America’s military hits a defining moment: how they react to defeat

Summary: Slowly voices inside the US military speak out about its inability to respond to its manifest failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the large price paid in blood and money for the lessons given. The military has proven unable to take the first step of admitting that they lost. Here Gregory A. Thiele (LtCol , USMC) puts our defeat in a historical context, explains what we did wrong, and gives recommendations. Let’s hope the Marines listen.
— See responses to this in the comments from several experts.

4GW
Source: Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid.

Our Jena-Auerstädt?
“Coming to grips with fourth-generation warfare.”

By  LtCol Gregory A. Thiele, USMC.
Marine Corps Gazette, November 2016.
Reposted with their generous permission.

Echoes of history.

In 1806, the Kingdom of Prussia went to war against France and Napoleon Bonaparte. Prussia suffered a crushing and humiliating defeat. In a pair of battles, Jena and Auerstädt, both fought on 14 October 1806, the Prussian Army was defeated, and the existence of the Prussian state was placed in jeopardy. Prussia survived and reformed its army — an army that later played a pivotal role in Napoleon’s final defeat.

The U.S. military in general — and the U.S. Marine Corps in particular — is at a similar crossroads today. Marines are faced with twin defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. These failures are clear indications that the character of war has changed. The Marine Corps must adapt to meet the challenge of this new face of war. A closer look at Jena-Auerstädt may suggest some ways to do so.

In 1806, Napoleon was at the height of his power. Napoleon, and France, posed a threat to the long-established monarchies and order of Europe. In July 1806, Prussia allied with Russia against Napoleon.

In early October 1806, Prussian troops marched against Napoleon’s forces. They marched slowly in order to allow their Russian allies an opportunity to come to their support. Napoleon, wishing to defeat the Prussians before Russian troops could join them, moved rapidly. On 14 October, Napoleon’s army engaged the Prussians in two battles fought a dozen miles apart. At Jena, Napoleon routed a portion of the Prussian army while one of his marshals defeated a much larger Prussian force at Auerstädt.

The defeats were decisive, and the Prussian army disintegrated in the pursuit that followed. By the spring of 1807, the only unconquered territory left to Prussia was around the city of Memel on the Baltic coast. The Prussian King, Frederick William III, sought terms from Napoleon.

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Our metastable Empire, built on a foundation of clay

More thoughts on the “dreamland” described by Wolfgang Schivelbusch in The Culture of Defeat.   In the concluding chapter he says…

The West’s victory in the Cold War was, however, the first to be achieved explicitly by the economy in its own name.  Perhaps it is for this reason that the economy received a new nom de guerre:  globalization. 

… The growth in the economy’s power and prestige after 1990 was not confined to its functional efficiency but came to touch areas of society previously monopolized by religion and nationalism.  If people looked toward anything in the hope of salvation or in fear of damnation, it was increasingly the economy.  Having lost faith in God, the nation, and utopian politics, they credited the economy with the power to both create paradise on earth and to destroy life as they knew it.  In the West, the threat of collective extinction attached no longer to war — which had in any case become a long-distance media event — but rather to the economy, with its doubt threat of devastating the environment and wiping out jobs

Like Minerva’s owl, our faith in Mammon may have come too late.  A grim future of geopolitical and economic problems presses on our imaginations as we see the end of our hegemonic delusions, founded as they were on unlimited borrowing at low interest rates.  In response we retreat into comfortable dreams.  We can elect leaders with vast ambitions (foreign for McCain, domestic for Obama), but can no longer afford them.  

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Another perspective on Cordesman’s “A briefing from the battlefield”

Anthony H. Cordesman has provided some of the most comprehensive and reliable information about the Iraq War, so his latest report deserves attention.

The Situation in Iraq: A Briefing from the Battlefield“, Anthony H. Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies (13 February 2008)

Two things I find fascinating about this report:

  1. The US-centric perspective.  Whatever happens happens because of us.
  2. The almost-total focus on al-Qaeda as the enemy.

The first is classic American thinking (this parochialism is one reason nation-building is not our forte), but limiting for a geopolitical analyst.  The second is now the rule in American geopolitical thinking.  This transformation occurred in late 2006 with almost no analysis, starting with the US government and quickly being adopted without comment by a wide range of analysts.  It is psychologically comforting, since focusing on “fighting bad guys” eliminates cognitive dissonance between our actions in Iraq and our strategic needs.  It also postpones discussion about the best structure for Iraq society, and who gets to decide that.

Andrew Sullivan gives an interesting perspective on Cordesman’s analysis in “The Truth, Please, About Iraq“, 26 February 2008 — Excerpt:

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