Outfitting a Big-War Military with Small-War
It is a never-ending challenge for defense
planners to develop the strategy and policies required to ensure
American security when threatened by an enemy. Unfortunately, it
took the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks and the challenges posed by
an adaptive enemy for the United States to realize it was not prepared
to fight war on terms other than its own choosing. Looking back
now, four years into the Global War on Terrorism, one can plainly
see the US military was blinded by its preference for conventional
war and failed to recognize the threat posed by irregular enemies.
The military culture has long been convinced that technological
overmatch was the prescription for security-a continuation of the
traditional American way of war. However, the character of warfare
Interstate wars, while not obsolete, are now
less prevalent than direct threats from irregular forces. The US
military's conventional dominance has forced its enemies to seek
other methods to challenge American hegemony. While conventional
might is still necessary in an uncertain world, the American invasion
and subsequent operations in Iraq have exposed the US military's
limitations and instigated changes that will make it more prepared
to meet the growing irregular threat. Only by creating a force that
is just as adept at conducting small wars against irregular enemies
as it is at conducting big wars against conventional foes will the
United States be able to ensure security in the 21st century.
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States
has had to adjust to its role as the world's only superpower. The
Pentagon, while espousing a new world order, remained fixated on
extending its conventional superiority and focused on an emergent
China as the next near-peer competitor that could threaten US interests
and security. Although events in Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Haiti
served as clear examples of the unconventional and uncertain challenges
the United States would face in the new century, defense planners
disregarded their significance. The US military was conditioned
by decades of preparation for conventional interstate war, as well
as by its searing experiences in Vietnam and Beirut.1
Emerging threats to American interests posed by ethnic and tribal
rivalries, religious zealotry, transnational terrorism, and illegitimate
or brutal governments were seen as nuisances, and humanitarian operations,
peacekeeping, and "nation-building" were considered as
"lesser included" missions.2
This tunnel vision prevented defense planners from recognizing the
US military's vulnerabilities against potential adversaries who
could threaten American interests asymmetrically with irregular
forces. The attacks on 9/11 changed that internal calculus, and
military planners quickly recognized the need to face a more adaptive
enemy. Irregular enemies are not new to American forces. But today,
the US military is embroiled in Iraq and elsewhere facing a complex
global insurgency where it finds itself struggling to prevail in
a type of war in which the enemy employs irregular warfare approaches
to achieve its political aims.3
Why, then, is the United States, a country
with the most highly skilled, best equipped, and most professional
military in history, having such difficulty in Iraq? According to
one military analyst, it is because American forces have a culture
that seeks to ignore the requirements and challenges of irregular
warfare, resulting in a requirement to relearn appropriate techniques
with each new experience with this phenomenon.4
The US military has long equated conventional military operations
as the acme of the professional art, ignoring more unconventional
approaches. One analyst even castigated the American way of war
as a "Way of Battles."5 Overcoming
this institutional preference for big wars and a preoccupation with
high-technology conventional warfare are paramount for ensuring
American military readiness in the future. To meet these challenges
the US military needs to effect a transformation that changes its
cultural resistance to nontraditional wars. Transforming the military
culture will be a difficult task. However, the hard lessons of irregular
warfare, as played out on the streets of Baghdad, Fallujah, and
countless other towns in Iraq and elsewhere, are being learned.
Capturing those lessons and translating them into policy, doctrine,
force structure, training, and education can produce the transformation
essential to the US ability to prevail in the uncertain world it
will continue to face in the 21st century.
The Traditional American Way of War
In his seminal work on American military strategy,
The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy
and Policy, Russell Weigley characterized the traditional American
strategy as one focused on a strategy of annihilation of the enemy.6
He attributed the development of this approach to America's great
wealth, extensive resources, and unlimited aims, which together
allowed American forces to rely on mass, firepower, and overwhelming
force against its enemies. This strategy began its successful run
with the defeat of Fascism in the mid-20th century and provided
a template for how the American military trained, organized, and
equipped itself to win the nation's wars. This recipe for success
was nurtured over a period of 60 years and yielded a US military
with a "big war" focus and an affinity for conventional
war where its strengths could be exploited.
In the wake of World War II and throughout
the Cold War, the United States established its conventional force
structure and doctrine on a foundation of technological superiority
as a trade-off for numerical inferiority. When the Soviet Union
collapsed, many defense analysts attributed its demise and the end
of the Cold War to the inability of the Kremlin to maintain pace
with the United States' advancements and costs in high-tech weaponry.7
While this may in fact be true, it also reinforced the belief that
technological superiority was paramount to American security and
essential for the United States to fulfill its role as the world's
In the decade that followed the Soviet collapse,
the US military's insatiable desire to expand its technological
supremacy was further justified by the successes it achieved in
the 1991 Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein and in
the liberation of Kosovo from the Serbs in 1999 with air power alone.
These relatively rapid operations conditioned American leaders and
military planners to view wars as conventional, force-on-force operations
where American forces could overwhelm the enemy using high-tech
weaponry and precision firepower to achieve a rapid victory.
By the end of the 20th century, the United
States had reached an unquestionable level of dominance in conventional
warfare that no potential enemies could challenge militarily. Owing
to this sense of unchallenged security, the US military planned
to transform itself to further its military supremacy by advancing
a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) grounded in information dominance.
This RMA would change war by aiming to minimize, or some would say
eliminate, the "fog of war." Network-centric warfare (NCW),
precision strike, ballistic missile defense, and effects-based operations
were among the latest agenda items to be applied in the American
way of war. When the Bush Administration entered office in 2001,
it was committed to transforming the US military by exploiting technologies
that would "skip a generation," allowing the military
to project its power with lighter, more mobile and lethal forces.8
With no peer competitor to challenge America's military supremacy,
the Department of Defense planned to take advantage of the "strategic
pause" and focus on transforming the force.
Transformation, in one form or another, has
been continuous within the Defense Department since the end of the
Cold War. In practice it has been understood to mean different things
to different parties, but most commonly transformation has been
associated with technological change. The concept originated in
the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. Termed the Military-Technical
Revolution by the Soviets, it referred to the impact technology
had on the conduct of war. In the 1990s, Andrew Marshall, head of
DOD's Office of Net Assessment, advanced the idea, calling it the
Revolution in Military Affairs. He espoused linking new technologies
with emerging doctrine and organizations to make fundamental, far-reaching
changes in how the military conducts operations.9
Today the term RMA has been supplanted by transformation, but its
meaning is essentially the same, as it refers to applying new technologies,
concepts, and organizations to bring about radical changes in the
character and conduct of warfare.10
In its broadest context, transformation is about changing the character
and structure of the military to meet the new security challenges.
The ultimate manifestation of the RMA/transformation
efforts in DOD was evident in the success achieved by US military
and Coalition forces in taking down the Taliban and Saddam Hussein
regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, Special Operations
Forces working with the indigenous Northern Alliance partisans used
American airpower to eviscerate the Taliban forces and force the
remnants of the government to flee or be captured. In Iraq, US and
British forces raced to Baghdad at unforeseen speed, overwhelming
the Iraqi army and decapitating Saddam's Ba'athist regime. These
successes of a transformation that enabled the American military
to destroy two hostile regimes and defeat two armies so rapidly
and with relatively few forces in succession underscored the foolishness
of confronting the United States conventionally. Understanding this,
America's enemies have adapted and are pursuing asymmetric or irregular
approaches that nullify the US military superiority in order to
avoid certain defeat.
A Tale of Two Wars
The Iraq War can be viewed as two wars. The
first war, the one the US military planned for months aimed at removing
Saddam's regime from power, ended when President Bush announced,
"Mission accomplished," aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln
on 1 May 2003. The magnificent performance by US forces was a validation
of the American way of war. Conventional dominance and years of
preparing to fight enemies on American terms-state against state,
using precision weaponry and highly trained personnel-allowed the
United States to adhere to its strategy of annihilation to achieve
its goals with remarkable speed.
The second war is still under way. Unlike its
predecessor, it is not a traditional war and is the type of war
the US military tried to avoid for years-a counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgencies
fall into the category of "small wars," which also includes
peacekeeping, stability and support operations, and humanitarian
missions. Also referred to as low-intensity conflict, guerrilla
war, irregular war, and "savage wars of peace," among
other names, the term "small war" does not imply the size
or intensity of the conflict. Small wars are instead characterized
by the asymmetric nature of the conflict, and the political outcome
sought, and they typically pit a state against a non-state adversary
who does not employ regular forces. Irregular enemies range from
terrorist organizations, criminal groups, and militias to warlord
armies and insurgent movements.11 The
Marine Corps' Small Wars Manual defines small wars as "operations
undertaken under executive authority, wherein military force is
combined with diplomatic pressure in the internal or external affairs
of another state whose government is unstable, inadequate, or unsatisfactory
for the preservation of life and of such interests as determined
by the policy of our nation."12
Victory-or more accurately, success-in this type of war is much
more difficult to determine. Instead of a clearly defined end-state
where one side capitulates, success in these irregular conflicts
is measured by the political outcome that results from the intervention.
Small wars are not new to the American military.
Yet despite the nation's long history in this arena, the American
success rate in waging small wars is far from stellar, particularly
since the end of World War II. Thomas X. Hammes, author of The Sling
and the Stone, notes "the only kind of war America has lost"
is a small war against an irregular foe, citing Vietnam (1975),
Lebanon (1983), and Somalia (1993) to support his point.13
In Iraq today the asymmetric nature of the conflict presents the
greatest challenges to American conventional forces and undermines
the United States' efforts to provide a stable and secure peace.
Instead of jubilation on the streets of Baghdad, American forces
face an insurgency they were neither equipped for nor trained to
fight, where the effectiveness of high-tech precision weapons is
minimized. By intermixing with the local population, employing terror
tactics, avoiding direct confrontations with military forces, and
seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the US-backed government,
the radical Islamic insurgents have exposed the soft underbelly
of US conventional dominance.
While the initial success of American forces
in Iraq validated the traditional American way of war, their experiences
since May 2003 reflect the institutional resistance of defense planners
to prepare for the messy tasks associated with peacekeeping, stability
operations, and nation-building. The US military's ineffectiveness
at these types of operations helped create a military culture that
eschewed such operations.14 The reality
of the "long war," however, is that counterinsurgency,
stability operations, and nation-building-the essence of small wars-will
dominate the future of warfare.
Shifting the Culture
The American experiences in Iraq over the past
three years have spurred a progression of changes within the US
military. While each of the many changes by itself is by no means
transformational, the collective body of change will have the impact
of transforming the military culture from its "big war"
way of thinking to one that is equally adept at conducting small
wars. The scope of change is beginning to affect all aspects of
the way American armed forces approach the business of war, from
the strategic to the tactical levels and affecting overall strategy,
doctrine, roles and missions, force structure, training, and education.
Over time, as these changes take root and are institutionalized
throughout DOD, the US military will expand its dominance beyond
conventional warfare to include the irregular, and thus be more
prepared to meet the uncertain challenges it will certainly face
in the 21st century.
The recognition of nontraditional threats to
American security posed by irregular enemies is by far the most
dramatic paradigm shift in US military strategy. Whereas the 2001
Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) acknowledged the possibilities
of "lesser contingencies" like Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda,
its force planning construct, referred to as "1-4-2-1,"
remained focused on conventional, interstate war associated with
major combat operations.15 The 2005
QDR identifies irregular warfare as "the dominant form of warfare
confronting the United States," and its force planning construct
places both homeland defense and irregular warfare on an equal footing
with conventional warfighting. Moreover, it requires the services
to maintain essential warfighting capabilities but also directs
them to place greater emphasis on meeting irregular challenges such
as conducting counterinsurgency and stability operations.16
In his book, The Pentagon's New Map, Thomas
Barnett details his experiences as a DOD analyst in the 1990s and
describes the general aversion of the military to what he termed
the "lesser includeds" or, more accurately, small wars.
Employing American forces to perform nation-building or stability
operations was commonly viewed as detrimental to the purpose of
the military. Consequently, although the 1990s offered several opportunities
for US forces in this realm-Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti, to name
a few-there was little interest or enthusiasm to capture and institutionalize
the core competencies required for these "operations other
than war." Furthermore, when the Bush Administration entered
office, the military services expected to be relieved of the distractions
of nation-building. In the 2000 campaign, then-Governor Bush stated
the military should not be used for "unclear military missions"
or serve as "permanent peacekeepers, dividing warring parties."17
The lessons of Iraq have proven otherwise.
While military planners prefer to view the postwar reconstruction
as the purview of the State Department, the United Nations, and
nongovernmental organizations, the unfortunate reality is that within
the US government, only the military possesses the expeditionary
capability to deploy to austere (or war-ravaged) environments and
sustain itself while providing the requisite assistance to restore
order and promote US interests. Appropriately, the Defense Department
released a new directive on "Military Support for Stability,
Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Operations," establishing
stability operations as "a core US military mission."
This shift in policy is aimed at eliminating the conditions that
allow irregular forces to thrive. Stabilization allows free markets,
the rule of law, religious tolerance, and effective governance to
take root, thereby promoting an environment favorable to US interests.
The directive acknowledges that while many stability tasks "are
best performed by indigenous, foreign, or US civilian professionals
. . . [military forces] successfully performing such tasks can help
secure a lasting peace and facilitate timely withdrawal of US and
Coinciding with the emergence of stability
operations as a core military mission has been the development of
counterinsurgency doctrine within the armed forces. In Iraq the
inability (or neglect) to plan for post-conflict operations arguably
allowed the Islamic insurgency and sectarian fissures to grow during
the summer of 2003. The United States was reluctant to recognize
that an insurgency was developing and chose to believe the violence
was the work of disaffected Ba'athists, jihadists, and terrorists.
As the violence in Iraq intensified, the source became clearer-an
insurgency committed to discrediting the United States and the new
Iraqi government it helped establish.
The American response to the insurgency evolved
as the US military relearned the hard lessons of counterinsurgency
warfare. Different strategies were applied in different sectors
of the country. In 2003 and 2004, one common American response was
to kill or capture the insurgents using a heavy-handed approach.
Employing "cordon and sweep" operations, Army forces detained
thousands of Iraqis in attempts to capture insurgents. While this
method is appealing to a force that is well-suited for conventional
operations, it is counterproductive to success in counterinsurgency
warfare. A major aim of counter-insurgency warfare is to gain and
maintain the support of the populace-the center of gravity in a
counterinsurgency operation. The application of force often resulted
in alienating the very people who the Americans sought to win the
support of and protect. In contrast, the 101st Airborne Division,
commanded by then-Major General David Petraeus, had success in northern
Iraq by focusing less on "kinetic" approaches and more
on winning the population's trust by improving local governance
and economic conditions.19
The opposing approaches show the learning process
for a military that had all but mastered the art and science of
conventional warfare, but had forgotten the lessons of its past.
The Vietnam War, America's last counterinsurgency war, was perceived
as an anathema to the military, which preferred to expunge it from
its institutional memory rather than embrace its lessons.20
Today the US military is experiencing a generational metamorphosis
as it grapples with relearning past lessons in counterinsurgency.
The Small Wars Manual, originally written in 1940, has been dusted
off and is required reading on most professional reading lists relating
to counterinsurgency and stability operations. This represents a
major cultural shift in the military. Avoiding this type of small
war is no longer possible, since irregular enemies have learned
not to confront US forces conventionally. At Fort Leavenworth's
Combined Arms Center, the Army, with the support of the Marine Corps,
is resurrecting and updating its counterinsurgency doctrine. Incorporating
the vast and rich heritage in small wars (including Vietnam) with
the lessons from the soldiers and marines with recent experience
in Iraq and elsewhere, the Army has produced new doctrine in draft
Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency. Although this new doctrine
alone will not bring success in Iraq, it does indicate the US military's
ability to learn as an institution and demonstrates the recognition
of nation-building and counterinsurgency as central tasks for the
US armed forces, as it offers its own reflection on future warfare:
America's conventional military superiority
makes it likely that many of our enemies will choose insurgency
rather than conventional combat when attempting to achieve their
political objectives through the use of force. The Army and Marine
Corps pride themselves on their system of lessons learned: we must
understand that others study us no less carefully than we study
them. Future opponents have already drawn lessons-and comfort-from
our perceived missteps and errors in Afghanistan and Iraq, and before
that in Somalia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. The better we understand
the principles, imperatives, and paradoxes of counterinsurgency,
the more likely we are able to assist in the accomplishment of our
national objectives through proper management of violence, as well
as by contributing in other mission areas facilitating the stabilizing
and reconstructing of host states.21
Roles, Missions, and Force Structure
The past four years of war have highlighted
capability mismatches between the existing force structure and the
forces required to prosecute the "long war." Dr. Williamson
Murray and Major General Robert Scales articulated the dilemma facing
the US forces in the closing chapter of their book, The Iraq War:
"While the stability mission in Iraq is manpower-intensive,
the forces responsible for performing the mission form a very thin
line indeed. Infantrymen bear most of the burden. Yet Army and Marine
grunts make up less than four percent of America's military, a force
only slightly larger than the New York City Police Department."22
Each of the services has been forced to adapt
to the realities of irregular warfare. As the character of war changes,
it is inevitable that the forces used to wage war must change as
well. The Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operating Forces who face
the unknown irregular adversary every day experience the demands
of the ongoing counterinsurgency and stability operations, and of
small wars in general, most directly. But even the Air Force and
Navy, each of which remains primarily focused on traditional threats,
have stepped up to nonstandard roles like providing installation
security and conducting convoy operations to offer relief to the
overstretched ground forces.
The Army is in the midst of its most radical
reorganization since World War II. By converting from a division-based
structure to one centered on a brigade-sized unit of action that
possesses organic combat, combat support, and sustainment capabilities,
the Army will have 42 deployable brigade combat teams in the active
component and 28 in the reserves, increasing its combat power by
30 percent from its former division-based structure. Moreover, by
incorporating organic combat support and combat service support
into the brigade structure, the unit will be able to deploy more
rapidly and fight upon arrival.23 In
addition to its conversion to a brigade-based force, the Army, recognizing
the importance of military police and civil affairs capabilities
in stability and counterinsurgency operations, has reorganized excess
capability in artillery, engineer, and air defense units-legacies
of the Cold War-to perform those functions so critical in stability
and counterinsurgency operations.
The Marine Corps, having a rich small wars
legacy surviving from its years of conducting the "Banana Wars"
in the Caribbean and Central America, has had to shift its emphasis
away from its own conventional war focus. A much smaller force than
the Army, it does not have the depth of forces to retool artillery
units for permanent use as civil affairs groups or military police
battalions. Instead it has retrained its more conventionally oriented
units to perform infantry, military police, and civil affairs missions.
Relying on an ethos that "every marine is a rifleman"
allows a high degree of adaptability for nonstandard missions. Since
the end of the conventional phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the
Marine Corps has routinely employed its artillerymen, air defenders,
tank drivers, cooks, and band members in combat jobs more closely
associated with the infantry specialty. Additionally, it established
a Foreign Military Training Unit to provide cadres to assist foreign
militaries in preventing crises and promoting stability in their
respective countries, a task more closely associated with the already
taxed Army Special Forces.
US Special Operating Forces (SOF) have proven
their tremendous utility in prosecuting the Global War on Terrorism.
Assigned the lead in planning, synchronizing, and, when directed,
executing operations against al Qaeda and its associated terrorist
network, US Special Operation Command is no longer considered just
a force provider to the combatant commanders and has emerged as
key player in combating irregular threats. British strategist Colin
Gray describes SOF as "entering a golden era" in a world
dominated more by irregular than conventional war.24
To meet the increased demands of irregular warfare, the 2005 QDR
announced a 15 percent increase in Special Operations Forces, including
a 33 percent increase in Army Special Forces battalions, an increase
of 3,500 personnel in psychological operations and civil affairs
units, the establishment of a 2,600-marine special operations component,
increased SEAL team force levels, and the establishment of an SOF
unpiloted aerial vehicle squadron. Moreover, the strategy document
calls for conventional forces to be capable of performing missions
more typically associated with SOF, which, ostensibly, will free
up some Special Operations Forces for the more challenging unconventional
and complex tasks only they are trained to perform.25
Training and Education
The lesson being driven home by the American
experience in Iraq is that people, not machines or technology, will
be the deciding factor in success or failure. The strategy, doctrine,
and organizational structures will provide the framework, but only
the men and women executing the American strategy can affect the
outcome. In Iraq and in small wars in general, the complexity and
irregular nature of the conflict places a premium on small-unit
leaders who possess the resourcefulness, initiative, and determination
to succeed on a battlefield fraught with uncertainty and where the
only certainty is ambiguity. General Charles Krulak, former Marine
Corps Commandant, coined the term "strategic corporal"
to describe the phenomenon where the decisions of junior officers
and noncommissioned officers project strategic consequences. Developing
leaders who can excel in the complex environment of Iraq and elsewhere
has caused a myriad of changes to the training and education systems
in the US military.
Within the training arena, the Army and Marine
Corps have undergone a dramatic shift in emphasis. Before the Iraq
experience, training exercises focused on developing conventional
warfighting skills centered on combined arms and mechanized warfare.
The Marine Corps' Combined Arms Exercises (CAX) and the Army's National
Training Center (NTC) rotations were the centerpieces of unit preparation
and readiness for combat. While the importance of such training
is still highly valued, the services have reengineered their predeployment
training regimen to include more relevant training involving scenarios
to develop individual and collective skills for counterinsurgency
and stability operations. "Mojave Viper," a considerably
more comprehensive and realistic scenario-based training environment
for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, has replaced the traditional
CAX program.26 At the NTC in Fort Irwin,
the Army spends nearly $230 million annually to provide world-class
training across a wide range of scenarios from kidnapping and car
bombs to reacting to sectarian uprisings and conducting negotiations
with village leaders and imams. The OPFOR (opposing force) is composed
of a training cadre of 1,600 role players, including 250 Iraqi-Americans,
who conduct the scenarios in 12 simulated villages at the remote
Mojave Desert training complex.27 Realistic
training scenarios presented during Mojave Viper and the NTC training
exercises provide US forces with opportunities to develop and hone
tactics, techniques, and procedures for typical missions they will
conduct in Iraq.
Complementing the revised training programs
are the changes that are occurring in the services' professional
military education programs. While training prepares military personnel
to act, professional military education teaches them how to think,
a much-needed skill in conducting irregular warfare. At the service
colleges where captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels study the
art and science of war, the post-conflict Iraq experience of the
students has driven the curricula toward a much greater emphasis
on irregular warfare and counterinsurgency operations. Each of the
service colleges has expanded its program of instruction to include
more study of past counterinsurgencies. Elective offerings on counterinsurgency
at the Army Command and General Staff College are filled to capacity,
and the officer-students are devoting much of their time to the
literature on counterinsurgency and stability operations. The war
in Iraq has begun to provoke a cultural shift within the Army, especially
among the company-grade and junior field-grade officers, from its
predilection for large tank battles to an acceptance that the future
will require an Army capable of conducting the extremely difficult
tasks associated with counterinsurgency operations.28
The lessons learned in Iraq have shown that
to be effective, the US military must balance its well-developed
ability to apply force with compassion and understanding of the
local indigenous population. This basis tenet of counterinsurgency
has underscored the importance of cultural awareness as a key component
of the struggle for the "hearts and minds" of the people.
One example of the services' efforts in this area is the Marine
Corps' new Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning. Opened
in May 2005, it is designed to facilitate language training and,
more important, cultural education throughout the service by incorporating
language familiarization and operational culture training into the
curricula at each of the Marine Corps' service schools, through
distance education, and with pre-deployment programs. Eventually
the Marine Corps aims to assign all career service members specific
regions of study to improve this critical capability.29
Other cultural awareness programs also are on the rise within the
US military. Within the Army, all soldiers deploying to Iraq undergo
a thorough cultural awareness program to ensure they understand
and respect the nuances of Arab-Islamic culture. More formally,
the Army has expanded its Foreign Area Officer program to meet the
expanded requirements for staff-level cultural and linguistic experts.
The Air Force will begin requiring all majors to study certain foreign
languages during their formal intermediate-level schooling to have
a credible language and cultural capability in the regions most
likely to present future challenges.
The US military is the most powerful, best
equipped, and most highly trained fighting force in the world. But
as it has learned over the past four years, it was not ideally structured,
prepared, or conditioned for the challenges posed by enemies employing
irregular warfare tactics. Fighting insurgents who use terrorism,
kidnappings, and sabotage, and who incite sectarian violence, is
much different from engaging conventional military forces across
expanses of desert or on the plains of Europe, where a superior
force can exploit its technological advantages to achieve a decisive
military victory over its enemies. As a result of the US experience
in Iraq, a reexamination of US strategy has yielded a myriad of
changes aimed at developing the capabilities required to succeed
in small wars. To the pure disciple of the "big war" military,
the changes within the Defense Department may appear to be an abandonment
of what has allowed the US military to thrive since World War II.
However, the strategy and guidance provided in the 2005 QDR report
portend an adjustment to, rather than a departure from, previous
approaches to national defense.
The war in Iraq may be an indication of the
types of war the United States will face in the future. What started
out as a conventional conflict for America and its Coalition partners
has since evolved into a counterinsurgency war or small war in which
success will be measured more by the political outcome rather than
the destruction of the opposing military force. In his book, Another
Bloody Century, Colin Gray sees the character of warfare blurring
in the 21st century, contending, "Future warfare must be assumed
to encompass both regular [conventional] and irregular conflict."30
Lieutenant General James Mattis, who commanded the 1st Marine Division
in Iraq from the war's start through the summer of 2004, believes
future wars will be characterized by the confluence of different
modes and means of war. To him, the choice between conventional
and nontraditional wars is a false option set. The US military will
face both, perhaps simultaneously in the same battlespace. These
"hybrid wars" will challenge American forces to be equally
adept at defeating irregular foes as they are at defeating traditional
The strategic environment the United States
faces today, and will continue to face in the future, requires defense
planners to recognize "that their vision of future warfare
cannot be neatly, conveniently, and economically captured by a single
paradigm."32 Conventional conflict
between states is not obsolete, but its occurrence may be less likely
in the foreseeable future. The American military is in the midst
of a transformation, but not one tied to technology and the traditional
American way of war. Instead, it is transforming its culture to
understand that war is a "come-as-you-are" affair, and
the enemy truly does "get a vote" in determining the type
of war to be fought. In order to continue to ensure American security
in the decades to come, the American military must be capable of
thriving across the entire spectrum of conflict, from the large,
conventional conflicts it prefers to the irregular small wars that
are prevalent today.
1. Conrad C. Crane, Avoiding
Vietnam: The U.S. Army's Response to Defeat in Southeast Asia (Carlisle,
Pa.: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, September
2002), p. 2.
2. Thomas P. M. Barnett,
The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
(New York: Berkley Books, 2004), pp. 59-60.
3. Jeffrey Record, "Why
the Strong Lose," Parameters, 25 (Winter 2005-06), 26.
4. Frank G. Hoffman,
"Small Wars Revisited: The United States and Nontraditional
Wars," Journal of Strategic Studies, 28 (December 2005), 914-15.
5. Antulio J. Echevarria,
"Principles of War or Principles of Battle?" in Rethinking
the Principles of War, ed. Anthony Mc Ivor (Annapolis, Md.: Naval
Institute Press, 2005), p. 58.
6. Russell F. Weigley,
The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy
and Policy (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1973), p. xxii.
7. Thomas X. Hammes,
The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century (St. Paul, Minn.:
Zenith Press, 2004), p. 6.
8. Michael R. Gordon
and Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion
and Occupation of Iraq (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006), p. 5.
9. Ian Roxborough, "From
Revolution to Transformation: The State of the Field," Joint
Force Quarterly, No. 32 (Autumn 2002), p. 71.
10. Colin S. Gray,
Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare (London: Weidenfeld &
Nicholson, 2005), pp. 112-18.
11. Steven Metz, "Small
Wars, from Low Intensity Conflict to Irregular Challenges,"
in Mc Ivor, p. 279.
12. US Marine Corps,
Small Wars Manual (Washington: USMC, 1990), p. 1.
13. Hammes, p. 3.
The author specifically attributes Fourth Generation Warfare, which
is a form of irregular warfare, as the kind of warfare that has
defeated the United States.
14. Williamson Murray
and Robert H. Scales, Jr., The Iraq War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
Univ. Press, 2003), p. 252.
15. Ryan Henry, "Defense
Transformation and the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review," Parameters,
25 (Winter 2005-06), 10-11. Under the "1-4-2-1" force
planning construct, the US armed forces would be organized, trained,
and equipped to defend the homeland (1) operate effectively in four
(4) strategic areas (Europe, Northeast Asia, the Asian littorals,
Southwest Asia), swiftly defeat two (2) adversaries near simultaneously,
and win decisively against (1) adversary conducting regime change,
while also conducting small-scale contingencies. The 2001 QDR was
completed before the 9/11 attacks and did not reflect the reality
of the Global War on Terrorism.
16. Michele Flournoy,
"Did the Pentagon Get the QDR Right?" The Washington Quarterly,
29 (Spring 2006), 73-74. Under the force planning construct in the
2005 QDR, the US military is sized and shaped for three main mission
sets: homeland defense, the war on terrorism/irregular warfare,
and conventional campaigns. In each one, US forces must be able
to (1) meet the steady state requirements associated with the missions,
(2) surge for crisis operations, and (3) maintain a rotation base
adequate to sustain longer operations.
17. George W. Bush,
speech, "A Period of Consequences," 23 September 1999,
at The Citadel, South Carolina, http://citadel.edu/r3/pao/addresses/pres_bush.html;
and Condoleezza Rice, "Campaign 2000: Promoting the National
Interest," Foreign Affairs, 79 (January/February 2000), 45-62.
18. US Department
of Defense, "Directive Number 3000.05," Washington, D.C.,
28 November 2005.
19. George Packer,
"The Lesson of Tal Afar," The New Yorker, 10 April 2006,
20. Robert M. Cassidy,
"Back to the Street without Joy: Counterinsurgency Lessons
from Vietnam and Other Small Wars," Parameters, 24 (Summer
21. US Department
of the Army, Counterinsurgency, Field Manual 3-24 (Initial Draft)
(Washington: GPO, February 2006), p. 1-15.
22. Murray and Scales,
23. Les Brownlee and
Peter J. Schoomaker, "Serving a Nation at War: A Campaign Quality
Army with Joint and Expeditionary Capabilities," Parameters,
24 (Summer 2004), 13-14.
24. Gray, p. 215.
25. US Department
of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report (Washington: GPO,
6 February 2006), pp. 42-45.
26. Frank Hoffman,
"How Marines Are Preparing for Hybrid Wars," Armed Forces
Journal, March 2006, p. 26.
27. Chuck Mueller,
"Sculpting New War Discipline," San Bernardino Sun, 11
28. Thomas E. Ricks,
"Lessons Learned in Iraq Show Up in Army Classes; Culture Shifts
to Counterinsurgency," The Washington Post, 21 January 2006.
Learning Center to Assign Specific Regions of Study to Marines,"
Inside the Pentagon, 16 February 2006.
30. Gray, p. 190.
31. James N. Mattis
and Frank Hoffman, "Future Warfare: The Rise in Hybrid Wars,"
Proceedings, November 2005, pp. 18-19.
32. Gray, p. 192.
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