Two interesting reports explain in detail why
America simply cannot win wars against guerrilla terrorism. A Washington
details the conflict between Special Forces and regular Army units in Iraq.
The Special Forces officers and sergeants speak some Arabic, know the culture,
have patience over endless cups of tea, look at the long view, and succeeded
in getting a major tribe with 300,000 members to take up arms and work with
American forces. The regular Army colonel wants to "win" the battles,
do body counts, and primarily protect the lives of his men. He is impatient
with slow and incompetent tribal ways, and is losing the war. His soldiers are
isolated and afraid, hate being in Iraq, brutally arrest the tribesmen, despise
the locals, kill and destroy indiscriminately, and create more enemies for America.
The report is well worth reading in detail to understand how hopeless the war
Of course an additional factor is the criminal incompetence of the initial
occupation strategies, such as dismissing all government officials, police,
and military from their jobs, and then bringing incompetents
and "kids" (even Heritage Foundation interns) to staff the occupation.
But this simply reflects the larger issue – that the American system is incapable
of intelligent postwar planning. Look how we fought the Second World War to
give half of Europe (and Manchuria) to communists, thereby making them into
a greater threat than Hitler. Now, we're losing our allies and making ourselves
into the enemy of most of the Muslim world, nearly a quarter of the human race.
America simply does not have the will, resources, patience, care, or ability
to "run" an empire or even an effective counterinsurgency. War for
Americans is like a football game: one "wins" and then goes home.
For many Americans, war means watching Oliver North on Fox TV and then cursing
the foreigners for not doing what we tell them. Few care that America has now
become so hated in the world. When real wars start, it means TV "news"
repeatedly showing planes taking off aircraft carriers, missiles firing into
space, and tanks charging through the desert dust. Rarely (for example, recently
with Lebanon) do Americans ever see the destruction and misery caused by war.
Indeed, it is very hard to find any Pentagon sources on Google that explain
what our bombs actually do
when they hit.
The second report is a Cato Institute study, "The
American Way of War: Cultural Barriers to Successful Counterinsurgency [.pdf],"
by Jeffrey Record of the Air War College. The paper criticizes our view of military
victory as an end in itself. It also argues, "Simply put, the U.S. is not
very good at defeating enemies who do not fight like we do, enemies who avoid
our strengths while exploiting our weaknesses."
The professor recounts several characteristics of the "American way of
war" as described by the respected British strategist Colin S. Gray, such
We are apolitical, with a long history of "waging war for the goal of
victory, paying scant regard to the consequences of the course of its operations
for the character of the peace that will follow."
We are ahistorical, with little interest in the lessons of history, because
we consider ourselves so unique and good.
We are optimistic, thinking that everything will work out well after we
We are culturally ignorant, with little interest or respect for other
We are dependent on technology for intelligence, lacking human resources.
Our propaganda about Saddam being a new Hitler obscured how he really ruled,
through the tribal leaders. If we had known that (or cared), then the early
occupation might have been more sensitive to such issues of control. Instead,
the Pentagon neoconservatives brought in Israeli
"advisers" to show us their methods of occupation.
We are "firepower focused." I refer readers to the truly excellent
and original thinking of William
S. Lind, who explains that America still follows the Second Generation
ideology of massive firepower and is woefully inept at Fourth Generation warfare
against guerrillas (Third Generation warfare involves the mass maneuvers associated
with the era of Gen. Patton).
We are impatient, wanting quick "victory" (like we see in the
movies about the Second World War). Indeed, nearly all military training is
still about war with nation-states. Pentagon spending is mainly designed for
a war with China or Russia.
We are "profoundly regular." According to Gray,
"U.S. armed forces have not been friendly either to irregular warfare
or to those in its ranks who were would-be practitioners and advocates of
what was regarded as the sideshow of insurgency."
We are sensitive to casualties. In order to maintain support for
war on the home front, we are overly destructive on the war front. To minimize
our own casualties, we use excessive firepower that destroys what we are trying
to save, as well as killing many foreign civilians.
I would add another major point: Our vast military budget is bloated with
corporate welfare. The hyper-expensive F-22
is a good example, being built with subcontractors in 42 states to spread the
jobs and money. Most spending is a giant money pot to help members of Congress
Other major points from Professor Record:
Counterinsurgency is "inherently manpower intensive and rel[ies] heavily
on special skills – for example, human intelligence, civil affairs, police,
public health, foreign language, foreign force training, psychological warfare
– that are secondary, even marginal, to the prosecution of conventional warfare."
Pentagon procurement is still almost wholly weighted to big-ticket items
irrelevant to the War on Terror; the Pentagon prefers to do what it does well.
Record explains how counterinsurgency "demands the utmost restraint and
discrimination in the application of force. In counterinsurgency warfare,
firepower is the instrument of last rather than first resort."
Small-war expert Thomas X. Hammes has noted that war against unconventional
enemies "is the only kind of war America has ever lost. … As the only
Goliath in the world, we should be worried that the world's Davids have found
a sling and stone that work." It is, needless to say, ironic that America
won its independence from Britain using unconventional warfare.
Record goes on to say that "great power intervention in small wars is
almost always a matter of choice. … Most such wars do not engage core U.S. security
interests other than placing the limits of American military power on embarrassing
display." Furthermore, "Neither the Pentagon nor the U.S. government
as a whole is properly organized or sufficiently motivated to meet the challenges
of political reconstruction in foreign lands. … Notwithstanding the exceptional
cases of post-World War II Germany and Japan, the United States has demonstrated
– in Vietnam,
Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and Afghanistan – that it lacks the will and skills
required to effect the enduring rehabilitation of failed states."
A good example is the shortage of Arabic-speaking interpreters. At a major
conference I covered, several speakers explained that there was only one
level of security clearance and that persons with even grandparents in the affected
nations were rejected. It was suggested that the CIA and military adopt several
levels of security clearance so that the sons and daughters of Arab immigrants
in America with linguistic skills could be hired. The idea has not yet, to my
knowledge, been adopted. And our military has a desperate need for Arabic speakers.
The government is simply too cumbersome to change past policies.
Record concludes that "abstention from small wars of choice would mandate
a realistic foreign policy that placed the protection of concrete interests
ahead of crusades to promote the overseas expansion of abstract American political
Another tremendous problem is that in Third World nations without the rule
of law, everything is based upon trust and personal relations. We constantly
read of successful American officers being transferred or rotated out of their
jobs, leaving the local Iraqis with whom they dealt out in the cold. Could America
staff and train a permanent overseas body of men and women to learn local cultures
and languages and then stay for years in the same location, as England and Rome
once did? Given American culture, it is impossible. And even if we had them,
they would still be at the mercy of partisan or ethnic interests in Washington.
Democracies are simply unable to effectively rule empires, and are defeated
or destroyed when they try (e.g., Athens).
Two years ago, James Pinkerton wrote an amusing analysis in The American
Conservative titled "The
Seven Habits of Highly Effective Imperialists." Like Record's analysis,
Pinkerton's piece confirms that America is incapable of organizing itself to
successfully impose our will by force upon small foreign nations, much less