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US Unsuited For Long War: Cato Institute Paper

File photo: US soldiers in Iraq. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Aug. 31, 2006
As the U.S. president and defense secretary try to shore up support for the Iraq war with a series of tough speeches, a professor at a U.S. military graduate school argues the United States is politically, militarily and culturally ill suited to fight and win insurgent wars, beginning with Iraq, but extending to much of what America will face in the long war on terrorism.

Jeffrey Record is a professor in the Department of Strategy and International Security at the U.S. Air Force's Air War College in Montgomery, Ala., has written extensively on the U.S. military, and served as assistant province adviser in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War.

In a forthcoming paper for the libertarian Cato Institute, Record says the attributes that have made the U.S. military the premier conventional force are the same ones that prevent it from being effective against an insurgent enemy.

"Counter-insurgency and imperial policing operations demand forbearance, personnel continuity, foreign language skills, cultural understanding, historical knowledge, minimal employment of force, and robust interagency involvement and cooperation," he writes. "None of these are virtues of American statecraft and warmaking. Americans view war as a suspension of politics; they want to believe that the politics of war will somehow sort themselves out once military victory is achieved."

Post-war Iraq is an example of those very weaknesses, he said.

"Most (military operations other than war) are ... inherently manpower intensive and rely heavily on special skills ... that are secondary, even marginal to the prosecution of conventional warfare," he writes. "Forces capable of achieving swift conventional military victory thus may be quantitatively and qualitatively unsuited for post victory tasks of the kind the United States has encountered in Iraq.

"The very attributes that have contributed to the establishment of unchallenged and unchallengeable American conventional military supremacy -- impatience, an engineering approach to war, confidence in tech solutions to non-technological problems, preference for decisive conventional military operations, sensitivity to casualties, and above all the habit of divorcing war from politics -- are liabilities in approaching war against motivated and resourceful irregular armies, he said."

To win a counter-insurgency war, the U.S military, and its political establishment and its citizenry, would have to turn its fundamental predilections on their head: it would need far greater numbers, because counter-insurgency is manpower intensive. It would need to embrace the idea that small wars are won not by inflicting greater casualties than the enemy but by affecting local opinion, and firepower is always a last report.

It would need to abandon ingrained American optimism and notions of control and instead embrace the lessons of history, to recognize what lesser goals might be achievable. It must become culturally adept, reduce its dependency on technology and engage with vulnerable populations. It would have to patient, occupy foreign countries with a smaller logistical footprint, and give up its sensitivity to casualties.

Record sees no sign of that happening.

For 20 years, the military was guided by the so-called Weinberger-Powell doctrine, a philosophy that counseled the use of overwhelming force, clearly defined objectives, strong popular support, and an exit strategy. It was an "all or nothing" approach that came out of the Vietnam war experience, and one that left the U.S. Army ill-prepared for the Iraq insurgency.

"The Army may well leave that country with an 'Iraq Syndrome' as hostile to counter-insurgency as the 'Vietnam syndrome,'" he writes.

Even in the midst of an insurgent war, the Pentagon still resists making the sweeping and difficult changes that would enable a victory, according to Record.

The Pentagon conducted a bottom-up review of forces and capabilities in its 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review. While it called for a modest increase in special forces -- those best able to fight an insurgency and that embody many of the above characteristics -- it did not seriously address the problem, he writes.

"Four years of war against a deadly unconventional enemy have not disturbed any Navy or Air Force conventional weapon system in the acquisition pipeline even though these two services are supporting players in counter-insurgent operations," he writes. "The U.S. military force posture appears increasingly at odds with the emerging strategic environment."

The Army is half the size it was 15 years ago, and there is no effort to enlarge it. The Pentagon, and Army, is insistent that a temporary increase of 30,000 soldiers during the Iraq war be just that -- temporary. The Marine Corps has been repeatedly rebuffed in its effort to add at least 5,000 Marines permanently. The smaller troops numbers are supposed to be offset by improved weapons and technology that puts more "boots on the ground."

Record told UPI Thursday the situation in Iraq may have been unavoidable, given the nature of the U.S. military and U.S. politics, which he considers fundamentally incapable of fighting a protracted small war.

"I'm not sure we are in the mess we are in because faulty execution," he said. "It was doomed from the beginning, one can argue.

"Barring profound changes in America's political and military cultures, the United States runs a significant risk of failure in entering small wars of choice, and great power intervention in small wars is almost always a matter of choice," he writes

Small wars serve more to showcase the "embarrassing" limits of American conventional military power, he believes.

"Indeed the very act of intervention in small wars risks gratuitous damage to American military reputation," he writes.

Record calls for a rejection of intervention in foreign internal conflicts except when American interests are directly threatened.

"We're no good at this stuff, and we never will be. If we are no good at it, why do we keep getting involved in it?" he said.

"The policy question is not whether the United States should abandon its conventional capabilities but whether given the evolving strategic environment it should create ground (and supporting air forces) dedicated to performing operations other than war, including counter-insurgency, or simply abandon direct military intervention in foreign internal wars all together unless there is a compelling national interest at stake and intervention commands broad public support."

Source: United Press International

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