America fights wars differently from other countries. This essential fact is missed by many people, especially since this comes from both a unique national character and perspective, but also a different mind-set in planning for war. To understand how we got where we are now, and to prepare for upcoming conflicts, it is important to study the base assumptions and adjustments made in U.S. War Planning.
A 1996 research paper presented to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force examined the most likely scenarios for the coming three decades. The paper, titled “Alternate Futures for 2025: Security Planning to Avoid Surprise”, defined the “drivers” of American worldview, technical means, and world dispensation of power, and from that combination derived future conditions and conflict causality.
This was an indicator of interest in forecasting likely needs and threats, in a JCS project dubbed “Joint Vision 2020”. This combined the planning in 1999 for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard for the next two decades. The different services made projections to different degrees, the Air Force projecting as far as 2025, while the U.S. Army projection was only forecast to 2010.
The different services took different approaches to the task of planning and preparation. The Air Force paper took the widest approach and addressed issues in broad terms. The Army paper was the most specific in doctrine advances and material commitments. The Marines Corps produced an eye-catching PDF presentation in full color, which addressed readiness and doctrinal policy only in a general sense, but emphasized a scalable USMC, from Marine Expeditionary Forces for major operations all the way down in size to specialized units tagged 'SPMAGTF's, or “Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces”, for anything from Rescue to Incident Response missions. As for the Coast Guard, their brochure was weak on specifics but essentially anticipated no change of priorities or mission from the job they have done since the end of World War II.
Some specific papers shed light on the direction military theories were heading in the days of Clinton. Michael Renner published a disappointing paper in 2000 for the U.S. Navy, titled “ALTERNATIVE FUTURES IN WAR AND CONFLICT”. The paper gave far too much credence to unproven claims of environmental impact and further presumed that planning should depend more on the United Nations, although he admitted “the international community would do well to build some redundancy into the conflict-prevention apparatus”, which amounts to an admission that the UN has a poor record in preventing or addressing conflicts. Renner endorsed the Clinton Doctrine of sending in small, essentially token forces, to many places, to send a political signal of U.S. interest, in the hopes that this would influence regional actors to refrain from violence. Renner included no case studies from actual events, in all likelihood because the actual situations would demonstrate the fallacies of his assumptions, as in Somalia, Haiti, and Iraq, where U.S. presence inspired gunfire rather than negotiations, and the small size and lack of support created conditions of high risk against poor opportunity for the men on the ground.
A similarly poor set of assumptions was made by Dr. Peter Dombrowski, whose 2000 paper titled “Alternative Futures in War and Conflict; Implications for U.S. National Security in the Next Century” essentially played the ‘focus group' game with war planning, so that “Participants felt that conflict between major powers was increasingly unlikely but that wars between lesser powers would continue”, and also that “In strategic terms the United States might simply “muddle through”—an approach which some participants favored or at least did not object to given America’s preponderance of power in the international system for the foreseeable future.”. This sort of thinking helps to explain why key warnings about Al Qaeda were not examined when they could have prevented the growth of the terrorist group into a major threat. Dombrowski’s study is useful, however, in that it displays the variety of threats to consider, and also displays a window into the mind of the National Intelligence Council, who advise the President through the PDB documents of threats and concerns. Dombrowski’s group, for example, went so far as to suggest that “the U.S. Marines could play more of a constabulary function” instead of preparing for war as they have always done. Such an essential blunder by men so close to the top of the decision chain reflects a serious problem in the Academic circles, even when studying warfare.
Also of interest was the late-20th Century self-appraisal of the Intelligence Community. The 1996 document titled “Preparing for the 21st Century: An Appraisal of U.S. Intelligence”, noted that the Intelligence agencies for the United States need to work more closely with the people they serve, especially policy makers and those who need specific information for action decisions. The paper also correctly feared that “administrative barriers often prevent or impede cooperation between agencies”, and that the Intelligence Community needs cooperation and interaction with Law Enforcement agencies.
To their credit, the writers of these reports and their agencies have not tried to hide away these embarrassing documents, but left them unclassified and available for review and study, which I recommend to students of History and Military operations. It is interesting, however, to notice the radical changes in military doctrine under the Administration of George W. Bush, which may help to explain the broad support “Dubya” enjoys from the military demographic, to the continued bafflement of the Left. That is to say, where President Clinton seems to have bought into the advice of the focus group advisors, Bush trusted men with actual battle experience and a clear plan for victory. And Bush knows his history.
A cursory overview of American military history should, if nothing else, show an important lesson in American Psychology: Americans go “all in” when they fight a war. Nothing but victory is acceptable. Also, Americans do not begin wars with a desire to pick a fight, but once committed to the action the resolve is sure and strong. This must be emphasized, when confronting some of the more pernicious myths presented by the Left. When the American colonies broke with England, the initial intent was to bring about honest negotiations and reform of the arrangement between Crown and Colony. Only when this was clearly impossible, did open revolt and revolution come into action, and the United States born of necessity. Before the War of 1812, it was the sincere desire of the United States to negotiate issues with England to avoid conflict. Once this was impossible, the United States resolved to demonstrate that they could not be invaded with impunity. Before the debates over Slavery and States’ Rights finally boiled over into violence, the South would have done well to study the then-short history of our country, and so understand that the conflict would be forcefully resolved – either the South would completely overwhelm the North and so reshape the structure of the country, or else the North would overwhelm the South and impose a stern control, as came to pass. The Southern hope to force a partitioned existence dividing the United States into a Federal Union to the North and the Confederate States to the South was one which the nation refused to accept, at any cost. In the Spanish-American War, the decision to fight Spain led to a complete campaign to bar the Old Hemisphere from building any more colonies in the West, which also reshaped control of territories in the Pacific Ocean . As for the wars of the 20th Century, many observers have failed to note that public support has actually been strong for American objectives, and unforgiving of half-measures. The borders of the United States were never threatened during the Century, by Germany under either the Kaiser or even Hitler, by Japan under Tojo or Italy under Mussolini, or by North Korea, Ho Chi Minh, or Mao Tse Tung, or Saddam Hussein. But we went into war in all those places, and we either won or should have. And where the political will was too weak to finish the job, the people reacted and demanded a price. Truman lost his chance to run again in 1952, because he was seen as the man who gave up on Korea. LBJ could hardly have handled Vietnam any worse, and GHW Bush will always be remembered as the man who didn’t “finish the job” in Iraq. And returning to Vietnam for a moment, this was a war we could and should have won. The opinion of Walter Cronkite and Eric Severeid notwithstanding, the American people supported the war when we were serious about it, as when Nixon finally bombed the hell out of North Vietnam, and looked like he meant to invade. We only lost because the Democrat-controlled Congress refused to keep its agreements, and essentially invited the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army to roll into Saigon. The American people do not like losses, and there is a segment of the population which opposes even the most just and necessary of wars, but the people in general are not about to give up on our troops. Our whole history is one where the people appreciate the troops, and our troops do a magnificent job, and a complete one.
The threat of Global Terrorism is not a police matter. And very few people who study the problem are fooled into thinking that terrorist groups do not receive training, support, and protection from countries which find their tactics useful for their own agenda. It is in the most basic interest of the United States’ National Security, to wipe out any base of operations which is used by a significant terrorist organization, or which is likely to become one. Al Qaeda has run a number of operations which have earned them attention from the U.S. Military, including the 9/11 hijackings and mass murders. The Taliban in Afghanistan sheltered and supplied the terrorist group, which is all the justification needed to invade Afghanistan and establish a nascent democracy, which is precisely what has happened there. Intelligence showed that Iraq’s support for terrorist groups made them a likely next stop for Al Qaeda, which created a functional need to take action; the justification was already established by chronic breaches of the terms of the1991 Cease-fire to the First Gulf War. The additional offenses of firing at Coalition observation aircraft, as well as the attempted assassination of a former United States President, certainly meet the standard as acts of war themselves. Strategically, invading Iraq was an obvious choice as well. Besides the elimination of a rogue regime as mandated in 1998 by Congress, the invasion of Iraq made the Middle East the theater of operations against the most formidable networks of terrorists, far superior to waiting for them to build forces and attack U.S. installations and personnel. And this point requires a necessary stop, to examine the nature of Global Terrorism.
In the new era of post-Cold War stature, the United States has moved beyond “Superpower” to an effectively supreme position in any venture to which it acts militarily. As a consequence, nations which once felt secure in defying American intentions, either because of alliance with the Soviet bloc, Another cartel or group capable of standing against available US forces, or the belief that the US would be stretched too thin to take them on, are now uncomfortably aware that the United States may chose to act as it pleases. Where comparable force is no longer an option therefore, asymmetrical warfare gains in attraction, and for some nations, the use of terrorism offers a relatively effective and inexpensive means for fighting the United States. This is because of responses by leaders like the Clinton Administration, giving the image that the United States has no stomach for a prolonged or messy conflict, but also enjoys popularity because their supporters have long believed they could use terrorists without discovery, or at least without proof. The invasion of Iraq not only destabilized the Middle East base of many terrorist bases, networks, supply lines and communications, but also proved the lie of supporting terrorism without cost. A clear message has been sent throughout the Middle East, not only that the United States intends to pursue the dissolution of any significant force acting against Americans and our allies, but also that we will work to destabilize those regimes, by supporting popular revolt against oppression; it has not gone unnoticed in the United States, that most nations which have been willing to support terrorist groups are repressive against civil rights in their own countries. A new reciprocity is in effect; attempt to attack the United States’ citizens or our infrastructure, and we will make war against your regime, with the use of truth and a demand for justice. It is not commonly publicized, but dissident leaders in a number of key countries receive indirect help from the United States – not overtly, for a number of reasons, but the effect is still improved by the action.
It would be unreasonable to claim that the United States intends to make “clone states” in the Middle East – even were such a thing possible, the nature of any true democratic republic is such that it molds itself to meet the needs and demands of its own people. This is what happened in Germany and in Japan, and ideally will also take place in the Middle East – a network of nations which are genuinely committed to the rights and welfare of their own citizens, and for whom the rule of law will be established by a just constitution and equal access to the courts. The best way to prevent future wars is to eliminate the causes of such nations as would choose to make war against us.