This Week at War, No. 12
What the four-stars are reading -- a weekly column from Small Wars Journal.
Gates's defense budget refights a very old battle
Gates’s defense budget refights a very old battle
On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates revealed the Pentagon’s budget plan for fiscal year 2010. Media attention focused on the many expensive weapons programs Gates cancelled. Gates gave a glimpse of his philosophical approach to the budget with this exchange during the question-and-answer session with the Pentagon press corps:
I mean, the reality is that — and let me put this very crudely — if you broke this budget out, it would probably be about 10 percent for irregular warfare, about 50 percent for traditional, strategic and conventional conflict, and about 40 percent dual-purpose capabilities.
So this is not about irregular warfare putting the conventional capabilities in the shade. Quite the contrary: this is just a matter — for me, at least — of having the irregular-war constituency have a — have a seat at the table for the first time when it comes to the base budget.
Gates has felt himself battling against what he has seen as a Pentagon bureaucracy that has been more comfortable with preparing for big wars, the traditional state-versus-state conventional conflicts. Most of the weapons programs the bureaucracy has promoted, and which Gates killed on Monday, were designed with such wars in mind.
Writing at Small Wars Journal, Bill Van Horn of Montana State University reminds us that today’s bureaucratic struggle inside the Defense Department between conventional warriors and irregular warriors has been a constant throughout U.S. history:
[F]or the majority of its history, the U.S. Army has been a force that was used mainly for internal security or [counterinsurgency]-type missions. And the second proposition is that for the same majority of its history the Army has rejected that role; the amount of force in that rejection varying based on external considerations. Even during a time when any external conflict was very unlikely (the period after the Civil War), the Army focused the majority of its limited training time on the war it wanted to fight (a Napoleonic-style conflict or something like the Civil War) and not the war it was already fighting (the Indian Wars).
That assertion must sound very familiar to Gates.
Governing from the shadows
The U.S. exit strategy from Iraq and Afghanistan counts on the establishment of governments in those countries that attain legitimacy in the eyes of the indigenous populations. The insurgents still at war reject the legitimacy of these governments. But are these insurgents succeeding at creating an alternative shadow government? Are they even attempting to do so?
In an essay written for Small Wars Journal, Patrick Devenny, an employee of the U.S. Defense Department, discusses what success the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have had at establishing shadow governments in those countries.
In Iraq, the conventional wisdom is that al Qaeda in Iraq was a brutal, nihilistic gang, whose savage coercion of the population demonstrated no interest in effective governance and ultimately resulted in a revolt by Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. The resulting Awakening movement aligned with U.S. military forces and led to the pacification of Anbar province and much of the Baghdad area.
While not disputing this account, Devenny points to al Qaeda documents captured in Iraq that indicated an awareness of the need for support from the population. Referencing another Small Wars Journal article, Devenny asserts that these al Qaeda documents also showed portions of a population-centric strategy that utilized clandestine organization, psychological preparation of the people, expansion of control, consolidation of power. According to Devenny, al Qaeda in Iraq did little to establish a shadow government, but some elements of its leadership were not as completely nihilistic as those who received the most attention.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban have demonstrated much greater experience and aptitude at shadow governance than did al Qaeda in Iraq. The Taliban did govern Afghanistan during the late 1990s and elements of the Taliban effectively govern broad areas of Pakistan’s tribal areas. According to Devenny, coercion is not the only means of control; in these areas, a Taliban bureaucracy administers a taxation system, a judiciary, and a system of military conscription.
In his conclusion, Devenny reminds his readers that al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are studying the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns just as intently as U.S. military leaders are. The U.S. military has learned the value of population-centric counterinsurgency techniques. The U.S. military should anticipate that its adversaries have also learned some lessons in this regard, which they will likely apply in the future.
Is crime part of the spectrum of conflict?
During his remarks on Monday, Gates discussed the spectrum of conflict and how we have to be prepared all along that spectrum. I wondered if Gates considered economic and financial crimes such as smuggling, public corruption, and money laundering to be components of the spectrum of conflict that his department must prepare for.
Brock Dahl, a former U.S. Treasury Department official who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, understands the connection between modern war and criminal organizations. Writing at the Colloquium, the blog of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, Dahl explains how criminal organizations perpetuate conflict and why fighting these organizations should be an essential part of an effective counterinsurgency strategy.
Dahl reminds us about the connections between war and crime. Insurgent organizations use criminal enterprises to raise money for military operations. Criminal organizations corrupt and suborn officials inside the legitimate government and the security forces. And after corruption sufficiently weakens and discredits the legitimate government, the indigenous population may find the insurgent shadow government more appealing.
Even if the legitimate government succeeds in discrediting the political ambitions of the insurgents, such insurgent groups may transform themselves into purely criminal enterprises that the government must continue to fight. The FARC in Colombia and the Shining Path in Peru began their lives as leftist revolutionary movements. Decades later, they are now drug cartels and still battling the government.
In Mexico, by contrast, the drug cartels began as purely commercial enterprises. Pressure from the government, however, is gradually turning them into political insurgencies, as I explained in a previous post.
Robert Gates wants the U.S. military to be prepared for the full spectrum of conflict from high-intensity conventional warfare to counterinsurgency doctrine. Do the U.S. Army and Marines Corps now need to add stakeouts, wiretaps, and forensic accounting to their training manuals?
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.
If China Arms Russia, the U.S. Should Kill China’s Aircraft Industry
A Coup Would Put Pakistan Squarely in China’s Bloc
Even More Than Tanks and Planes, Ukraine Needs IFVs
Russian Mercenaries Are Pushing France Out of Central Africa
The Netherlands’ Eternal Prime Minister Survives Another Populist Wave