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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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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We don’t need a new army to fight modern wars, we need a smart one

Summary;  Our long war goes badly, as the flames of Islamic revolution spread following our failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. Some ask if the US military can cope with the challenges of fourth generation war. Here Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired) gives an answer.

USMC logo

 

We Don’t Need a New Army to Deal with Fourth Generation Foes;
we need a Smart One

By Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired)

One of the primary fallacies regarding Fourth Generational Warfare (4GW) is that the United States must totally retool its force structure to deal with this emerging evolution in warfare; this is not the case. 4GW means that foreign and domestic non-state actors are challenging the monopoly that nation-states have enjoyed on the application of force since the end of the Thirty Years War. That does not mean that war between nation-states has become obsolete.

The fact that the United States enjoys a temporary overmatch against most plausible conventional foes has not made traditional warfighting a thing of the past. Some potential American foes intend to combine a combination of conventional and unconventional warfare in any conflict with the United States in a concept known as hybrid warfare. However, any hybrid war will probably begin with a conventional stage, and only go hybrid if America’s enemy perceives that it is losing.

The United States would be ill-advised to sacrifice its technological edge to prepare to fight low-end 4GW opponents for two reasons. First, success in 4GW is primarily a matter of operational art, particularly in the application of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism principles. There is no special technological or force structure formula for 4GW warfare. Each situation will be unique and the studied application of task organization to meet the terrain and situation will be a key to success.

The primary difference between 4GW and traditional insurgencies is that insurgencies generally have the objective of replacing one form of government with another in a specific country. Many 4GW actors are transnational and look to control a region regardless of existing borders. In that; ISIL, Boko Harem, and to a lesser extent Islamic Courts (al Shabab) do not recognize traditional largely colonial drawn international borders. However, the tactics that they initially use more resemble the classic first two stages of insurgencies with terrorism being used as an early tool.

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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.

Contents

  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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Does America have the best military in the world?

Summary: As we begin yet another cycle of wars, we owe it to ourselves and even more to our soldiers to ask why the best soldiers in the world keep losing? Here is one answer, stark and contrarian.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

FM Laws #1: all discussions of 4GW, the wars we actually fight, get derailed into discussions about hardware for theoretical conventional wars. More fun! Less scary!

The Atlantic cover: Jan-Feb 2015

Contents

  1. Fallows describes the problem.
  2. Are we the cause?
  3. Rephrasing the problem.
  4. Another example.
  5. Other post in this series.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Fallows describes the problem

I consider James Fallows to be one of the most perceptive journalists of our day. So when the Jan/Feb copy of The Atlantic arrived with his article on the cover, I eagerly turned to it. The provocative title, “The Tragedy of the American Military“ predisposed me to like it, as I’ve written much about this during the past decade.  Much of it presented — brilliantly, as usual, the critique developed by the military reform community during the past 20 years (with nil effect on the Pentagon). Here’s the core problem, shown in this excerpt…

Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. … Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion … Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned.

(2)  Are we the cause — the reason why America can’t win these wars?

So what causes this inability to win wars in the 6 decades since Korea? Fallows gives a compelling analysis of the problem (with which I agree) then blames the American public.

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The future calls the Marine Corps, but they refuse to answer

Summary:  An organization’s destiny rides on its leaders’ decisions on those rare occasions when the future call. Their response puts the organization on the path to success, or decay. Sometimes that happens on the field in battle.  Sometimes it’s a call to action, to serve by growing. After 9/11 the future called the US Marine Corps, and they refused. They might not get another opportunity.

20130227-USMC

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Here’s a timely, insightful, and provocative article: “Can the Marines Survive?“, Lloyd Freeman (Lt Col, USMC), Foreign Policy, 26 March 2013.

The author is a Marine infantry officer, and has served three combat tours, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He currently serves as the Deputy Executive Assistant in the Expeditionary Warfare Division of the U.S. Navy.

Excerpt:

Following the 9/11 attacks, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approached the Marine commandant and asked if the Marines could take on a special operations role within the Department of Defense.

For the secretary, it seemed logical. The Marine Corps is designed to operate independently when necessary; it can sustain itself with a well-oiled logistics organization, and it even has its own air wings. At the time, most special operations forces resided in the Army and in Navy Special Warfare and there was an emerging shortage of operators. The Corps could have filled the gap in special forces that existed right after 9/11.

Instead of taking taking this bold path to the future, the USMC attempted to become a second Army, putting their investment capital in the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (see Wikipedia) and the VTOL version of the F-35. The first has been canceled; the F-35 limps forward with costs skyrocketing and inferior performance (See “Marine F-35 Jump-Jet PR: Caveataxpayer Emptor“, Time, 27 March 2013).

These failed programs, burning much of their R&D funding, are less important for the USMC’s future than their loss of the “elite ground forces” niche in the minds of the American public — now owned by the Special Operations Forces.  This bumps the USMC decisively into the “second Army” market niche.  When budgets get cut, the second source gets cut first.

Result: the Marines have a small slice of the exiting future for US ground forces — Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) — when they could have had almost the whole pie.

Can the USMC recover from this? It will take more creativity and insight than USMC’s leadership has shown so far.

Destiny offers the Marines two choices

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Surgery now underway to transform citizens into subjects

Summary: The Founders hoped that America would be a beacon light of hope and liberty to the people of the world. And so we were for two centuries. But we’ve become an example of another kind, as shown by today’s reading. There’s still time to get angry; time to act wisely.

Artifact of a bygone era?

“I Will Give Up My Gun When They Peel My Cold Dead Fingers From Around It.”
Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, based in Bellevue, Washington. A version of this became a popular bumper sticker distributed by the National Rifle Assn.

While gun nuts fondle their rifles, muttering about defense of liberty, agents of the 1% quietly remove their cojones (and ours, speaking of male FM readers).  Perhaps they will display them in a Park Avenue museum about the history of America.

The 1% spend several decades building political infrastructure, concentrating wealth and income.  Then they extended their influence over our their political machinery.  Now comes the consolidation phase.  Mopping up, laying the foundation for the new order.

  1. The Republican party debates how to cut taxes for the rich, paid for by higher taxes and fewer benefits for everybody else.
  2. Massive increase in the government’s discretionary ability to arrest, imprison, abuse, and even kill citizens.  Today’s installment: Courts allow a new means to abuse people arrested (not necessarily convicted) of minor crimes (eg, peaceful protestors and government critics):  “The Obama DOJ and strip searches“, Glenn Greenwald, 3 April 2012.
  3. Massive increase in government surveillance of citizens.  Today’s installment:  “Data Mining You – How the Intelligence Community Is Creating a New American World“, Tom Engelhardt, 3 APril 2012.
  4. Massive militarization of Federal, State, and Local law enforcement.
  5. Update: Slow erosion of basic freedoms.  Today’s installment:  repealing the 4th Ammendment (see below).
  6. Measures, unprecedented in US history during peacetime, to muzzle the press and citizens (but then the Long War is waged against us).  Today’s installment:  “States shush corporate critics“, David Sirota, Salon, 4 April 2012 — “From factory farms to home foreclosures, state governments are helping hide corporate wrongdoing.’

All of this takes place in the open.  The Shepherd does not hide his activities from the sheep.  Why bother?

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