That political savvy comes with a price. We didn’t get airships in the nineties, and one reason among many was that the P-3 community leadership saw them as a threat. MMA/P-8 (the followon) didn’t come any faster because of that.
–There’s an eternal tension between the COCOM (who wants stuff today) and the service chief (who provides the stuff and has to think about tomorrow). This tension is playing out in the P-3 vs P-8 battles. I remember for another weapons system back in the day, that the CNO acceded to OPNAV N-8 and killed active inventory of a system via record message…followed nanoseconds later by CFFC and a COCOM’s fleet commander sending record messages back decrying the loss of current capability. Both messages found their way to various congressmen with constituencies who might care about such things. Problem is, both of the complainants are right from their viewpoints, especially because they saw the money as a zero sum game; because of the way our budgets go, you can’t kill a system to free up a bucket of money for a completely different thing, and so if you want new widget with the same money you have to get rid of the old widget. Which doesn’t work well if the guy using the widget doesn’t want to lose it.

Anyhow. Lots of gossip in the comments at Phibian’s place.

Snark Of The Day

Filed under: — Chap @ 3:28 am

At Hot Air.

Filed under: — Chap @ 3:15 am

More books I don’t have the time to read but would like to one day.

Filed under: — Chap @ 3:00 am

Peace Corps volunteer Julia Campbell has been posthumously honored by the Philippine government after she was found murdered.

A salute to a comrade-sans-arms who served our country in a dangerous place.

Filed under: — Chap @ 2:53 am

I really enjoyed Victor Hanson’s book Mexifornia. In the latest City Journal he reflects on the subject five years later.

Colonel Yingling’s Blast

Filed under: — Chap @ 1:46 am

I had intended to let this one alone, as there are lots of lieutenant colonels with opinions out there, and the Armed Forces Journal publishes some of them. But since we’ve got an Enrevanche post on it with all sorts of Important Portents, I figured I should weigh in.

Which I will, sort of.



Bottom line: I yield to the author’s rank, his time in the sandbox, and his professed erudition. As a person who knows of officers with an advanced degree in the humanities, experience in pol-mil, thinking about future wars and reform and change in the military, and rumors of language skills, I know who might be in his target group for Being Anointed In The New System. But his prescriptives? Not so much.

So here is the article in question. LTC Yingling’s gotten some A-grade press (who ever notices a new AFJ article at the WaPo AND the NYT?) for complaining that generalship is to blame for where we are in Iraq. LTC Yingling makes recommendations that don’t sound much as though they relate to the problem he describes.

The cliché that leaders in war are not leaders in peacetime has truth in it; somewhat different skills are needed for each, and the submarine force’s prime example is the first series of patrols after Pearl Harbor, when commanders locked themselves in their staterooms, or melted down in other ways, or otherwise failed to perform. Some of the replacements I would note were the very same guys who were passed over because they were fat, or somehow unsavory in polite company.

However, the remedies I see in LTC Yingling’s piece for improving the generals don’t make sense–unless the remedy is “promote people who do what I like to do”. My grandfather, I learned this weekend, fought the Battle of the Bulge while hating Patton’s guts. Would a 360 degree evaluation of Patton be the right answer? How many Civil War generals were not the type who went in for professional writing, and what did that have to do with how they dealt with a new type of warfare? Somehow we managed to get through a couple of dustups without having Congress demote officers at retirement for whatever–and the ones who get fired (I can think of two right now) have a nasty tendency to run for Congress or President anyway, which would prove entertaining for anyone thinking Congress is going to demote officers with long memories upon those officers’ retirements. LTC Yingling goes way beyond anything I’ve seen from lead advocate Congressman Ike Skelton in his advancement requirements for professional education–and I’m not so sure going past Skelton’s exactly going to, you know, happen. In any case I’ll see your humanities degree and raise you a Rickover–we need all kinds to fight a war. (And we needed Rickover for WWII–everything from getting sunk battleships on line to making electrical systems work under fire.)

The recommendations I see sound as though they might well be good if the one war you’re fighting is this phase of anti-takfiri ops. To that end, there’s a reason we’ve had guys that fit LTC Yingling’s profile running parts of the war…but that skill set didn’t help GEN Abizaid out much, did it?

Here’s what I respectfully submit is the core of my objection to the entirety of LTC Yingling’s article: Wars are against thinking enemies. Those enemies adapt and change. Wars are, among other things, a contest to see who can learn and adapt faster than the other guy. We got a strategic surprise when the war shifted to an insurgency, and it took almost so long to learn it was happening that public opinion shifted to dangerous levels (particularly since will to fight is a key center of gravity being attacked and WHY ISN’T INFORMATION WARFARE IN THE ARTICLE?).

War is also a series of catastrophes leading to victory. People forget that perfection in war cannot be attained.

A roundup of some other commentary:

  1. Neptunus Lex (worth reading in its entirety–and he’s on fire this week) contextualizes the article.

    To this [failures attributed to leadership] he attributes a combination of careerism – always a threat to a peacetime force – and the tendency of senior officers to groom subordinates for advancement who are “just like them.” The remedies for what he sees as this tendency towards monochromatic conformity in the upper ranks – where innovation and audacity might better serve – are 360-degree personnel evaluations combined with Congressional oversight of the 3 and 4-star selection process. That oversight should, in LTC Yingling’s view, demonstrate a favorable bias towards advanced degrees in the humanities and fluency in a foreign language. Like LTC Yingling has.

    As a naval officer I speak under the risk of correction here, but it seems to me that the colonel is being a trifle hard on those who went before him, and who have faced complexities which are not always apparent to those operating at the tactical level. The “conventional” phases of OIF went brilliantly…

  2. This is followed up by one heck of a successful putting together of puzzle pieces by Greyhawk at MilBlogs. Seriously, if you want to understand why this article is Important in the news today, which has nothing at all to do with the article’s actual importance, go read this. If you’re coming to this article late thinking it means more than next month’s Proceedings articles, you’ve been played for a sucker. It’s an information war.
  3. Gregory McNeal at the Tank:

    No doubt LTC Yingling has a great record of experience and knowledge to share; I’m not disputing that. What I am disputing is the logic of the AP. Following their reasoning, if I go on to find one LTC who is publicly supporting the conduct of the Iraq war it would similarly suggest that support is widespread? Or does their logic and such a “suggestion” only work in the negative?

  4. Thomas Smith responds, also at the Tank:

    In fact, I think it is important to note that the officer criticizing American generalship is doing so in the Armed Forces Journal, which (according to the AP story) is published by Army Times Publishing Company, which publishes all the Military Times newspapers. And Army Times — as we know — is an independent publishing company that has frequently taken shots at the U.S. involvement in Iraq. Several NRO readers have even told me they have stopped reading Military Times publications because of what they see as the Times’ clear anti-Iraq war agenda.

    For the record, I subscribe to Marine Corps Times because I do enjoy some of the really good straight news reporting of military/defense issues–training, deployments, unit stuff, that kind of thing. And I have written for them in the past. Doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes find myself wanting to roll the paper up and pitch it across the room.

    I would also like to add, that for every disgruntled lieutenant colonel, I–and probably any one of us here–could produce five LTC’s who say otherwise.

    I’ve found AFP to be less partisan than the Army/Navy/Federal/etc. Times is on occasion, but the point’s well taken. It’s a freebie mag, making money from the contractor ads. I’ve found some good articles in there, occasionally.

  5. Allah at Hot Air kinda likes it. His commenters kinda don’t. I think they might want to look at the above links.

Okay, enough prattling. Time to check Milblogs again and see if they beat me to it again as usual…

Update: Oh, yes, they’re on top of things already. Astroturf gets a shoutout in the papers, too.

Update: Soldier’s Dad adds some good links (including Max Boot’s thoughts), and GI Korea has similar thoughts. Like GIK, I would be interested in seeing what a few of the initiatives might do, but don’t think the recommendations relate to the stated problem. The Yingling article in itself isn’t as bad as the media’s use of it as a springboard. I’d like to know how much shilling Armed Forces Journal or LTC Yingling did of the article.

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:24 am

I think last year or so (article says the same thing) they discovered some old Archimedes under another document. Now, on the same page, they found some Aristotle.

Apparently erasers weren’t so good back then. (h/t Fark)

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:22 am

I don’t know if this is good data display or not. Courtesy van Steenwyk, it certainly looks like something with Tufte’s grays (kind of like Gapminder), but I have trouble grokking this at first look. I had to be clued in by Jason before I saw the graph that top left is bad–otherwise it would have taken too long to figure out what was going on.

My initial conclusion: Probably good for multiple uses of dense info display, or deep digging around in the data; not so good for the quick glance at a new graph.

April 27, 2007

Taking A Break

Filed under: — Chap @ 3:01 am

Gone, uh, fishing. Next week will be worse…

April 25, 2007

Snark Of The Day

Filed under: — Chap @ 1:49 am

Tricky corner.


April 24, 2007

Filed under: — Chap @ 9:56 pm

He said “tell them“.

Snark Of The Day

Filed under: — Chap @ 5:02 am

Not so much of a snark as a profound observation:

They say that the price for being a professional is understanding intimately the dirty side of your profession.

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