Weekend Reading Recommendations


1.  “An Un-intended Advantage“, JD Johannes, posted at Outside the Wire, 16 August 2008 — Our military is buff, let our enemies tremble.  Just like after Vietnam.  Recommended by the Instapundit as “an Iraq upside.”

2.  “Why the dust up in Ossetia should be a wake up call for the US“, Chuck Spinney, posted at Don Vandergriff’s blog, 16 August 2008 — Correct diagnosis must precede treatment, and and the always-interesting Spinney is a better diagnostician than most. 

3.  “The Lessons of Endless War“, Andrew Bacevich, posted at TomDispatch, 14 August 2008 — An essay adapted from his new book, Bacevich gives a simple yet powerful solution to our serious lack of a grand strategy — one which I strongly endorse.


1.  An Un-intended Advantage“, JD Johannes, posted at Outside the Wire, 16 August 2008 — Our military is buff, let our enemies tremble.  Just like after Vietnam.  Recommended by the Instapunditas describing “an Iraq upside.”  And it is important, warning of our undeserved confidence gained from the Iraq adventure.  Excerpt:

Geopolitics and History invariably lead to the Clauswitzian politics by other means — war.  And in those other means, the United States has a distinct advantage over all others–not just in machines and materials–but where it counts the most: NCO and Officer Leadership.

On March 20th, 2003, when the U.S. led coaltion crossed from Kuwait into Iraq, very few officers and non-commissioned officers of any rank had actual combat experience.  Five years and several months later — the United States military is one of the most combat-experienced militaries in history.

Virtually every officer of the line has led Soldiers and Marines on daily combat missions.  Sergeants and Junior Staff NCOs have come up through the ranks not in garrison or on training exercises but in combat.  Virtually every U.S. Rifle Platoon has something the Russian and Chinese military do not — experience in a gun fight.

While many may not believe that the U.S. has started winning in Iraq, the General Staff’s of the authoritarian regimes know what is happening and surely must be wondering how their untested conscripts would fare against the battle hardened 1st Marine Division or 82nd Airborne. … If the authoritarian regimes were wise enough to download a copy FM 3-24 , the Counter Insurgency Manual, the U.S. officers and NCOs who implemented the tactics know all the tricks and how to subvert them.

2.  Why the dust up in Ossetia should be a wake up call for the US“, Chuck Spinney, posted at Don Vandergriff’s blog, 16 August 2008 — Correct diagnosis must precede treatment, and Spinney is a better diagnostician than most.  Opening:

When Michael Gorbachev peacefully ended the Cold War and withdrew Russian forces from Eastern Europe, the US promised him that it would not take advantage of the situation by expanding NATO into the vacuum. But this promise was broken almost immediately, first by the Clinton Administration, and then again by the Bush Administration.

Throughout the 1990s, America viewed itself as the world’s last remaining superpower, or in Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s narcissistic phrase – “the world’s indispensable power.” Pundits gushed over abstractions like “America’s unipolar moment,” while thinktankers concocted geopolitical visions of American empires, New American Centuries, all made possible by a new era of unilateral coercive diplomacy, where move and countermove would be choreographed by quick and nearly bloodless precision military strikes, made possible by the US monopoly of the “Revolution in Military Affairs.”

The mixture of arrogance and ignorance set the stage for the triumphal foreign policy of the 1990s, but in so doing, it also set the stage for its grotesque mutation into a self-pitying overreaction to a heinous crime (9-11). The overreaction took the form of a self-righteous grand strategic attitude that the US can do anything it wants to and you are either with us or against us in our long global war on terrorism – a war that knows no identifiable bounds, no rules, and no discernible end, but also a war for which Mr. Bush steadfastly refused to mobilize the necessary resources or call for the necessary sacrifices to pay for its inevitably skyrocketing bill.

Which brings me to my second point: At the same time unlimited ambition became the rule in our relations with the external environment, a parallel unlimited ideology of triumphant capitalism and political cynicism at home encouraged the systematically looting of the economic base that was needed to support those unlimited ambitions. The looting mechanism is well known: …

3.  The Lessons of Endless War“, Andrew Bacevich, posted at TomDispatch, 14 August 2008 — An essay adapted from his new book, Bacevich gives a simple yet powerful solution to our serious lack of a grand strategy — one which I strongly endorse. 

Tom Englehardt’s introduction:  In his remarkable new book, The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism, Andrew Bacevich suggests a solution to the American military crisis that might seem obvious enough, if only both parties weren’t so blinded by the idea of our “global reach,” by a belief, however wrapped in euphemisms, in our imperial role on this planet, and by the imperial Pentagon and presidency that go with it: reduce the mission.

Excerpt from Bacevich’s essay

To appreciate the full extent of the military crisis into which the United States has been plunged requires understanding what the Iraq War and, to a lesser extent, the Afghan War have to teach. These two conflicts, along with the attacks of September 11, 2001, will form the centerpiece of George W. Bush’s legacy. Their lessons ought to constitute the basis of a new, more realistic military policy.

In some respects, the effort to divine those lessons is well under way, spurred by critics of President Bush’s policies on the left and the right as well as by reform-minded members of the officer corps. Broadly speaking, this effort has thus far yielded three distinct conclusions. Whether taken singly or together, they invert the post-Cold War military illusions that provided the foundation for the president’s Global War on Terror. In exchange for these received illusions, they propound new ones, which are equally misguided. Thus far, that is, the lessons drawn from America’s post-9/11 military experience are the wrong ones.

… According to the first lesson, the armed services — and above all the Army — need to recognize that the challenges posed by Iraq and Afghanistan define not only the military’s present but also its future, the “next war,” as enthusiasts like to say. Rooting out insurgents, nation-building, training and advising “host nation” forces, population security and control, winning hearts and minds — these promise to be ongoing priorities, preoccupying U.S. troops for decades to come, all across the Islamic world.

Rather than brief interventions ending in decisive victory, sustained presence will be the norm. Large-scale conventional conflict like 1991’s Operation Desert Storm becomes the least likely contingency. The future will be one of small wars, expected to be frequent, protracted, perhaps perpetual.

… In sum, an officer corps bloodied in Iraq and Afghanistan has seen the future and it points to many more Iraqs and Afghanistans. Whereas the architects of full spectrum dominance had expected the unprecedented lethality, range, accuracy, and responsiveness of high-tech striking power to perpetuate military dominion, the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan know better. They remain committed to global dominance while believing that its pursuit will require not only advanced weaponry but also the ability to put boots on the ground and keep them there. This, in turn, implies a plentiful supply of soldiers and loads of patience on the home front.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

5 thoughts on “Weekend Reading Recommendations”

  1. I love Johannes’ arrogance. If an authoritarian regime downloaded FM 3-24, it would know that has almost nothing to do with current U.S. strategy OR tactics (i.e. you won’t find that manual being followed either in Iraq or Afghanistan).

    Similarly… is he really arguing that it was worth invading Iraq for “experience,” like an RPG? You invade a country, kill 4,000 of your own troops, but get to grant self +10 EXP? What the hell kind of thinking is that? On the other hand, invading Iraq to intimidate other countries is ridiculous as well—by that measure, the war in Georgia was 100% justified on the part of Russia.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Agreed.

    “you won’t find that manual (FM3-24) being followed either in Iraq or Afghanistan”

    I have written about this several times. Why is this not more widely recognized?

  2. I thought Spinney’s piece was excellent.

    In regard to what ever experience has been gained,
    Combat IS the best training and experience for troops
    in general.
    However this is low intensity conflict.
    Moreover, tactical advantages
    are fleeting, as 4th generational opposition emphericaly
    demonstrates time and time again, their abilities to morph
    adapt and come up with new tactics, and ideas forcing the US into a
    position of reaction, at every turn, and always well behind the OODA curve.

    News Flash, this just in on the wires,,
    I agree with Josh’s thoughts and attribution to arogance
    and hubris.

    The crux is this, call it why we’re losing, Precisely as intended, they compel the US to expend countless billions of dollars in trying to counter, this or that new threat, quietly and inexorably eroding our standard of living and driving our economy towards the edge of disaster.

    Americans will wake up one morning and realise thier country
    as unrecognisable, if not allready.

    Sounds like a plan, sounds very much like what was attributed
    to Bin Laden, since day one.

    According to Noam Chomsky, Washington couldn’t be more
    complicit, than if they were formally partnered with AlQuida.

    I tend to agree.

    Apart from all that through their right, we’re doing just great.


  3. The United States is currently suffering from spoiled nation syndrome, which is similar to spoiled child syndrome.

    Definition: The spoiled child syndrome is characterized by excessive self-centered and immature behavior, resulting from the failure of parents to enforce consistent, age-appropriate limits. Spoiled children often display a lack of consideration for others, are prone to temper outbursts and are often manipulative. Their behavior is intrusive and obstructive.

    Just change child to nation and parents to citizens in the definition above, and one can better understand why an army that needs five years to pacify an occupied city can be lauded for its leadership, and why American world hegemony is still deemed to be a worthwhile goal.

    The new Democratic Party Platform, constancy you can believe in, is recent evidence of spoiled nation syndrome:

    “The Democratic Party believes that there is no more important priority than renewing American leadership on the world stage. This will require diplomatic skill as capable as our military might. . .We support plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops. Increasing our end strength will help units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families. . . We will rebuild our armed forces to meet the full spectrum needs of the new century.”

    The full spectrum needs of the new century — poetry in action, with cluster bombs falling on innocent people to follow.

  4. One might also observe (as Frank Hoffman did) that the COIN manual reflects an outdated Maoist conception of guerrilla warfare that ignores the more balkanized (and urbanized, to some extent) world of political and criminal violence that American forces contend (and will continue to contend with).

    Lastly, Foust is correct in pointing out that its implementation on the ground has been somewhat spotty. Here, institutional pressures and cultures are a good determinant of military behavior, especially when fighting conflict that conflict with the core values and traditions of those institutions. We also cannot forget the effect that a confused strategy has on the implementation of the COIN FM.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for the comment, and the referral to the work of Frank Hoffman (Colonel, USMC, retired). His two most relevant articles are, I believe:

    * “Neo-Classical Counterinsurgency?“, Parameters, Summer 2007.

    * “Neo-COIN“, posted at the Small Wars Council, 24 June 2007 — a summary of the Parameters article, with some additional background.

    Here the posts on this site about FM 3-24:

    * The 2 most devastating 4GW attacks on America, and the roots of FM 3-24, 19 March 2008
    * A key to the power of FM 3-24, the new COIN manual, 20 March 2008
    * Dark origins of the new COIN manual, FM 3-24, 23 March 2008
    * COIN – a perspective from 23rd century textbooks, 10 June 2008
    * Is COIN the graduate level of military hubris?, 30 July 2008

  5. Hoffman also had something good with his hybrid wars schematic.

    Regardless, there’s something also typically American (shades of Emory Upton, Halleck, and other Jomini-loving luminaries) about the idea of a set of scientific principles of war that can be dispassionately applied in isolation to political factors or greater grand strategy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen some idiot on TV saying that FM 3-24 is “the book” on counterinsurgency, as if there is one canonical text that sets out immutable, universally applicable rules of COIN.

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