Friday, May 29, 2009

New Doctrines Without Strategic Foundations

I think zenpundit is onto something, although I don't know that he has fully fleshed it out. I have been in a weird place this week, I've actually had time to do little except read books, which is different for me since I am usually all wired up online reading PDFs, something I am much more comfortable with. One book I was able to dive into this week is the Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen.

I am not an expert on counterinsurgency, but ever since the surge and getting turned onto the topic by reading the Small Wars Journal, I have studied it enough to understand when COIN is and is not effective. I don't believe that COIN is a subject anyone will truly master without a great deal of regional centric training, education, and experience, although I really appreciate how many concepts of COIN scale in warfare, in particular the complicated discussions of how to operate military forces in populated environments (like the littoral).

Zenpundit is noting a book review of Kilcullen's book in RUSI written by John Nagl, and makes an interesting observation.

While relatively short and designed, naturally, to help promote a book by a friend and CNAS colleague, Dr. Nagl has also taken a significant step toward influencing policy by distilling and reframing Dr. Klicullen’s lengthy and detailed observations into a reified and crystallized COIN “doctrine”. A digestible set of memes sized exactly right for the journalistic and governmental elite whose eyes glaze over at the mention of military jargon and who approach national security from a distinctly civilian and political perspective:
Quoting from Dr. Nagl's book review in RUSI:
There is much first-hand reporting in this book, based on Kilcullen’s [Robert] Kaplan-esque habit of visiting places where people want to kill him. After chapters detailing his personal experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, he returns to his doctoral fieldwork in Indonesia, discusses the insurgencies in Thailand and Pakistan and evaluates the complicated plight of radical Islam in Europe. While all of these conflicts are related to each other, they are not the same, and cannot be won based on a simplistic conception like the global War on Terror; instead, the enemy in each small war must be disaggregated from the whole, strategy in each based on local conditions, motivations, and desires. One size does not fit all, and there are many grey areas. A ‘with us or against us’ approach is likely to result in far more people than otherwise being ‘against us’ in these conflicts.
This is where I think it gets interesting. Still quoting Dr. Nagl's review:
In direct opposition to the ideas that drove American intervention policy two decades ago, Kilcullen suggests ‘the anti-Powell doctrine’ for counter-insurgency campaigns.
  • First, planners should select the lightest, most indirect and least intrusive form of intervention that will achieve the necessary effect.
  • Second, policy-makers should work by, with, and through partnerships with local government administrators, civil society leaders, and local security forces whenever possible.
  • Third, whenever possible, civilian agencies are preferable to military intervention forces, local nationals to international forces, and long-term, low-profile engagement to short-term, high-profile intervention.
I don't disagree with any of this, but I am beginning to wonder where this becomes a priority towards national security, and how we get to the point this becomes national security as opposed to imperialism. Understanding a culture in COIN is a means by which we implement cultural influence, and potentially force cultural adaptation. Toward what strategic national objective in national security do we participate in this doctrine? This is the question I ask myself when studying COIN.

I ask this question because Zenpundit is on to something when he calls this "The Kilcullen Doctrine." I think there is enormous potential here for positive and effective results, I'm just not sure I see the answer to the "why" question though. For example, based on this prescription for policy the question is what policy should it drive, the national security policy for the United States internationally, or the national security policy for the United States in the inner city domestic areas that are currently populated by gang (read tribe) culture thriving on narcotic and illegal activity (see any similarities)?

My point is actually a basic question regarding Afghanistan. Is the objective in Afghanistan to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven? If so, what do we do about other failed states (Somalia) or weak states (Pakistan) where Al Qaeda has a presence? Why have COIN experts so casually dismissed the lessons of Sri Lanka? From an intellectual view, is the Chinese approach in Tibet not a counterinsurgency campaign simply applied using a different doctrine? Think about it more than a few minutes before reacting to that question...

The reason why there are so many questions surrounding the COIN debate is because considerable intellectual energy is being expended on how to conduct COIN operations based on a necessity to apply our cultural standards in Iraq for economic purposes, but in Iraq there was a strategic purpose with strategic objectives (stabilize the Middle East after starting a war that destabilized the Middle East). However, strategic purpose for a COIN approach doesn't scale beyond any single theater and is only effective when the local population capitulates to the cultural standard being applied at a political level is productive for the majority, which raises all kinds of questions in each theater regarding the most effective way to reach a policy objective, particularly when one applies the intellectual understanding of local cultures as emphasized in the COIN discussion.

In Afghanistan, what is the political objective stated in policy? What is the strategy developed from this policy? If policy drives strategy, and strategy drives operational doctrine, shouldn't we all be a bit concerned that operational doctrine has become the policy talking point rather than a policy itself? Understanding the role of COIN in context of policy is a point Abu Muqawama is constantly making, and I sometimes wonder why this idea isn't getting into our political strategic communications regarding the goals desired in Afghanistan. Why should anyone in Europe commit further assistance in Afghanistan if we cannot articulate our political objective in Afghanistan, much less articulate what strategy will be utilized to implement policy?

With all the intellectual energy being expended on COIN doctrine, we are certainly becoming experts on how to apply counterinsurgency to our military occupations absent a clearly stated objective for the military occupation. What is missing in the open source is the intellectual energy being expended on the "why", which is what would normally constitute the political policy of a country exercising military power in the context of a grand strategy.

I see two things missing from the national security debate under the Obama administration.
  1. A clear national political policy for any of the national security debates today, whether it is countries like Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, or Somalia or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  2. A clear grand strategy for any of the foreign policy and national security debates today, whether it is the QDR, budget cuts, or operations being conducted globally including 2 wars; not to mention several emerging problems including nuclear level issues in Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran. Ends are not well defined and means are being predetermined by budget decisions, and every major public discussion I see focuses on doctrine, education, and training (ways!) leaving strategy an upside down triangle in the context of a global economic crisis. We are missing a solid political and strategic foundation as a nation, and find ourselves literally teetering on the point and with a clear lack of symmetry. There is no question both our partners and adversaries are witness to our condition, which is why we have trouble finding help in places like Afghanistan and look powerless against third world straw men in Iran and North Korea.
With the focus on doctrine, in the end we are building the military for managing the problems that result from a lack of coherent policy and an alignment of strategy to policy. What is it we are trying to achieve with our liberal use of military power in the 21st century? This is not a complicated question, but an answer is a mandatory requirement to avoid the perpetual long war scenario. Did anyone in the Obama policy office ever read Clausewitz? Ironically, the Bush administration knew what political objectives they wanted from the use of military power, they just had no idea how to do it. How does either war end when our national strategy has no end derived by a political objective expressed as policy?

Short answer: it doesn't. Until this country has a public debate on the reason "why" we fight, the discussion will continue to be "how" we fight, meaning doctrine on the "ways" and an industrial driven discussion on what "means" will be purchased to fight will substitute for the public discussion of strategy as a way to avoid articulating a political policy, and in the meantime our military forces are being utilized globally absent a clearly articulated objective.

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