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.

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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A Marine Captain explains our failure in the Long War, & how to win

Summary: Our long war, with its failure to achieve its objectives despite the expenditure of so much money and blood, has been marked by serving officers protesting the madness of our tactics — as we copy tactics of other foreign armies defeated by local insurgents using fourth generation war. Here is another, by Captain Waddell (USMC) — speaking from his hard-won experience. Since Trump seems determined to continue the long war, doubling down on failure, we should listen to list to the Captain’s advice.

“There is a powerful article in the February issue of the Marine Corps Gazette by Capt. Joshua Waddell, a company commander in the 1st Marine Division. It is so heartfelt that it kind of jumps off the page.”
— Thomas Ricks in “A powerful attack on the Marine Corps leadership — by a serving Marine captain“, 7 February 2017.

Joshua Waddell
Capt. Waddell tests communications gear at the Naval Postgraduate School. By Petty Officer Shawn Stewart.

Innovation, And other things that brief well

By Joshua Waddell (Captain, USMC) in the Marine Corps Gazette, February 2017.
Reposted with their generous permission.

“It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Objective analysis of the U.S. military’s effectiveness in these wars can only conclude that we were unable to translate tactical victory into operational and strategic success.”

I now thoroughly convinced there is something deeply wrong with the part of the Marine Corps occupying the I-95 corridor leading to the Pentagon. What has become painfully apparent to me is the drastic difference between the mindset of the Operating Forces and the Supporting Establishment. While I grant that, in the case of the former, the prospects of being shot, blown up, or otherwise extinguished tend to be wonderful motivators to constantly improve and perform, the Marine Corps Supporting Establishment is filled with senior officers whose backgrounds include extensive experience in combat within the Operating Forces. Why then is there such a divide between the organizational energy and innovative agility of our Marines and the depressive stagnation found within the Supporting Establishment?

I believe I know a big part of the answer: self-delusion. Let us first begin with the fundamental underpinnings of this delusion: our measures of performance and effectiveness in recent wars. It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Objective analysis of the U.S. military’s effectiveness in these wars can only conclude that we were unable to translate tactical victory into operational and strategic success (“‘We Fail Better’ Should Not Be the Motto of the U.S. Military“, FP, Oct 2015).

As military professionals, it is not sufficient to offload the responsibility for these failures, at least in their entirety, to decision makers in Washington or in perceived lack of support from other governmental agencies. We must divorce ourselves from the notion that criticism of our performance is an indictment or devaluation of the sacrifices our Marines made on the battlefield. Like many of you, I lost Marines in the “Long War” as well. It has taken several years of personal struggle to arrive at the conclusions I am writing now. What makes this necessary, however, is that if you accept the objective, yet repulsive, fact that our Marines died on the losing side of our most recent wars, you cannot then accept that the status quo of the Marine Corps, and the larger defense establishment, is in an acceptable state of affairs.

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When will our military learn modern warfare, & overcome the attritionist tendency?

Summary: Captain Grazier (USMC) writes another chapter in our series explaining why we lose at modern warfare despite the training, size, and fantastic tech of our forces. Another post by a Marine officer explaining our military’s internal struggle to overcome its attritionist tendency (i.e., fighting 21st wars with WWI methods). He explains the complexities of our wars (debunking the “kill until we win” mindlessness that often dominates discussions of our wars). These insights come from someone who has fought our wars. We should listen when he says that learning is the key to future success.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Verdun: 2GW
Attritionists finest hour.


  1. Overcoming the attritionist tendency
  2. About the author
  3. What is attrition warfare?
  4. The Generations of War
  5. For More Infomration


A Manœuvre Renaissance: Overcoming the attritionist tendency

By Daniel R. Grazier (Captain, USMC)
Marine Corps Gazette, June 2015
Posted with their generous permission.

An eccentric retired Air Force colonel accepted an invitation to speak to the students of Amphibious Warfare School class of 1979 only after the staff grudgingly agreed to his demand for a five-hour block of time.1 From this slightly awkward beginning, the Marine Corps’ doctrine of manœuvre warfare sprouted and grew. The shift from attrition to manœuvre hardly occurred overnight. It took the efforts of many intelligent and dedicated officers and civilians years to create a critical mass of manœuvreists within the officer corps to bring about this momentous shift.

Now more than three decades later, almost everyone in the Marine Corps can identify that Air Force colonel as John Boyd and say he “invented” the OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) loop. But few people appear to understand the real significance of Col Boyd’s work anymore. This becomes readily apparent any time a staff creates a synchronization matrix or a battalion attacks straight into an enemy defense during an integrated training exercise. We are doomed to backslide completely into old attritionist habits without a reexamination of our way of doing business. To prevent this, a manœuvre renaissance is necessary to move forward as we transition away from the long war and prepare to confront a future fourth generation adversary.2

Several factors are to blame for the current lack of appreciation of John Boyd and manœuvre. First, the bulk of intellectual energy over the past decade plus has been expended studying counterinsurgency theory and practice. This, combined with constant deployment preparation and theater-specific training, hardly fosters the proper study and understanding of manœuvre. Secondly, we are now a generation removed from those early revolutionaries of the post-Vietnam military reform movement. Most people take manœuvre for granted now, not realizing just what an all-encompassing concept it really is.

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Is Clausewitz Still Relevant?

Summary:  We are several generations of warfare from that of Clausewitz.  His first-generation warfare differs immeasurably from ours, in which atomic weapons limit State-to-State conflict and 4th generation warfare has become the dominate form of conflict.  But many of the essentials of war are timeless, so its worthwhile to mine the classics for lessons to help us today.  Here we look at one such effort.



  1. Review from the Marine Corps Gazette
  2. About the authors of the book
  3. About the reviewer
  4. Other reviews
  5. For more information about military theory

(1)  Review from the Marine Corps Gazette

Decoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to On War
by Jon Tetsuro Sumida (2008)

Reviewed by J. Alex Vohr. Originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette, March 2009. Republished here with their generous permission.


While primarily a naval historian, Dr. Sumidas decade-long foray into Clausewitz has resulted in a book uncovering issues significant to those whose professional interests involve either the formulation of our national military strategy or the professional education and development of military officers. Current prevailing wisdom holds that Clausewitz was concerned only with nation-state warfare, and modern military theorists like General Sir Rupert Smith, in his book, The Utility of Force (Vintage, 2008, reviewed in the August 2007 Gazette), have asserted that the Western world has seen the end of these types of conflicts.


Dr. Jon Sumida is the author of the latest scholarly effort focused on understanding the difficult theorist of war, Carl von Clausewitz, and his work, On War. Decoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to On War provides a critical and potentially controversial, in-depth insight into the work of one of the most influential minds of the Western world. While primarily a naval historian, Dr. Sumida’s decade-long foray into Clausewitz has resulted in a book uncovering issues significant to those whose professional interests involve either the formulation of our national military strategy or the professional education and development of military officers.

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The Rough Math of Surrogate Warfare, today as it was in 1805

Summary: Today we review a book that held special appeal to the Marine Special Operations Command’s (MarSoc’s) Foreign Military Training Unit (FMTU) because the it tells of a covert expedition — what today we’d call unconventional warfare.  Nothing is truly new in war, as this was the Marine Corps expedition to the shores of Tripoli in 1805.


The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 by Richard Zacks (2005)

Reviewed by Andrew L Crabb.  Originally published as “The Rough Math of Surrogate Warfare” in the Marine Corps Gazette of November 2007. Republished here with their generous permission.


State-sponsored transnational threats range freely across large swaths of ungoverned spaces, utilizing terror to intimidate the governments of Old Europe. Rogue governments and the illegally armed groups they sponsor extort payments, enslave, persecute innocents, and generally wreak havoc throughout the surrounding region. After its own citizens are taken hostage, one country, the United States, stands up to stop this injustice through force of arms. After being frustrated by conventional forces’ lack of progress, a small covert element infiltrates into the area of operations, enlists the help of local forces, and achieves stunning success. While this scenario could easily be mistaken for a sound bite from the Cable News Network, in fact these are just some of the details from the extraordinary book, The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805.

Of course, the story resonates with every Marine because it is the backdrop for the line, “. . . to the shores of Tripoli,” in the “Marines’ Hymn.” The book held special appeal to our unit, the Marine Special Operations Command’s (MarSoc’s) Foreign Military Training Unit (FMTU) because the leadership of the covert expedition undertook what would be called, in today’s Department of Defense (DoD)speak, unconventional warfare. Unconventional warfare is defined in Joint Publication 1-02, DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, as “military and para-military operations, normally of long-duration, through, with or by indigenous or surrogate forces” for the purposes of achieving our own national objectives. It is one of the capabilities being developed today at the MarSoc. The expedition of 1805 was by definition a classic unconventional warfare operation. While most Marines are vaguely aware of the extreme dangers and hardships of that expedition, the vast majority of Marines aren’t taught the unsettling facts that eventually clouded the heroic success of our forces.

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Looking back at how our folly and ignorance fanned the flames in Iraq

Summary:  A vital aspect of high performance is the “lessons learned” exercise after every operation, however painful. Watching the game films to see what we did right and wrong, so that we can do better.  Unfortunately America’s broken observation-orientation-decision action loops makes this impossible.  We prefer to tell ourselves lies, hiding in myth.  It’s a driver of national decline. The truth is out there; we need only look for it.  Today we review a book about our expedition to Iraq, now clearly a failure by the objectives set forth at the start.



  1. Review from the Marine Corps Gazette
  2. About the authors of the book
  3. About the reviewer
  4. Excerpts from the book
  5. Other insightful reviews
  6. For more information about the War in Iraq


(1)  Review from the Marine Corps Gazette

COBRA II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael R. Cordon and Bernard E. Trainor (2006)

Reviewed by Harry W Jenkins.  Originally published as “Underestimating the Enemy” in the Marine Corps Gazette, July 2006. Republished here with their generous permission.


Cobra II is clearly the best contemporary account to date regarding the planning and execution of the American invasion of Iraq. The authors have done a superb job in researching material for the book that includes documentation and extensive interviews with sources high in the Bush administration down through the military chain of command to the troops who faced combat in the air and on the ground. Based upon the report, “Iraqi Perspectives,” by Joint Forces Command, Gordon and Trainor have been able to reconstruct some of the decisions by Saddam and his war council, to include Saddam’s perceptions of the American war plan as well as the Iraqi dictator’s deception regarding his weapons of mass destruction.

The accounts are fascinating and illustrate the gross misperceptions on the part of the senior American civilian and military leaders concerning Iraqi intentions and culture during the planning and actual invasion. The book is balanced and unemotional. The facts as displayed in the text will speak for themselves.

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Does exporting democracy fan the flames of hatred around the world?

Summary:  Here’s an interesting review of an important book about an unpleasant side-effect of the West’s most powerful exports:  democracy and free-market economies.  The theme song for globalization should be “The World Turned Upside Down“.


Review of World on Fire: How Exporting Free-Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability by Amy Chua (Prof Law, Yale) (2006)

Review by Andrew Lubin in the Marine Corps Gazette, July 2006; published with their generous permission.


Thomas Friedman is correct — globalization impacts everyone, Capt Timothy K. Joyce’s excellent review of Friedman’s The World Is Flat (MCG, Dec 2005) accurately and concisely portrays globalization’s “big picture” effects on global politics, economics, and conflicts. Joyce is correct in suggesting that Marine leaders read Friedman’s latest bestseller in order to familiarize themselves with the still-evolving concept of globalization. But globalization has an ugly underside that Marines also need to explore and understand, and Amy Chua’s book, World on Fire, is equally well worth reading by these same Marine leaders.

In economics, as in warfare, one fights both the near battle and the far battle. It will be the ability of” victorious Marines to recognize that the near battle consists as much of economic, social, ethnic, and religious variables as that of troop strengths and weapons cache locations. This is the battle that Marine human exploitation teams and civil affairs groups are fighting against disenfranchised minorities in Ramadi, Fallujah, Kabul, and Pakistan’s northwest frontier, as well as the slums of Indonesia and the mosques of Saudi Arabia. Big picture economics are of no comfort to an illiterate and unemployed day laborer working just 3 kilometers north of Camp Rhino whose baby has died of cold or malnutrition. The reality is that this same grieving and angry father may now be ready to detonate an improvised explosive device under your HMMWV {Humvee}.

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