“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

COIN U. at Fort Leavenworth

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, America found itself without an arch nemesis for the first time in 90 years and in 1991, the "lone superpower" led a coalition of 540,000 soldiers in driving Saddam Hussein from Kuwait but unfortunately for the world, the dictator was left in power. George H.W. Bush enjoyed a brief few months of popularity and less than two years later, was turned out of office by an unknown governor from Arkansas. The inevitable job of deposing Saddam was left to future leaders as Americans debated the size of its military and intelligence gathering requirements.

Bill Clinton and the Democrats wished to cash in the “peace dividend” by downsizing US military and intelligence programs. To many, the military came to be seen as a peace-keeping force to be used for humanitarian purposes. Kosovo, Haiti, and Somalia were seen by Republicans and Conservatives as unnecessary to the vital interests of the United States while Democrats were inclined to intervene in world humanitarian crises. The Republicans along with the military itself resisted the "police role" but the pendulum swung toward a smaller military designed to react to global hotspots and shorter engagements rather than the previously perceived threat of a world war. George Bush came to office in 2001 as being opposed to “nation building” but it wasn’t long before fate sprung an ambush on a nation unprepared and ill-suited for empire building.
Not much changed in this basic approach until the fall of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the ensuing debacle in Iraq. The military's top brass and the Pentagon continued to view everything in black and white. For them, there was a clear distinction between combat missions and the tools and mechanics of war, on the one hand, and the peacekeeping missions, on the other. The latter were multinational and had a decidedly civilian flavor, and consisted of things like providing policing for nation-building in Kosovo -- not exactly something that was particularly appealing to the US military.

The notion that the world's most modern and powerful military machine could end up struggling to gain the upper hand over scattered insurgents was inconceivable and hit the US military like an earthquake. Until a few years ago, no one in the US military would have believed that instead of dropping bombs and engaging in fierce combat, it would one day be drilling wells, directing traffic, building schools and organizing local elections -- and that it would be doing all of these things not after but in the middle of a war. Finally, no one would have imagined that these civilian tools would end up being described as the most-effective weapons on the road to victory.

"In Bosnia, we had a feeling for the first time that perhaps we are poorly prepared after all," says Dennis Tighe, a slim, jovial man who wears wide suspenders over his shirt. Tighe, a young-looking 60, is in charge of maneuvers and troop exercises for officers at Fort Leavenworth -- Combined Arms Center Training, or CAC-T in short.

In the former Yugoslavia, says Tighe, the US military was unprepared for the confusion of scattered small battles. It had trouble dealing with a conflict that was so culturally charged, a war without fronts and battle lines in tiny countries whose problems the Americans found deeply puzzling. The military also failed to realize that rebuilding stadiums could sometimes be more important than winning minor military skirmishes. It also had trouble understanding something that organizations like the United Nations had long known, and that is that providing seeds for crops can ultimately be more critical to achieving success than ammunition. It took time, especially for a military that had been exposed to doctrines set in stone for so many decades, until new ideas were allowed to penetrate into its ranks.

The courage to question
It took commanders who could implement changes and who had the courage to question the Pentagon's old-school way of thinking and its approach to the war in Iraq. The process began in Leavenworth, in 2004, with William Wallace, the general who had commanded the US Army's "Thunder Run" to Baghdad in the initial stage of the war. But once it became increasingly evident that Iraq was in turmoil, Wallace began to doubt his own hard-hitting strategy and reinterpret the operation's successes and failures. As it turned out, Wallace was the first to question all the military doctrines that had been in place until then. His direct successor is currently in the process of eliminating them altogether.

David Petraeus, a three-star general who completed his own officer-training program at Fort Leavenworth and graduated at the top of his class of 1,000, has been in charge at the facility since the autumn of 2005. When he was in command of the 101st Airborne Division as they advanced northward through Iraq up to Mosul, Petraeus already held a doctorate in political science. Today, at Leavenworth, he serves as a professor in combat gear.

Bad News for Dinosaurs
Lacking the proper support from the rest of government, the Military set about building their own version of the State Department, the FBI and the Peace Corps.
Petraeus is the man at the helm of the Army's top-down revolution. Together with a general from the US Marines, James Mattis, he has written a new doctrine on counterinsurgency, a doctrine that turns almost every previous rule of warfare on its head.

The 241-page document contains an outline of the history of all rebellions and a guide to the wars of the future. For the first time, it draws no distinction between civilian and classic military operations. In fact, it almost equates the importance of the two. Petraeus believes that the military can no longer win wars with military might alone. On the contrary, according to the new theory, it must do its utmost to avoid large-scale destruction and, by as early as the initial attack, not only protect the civilian population but also support it with all available means in order to secure its cooperation for regime change. As uncomplicated as it may seem, Petraeus's new doctrine represents a sea change when it comes to the US military's training and combat procedures. Some might also interpret it as a way of settling scores with the failed strategy in Iraq.

Fate has played a cruelly, ironic trick on America in Iraq and the resulting 180-degree polar shift in politics and attitudes could affect the world for decades and generations. It seems very likely that the Pentagon's attitude adjustment has come too late and the effort of Petraeus and associates could soon be relegated to forgotten, dusty library shelves.


  1. Does anyone have a link to this 241 page document by David Petraeus? I cant find it anywhere.

  2. To quote myself from the previous thread regarding General MCcaffery's assessment.

    "To train warriors to also be "big brothers and big sisters" is THE greatest, most devistating exercise in cognitive dissonance I have ever witnessed and can only lead to the total failure of both. To have the military at the top levels buy into this requires them to suspend all knowledge of victorious armies throughout history.
    President Bush has some time in office. No one can say what will happen in that time.
    Whoever we elect in '08 will face a
    world I believe will be at least as perilous as the one we have now, perhaps worse. A big group hug by the 101st Airborn or the 2nd Marine Division, or an Air Force Air Wing is not going to tamp down hostile forces. War is the natural state of man, peace just a ephemeral wisp of vapor. Somehow we must configure an armed force that can and will win regardless of the cost inflicted on the enemy."
    General Patreas and the marine general cohort are completely "nuts".

  3. "OK, men. We're going to assault this village at dawn. We know that their most experience warriors are ready to die to defend the town well. That well is our objective. The enemy is heavily armed, has barricaded evey point of entry and placed IED's all over hell.
    "Alpha company will go in first with the cotton candy machine and the trained monkey in the first sashay.
    Bravo Company will offer support by immediately erecting the ferris wheel and "dunking tank" which will be manned by Lt.Col.Squishy. Remember, the first indigineous to dunk Squishy gets an all day pass on the bumper cars being set up outside of town.
    "At exactly 0900 the entire 101st Airborn will parachute into the area without parachutes in a display of mass suiicide to display our determination not to harm anyone. The Joint Chief's have decided if we just kill ourselves the enemy will surrender to us.
    Finally men, we're warriors, we're Rangers and Deltas and we follow orders. Have a nice dead.

  4. The Military has been operating under this "new" Doctrine, in Iraq, from early on.
    It's success is surely self evident

  5. Catherine,
    I would imagine with a big enough load both front and rear were utilized. Sometimes one must be flexible to meet the challenge.

  6. Ah Jezus wept. Two of my guys have been killed in Iraq today, with threee WIA.

  7. New service songs.

    Navy..Anklets displayed my boys, an-klets displayed
    Marine..From the Macy's Da-yeh base-ment sale, to lufa spa we go..
    Air Force.. Off we go, our mascara clumpy,fishnets binding up tight
    Army..Fairy Owen..or Over buttock over thigh we will hit the bummy's tail, as those case hards go pumping a-long.

  8. RIGA, Latvia: Two Latvian soldiers were killed and three were wounded in Iraq on Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded under their Humvee, the Defense Ministry said.

    Ministry spokesman Uldis Davidovs said the explosion occurred when soldiers were out on patrol, but he did not know where it happened.

    The Latvian military was expected to give more information about the explosion at a news conference later Wednesday.

    The two soldiers were the Baltic country's first casualties in Iraq, since a Latvian soldier was killed in 2004 while trying to disarm a bomb outside Baghdad.

    Latvia, a small country of 2.3 million people which joined NATO 2004, has about 130 troops serving with a Polish contingent in Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad.

    One of al-Sadr's men was shot and killed during a raid on his house, when he pointed his rifle at an Iraqi, a GI shot him dead.
    Not a fair trade.

  9. I know the US loose folks near daily, but Latvia is so small, and the infantry community is barely a thousand people. Those were my children, I did my bit to train them.

    Ah well, 'twas a matter of time, we have been incredibly lucky up till now.

    Dreadfull luck, those guys were "short" and due to be rotated out inside a week or two.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. The NYTime reports:
    BAGHDAD, Dec. 26 — The American military said Tuesday that it had credible evidence linking Iranians and their Iraqi associates, detained here in raids last week, to criminal activities, including attacks against American forces. Evidence also emerged that some detainees had been involved in shipments of weapons to illegal armed groups in Iraq.

    In its first official confirmation of last week’s raids, the military said it had confiscated maps, videos, photographs and documents in one of the raids on a site in Baghdad. The military confirmed the arrests of five Iranians, and said three of them had been released.

    The Bush administration has described the two Iranians still being held Tuesday night as senior military officials. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the chief spokesman for the American command, said the military, in the raid, had “gathered specific intelligence from highly credible sources that linked individuals and locations with criminal activities against Iraqi civilians, security forces and coalition force personnel.”

  12. RIGA, Latvia: Two Latvian soldiers were killed and three were wounded in Iraq on Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded under their Humvee, the Defense Ministry said.

    Ministry spokesman Uldis Davidovs said the explosion occurred when soldiers were out on patrol, but he did not know where it happened.

    The Latvian military was expected to give more information about the explosion at a news conference later Wednesday.

    The two soldiers were the Baltic country's first casualties in Iraq, since a Latvian soldier was killed in 2004 while trying to disarm a bomb outside Baghdad.

    Latvia, a small country of 2.3 million people which joined NATO 2004, has about 130 troops serving with a Polish contingent in Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad.

  13. "Well, with that ample helping of "Bullshit" as an appetizer, I think I'll go have lunch."

    Well said, rufus - nothing to add, from my perspective.

  14. Trish,
    "War is the natural state of man, peace just a ephemeral wisp of vapor."
    If so, there's really no point in winning, is there?

    Quite the contrary. The victors get that ephemeral wisp of vapor, which can be turned into a solid state, remember the three states of matter?

    Now while in that solid state it's all the Big Rock Candy Mountain ..then usually the ephemeral catches back up, the solid turns back to vapor and bingo another one of those wowahs we all love to hate.
    Now I'm like ole Huck Finn. I'll take that thar solid time and make me some fun. Fair 'nuff?

  15. During the end of this whisp, you can make a trek to Grand Rapids Michigan to Ford's memorial and see Canned Gerry in all his round tin glory.

    Don't know if he'll get Presidential labels pasted on those cans, but you can ponder all the mysteries of Ford's failed policies and gentlemanly manners as an animatronic Betty slurs about abortion and mary jane.

    If you put a quarter into her, she'll dance a jig. It's worth the price of admission.

  16. Allen said, "Mogadishu may fall within 24 hours!"

    When did it ever get up?

  17. WC,

    You take good news where you can find it.

  18. Hey, pretty good blog, Elephant Bar. I bookmarked it to check it out from time to time. I run a similar establishment over at (sorry, I don't have my html book in front of me, and I can't remember the damn tags for a link!!!)

    ppab, there is an article on COIN on my site that links to the new counterinsurgency manual, FYI.

    I respectfully disagree with some aspects of this post, however, as well as the opinions posted in the comment section.

    While Lieutenant General Petraeus and his crew in Kansas may take credit for producing a new Field Manual, the fact that only now, several years into two very different COIN fights, has the military actually produced Counterinsurgency doctrine is unfathomable.

    Since the military had no doctrine to help describe the environment and prescribe a manner to deal with it, most of the mid and senior level leadership who make decisions face a brave new world. The numerous stability operations of the 1990s may have helped provide a bit of experience, but none were of the scope/scale of the herculean tasks facing us in Iraq, militarily or politically.

    Thus, this manual, coming as late as it has, may well help the tactical leaders (Lieutenants, Captains, and Majors), but the senior commanders of the military who are making policy and determining strategy simply "got what they got" however, and no manual, brilliant or not, is going to help them at this stage in the game.

    Too bad this manual isn't the third draft of one published in 1993 or something.

    Also, there seems to be cognitive thread here that the new doctrine and the demands of conducting COIN operations are going to turn the military into a bunch of weak sisters or something, and that the requirements for operating in this manner are something brand spanking new (I summarize comments from rufus and habu1, Catherine, et al). I respectfully believe that you are wrong on both counts, esteemed commenters!

    First of all, unless you are the former Soviet Union, you simply cannot bomb, shoot, and generally kill your way out of a COIN fight (and look where it got them in Afghanistan!); the kinetic fight is only a small part of the process of defeating the insurgency and removing all vestiges of political violence from the society we are trying to protect.

    In the Iraq/Afghanistan cases, rebuilding (or building, actually) viable political and government institutions, getting the strategic messages out, and doing work like repairing infrastructure are other critical parts of the effort, whose long term importance is equal to or greater than the effect of a bullet in the head of any insurgent foot soldier.

    Unfortunately, the U.S. military is the most effective element of the government when it comes to these types of tasks, and even the military is not that great at it (see Haiti, Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc).

    This does not mean that the military (especially the U.S. Army) is not preparing its soldiers for combat. Far From it! It is harder than ever now to schedule a range on any given Army post now because EVERYONE is going out and shooting! Soldiers are doing more combat training, and getting more critical skills training (ie combat trauma for treating of wounded soldiers) than ever before. And the average infantryman is better equipped than I've seen in the last 16 years.

    This doctrine, and the requirements of these two wars, simply mean that American Soldiers are being asked to do much more than they have been in the recent past. A Rifle platoon leader may do an assessment for installing a sewage line in a village one day, which leads him to interact with the populace, and receive intelligence on a bombmaker in the village, which then leads him to plan for and lead a raid that night in the village to kill or capture the bombmaker, which then leads him to think of additional things he will have to do to assuage the populace in the aftermath of the raid. . . and it goes on. All in all it is a pretty good argument against the draft, is it not??

    My second point of disagreement is that this is anything new; it most certainly is not. While the scope and scale of Iraq may be something we have not seen since Vietnam, the U.S. military has been involved in low intensity warfare for well over a century.

    The U.S. intervened militarily in places like Haiti, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, and elsewhere throughout the 20th century, and at many times military commanders were the de facto government; at any given time in the late 1980s, there were 110 advisors on the ground in El Salvador ( a country, by the way, that is currently repaying the favor by providing a battalion of combat troops in Iraq); we intervened in the Balkans and Somalia in the 1990s to varying degrees of success, and our efforts in places like Colombia and elsewhere are a testament to the fact that use of the military in operations like Iraq and Afghanistan are historically the norm, NOT the exception. Read Max Boot's "The Savage Wars of Peace" for some historical background, it is a pretty good read.

    Wow, long comment from Bob W! Again, I think this is a great blog, and I enjoyed my black and tan while reading and responding to this post.
    Check out my blog if you get a chance, and keep providing spirited discussion.

  19. Good post Bob W. I will re-post it on the next thread. I'll heat up your link for you.

  20. Thanks 2164th, I appreciate it.

    Stay in the Fight!