Presentation to the Futures Seminar
Center for Strategic Leadership and
U.S. Army War College,
30 March 2015
Friday, March 13, 2015
STARR: Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the U.S. has the obligation in his words to protect those Syrian rebels. It sends back into Syria to fight. But who's going to do it?
President Obama has ruled out U.S. troops on the ground in combat. That leaves air power and it's going to be a real question whether U.S. pilots will take on any increased role over Syria -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Yes, very big question. Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon, thank you.
And OUTFRONT tonight, we have Buck Sexton. He's the national security editor for TheBlaze.com. He's a former CIA Iraq analyst as well.
And we have retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor, as senior military fellow at National Defense University.
So, to you first Buck. We saw Barbara's piece. Iranian-backed militias gaining ground against ISIS in Iraq. You have Senator Bob Corker, he's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opening this hearing today, warning that the U.S. is making Iraq a better place for Iran.
BUCK SEXTON, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's absolutely true. I mean, Iran is rushing into what is essentially a vacuum here, because of the fight against ISIS, there's been a major destabilization inside of Iraq. And the government of Baghdad is looking for allies. And, of course, the government of Baghdad is generally considered to be a Shia government by the Sunnis and the rest of the country.
And so, right now, the Shia government out of Baghdad is looking for Shia allies in Iran and they're getting them. And you're seeing Iran deployed, actually doing a lot of the fighting and having these militias do the fighting for them, whether they train or giving them arms or combination thereof.
And this is going to exacerbate the sectarian tensions that the administration has been saying for a long time. Well, we're hoping that they can overcome this with good services and good government. That's not happening at all. Right now, you have an Iranian Shia army on the march, whether it's actually Iranians or just individuals that are sponsored by Iran. And this creates major problems in a Sunni Arab majorities of this country.
KEILAR: Sure. But the government very married with Iran in its interest here.
Colonel Macgregor, how do you stop Iran here? If you're not open to, say, U.S. boots on the ground, how else do you stop Iran from expanding its hold?
COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR, SENIOR MILITARY FELOW, NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIVERSITY: Well, historically, Iran has been stopped repeatedly by the Turks and their Sunni Arab supporters. And I suspect that we are at the beginning of a long Sunni-Shia war and eventually, we'll see something like that happen again.
But, right now, we're universally hated and despised in the Arabian Peninsula by all of the Sunni Arabs for having installed Iran in power in Baghdad. Baghdad and southern Iraq are considered with great justification to be the satellite of Iran. So, what Iran is now doing, it's headed towards Mosul, which historically was part of Persia sometime ago. And that's a very dangerous thing, because there are 1.8 million people in Mosul and they are overwhelmingly Sunni Arabs.
We really don't want to be part of that fight. When we were in Fallujah, 75 percent of the population fled. There were 300,000 people in Fallujah. What happens when we have a million Sunni Arab refugees fleeing for Mosul?
This is a catastrophe that I think we would be better off staying out of it.
KEILAR: So, if you stay out of it, Buck, then, what's -- is there a solution? Does the U.S. just throw its hands up in the air?
SEXTON: Quite honestly, under this administration, we have been largely staying out of it. That's one of the decisions people are critical of this administration for taking. And that's why we had some of the problems we've seen in Iraq because ISIS was able to take Mosul, and essentially a blitzkrieg operation. Iran is rushing in as well.
KEILAR: -- the administration should have stemmed this before.
SEXTON: Well, yes. I think that the destabilization of Iraq that came from the withdrawal of all U.S. troops is -- we're now seeing the end result, or not the end result, but a sort of midpoint result of what happens then. I agree with the Colonel --
KEILAR: Short of some major occupation of U.S. troops, do you think that the U.S. would have been able to stem this?
SEXTON: I think it would have been in a better position to stop what's happening right now than where we are. I think that much is probably true. What to do now, though, the colonel is right this is just playing
out day by day, a sectarian civil war. That's what's happening here. We've actually seen this before in Iraq. And it was very difficult for U.S. troops, 150,000 plus of them to get that to stop.
We're heading right back there right now with Iraq. But the Shia option, essentially allowing Iranian-backed Shia militias to retake parts of this country currently held by ISIS is not going to happen.
He points out Mosul. He's actually correct. The Sunni Arab majority city over a million people there, in those areas the sectarian tensions would make recruits for the Islamic State, fighting -- people who aren't fighting for them are saying the militias are coming for me. These are groups that have not just killed U.S. soldiers, by the way, but have engaged in sectarian reprisals, bloody human rights violations against Iraqi civilians They haven't forgotten that. That's still happening in bits and pieces here and there. It will probably accelerate the more ground they take.
KEILAR: Sure. Colonel Macgregor, you respond to that. But also, what do you think the U.S. can do to stop ISIS here? And what is the end game look like do you think?
MACGREGOR: Well, first of all, ISIS is another of these Islamist organizations that given time will implode. The reason is very simple. This Islamist lifestyle, which involves the rigid application of Koranic law is an impossible way to live.
ISIS is already losing ground and support because the Sunni Arabs that live around it don't support it. If we become involved, we will actually mobilize Sunni Arabs against us. We'll probably rescue ISIS from defeat, at least in the short run.
In the long run, I don't think we should involve ourselves in war that has nothing to do with us.
KEILAR: All right. There we have it. The word from Colonel Macgregor, thank you so much.
Buck Sexton, thanks for being with us as well.
OUTFRONT next, new images of the Tsarnaev brothers' final night on the run accused of killing a police officer as SWAT teams closed on them. We are live in Boston.
And we have breaking news: Secret Service agents reportedly crashed their car into White House barriers. Were men assigned to protect the president driving drunk?
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
By Doug Macgregor
March 03, 2015
Poland suddenly reappeared in 1919, 120 years after it vanished from the map of Europe, sowing confusion at the Versailles Peace Conference as the great powers tried to heal the wounds of World War I. The British questioned the legitimacy of the new Polish State and the French were suspicious of Polish ambitions. Frustrated with allied reluctance to help Poland, Josef Pilsudski, Poland’s new leader told a French journalist:
“The great evil afflicting our country (Poland) is the fact that the Allies have no clear and definite program. We are left to face this big Eastern question all alone, because Europe does not know what it wants…We Poles are next-door neighbors to Russia… We have got to decide ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ peace or war. We cannot wait any longer.”
Poland refused to die. Marshal Pilsudski’s Polish forces counterattacked the next year, annihilating the Red Army and shattering Trotsky’s dream of marching over “Poland’s corpse” into Germany.
What are the parallels with Ukraine? Like Poland in 1920, Ukraine also refuses to die. Americans must engage in an authentic, unbiased appraisal of U.S. and allied military capabilities. Put more bluntly, in Putin’s next crisis, Washington and its allies may be compelled to put up or shut up. Consider the following:
Putin commands the Russian Armed Forces and its surrogates in Eastern Ukraine through the Stavka, the High Command of the Russian Armed Forces. The Stavka is staffed by talented officers that have risen through a highly selective professional general staff system. The High Command imposes absolute unity of command on all branches of the Russian armed forces. In contrast, the Joint Staff in Washington is a feckless organization with no command authority. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) are a committee of Service Chiefs focused on “service equities.”
Russian electronic warfare and cyber capabilities can interfere with many of America’s high precision weapons, GPS-based navigation and guidance systems, as well as our RF-based networking between tactical platforms and operational commands. Combine these problems with the practice of last minute lash-ups of Army, Marine, Air Force and Navy headquarters, and the scene is set for disaster.
Russian air defense technology is capable of identifying, tracking and potentially destroying every manned and unmanned aircraft in the U.S. inventory from AH-64 attack helicopters and A-10 Warthogs to the B-2 Bomber. In a contest with Russian forces in Ukraine, a confrontation could easily resemble the 1973 Egyptian-Israeli War along the Suez Canal. The reach and impact of American aerospace power would be severely limited. Given America’s history of predictable, sequential operations — first air, then, ground offensives — the probability of U.S. military paralysis early in a conflict with the Russians is high.
But Russian forces boast other advantages. They have a short commute to the battles from their bases in southern Russia. U.S. and allied ground forces would have to move at least 400 miles from the Polish border, or roughly the distance from Kuwait City to Baghdad, just to reach the staging areas in the Dnieper River valley. It is very doubtful that Mr. Putin would mimic Saddam Hussein, and simply do nothing while U.S. and allied forces built up and then move hundreds of miles of open terrain to attack him.
Russia is waging war in the Donets Basin or Donbass with tank and armored infantry formations heavily reinforced with rocket artillery and a host of strike systems, as well as, manned and unmanned aircraft. Under the Stavka’s direction, Russian forces are integrating the maneuver of mobile armored formations with the application of massive strikes against the opposing Ukrainian forces.
If the U.S. Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps and/or the Marine Corps, the French and British rapid deployment forces or the German Air-Landing Brigade were deployed to fight in the Donbass, their survival in contact with these Russian ground forces would be counted in hours, if not minutes. No amount of American or allied intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, (ISR) let alone strike from aerospace and naval forces can compensate for this weakness. But, today, these light forces constitute the majority of American and allied ground forces.
How meaningful and enduring the recently announced ceasefire between Kiev and Moscow will turn out to be is not known. But Putin’s gushing nostalgia for the Soviet Union of his youth suggests he thinks much like Stalin and would push Russia’s borders westward over Ukraine’s shattered remains.
The central question for America’s elected leaders is: what should Congress do?
Washington must not risk a future confrontation with Moscow, or for that matter, any great power, with ground maneuver forces that are organized, trained and equipped to defeat relatively lightly armed and equipped Arabs, Afghans and Africans.
First, the nation needs standing Joint Force headquarters in the regional unified commands. These are not JTFs thrown together at the last minute. They are staffed and equipped to rapidly integrate capabilities across service lines, and assimilate ground maneuver with the devastating, long-range precision strikes of aerospace and naval power in future conflicts.
Second, Congress must end the U.S. Army’s penchant for squandering billions of dollars on failed modernization programs, programs presented as “transformational,” but lacking an integrative strategy, a joint warfighting purpose and a realistic tactical foundation. If Army airborne, air-mobile and Marine Corps amphibious forces are useful only in “permissive environments” against weak opponents in the developing world, then scarce defense resources should be diverted from light forces into the development of new ground maneuver forces with modern mobile armored firepower. We need mobile ground forces that can take hits, fight and win against capable opponents like Russia and other great powers, not forces designed to police and combat hapless Arabs, Afghans and Africans.
Putin is restoring Soviet norms in Moscow’s foreign and defense policy. It’s why Congress should heed Józef Pilsudski’s “lesson learned” from dealing with the Russians: “When she (Russia) is weak she is ready to promise anything, but she is equally ready to break those promises the moment she feels strong enough to do so.”
Douglas Macgregor, a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors is executive vice president of Burke-Macgregor Group, LLC, a defense consulting firm in Reston, Virginia. His newest book, Margin of Victory, will appear in the fall of 2015.