Wednesday, August 31, 2005

More Greeks, More Strategies

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.


  1. I don't know that I would call people who blow up freshly built power plants patriots. It seems like the result is chaos and pain and the only goal is to achieve both hands on the rein for your own megalomaniac interests, not the good of the people.

    I think the Iraqui people would rather have the invaders clean up, rebuild, leave a democratic system in place, and then fade away and be a far away business partner. I doubt they are saying to these Saddam system cronies, because that is what they are, "blow up that plant and seize power, patriot, I don't need electricity in my hospital room today".

    They lived with the bloddy rule of Saddam, they can live with an american presence, as long as there is order and electricity and jobs. There's this naive belief that people are better off being ruled by their own kind, as if their own kind is not likely to fry, torture and skewer them. Of course they are, Saddam was their own kind.

    Give people human rights, security and jobs, be clever about coordinating an international effort to achieve it, and people won't care so much if you are american, iraqui or japanese.

    If Peru, for example, took over America and made it a more equitable place, gave me a job and an ability to build a future, in short, did a great job compared to Bush, I would not care very much. I would care, in a principled, abstract way, but on a daily basis, if my life was indeed better, I would not care.

  2. Anonymous3:45 PM

    If in the process of taking over America, Peru killed a similar percentage of Americans as we have likely killed Iraqis (say, 25k Iraqis ... a similar percentage would be 308k Americans), I think a significant percentage of Americans would take violent umbrage at this. I would be among them.

  3. I'm not sure if I'm misreading you or not, but here goes: I agree with your point in theory, Renata, but my problem with it is how that breaks down in Iraq. Electricity, clean water, access to gasoline = problematic. Not to mention the infrastructural problems of our bombing campaigns, the heightened sense of fear in the population that led to the deadly stampede this morning, the depleted uranium in the water table that will cause problems for Iraqis and Americans.... There isn't order, electricity, and jobs.

    Can we "win" in Iraq? Or can we just lose as well as we can?

  4. In truth I don't have a clue how life is over there right now. Can people flush a toilet? Can they use a blender? Do they go to work or do they just sit at home? and how do they get food? Is agriculture still going on? I think the history of the world is replete with phoenix-like resurections of countries and cities. It's just a matter of doing it correctly, having a sober plan in mind. I'm just not so quick to declare that people who are acting in a terroristic fashion blowing up important power plants have the good of the people at heart or some noble sentiment. It would be the equivalent of one manager screwing up production so another manager doesn't succeed and get noticed by their superiors - yeah but if he destroys the company in the process, does he really care?
    Anonymous, I think I understand your sentiment, but there are tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of disinfranchised poor americans who would react well to having increased opportunities and would be willing to overlook a minuscule sin like mass murder. I am being fastitious, of course, but it happened before in other countries, other times. Man basically cares about his house, his life, his belly. Statements such as "I could never live under foreign occupation" are false, we all could if it was comfortable.

  5. Statements such as "I could never live under foreign occupation" are false, we all could if it was comfortable. Ahhh, no.

    Living "under a foreign occupation" to ensure my creature comforts? And give up what makes this a uniquely American existance? Gee, was Alpha Centauri getting overpopulated or something? Your statement is demonstrably false, because if it were true, many of us would not have spent all those years hanging around big gray floating things that moved around from time to time ensuring that "foreign occupation" would not become an option we needed to think about.

    Geez, Jeff...did you just get a real live Troll?

  6. No, Jo. I've known Renata for a little while. She's a poet, and I think her thoughts and inputs are genuine expression of her beliefs.

    A troll she's definitely not.

    I'll probably post a piece on foreign occupation in a front page piece in the not too distant future.

    Thanks to everyone, by the way, for contributing so eloquently to the discourse on this site.



  7. Renata,
    I understand better what you mean, certainly with a much broader view of history.

    I think the main problem of our Iraq occupation, we're not doing it soberly.

    I just read John Crawford's The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell - a soldier's memoir from Iraq.

    I'm sure many people can flush toilets, but there's literally shit all over the streets, limited periods of electricity, etc. Here's a good site, if you want more information, by Riverbend, a girl blogger from Iraq. She has a first-hand view of our occupation.

    I actually just bought her book but haven't had a chance to open it.

  8. Ok, sorry.

    Just a statement that got my hackles up... 'pologize for being a troll in this case myself... [whack whack whack] (sound of head hitting desk)...



  9. How would leaving the country in the hands of the people who blow up power plants improve the electricity and sanitation situation? And how would you choose among the groups blowing up power plants to pass power over to them? It seems to me like the most reasonable thing is to continue forward with forming a new government, then give them the support to work on their problems. But I don't think America has a lot of good will built up right now, in that part of the world, mainly because of our unequivocal support of Israel through unreasonable decision after unreasonable decision. No one trusts us to do the right thing or even to know what the right thing to do is.
    Jo, consider a situation similar to Iraq. If we had had a dictator for the past few decades, and then an occupying force comes in, a free country, with many flaws, but still the beacon of democracy, which says it will do the best it can to bring democracy to you, too.
    I don't support Bush or the war, but I am just saying, as things stand now, at this point in time, I don't think those people blowing up power plants and water treatment facilities are patriots. I think they are working for some gang that wants total power, like Saddam had.

  10. Renata:

    You are correct. The problem you are encountering is that many who oppose Bush and the war simply can't let stand any statement that even remotely could be interpreted as other than condemnation of the effort. That is, no matter how good your point if you say anything that even remotely suggests the U.S. should stay there to stabilize things before leaving (which is the implication in your original post), then whether your point is good or not you'll get a knee-jerk angry response from those who oppose the war in rote, not caring to give the issue any thought but preferring instead simply adopt the view that anything along the lines you suggest is intolerable. Responses like Jo's represent the lack of actual consideration given to alternative views by partisans these days. In fact, one cannot even go so far as to criticize a position taken by the anti-war movement without being identified with the pro-war movement. It's that kind of lack of rational thought that leaves us with the mediocre politicians we deserve.

  11. Gosh, we were having such a great and substantive and thoughtful discussion and someone had to go and blow it with RNC talking points.

  12. Glad to be understood, Scott. Case in point, the stampede caused by fear of a suicide bomber. If there had been a suicide bomber, it would not have been a patriot, but rather someone sent by sinister interests hoping to ignite an ethnic war. Maybe the actual suicide bombers are naive and believe they are doing good, which makes those who brainwash them that much more despicable. I see that the American presence serves as a direct impetus for these type of terrorist missions, but I doubt their intentions are anything but a grab for power at a time of chaos. I don't think they can offer something better than a bunch of diverse, representative groups negotiating a constitution. All Americans were not on the same page when our own constitution was drafted and still it was a pretty good start, compared to other contemporary governments. I still think it was a bad idea to go there, a waste of money and lives. But if we don't clean up and make good by the Iraqis, it will just compound the wrongness of pouncing on them in the first place.

  13. Might be worth mentioning that essentially the American Revolution was a (successful) attempt to get out from under a comfortable "foreign" occupation, using quite a few "terrorist" type methods.

  14. Yes, Emi, quite a few terrorist methods.

    And we didn't ask the British to stick around and help us write the constitution.


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