Wednesday, August 12, 2009

U.S. Army Drafts Some Specs for New Vehicles

See the article below.

Funny, but General Vane argued just months ago how the MGV was definitely the answer to the 'lessons learned in Afghanistan' requirement (see his quote below in last February's Defense News). Now it's the son-of-FCS. Setting aside the inaccuracy of his claims about American armor and its value in AFPAK, it is both comical and sad to see how Chameleon-like this general is. There is obviously not the slightest bit of actual conviction behind his words, only whatever script he's handed. Whenever the wind changes direction so do the generals and that’s the real problem from acquisition to AFPAK. Doug

Michael A. Vane from February 2009 in Defense News: "Q. How is the Army adapting to the challenges of Afghanistan? A. One of the things that is not talked about very much is that we need to be an expeditionary force. When you think about going into Afghanistan with small units separated from their higher headquarters over a country much larger than Iraq, you ask how are you going to bring the network into small units? How are you going to get coms into small units? What the MGV [Manned-Ground Vehicle] brings is the network embedded in the platform. Instead of having to bring a whole bunch of stuff with you when you go to Afghanistan or someplace else, now you have the network embedded into the platforms, so you are bringing the infrastructure with you. Now, you can share a common picture from enclave to enclave. If you get away from the forward operating base in some of your heavier vehicles in Afghanistan, you are going to have a hard time operating. You will find that with MRAPs [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles]. MGV brings you that tractability. The MGV is a lighter vehicle that can operate off-road. Right now, tanks, Bradleys and Paladins can't get there."

full article:

Defense News
August 10, 2009

U.S. Army Drafts Some Specs for New Vehicles


The U.S. Army’s next armored vehicles may have V-hulls and tracks, and should definitely be better protected than the canceled Future Combat Systems (FCS) vehicles, according to a draft paper that will shape the formal requirements for the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV).

The service plans to buy hundreds of GCVs over the next 10 to 20 years for use throughout the force. The first models are slated to be ready within five to seven years.

The paper, which details lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, codifies the decade long shift away from a vehicle mix focused on all-out war, said Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, part of Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va. “We need to look closer at the lessons of close-quarter combat and IEDs — the ability to attack our vehicles horizontally and from the top,” Vane said. Unlike the FCS vehicles, the new GCVs will likely not share a common chassis.

“There is a set of attributes that we want the ground combat vehicles to have,” Vane said. “Depending on the role or function, it may have a greater set or lesser set of that attribute. Rather than [sharing the] same chassis, they may need different levels of force protection lethality; some may need a different set of sensors.” The paper is the work of Fort Monroe-based Task Force 120, which was established to draft new vehicle requirements after FCS was canceled earlier this year. The group drew on input from soldiers, Marines, program engineers and key allies such as Britain, Germany and other NATO countries.

It will be presented to Gen. George Casey, the U.S. Army chief of staff, the week of August 10, along with related papers.

The requirements are slated to be finished by September 7, and then to go for approval to Army and Pentagon decision-makers before Army developers begin sketching vehicle designs. The papers indicate that the new vehicles will likely:

■ Be heavier than the 27-ton FCS Manned Ground Vehicles, with more traditional armor.

■ Not have a common chassis.

■ Be built to carry more nonlethal weapons.

■ Accept new networking gear and armor as it arrives.

The GCV might have a V-shaped hull, even if it rolls on tracks.

“We have to be concerned about deployability, transportability and reliability. All of those will become important factors in determining whether they should be a V-shaped vehicle,” Vane said. “V-shaped hulls and flat-bottom hulls can achieve the level of protection desired, but there are a lot of other variables such as the weight of the vehicle, the wheel wells and final drives in the case of a tracked vehicle.”

Heavy Weapons

Army officials also are thinking about putting on the GCVs offensive weapons that once would have been reserved for heavier vehicles. Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) and more mobile 12-ton vehicles have created new possibilities, and one of the canceled 20-ton FCS vehicles was to carry a 120mm gun of the sort carried only on 50-ton Abrams tanks.

“We’ve seen some tremendous advances ... wheeled vehicles that can be more mobile than they were five or six years ago with a lot of weight,” Vane said.

The Army may configure more MRAPs as ambulances and command-and-control vehicles, allowing commanders to tailor forces to specific missions, Vane said.

One analyst said the Army is working hard to keep the money once slated for FCS secure for the new program. It totals $100 million for 2010, as a starting point.

“A lot of that shows after what they went through with FCS, they are open to anything right now,” said Dean Lockwood, a policy analyst with Forecast International, a Connecticut-based think tank. “They don’t want to make the same mistakes they made with FCS. They will do this incrementally and move through the next generation one thing at a time, because trying to do it all or nothing at once fell flat on its face.

“They will try to phase in new technologies as they become available,” he said. “That way, they are not overshooting in terms of technologies and budgets.” Lockwood said the Army may seek to emulate the rapid development approach of the MRAP. “They may be thinking in terms of a quick turnaround program.” he said. “They went from proposal to con tract in a matter of weeks - — rather than years, the way it used to be.”

Bacevich is Right!

In 1991 the United States government was perfectly willing to stand by while the Shiite Arabs and Kurds rebelled, toppled Saddam Hussein, and formed whatever government they deemed appropriate. In 1991, no one in Washington thought a U.S. military occupation was either necessary or advisable to “oversee” the installation of a new Iraqi government. It is tragic, indeed, that the U.S. government did not reach the same conclusion in 2003.

The twelve years of containment, the 2003 combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the misguided attempt to establish a secular, Western-style democratic state in a region where it has no chance of surviving, and the Sunni Arab rebellion against the U.S. military presence cost the American people 36,000 battle casualties and a trillion dollars. The number of Muslim Arabs killed as a result of the U.S. military occupation is anyone’s guess. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs have been wounded, killed, or incarcerated. At least two million Iraqi Arabs now live in refugee camps in neighboring Jordan and Syria. Two million more are refugees inside Iraq. When U.S. forces leave Iraq, more fighting is expected as the various parties inside Iraq struggle to consolidate their respective political and economic power. Only Iran benefits from these conditions.

In the end, the US must "abandon Iraq to its fate." It has no other choice. Whether the US stays another 3 months, 18 months, or 18 years, the country will either become a Shi'ite Islamist dictatorship supported by Iran and, perhaps with Turkish Troops in Kurdistan, or it will break apart into ethno-religious warfare and become the natural battleground between Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and the Gulf Arabs, each backing one or more of the warring factions. Think of a larger, potentially oil-rich Lebanon and you have the future Iraq.

Now, please explain how sacrificing a 1,000 additional American lives to consolidate Maliki's grip on Baghdad plus paying the Sunni Arab rebels 25+million a month in hard cash can be termed a triumph in counter-insurgency? It is very hard to swallow the Neocon/Petraeus narrative that American military power has achieved anything of strategic value for the United States and the West in Iraq.

In fact, if we continue to stay and meddle inside Iraq, we will see our casualties rise again as Colonel Reese has warned; especially since we are no long paying the usual tribute to the Sunni leaders. Right now, Odierno is debating whether to restart the payments because the Maliki government has no intention of paying the Sunnis anything and there is real concern that if we do not, we will find new IEDs wherever we go.

Now to Afghanistan and the future of counter-insurgency in the land that time forgot.

According to the self-appointed experts on CoIn, the key to success in CoIn/SASO operations is learning/knowing the terrain, including "human terrain," and that is hard to do when only in country 6-9 months. Historically, such operations require long-term presence by people who really become comfortable living among the population, learning their culture & social structures, and at least some of their language. In this sense, Afghanistan is the worst of all COIN worlds.

If we use advanced technology to eliminate the few genuine terrorists with any ties to Islamists who want to attack the United States, we will inevitably kill the so-called non-combatants who are their logistics, intelligence, and general support personnel. If there are any survivors, they are great at sanitizing the victims and making even terrorists look like innocent non-combatants. If we go in close to positively and painstakingly identify individual insurgent/terrorists and kill them with small arms or, even better, capture them for interrogation, we will increase our own loss rates (because we've gone down to fight them at their level of warfare and on their turf) and, if we take prisoners, there are whole new opportunities to create "atrocities" (both real ones and propaganda ones).

The principle problem in Afghanistan is not AQ or the Taliban. It’s the disgruntled and backward Pashtun Tribes or about 43 million people who live in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are fed up with the corrupt regimes in Kabul and Islamabad. They don’t like us and they don’t like the AQ Arabs either, but they really hate Karzai and the Paki government. In fact, the drone strikes on Pakistan would not bother them in the least if we actually killed the AQ Arabs. Unfortunately, we don’t usually manage that.

More important, in a Soviet Army report prepared two years after the Soviet intervention into Afghanistan, the Soviet General Staff formulated a requirement for 600,000 troops just to control the Afghan-Pakistan border region. Then, they urged withdrawal instead saying that 600,000 troops would not permanently change anything in the country. Unfortunately, the Politburo wasted years reaching the same conclusion.

What we in the West have done in Iraq and Afghanistan is unknowingly illuminate the clash between modernity and antiquity. In Afghanistan it is more acute than Iraq, but it’s true for both places. We revel in moral principle when justifying our actions but in actuality we wreak nothing but havoc and destruction on a world we do not understand and have come to hate.

Our soldiers learn to detest and look down upon the native Muslim populations as inferior, while we impose our will in terms of government, and laws in the hopes of educating the ignorant and caring for the sick. In reality our efforts are always compromised by the resistance to our impositions, as well as our instinctive hatred for the backwardness of the Muslim peoples.

In this sense, Bacevich is absolutely right. There is nothing to win. All we in the West do is lose time, money, blood and resources. Meanwhile the backward culture subsists on persecution and its life is extended. We change nothing. In fact, we make strategic conditions for ourselves worse as we have in Iraq.

Bottom Line: Counterinsurgency practiced by Western Forces in Islamic and other Non-European regions is a dangerous and destructive illusion that provides comfort to confused Westerners obsessed with the “White Man’s Burden” and those who equate the deaths of Muslims anywhere with a good outcome.

Better we secure our borders, get control of immigration into the US – legal and illegal – save our money and limit our military operations in these regions to securing our trade and to punitive military expeditions when absolutely necessary. But we must stop wasting lives and money on these culturally dysfunctional societies. We cannot drag them through the renaissance, the reformation, the enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. They will have to do these things themselves.

Thanks, Doug Macgregor

Volume CXXXVI, Number 14

The War We Can’t Win

Afghanistan & the Limits of American Power

Andrew J. Bacevich

History deals rudely with the pretensions of those who presume to determine its course. In an American context, this describes the fate of those falling prey to the Wilsonian Conceit. Yet the damage done by that conceit outlives its perpetrators.

From time to time, in some moment of peril or anxiety, a statesman appears on the scene promising to eliminate tyranny, ensure the triumph of liberty, and achieve permanent peace. For a moment, the statesman achieves the status of prophet, one who in his own person seemingly embodies the essence of the American purpose. Then reality intrudes, exposing the promises as costly fantasies. The prophet’s followers abandon him. Mocked and reviled, he is eventually banished—perhaps to some gated community in Dallas.

Yet however brief his ascendancy, the discredited prophet leaves behind a legacy. Most obvious are the problems created and left unresolved, commitments made and left unfulfilled, debts accrued and left unpaid. Less obvious, but for that reason more important, are the changes in perception.

The prophet recasts our image of reality. Long after his departure, remnants of that image linger and retain their capacity to beguile: consider how the Wilsonian vision of the United States as crusader state called upon to redeem the world in World War I has periodically resurfaced despite Woodrow Wilson’s own manifest failure to make good on that expectation. The prophet declaims and departs. Yet traces of his testimony, however at odds with the facts, remain lodged in our consciousness.

So it is today with Afghanistan, the conflict that George W. Bush began, then ignored, and finally bequeathed to his successor. Barack Obama has embraced that conflict as “the war we must win.” Those who celebrated Bush’s militancy back in the intoxicating days when he was promising to rid the world of evil see Obama’s enthusiasm for pressing on in Afghanistan as a vindication of sorts. They are right to do so.

The misguided and mismanaged global war on terror reduced Bush’s presidency to ruin. The candidate whose run for high office derived its energy from an implicit promise to repudiate all that Bush had wrought now seems intent on salvaging something useful from that failed enterprise—even if that means putting his own presidency at risk. When it comes to Afghanistan, Obama may be singing in a different key, but to anyone with an ear for music—especially for military marches—the melody remains intact.

Candidate Obama once derided the notion that the United States is called upon to determine the fate of Iraq. President Obama expresses a willingness to expend untold billions—not to mention who knows how many lives—in order to determine the fate of Afghanistan. Liberals may have interpreted Obama’s campaign pledge to ramp up the U.S. military commitment to Afghanistan as calculated to insulate himself from the charge of being a national-security wimp. Events have exposed that interpretation as incorrect. It turns out—apparently—that the president genuinely views this remote, landlocked, primitive Central Asian country as a vital U.S. national-security interest.

What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention? In Washington, this question goes not only unanswered but unasked. Among Democrats and Republicans alike, with few exceptions, Afghanistan’s importance is simply assumed—much the way fifty years ago otherwise intelligent people simply assumed that the United States had a vital interest in ensuring the survival of South Vietnam. As then, so today, the assumption does not stand up to even casual scrutiny.

Tune in to the Sunday talk shows or consult the op-ed pages and you might conclude otherwise. Those who profess to be in the know insist that the fight in Afghanistan is essential to keeping America safe. The events of September 11, 2001, ostensibly occurred because we ignored Afghanistan. Preventing the recurrence of those events, therefore, requires that we fix the place.

Yet this widely accepted line of reasoning overlooks the primary reason why the 9/11 conspiracy succeeded: federal, state, and local agencies responsible for basic security fell down on the job, failing to install even minimally adequate security measures in the nation’s airports. The national-security apparatus wasn’t paying attention—indeed, it ignored or downplayed all sorts of warning signs, not least of all Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war against the United States. Consumed with its ABC agenda—“anything but Clinton” was the Bush administration’s watchword in those days—the people at the top didn’t have their eye on the ball. So we let ourselves get sucker-punched. Averting a recurrence of that awful day does not require the semipermanent occupation and pacification of distant countries like Afghanistan. Rather, it requires that the United States erect and maintain robust defenses.

Fixing Afghanistan is not only unnecessary, it’s also likely to prove impossible. Not for nothing has the place acquired the nickname Graveyard of Empires. Of course, Americans, insistent that the dominion over which they preside does not meet the definition of empire, evince little interest in how Brits, Russians, or other foreigners have fared in attempting to impose their will on the Afghans. As General David McKiernan, until just recently the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, put it, “There’s always an inclination to relate what we’re doing with previous nations,” adding, “I think that’s a very unhealthy comparison.” McKiernan was expressing a view common among the ranks of the political and military elite: We’re Americans. We’re different. Therefore, the experience of others does not apply.

Of course, Americans like McKiernan who reject as irrelevant the experience of others might at least be willing to contemplate the experience of the United States itself. Take the case of Iraq, now bizarrely trumpeted in some quarters as a “success” and even more bizarrely seen as offering a template for how to turn Afghanistan around.

Much has been made of the United States Army’s rediscovery of (and growing infatuation with) counterinsurgency doctrine, applied in Iraq beginning in late 2006 when President Bush announced his so-called surge and anointed General David Petraeus as the senior U.S. commander in Baghdad. Yet technique is no substitute for strategy. Violence in Iraq may be down, but evidence of the promised political reconciliation that the surge was intended to produce remains elusive. America’s Mesopotamian misadventure continues.

Pretending that the surge has redeemed the Iraq war is akin to claiming that when Andy Jackson “caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans” he thereby enabled the United States to emerge victorious from the War of 1812. Such a judgment works well as folklore but ignores an abundance of contrary evidence.

Six-plus years after it began, Operation Iraqi Freedom has consumed something like a trillion dollars—with the meter still running—and has taken the lives of more than forty-three hundred American soldiers. Meanwhile, in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities, car bombs continue to detonate at regular intervals, killing and maiming dozens. Anyone inclined to put Iraq in the nation’s rearview mirror is simply deluded. Not long ago General Raymond Odierno, Petraeus’s successor and the fifth U.S. commander in Baghdad, expressed the view that the insurgency in Iraq is likely to drag on for an-other five, ten, or fifteen years. Events may well show that Odierno is an optimist.

Given the embarrassing yet indisputable fact that this was an utterly needless war—no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction found, no ties between Saddam Hussein and the jihadists established, no democratic transformation of the Islamic world set in motion, no road to peace in Jerusalem discovered in downtown Baghdad—to describe Iraq as a success, and as a model for application elsewhere, is nothing short of obscene. The great unacknowledged lesson of Iraq is the one that the writer Norman Mailer identified decades ago: “Fighting a war to fix something works about as good as going to a whorehouse to get rid of a clap.”

For those who, despite all this, still hanker to have a go at nation building, why start with Afghanistan? Why not first fix, say, Mexico? In terms of its importance to the United States, our southern neighbor—a major supplier of oil and drugs among other commodities deemed vital to the American way of life—out-ranks Afghanistan by several orders of magnitude.

If one believes that moral considerations rather than self-interest should inform foreign policy, Mexico still qualifies for priority attention. Consider the theft of California. Or consider more recently how the American appetite for illicit drugs and our liberal gun laws have corroded Mexican institutions and produced an epidemic of violence afflicting ordinary Mexicans. We owe these people, big-time.

Yet any politician calling for the commitment of sixty thousand U.S. troops to Mexico to secure those interests or acquit those moral obligations would be laughed out of Washington—and rightly so. Any pundit proposing that the United States assume responsibility for eliminating the corruption that is endemic in Mexican politics while establishing in Mexico City effective mechanisms of governance would have his license to pontificate revoked. Anyone suggesting that the United States possesses the wisdom and the wherewithal to solve the problem of Mexican drug trafficking, to endow Mexico with competent security forces, and to reform the Mexican school system (while protecting the rights of Mexican women) would be dismissed as a lunatic. Meanwhile, those who promote such programs for Afghanistan, ignoring questions of cost and ignoring as well the corruption and ineffectiveness that pervade our own institutions, are treated like sages.

The contrast between Washington’s preoccupation with Afghanistan and its relative indifference to Mexico testifies to the distortion of U.S. national security priorities induced by George W. Bush in his post-9/11 prophetic mode—distortions now being endorsed by Bush’s successor. It also testifies to a vast failure of imagination to which our governing classes have succumbed.

This failure of imagination makes it literally impossible for those who possess either authority or influence in Washington to consider the possibility (a) that the solution to America’s problems is to be found not out there—where “there” in this case is Central Asia-but here at home; (b) that the people out there, rather than requiring our ministrations, may well be capable of managing their own affairs relying on their own methods; and (c) that to disregard (a) and (b) is to open the door to great mischief and in all likelihood to perpetrate no small amount of evil. Needless to say, when mischief or evil does occur—when a stray American bomb kills a few dozen Afghan civilians, for instance—the costs of this failure of imagination are not borne by the people who inhabit the leafy neighborhoods of northwest Washington, who lunch at the Palm or the Metropolitan Club, and school their kids at Sidwell Friends.

So the answer to the question of the hour—What should the United States do about Afghanistan?—comes down to this: A sense of realism and a sense of proportion should oblige us to take a minimalist approach. As with Uruguay or Fiji or Estonia or other countries where U.S. interests are limited, the United States should undertake to secure those interests at the lowest cost possible.

What might this mean in practice? General Petraeus, now commanding United States Central Command, recently commented that “the mission is to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and other transnational extremists,” in effect “to deny them safe havens in which they can plan and train for such attacks.”

The mission statement is a sound one. The current approach to accomplishing the mission is not sound and, indeed, qualifies as counterproductive. Note that denying Al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan hasn’t required U.S. forces to occupy the frontier regions of that country. Similarly, denying Al Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan shouldn’t require military occupation by the United States and its allies.

It would be much better to let local authorities do the heavy lifting. Provided appropriate incentives, the tribal chiefs who actually run Afghanistan are best positioned to prevent terrorist networks from establishing a large-scale presence. As a backup, intensive surveillance complemented with precision punitive strikes (assuming we can manage to kill the right people) will suffice to disrupt Al Qaeda’s plans. Certainly, that approach offers a cheaper and more efficient alter-native to establishing a large-scale and long-term U.S. ground presence—which, as the U.S. campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated, has the unintended effect of handing jihadists a recruiting tool that they are quick to exploit.

In the immediate wake of 9/11, all the talk—much of it emanating from neoconservative quarters—was about achieving a “decisive victory” over terror. The reality is that we can’t eliminate every last armed militant harboring a grudge against the West. Nor do we need to. As long as we maintain adequate defenses, Al Qaeda operatives, hunkered down in their caves, pose no more than a modest threat. As for the Taliban, unless they manage to establish enclaves in places like New Jersey or Miami, the danger they pose to the United States falls several notches below the threat posed by Cuba, which is no threat at all.

As for the putatively existential challenge posed by Islamic radicalism, that project will prove ultimately to be a self-defeating one. What violent Islamists have on offer-a rejection of modernity that aims to restore the caliphate and unify the ummah [community]—doesn’t sell. In this regard, Iran—its nuclear aspirations the subject of much hand-wringing—offers considerable cause for hope. Much like the Castro revolution that once elicited so much angst in Washington, the Islamic revolution launched in 1979 has failed resoundingly. Observers once feared that the revolution inspired and led by the Ayatollah Khomeini would sweep across the Persian Gulf. In fact, it has accomplished precious little. Within Iran itself, the Islamic republic no longer represents the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian people, as the tens of thousands of protesters who recently filled the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities made evident. Here we see foretold the fate awaiting the revolutionary cause that Osama bin Laden purports to promote.

In short, time is on our side, not on the side of those who proclaim their intention of turning back the clock to the fifteenth century. The ethos of consumption and individual autonomy, privileging the here and now over the eternal, will conquer the Muslim world as surely as it is conquering East Asia and as surely as it has already conquered what was once known as Christendom. It’s the wreckage left in the wake of that conquest that demands our attention. If the United States today has a saving mission, it is to save itself. Speaking in the midst of another unnecessary war back in 1967, Martin Luther King got it exactly right: “Come home, America.” The prophet of that era urged his countrymen to take on “the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism.”

Dr. King’s list of evils may need a bit of tweaking—in our own day, the sins requiring expiation number more than three. Yet in his insistence that we first heal ourselves, King remains today the prophet we ignore at our peril. That Barack Obama should fail to realize this qualifies as not only ironic but inexplicable.


Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Leave Now, Not Later

In a memo that has been made public by The Times, Col. Timothy Reese, a senior American military adviser in Baghdad, calls “for the U.S. to declare victory and go home.” He argues that Iraqi forces are competent enough to handle internal threats to their government, and that extending the American military presence in Iraq beyond 2010 could fuel a growing resentment. Indeed, Colonel Reese, an author of an official Army history of the Iraq war, suggests that U.S. troops be withdrawn by August 2010, 15 months ahead of schedule.

A spokeswoman for Gen. Ray Odierno, the senior American commander in Iraq, said that the memo, which was written in early July, did not reflect the official stance of the U.S. military.

Although Colonel Reese’s stance might not be an official one, we asked some experts whether his view made sense.


My response:

Colonel Reese is saying what most soldiers under the rank of three stars know and think is the right course of action — leave Iraq sooner, rather than later. Colonel Reese is sounding the alarm that if we do not take the opportunity to leave now, we are in for a new round of pointless violence directed at American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in Iraq.

Large-scale American military occupations of non-Western societies to transform them into images of the West inevitably provoke resentment and breed violence; even when the U.S. pays $25 million a month in hard cash to the Sunni Arab insurgent forces not to fight.

Exporting democracy at gunpoint to Iraq has not only failed to create stability in the Middle East, it has made the United States and its allies less secure. Today, Iranian strategic influence trumps American strategic influence for good reason: Tehran’s agents of influence wear an indigenous face while America’s agents wear foreign uniforms and carry guns.

America’s decision to garrison Iraq was a serious strategic mistake. It’s time to reverse that mistake and, as Colonel Reese wisely argues, leave now, not later.


Peters is becoming increasingly shrill in his desperate call for the expenditure of more American blood and treasure in conflicts entirely unrelated to the smoking ovens of Auschwitz. Unwilling to see the ongoing conflicts for what they are - fools’ errands that inevitably become conflicts between modernity and antiquity – he extends the false “Neocon” analogy comparing the vital strategic interest that demanded we invade Europe on the morning of June 6, 1944 with the tragic and unnecessary occupation and suppression of Iraq and, now, Afghanistan.

Americans long ago walked away from these conflicts recognizing that the loss of American life in pursuit of the illusion that we can install puppet regimes to serve our interests while imposing the façade of liberal democracy on traditional Islamic societies is wasteful and counterproductive.

For Peters, however, one lie builds on the foundation of another in what can only be characterized as wishful thinking in the worst sense of the words.

America won a great strategic victory in 1991, so much so we subsequently expended billions on an elaborate containment plan for 12 years that achieved nothing of value in Iraq for us or Iraq’s people, but containing Saddam Hussein expanded our military presence in a region where our presence ashore was not and is not wanted. In 2007 we allegedly won another victory. This time it came in the form of the surge narrative. In reality, the series of events in 2007 that cost us more than a thousand good American lives in uniform and 25 million a month in bribes to the Sunni Arab “Insurgents” simply delivered Iraq into the hands of Tehran, once and for all.

Now, the latest fictional success story not only compels us to maintain over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq indefinitely, it helps to rationalize the further pointless expenditure of more American blood and treasure in the land that time forgot – Afghanistan; and all of this from the blood thirsty Peters, yet another uniformed bureaucrat who never killed anyone in combat, least of all an enemy of his country.

Journal of International Security Affairs

by Ralph Peters

The most troubling aspect of international security for the United States is not the killing power of our immediate enemies, which remains modest in historical terms, but our increasingly effete view of warfare. The greatest advantage our opponents enjoy is an uncompromising strength of will, their readiness to “pay any price and bear any burden” to hurt and humble us. As our enemies’ view of what is permissible in war expands apocalyptically, our self-limiting definitions of allowable targets and acceptable casualties ­hostile, civilian and our own ­continue to narrow fatefully. Our enemies cannot defeat us in direct confrontations, but we appear determined to defeat ourselves.

Much has been made over the past two decades of the emergence of “asymmetric warfare,” in which the ill-equipped confront the superbly armed by changing the rules of the battlefield. Yet, such irregular warfare is not new; ­it is warfare’s oldest form, the stone against the bronze-tipped spear­ and the crucial asymmetry does not lie in weaponry, but in moral courage. While our most resolute current enemies­, Islamist extremists, ­may violate our conceptions of morality and ethics, they also are willing to sacrifice more, suffer more and kill more (even among their own kind) than we are. We become mired in the details of minor missteps, while fanatical holy warriors consecrate their lives to their ultimate vision. They live their cause, but we do not live ours. We have forgotten what warfare means and what it takes to win.

There are multiple reasons for this American amnesia about the cost of victory. First, we, the people, have lived in unprecedented safety for so long (despite the now-faded shock of September 11, 2001) that we simply do not feel endangered; rather, we sense that what nastiness there may be in the world will always occur elsewhere and need not disturb our lifestyles. We like the frisson (Latin/French: a sudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill) of feeling a little guilt, but resent all calls to action that require sacrifice.

Second, collective memory has effectively erased the European-sponsored horrors of the last century; yesteryear’s “unthinkable” events have become, well, unthinkable. As someone born only seven years after the ovens of Auschwitz stopped smoking, I am stunned by the common notion, which prevails despite ample evidence to the contrary, that such horrors are impossible today.

Third, ending the draft resulted in a superb military, but an unknowing, detached population. The higher you go in our social caste system, the less grasp you find of the military’s complexity and the greater the expectation that, when employed, our armed forces should be able to fix things promptly and politely.

Fourth, an unholy alliance between the defense industry and academic theorists seduced decision makers with a false-messiah catechism of bloodless war. In pursuit of billions in profits, defense contractors made promises impossible to fulfill, while think tank scholars sought acclaim by designing warfare models that excited political leaders anxious to get off cheaply, but which left out factors such as the enemy, human psychology, and 5,000 years of precedents.

Fifth, we have become largely a white-collar, suburban society in which a child’s bloody nose is no longer a routine part of growing up, but grounds for a lawsuit; the privileged among us have lost the sense of grit in daily life. We grow up believing that safety from harm is a right that others are bound to respect as we do. Our rising generation of political leaders assumes that, if anyone wishes to do us harm, it must be the result of a misunderstanding that can be resolved by that lethal narcotic of the chattering classes, dialogue.

Last, but not least, history is no longer taught as a serious subject in America’s schools. As a result, politicians lack perspective; journalists lack meaningful touchstones; and the average person’s sense of warfare has been redefined by media entertainments in which misery, if introduced, is brief.

By 1965, we had already forgotten what it took to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and the degeneration of our historical sense has continued to accelerate since then. More Americans died in one afternoon at Cold Harbor during our Civil War than died in six years in Iraq. Three times as many American troops fell during the morning of June 6, 1944, as have been lost in combat in over seven years in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, prize-hunting reporters insist that our losses in Iraq have been catastrophic, while those in Afghanistan are unreasonably high.

We have cheapened the idea of war. We have had wars on poverty, wars on drugs, wars on crime, economic warfare, ratings wars, campaign war chests, bride wars, and price wars in the retail sector. The problem, of course, is that none of these “wars” has anything to do with warfare as soldiers know it. Careless of language and anxious to dramatize our lives and careers, we have elevated policy initiatives, commercial spats and social rivalries to the level of humanity’s most complex, decisive and vital endeavor.

One of the many disheartening results of our willful ignorance has been well-intentioned, inane claims to the effect that “war doesn’t change anything” and that “war isn’t the answer,” that we all need to “give peace a chance.” Who among us would not love to live in such a splendid world? Unfortunately, the world in which we do live remains one in which war is the primary means of resolving humanity’s grandest disagreements, as well as supplying the answer to plenty of questions. As for giving peace a chance, the sentiment is nice, but it does not work when your self-appointed enemy wants to kill you. Gandhi’s campaign of non-violence (often quite violent in its reality) only worked because his opponent was willing to play along. Gandhi would not have survived very long in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s (or today’s) China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Effective non-violence is contractual. Where the contract does not exist, Gandhi dies.

Furthermore, our expectations of war’s results have become absurd. Even the best wars do not yield perfect aftermaths. World War II changed the planet for the better, yet left the eastern half of Europe under Stalin’s yoke and opened the door for the Maoist takeover in China. Should we then declare it a failure and not worth fighting? Our Civil War preserved the Union and abolished slavery - ­worthy results, surely. Still, it took over a century for equality of opportunity for minorities to gain a firm footing. Should Lincoln have let the Confederacy go with slavery untouched, rather than choosing to fight? Expecting Iraq, Afghanistan or the conflict of tomorrow to end quickly, cleanly and neatly belongs to the realm of childhood fantasy, not human reality. Even the most successful war yields imperfect results. An insistence on prompt, ideal outcomes as the measure of victory guarantees the perception of defeat.

Consider the current bemoaning of a perceived “lack of progress” and
“setbacks” in Afghanistan. A largely pre-medieval, ferociously xenophobic country that never enjoyed good government or a central power able to control all of its territory had become the hostage of a monstrous regime and a haven for terrorists. Today, Afghanistan has an elected government, feeble though it may be; for the first time in the region’s history, some of the local people welcome, and most tolerate, the presence of foreign troops; women are no longer stoned to death in sports stadiums for the edification of the masses; and the most inventive terrorists of our time have been driven into remote compounds and caves. We agonize (at least in the media) over the persistence of the Taliban, unwilling to recognize that the Taliban or a similar organization will always find a constituency in remote tribal valleys
and among fanatics. If we set ourselves the goal of wiping out the Taliban, we will fail. Given a realistic mission of thrusting the Islamists to the extreme margins of society over decades, however, we can effect meaningful change (much as the Ku Klux Klan, whose following once numbered in the millions across our nation, has been reduced to a tiny club of grumps). Even now, we have already won in terms of the crucial question: Is Afghanistan a better place today for most Afghans, for the world and for us than it was on September 10, 2001? Why must we talk ourselves into defeat?

We have the power to win any war. Victory remains possible in every conflict we face today or that looms on the horizon. But, for now, we are unwilling to accept that war not only is, but must be, hell. Sadly, our enemies do not share our scruples.

The Present Foe

The willful ignorance within the American intelligentsia and in Washington, D.C., does not stop with the mechanics and costs of warfare, but extends to a denial of the essential qualities of our most-determined enemies. While narco-guerrillas, tribal rebels or pirates may vex us, Islamist terrorists are opponents of a far more frightening quality. These fanatics do not yet pose an existential threat to the United States, but we must recognize the profound difference between secular groups fighting for power or wealth and men whose galvanizing dream is to destroy the West. When forced to assess the latter, we take the easy way out and focus on their current capabilities, although the key to understanding them is to study their ultimate goals ­no matter how absurd and unrealistic their ambitions may seem to us.

The problem is religion. Our Islamist enemies are inspired by it, while we are terrified even to talk about it. We are in the unique position of denying that our enemies know what they themselves are up to. They insist, publicly, that their goal is our destruction (or, in their mildest moods, our conversion) in their god’s name. We contort ourselves to insist that their religious rhetoric is all a sham, that they are merely cynics exploiting the superstitions of the masses. Setting aside the point that a devout believer can behave cynically in his mundane actions, our phony, one-dimensional analysis of al-Qaeda and its ilk has precious little to do with the nature of our enemies ­which we are desperate to deny ­and everything to do with us.

We have so oversold ourselves on the notion of respect for all religions (except, of course, Christianity and Judaism) that we insist that faith cannot be a cause of atrocious violence. The notion of killing to please a deity and further his perceived agenda is so unpleasant to us that we simply pretend it away. U.S. intelligence agencies and government departments go to absurd lengths, even in classified analyses, to avoid such basic terms as “Islamist terrorist.” Well, if your enemy is a terrorist and he professes to be an Islamist, it may be wise to take him at his word.

A paralyzing problem “inside the Beltway” is that our ruling class has been educated out of religious fervor. Even officials and bureaucrats who attend a church or synagogue each week no longer comprehend the life-shaking power of revelation, the transformative ecstasy of glimpsing the divine, or the exonerating communalism of living faith. Emotional displays of belief make the functional agnostic or social atheist nervous; he or she reacts with elitist disdain. Thus we insist, for our own comfort, that our enemies do not really mean what they profess, that they are as devoid of a transcendental sense of the universe as we are.

History parades no end of killers-for-god in front of us. The procession has lasted at least five thousand years. At various times, each major faith­
especially our inherently violent monotheist faiths ­has engaged in religious warfare and religious terrorism. When a struggling faith finds itself under the assault of a more powerful foreign belief system, it fights: Jews against Romans, Christians against Muslims, Muslims against Christians and Jews. When faiths feel threatened, externally or internally, they fight as long as they retain critical mass. Today the Judeo-Christian/post-belief world occupies the dominant strategic position, as it has, increasingly, for the last five centuries, its rise coinciding with Islam’s long descent into cultural darkness and civilizational impotence. Behind all its entertaining bravado, Islam is fighting for its life, for validation.

Islam, in other words, is on the ropes, despite no end of nonsense heralding
“Eurabia” or other Muslim demographic conquests. If demography were all there was to it, China and India long since would have divided the world between them. Islam today is composed of over a billion essentially powerless human beings, many of them humiliated and furiously jealous. So Islam fights and will fight, within its meager-but-pesky capabilities. Operationally, it matters little that the failures of the Middle Eastern Islamic world are self-wrought, the disastrous results of the deterioration of a once-triumphant faith into a web of static cultures obsessed with behavior at the expense of achievement. The core world of Islam, stretching from Casablanca to the Hindu Kush, is not competitive in a single significant sphere of human endeavor (not even terrorism since, at present, we are terrorizing the terrorists). We are confronted with a historical anomaly, the public collapse of a once-great, still-proud civilization that, in the age of super-computers, cannot build a reliable automobile: enormous wealth has been squandered; human capital goes wasted; economies are dysfunctional; and the quality of life is barbaric. Those who once cowered at Islam’s greatness now rule the world. The roughly one-fifth of humanity that makes up the Muslim world lacks a single world-class university of its own. The resultant rage is immeasurable; jealousy may be the greatest unacknowledged strategic factor in the world today.

Embattled cultures dependably experience religious revivals: What does not work in this life will work in the next. All the deity in question asks is submission, sacrifice ­and action to validate faith. Unlike the terrorists of yesteryear, who sought to change the world and hoped to live to see it changed, today’s terrorists focus on god’s kingdom and regard death as a promotion. We struggle to explain suicide bombers in sociological terms, deciding that they are malleable and unhappy young people, psychologically vulnerable. But plenty of individuals in our own society are malleable, unhappy and unstable. Where are the Western atheist suicide bombers?

To make enduring progress against Islamist terrorists, we must begin by accepting that the terrorists are Islamists. And the use of the term
“Islamist,” rather than “Islamic,” is vital­ not for reasons of political correctness, but because it connotes a severe deviation from what remains, for now, mainstream Islam. We face enemies who celebrate death and who revel in bloodshed. Islamist terrorists have a closer kinship with the blood cults of the pre-Islamic Middle East­ or even with the Aztecs ­than they do with the ghazis who exploded out of the Arabian desert, ablaze with a new faith. At a time when we should be asking painful questions about why the belief persists that gods want human blood, we insist on downplaying religion’s power and insisting that our new enemies are much the same as the old ones. It is as if we sought to analyze Hitler’s Germany without mentioning Nazis.

We will not even accept that the struggle between Islam and the West never ceased. Even after Islam’s superpower status collapsed, the European imperial era was bloodied by countless Muslim insurrections, and even the Cold War was punctuated with Islamist revivals and calls for jihad. The difference down the centuries was that, until recently, the West understood that this was a survival struggle and did what had to be done (the myth that insurgents of any kind usually win has no historical basis). Unfortunately for our delicate sensibilities, the age-old lesson of religion-fueled rebellions is that they must be put down with unsparing bloodshed­, as the fanatic’s god is not interested in compromise solutions. The leading rebels or terrorists must be killed. We, on the contrary, want to make them our friends.

The paradox is that our humane approach to warfare results in unnecessary bloodshed. Had we been ruthless in the use of our overwhelming power in the early days of conflict in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the ultimate human toll­ on all sides ­would have been far lower. In warfare of every kind, there is an immutable law: If you are unwilling to pay the butcher’s bill up front, you will pay it with compound interest in the end. Iraq was not hard; we made it so. Likewise, had we not tried to do Afghanistan on the cheap, Osama bin Laden would be dead and al-Qaeda even weaker than it is today.

When the United States is forced to go to war-­or decides to go to war-­it must intend to win. That means that rather than setting civilian apparatchiks to calculate minimum force levels, we need to bring every possible resource to bear from the outset-­an approach that saves blood and treasure in the long run. And we must stop obsessing about our minor sins. Warfare will never be clean, soldiers will always make mistakes, and rounds will always go astray, despite our conscientious safeguards and best intentions. Instead of agonizing over a fatal mistake made by a young Marine at a roadblock, we must return to the fundamental recognition that the greatest “war crime” the United States can commit is to lose.

Other Threats, New Dimensions

Within the defense community, another danger looms: the risk of preparing to re-fight the last war, or, in other words, assuming that our present struggles are the prototypes of our future ones. As someone who spent much of the 1990’s arguing that the U.S. armed forces needed to prepare for irregular warfare and urban combat, I now find myself required to remind my former peers in the military that we must remain reasonably prepared for traditional threats from states.

Yet another counter-historical assumption is that states have matured beyond
fighting wars with each other, and that everyone would have too much to lose, that the inter-connected nature of trade makes full-scale conventional wars impossible. That is precisely the view that educated Europeans held in the first decade of the twentieth century. Even the youngish Winston Churchill, a veteran of multiple colonial conflicts, believed that general war between civilized states had become unthinkable. It had not.

Bearing in mind that, while neither party desires war, we could find ourselves tumbling, à la 1914, into a conflict with China, we need to remember that the apparent threat of the moment is not necessarily the deadly menace of tomorrow. It may not be China that challenges us, after all, but the unexpected rise of a dormant power. The precedent is there: in 1929, Germany had a playground military limited to 100,000 men. Ten years later, a re-armed Germany had embarked on the most destructive campaign of aggression in history, its killing power and savagery exceeding that of the Mongols. Without militarizing our economy (or indulging our unscrupulous defense industry), we must carry out rational modernization efforts within our conventional forces­ even as we march through a series of special-operations-intensive fights for which there is no end in sight. We do not need to bankrupt ourselves to do so, but must accept an era of hard choices, asking ourselves not which weapons we would like to have, but which are truly necessary.

Still, even should we make perfect acquisition decisions (an unlikely prospect, given the power of lobbyists and public relations firms serving the defense industry), that would not guarantee us victory or even a solid initial performance in a future conventional war. As with the struggle to drive terrorists into remote corners, we are limited less by our military capabilities than by our determination to pretend that war can be made innocently.

Whether faced with conventional or unconventional threats, the same deadly impulse is at work in our government and among the think tank astrologers who serve as its courtiers: An insistence on constantly narrowing the parameters of what is permissible in warfare. We are attempting to impose ever sterner restrictions on the conduct of war even as our enemies, immediate and potential, are exploring every possible means of expanding their conduct of conflicts into new realms of total war.

What is stunning about the United States is the fragility of our system. To strategically immobilize our military, you have only to successfully attack one link in the chain, our satellites. Our homeland’s complex infrastructure offers ever-increasing opportunities for disruption to enemies well aware that they cannot defeat our military head-on, but who hope to wage total war asymmetrically, leapfrogging over our ships and armored divisions to make daily life so miserable for Americans that we would quit the fight. No matter that even the gravest attacks upon our homeland might, instead, re-arouse the killer spirit among Americans-­our enemies view the home front as our weak flank.

From what we know of emerging Chinese and Russian war fighting doctrine, both from their writings and their actions against third parties, their concept of the future battlefield is all-inclusive, even as we, for our part, long to isolate combatants in a post-modern version of a medieval joust. As just a few minor examples, consider Russia’s and China‽ s use of cyber-attacks to punish and even paralyze other states. We are afraid to post dummy websites for information-warfare purposes, since we have talked ourselves into warfare-by-lawyers. Meanwhile, the Chinese routinely seek to infiltrate or attack Pentagon computer networks, while Russia paralyzed Estonia through a massive cyber-blitzkrieg just a couple of years ago. Our potential enemies
believe that anything that might lead to victory is permissible. We are afraid that we might get sued.

Yet, even the Chinese and Russians do not have an apocalyptic vision of warfare. They want to survive and they would be willing to let us survive, if only on their terms. But religion-driven terrorists care not for this world and its glories. If the right Islamist terrorists acquired a usable nuclear weapon, they would not hesitate to employ it (the most bewildering security analysts are those who minimize the danger should Iran acquire nuclear weapons). The most impassioned extremists among our enemies not only have no qualms about the mass extermination of unbelievers, but would be delighted to offer their god rivers of the blood of less-devout Muslims. Our fiercest enemies are in love with death.

For our part, we truly think that our enemies are kidding, that we can negotiate with them, after all, if only we could figure out which toys they really want. They pray to their god for help in cutting our throats, and we want to chat.

The Killers Without Guns

While the essence of warfare never changes-­it will always be about killing the enemy until he acquiesces in our desires or is exterminated-­its topical manifestations evolve and its dimensions expand. Today, the United States and its allies will never face a lone enemy on the battlefield. There will always be a hostile third party in the fight, but one which we not only refrain from attacking but are hesitant to annoy: the media.

While this brief essay cannot undertake to analyze the psychological dysfunctions that lead many among the most privileged Westerners to attack their own civilization and those who defend it, we can acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that, to most media practitioners, our troops are always guilty (even if proven innocent), while our barbaric enemies are innocent (even if proven guilty). The phenomenon of Western and world journalists championing the “rights” and causes of blood-drenched butchers
who, given the opportunity, would torture and slaughter them, disproves the notion ­were any additional proof required ­that human beings are rational creatures. Indeed, the passionate belief of so much of the intelligentsia that our civilization is evil and only the savage is noble looks rather like an anemic version of the self-delusions of the terrorists themselves. And, of course, there is a penalty for the intellectual’s dismissal of religion: humans need to believe in something greater than themselves, even if they have a degree from Harvard. Rejecting the god of their fathers, the neo-pagans who dominate the media serve as lackeys at the terrorists’ bloody altar.

Of course, the media have shaped the outcome of conflicts for centuries, from the European wars of religion through Vietnam. More recently, though, the media have determined the outcomes of conflicts. While journalists and editors ultimately failed to defeat the U.S. government in Iraq, video cameras and biased reporting guaranteed that Hezbollah would survive the 2006 war with Israel and, as of this writing, they appear to have saved Hamas from destruction in Gaza.

Pretending to be impartial, the self-segregating personalities drawn to media careers overwhelmingly take a side, and that side is rarely ours. Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. Perceiving themselves as superior beings, journalists have positioned themselves as protected-species combatants. But freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.

The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.

In closing, we must dispose of one last mantra that has been too broadly and
uncritically accepted: the nonsense that, if we win by fighting as fiercely as our enemies, we will “become just like them.” To convince Imperial Japan of its defeat, we not only had to fire-bomb Japanese cities, but drop two atomic bombs. Did we then become like the Japanese of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere? Did we subsequently invade other lands with the goal of permanent conquest, enslaving their populations? Did our destruction of German cities ­also necessary for victory ­turn us into Nazis? Of course, you can find a few campus leftists who think so, but they have yet to reveal the location of our death camps.

We may wish reality to be otherwise, but we must deal with it as we find it. And the reality of warfare is that it is the organized endeavor at which human beings excel. Only our ability to develop and maintain cities approaches warfare in its complexity. There is simply nothing that human collectives do better (or with more enthusiasm) than fight each other. Whether we seek explanations for human bloodlust in Darwin, in our religious texts (do start with the Book of Joshua), or among the sociologists who have done irreparable damage to the poor, we finally must accept empirical reality: at least a small minority of humanity longs to harm others. The
violent, like the poor, will always be with us, and we must be willing to kill those who would kill others. At present, the American view of warfare has degenerated from science to a superstition in which we try to propitiate the gods with chants and dances. We need to regain a sense of the world’s reality.

Of all the enemies we face today and may face tomorrow, the most dangerous is our own wishful thinking.

[Ralph Peters is a retired U.S. Army officer, a strategist, an author, a journalist who has reported from various war zones, and a lifelong traveler. He is the author of 24 books, including Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World and the forthcoming The War after Armageddon, a novel set in the Levant after the nuclear destruction of Israel.]

The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Roman Emperor, AD 161-180