By ann summers
Yet if predicting the future is a hopeless endeavor, learning from the past is not. The counterinsurgency books that Nagl studied do impart an important lesson. The goal the United States hopes to reach in Iraq — a successful counterinsurgency that does not drag on for years and does not involve a large amount of killing — has never been achieved by any army.
Professor Nagl’s War By Peter Maass New York Times Published: January 11, 2004
I am a big fan of John Nagl. He is the kind of citizen-soldier whose quality academic scholarship was subsidized like many in the upper echelons by our tax dollars, and the problem as always is throwing more resources at a problem that is like eating soup with a knife it only gets easier when it gets thicker. This is one of the lessons of the co-authored Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual which suggests that adaptation to the rapid shifting network alliances in governance partnerships ultimately determines success against insurgencies which is precisely why the US isn’t leaving Afghanistan until 2017, and that date only depending on who wins the White House.
It is still all about what the real mission was in either war: WMDs and defeating Al-Q and more importantly, not allowing a new insurgency to emerge on multiple fronts rather than screwing around investigating documents and emails. The problem remains a non-military one, since the US ability to effectively “service targets” seems as strong as ever. What counts and what seems to have been neglected as theory went to practice is that diplomacy and the governable safety of civilian populations got short shrift even up to this day or to some day in 2017.
retired lieutenant colonel (US Army) and recognized counterinsurgency expert John Nagl. A West Point graduate, Rhodes Scholar, and having written his doctoral dissertation on insurgencies, Nagl has fought in two wars—Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom—co-authored, along with General David Patraeus, the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, and is the author of two counterinsurgency books of his own—Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice.
At Oxford, he immersed himself in the classic texts of guerrilla warfare. There are different schools of thought, but almost every work in the canon imparts the message that counterinsurgency is one of the hardest types of warfare to wage. Nagl read ”Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice,” by Col. C.E. Callwell, a British officer who in 1896 warned of ”protracted, thankless, invertebrate war” in guerrilla terrain. Nagl also read ”Small Wars Manual,” published in 1940 by the United States Marine Corps, which cautions: ”Every detachment representing a tempting target will be harassed or attacked. The population will be honeycombed with hostile sympathizers.”
The video lecture is worth your time since it outlines the important issues of information operations, and even addresses the Benghazi witch hunt (remember the GOP Congress cut State Department embassy security funding) and Patraeus’s sex scandal in the Q & A (Nagl even thinks 2016 will be Jeb! v. Clinton). While the GOP could cull election memes from this, Nagl gives a reasoned argument for how necessary a strong and smart US military is but also how government, domestic political expediency, and ultimately the MIC create the conditions for failure as well as quagmire.
Nagl: I recently published a piece about what we need to do against the Islamic State. In it I lay out the standard strategic paradigm I use, which is “ends, ways, and means.” “Ends” are what it is that we’re trying to accomplish. “Ways” are how we’re going to go about doing that. And “means” are the resources we have available to use in that way to accomplish that end.
And, so, laying it out for the fight against the Islamic State, the President is correct in that our objective should be to defeat and ultimately to destroy ISIS. The way he intends to do that is through the use of the local forces; in this case, Iraqi and Kurdish armed forces supported by American advisors, American air-power, American intelligence assets, American logistics, and combat multipliers that we can bring to the fight to make their forces more effective. So that’s all good.
The problem I have is with the means the President has allocated to this fight. The resources he has made available were only a laughably-small 1500 American advisors up until two weeks ago. Now he doubled that up to a still paltry 3000. I argue that the resources needed, the means required, to accomplish the President’s correct objectives in anything like a reasonable period of time, are a multiple of what he’s promised. In fact, multiple-times-ten in what he had until two weeks ago—times-five what he has now. We need 15,000 American advisors on the ground in Iraq just to defeat ISIS inside Iraq. The question about what to do inside Syria is another question entirely.
“The problem I have is with the means the President has allocated to this fight. The resources he has made available were only a laughably-small 1500 American advisors up until two weeks ago. Now he doubled that up to a still paltry 3000. I argue that the resources needed, the means required, to accomplish the President’s correct objectives in anything like a reasonable period of time, are a multiple of what he’s promised. ”
Is there any reason to suppose that Nagl is greatly wrong on the numbers. If his numbers are evenly remotely accurate then his analysis suggests Obama’s goals and resources are wildly contradictory.
That is important information.
Nagl is telling us to change the goals or change the resources. But the president’s plan is madness.
Anybody have anything better? Anything at all?
Along with Nagl, I strongly suggest people read the memoirs of the late North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap. He’s quite clear about how the political aspect plays out in insurgency and counter-insurgency and how the insurgents use it to their advantage…apparently aided by the ignorance of the political class. No Soldier or Marine wants to be lead in to or sent in to a fog…but that seems to be what we do going back to Indo-China post 1946 and 1954. Last, Nagl’s assertion that we still have the ability to “service targets” is just not true anymore (in my opinion as I watched us shrink while I was in DOD & DA)…our drawn down military is challenged just to defend the homeland…expeditionary efforts are no longer reasonable. The MIC he refers to is really the political complex, not military, and one that makes it near impossible for us to deploy divisions without Kellogg, Brown & Root (or whomever) contracted logistical support (not something military commanders chose) … one shown to be a tad laggard in Iraq and Afghanistan some time ago.
Guys from my unit who deployed to Afghanistan and later Iraq slept on the ground without shelter waiting for KBR to deign to show up. So let’s not kid ourselves. You want a strong military capable of counter insurgency, then build it…don’t make it an afterthought and cut it to the bone. I agree that a very powerful military is the best defense against rogues…but only when it is obviously overwhelmingly strong. It will always be subject to political interference…resist that….no more Walter Cronkites declaring a loss….or administration tip towing. Gen Giap thought that was a great opportunity I assure you. No Soldier or Marine wants to go to war, they’d prefer to stand as a bulwark to prevent it. Send them off in tiny numbers and nearly naked, it’s likely there will be a morale problem. Wouldn’t you have one?
” I agree that a very powerful military is the best defense against rogues…but only when it is obviously overwhelmingly strong.”
The only problem is figuring out what it means to be ‘overwhelmingly strong’ in an age of asymmetrical warfare and the combatants move among the people as fish swim in the sea.