Army Lessons Observed…But Not Learned

Center for Army Lessons LearnedGenghis Khan allegedly advised his sons that “occupations turn soldiers into jailers.”

Whether or not the great Mongol general said these words is hard to confirm, but he definitely practiced what he preached. Genghis Khan conquered and controlled more of the world’s landmass than any man in human history — and he did it without tying down his armies in costly occupations.

This achievement seems to pass unnoticed among the Army’s generals.

In a Defense Daily article entitled “Army Senior Leaders Consider Strategic Landpower AT UQ 2013 Seminar,” Ann Roosevelt quotes Army Lieut. General Keith Walker as saying, “For example, an important lesson from World War I is that the allied failure to occupy a defeated Germany allowed militarism to survive, he said. The German people never felt themselves defeated, thus World War II came within two decades.”

Walker is expressing a widely held view in the senior ranks: that the U.S. Army must be postured to repeat the multi-trillion dollar folly of Iraq by repeating the disastrous mistake of occupying countries when there is no need to do so.

These neocon inspired statements exemplify the ignorance and the delusional mentality of the Army’s senior leadership.

The real lesson of America’s participation in World War I — a war that cost the United States 318,000 casualties in only 110 days of fighting — was for the U.S. to stay out of the war. Once in, Woodrow Wilson’s neocon-like commitment to an ideological crusade, mired in the worst sort of wishful thinking, resulted in a postwar treaty and a set of international financial arrangements that guaranteed a second world war that might otherwise had been avoided.

When U.S. Army forces did occupy Germany in 1945, the Army did so under conditions that favored success: the Germans knew that 15 million Soviet troops were poised to advance westward spreading terror, rape and communism in their wake. Even more important, we were occupying people like ourselves, people with the culture, history and economic foundation to rapidly return Germany to the path it was on before the Depression and Hitler changed direction.

These points aside, the more profound difficulty with Walker’s statement is the obvious unwillingness to come to terms with the devastating failure of our military occupation of Iraq.

In this connection, the jury is not out, it’s in:

The occupation of Iraq was a strategically self-defeating operation from the moment we dismantled Iraq’s army, police and administrative apparatus, and insisted on treating any Arab hostile to the foreign Christian army on his soil as an al Qaeda sympathizer.

Instead of recognizing the futility of imposing Western concepts of governance, social order and economics with the use of American soldiers on deeply troubled, non-Western societies, the Army generals want to repeat this failed policy in perpetuity. The lesson that whenever military occupations drag on for years, military power becomes an engine of destruction not just for its intended enemies; but for its supporting society and economy too.

The Army generals that emerged from the catastrophe of Vietnam learned this lesson and harbored no such illusions.

Most Americans will simply dismiss Walker’s remarks, but they should not. Walker’s statements mirror a mentality in the senior ranks that presents a clear and present danger to the American people. Why?

There is an inexhaustible supply of future “Iraqs” waiting to happen if only the American people will sleep quietly while the Army four stars empty the U.S. Treasury yet again.

First, there is Pakistan, a state that from its inception was torn apart by competing tribes, sectarian violence and corruption. Blanketing Pakistan with troops would not only be costly and provide further reinforcement for the jihadist cause, but any intervention in Pakistan puts U.S. troops at risk of exposure to nuclear strikes.

Second, there is North Korea, a failed state poised to implode rather than attack the South. The North Korean forces can’t even hit Japan with a nuclear warhead, much less the United States. North Korea’s current displays of belligerence are part of a desperate ploy to persuade the U.S. to sign a treaty with North Korea underwriting its continued existence, and bad behavior, in perpetuity.

Fortunately, China’s growing frustration with the failed North Korean state suggests a readiness to cooperate with Seoul to manage North Korea’s inevitable implosion. If the delicate process of managing North Korea’s disintegration is left to the Koreans, Chinese and Japanese, regional war will be averted and Korea reunified with the United States in quiet support of Seoul’s interests.

But China will not tolerate an aggressive U.S. military posture aimed at intervention north of the DMZ.  Any such plan should be shelved immediately.

And, there are always Syria and Mexico. Syrian society is at war with itself, with roughly a third of the population struggling to escape the dark age of Sunni Islamism that is engulfing North Africa, much of the Middle East, and now threatens to engulf Syria. An American military intervention in Syria would definitely rid Damascus of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s secular dictator, but U.S. military intervention would also set the stage for an Islamist alliance from Algeria to Anatolia, presumably led by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his nation’s Islamists, powerful advocates for intervention in Syria. Erdogan is the same man who publicly describes Zionism as a crime against humanity.

Closer to home, there is Mexico, a country with domestic ingredients similar to those in the Middle East: widespread corruption, criminality, and a large, impoverished underclass. As in Egypt, these conditions are conducive to convulsive, violent unrest, disorder and instability that American military intervention could exacerbate, but not alleviate.

Of course, not all of the Army’s senior leaders are so easily beguiled by the neocons. Many privately have another purpose in mind: to preserve a bloated general-officer overhead and a large, amorphous mass of soldiers and Marines on active duty. These points are no less dangerous because they reflect a complete failure to recognize that the future will be different from the recent past. It’s also evidence for another serious malady widespread inside the armed forces: single-service thinking and behavior.

Walker’s interpretation of history ignores the criticality of integrating capabilities resident in each of the services to achieve strategic objectives as economically and rapidly as possible. All wars are catastrophes, but long, inconclusive conflicts involving hostile occupations are national misfortunes. Occupations negate maneuver. They make it impossible to achieve the same objective in warfare as in wrestling; to throw the opponent by weakening his foothold and upsetting his balance without risking self-exhaustion.

Unfortunately, the Army generals provide the same answer again and again: flood the battle space with American soldiers and muddle through.  This mentality is buttressed by the delusion of limitless national power. It failed in Vietnam and it failed in Iraq.

“In war,” British army officer J.F.C. Fuller observed, “It is absolutely true were other things equal, that numbers, whether men, shells, bombs, etc., would be supreme. Yet it is also absolutely true that other things are never equal and can never be equal.” The point is in war, quality counts, perhaps more now than at any time in history, given the complexity and lethality of military technology. It is the quality of America’s professional soldiers and the technology they employ the Army must cultivate and develop, not masses of troops.

Change in military affairs points to a capable, professional Army of lethal self-contained formations organized around Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance, Strike, Maneuver and Sustainment, not masses of citizen soldiers mobilized for industrial warfare. These formations must be designed from the bottom up for employment within the framework of the Joint Force under Joint Command.

For the indefinite future, these “forces-in-being” must be ready to deploy on short notice to conduct Joint punitive military operations to neutralize or destroy unambiguous threats to U.S. national-security interests wherever they are and whenever they emerge. However, long, unrewarding and expensive occupations on the Iraq model are things Americans want to avoid, not repeat.

Finally, the Army’s four stars are expected to expand, not constrain, the nation’s range of strategic options. The disappointing revelations in this article suggest the opposite is the case.

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