Doctor Andrew Krepinevich's credentials as a military scholar are impressive. So impressive that New York Times columnist David Brooks gushed over them like a schoolgirl. Which was my first clue that maybe Krepinevich's proposed solution for the Iraq situation might prove something less than what Brooks cracked it up to be.
In his modestly titled Foreign Affairs article "How to Win in Iraq," Krepinevich goes to significant lengths to detail the hows and whys of the Bush administration's Iraq strategy failures. While I agree with his assessment on this score, I hardly think his conclusions come as a surprise to anyone--inside our outside of military circles--who has been paying attention to this war. (It doesn't take a Clausewitz to figure out how badly things have gone.)
And I find fault with several of Krepinevich's assertions.
First among them is his identification of the Iraqi people, the American people, and the American soldier as "centers of gravity" in this war of insurgency. Keep in mind that few military "experts" agree on much of anything, including terminology. I'm guessing that where centers of gravity are concerned, Dr. Krepinevich and I come from significantly different schools of thought.
Mine dictates that centers of gravity are directly related to the objectives of conflict. At the strategic level of war--the level where political aims are gained or lost--the entity that determines and pursues those aims is not the population or the soldier. It is political leadership. Strategically, the population is normally be a critical factor--a strength, weakness, or critical vulnerability--though to what degree the population factors in varies by the nature of the political entity involved. As a rule, in war as in peace, populations play a larger factor in liberal societies and a lesser factor in totalitarian ones.
Rank and file soldiers do not set policy or strategy, and have little or say in determining operational and tactical objectives. Those objectives are determined, often in concert with political leadership, in the military staffs of the general officers who command the force.
Many argue that such distinctions in terminology are hair splitting, but I insist that these semantic distinctions are vital to understanding the nature of armed conflicts and to successfully winning them. Political and military leadership are responsible for the reason and conduct of war. Lack of popular support or poor soldier morale may constitute critical vulnerabilities, but the burden of promoting support and morale lies squarely on the shoulders of leadership.
This business of elevating the population and the soldier to center of gravity status is a leading symptom of the Pavlov's Dog of War Syndrome--a dangerous meme that lingers from the Vietnam era that says, "We lost the war because the public failed to support it."
It's a dangerous mindset because it shifts blame away from the real culprits--the politicians and generals who shaped and persisted in bad policy and strategy.
Tomorrow: The Oil Spot Fallacy.