In or at: that is the question

I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shewn and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America? ~ Ben Franklin

Since returning to the work force on a semi-fulltime basis, I have been somewhat remiss in monitoring on those sites I’ve added to my blogroll over time…this morning, in response to an item on the Small Wars Journal Blog on 4GW/5GW, I wanted to link to the work that Peter had done his The Strategist blog on a Cohorts of War model that was considerably more robust than William Lind’s flawed 4GW construct. I knew that Peter had stopped contributing to The Strategist when he departed for Vanuatu a couple of month s ago but I was surprised to find that I couldn’t get into it at all this morning (hopefully a minor glitch relating more to the server firewall at this end and not to any issues with Peter’s old blog).

Anyway, since the intention was there to revisit members of the blog roll, I continued to do so…Neptunus Lex has an interesting item on the symbolism of flags, It’s Been A Long Time, in which he describes the history of the First Jack, the first flag under which the US Navy fought in the War of Independence and one which was reinstated post-911.  He recounts Benjamin Franklin’s word on the reason behind the snake on the flag ..post-911, Don’t Tread On Me, was an apt banner under which to go to war…and he concludes with the thought that “…It’s been a long time, but we are still at war. Outside my house the Jack is still flying...”

Lex’s statement “…we are still at war…” is interesting. I don’t think there is any doubt that most Americans see their nation as at war and when you’re at war, you behave a certain way. I still remember the day of 911, of waking for breakfast in the Mess at Waiouru to learn of a terrorist attack in America and not thinking too much of it until I turned on the TV just in time to see the first tower come down. The school I was working at had an instructor who’d just completed the staff course at Ft Leavenworth…he spoke of how this was another Pearl Harbor Day, where the America that was so concerned about casualties in peace support/OOTW like Bosnia and Somali and of being perceived as playing by international rules, would shift to a war-fighting stance and leave no stone unturned in its hunt for those responsible and those who supported or abetted them. Thus, then, an America at war will bear the  ‘blood and treasure’ cost of that war and stay the course to see it through to a conclusion.

What then of those nations that might only be in a war…this is a question that came up when I was lecturing at Massey University a couple of weeks ago and led into an interesting discussion…the bottom line was that a nation in war can opt out at any stage when it convinces itself that its national objectives have been met, are no longer being achieved or even when it simply can’t remember why it got involved in the first place. On the other hand, a nation at war has a greater commitment to seeing matters through to a conclusion, regardless of cost – or certainly where the cost is a lesser concern than resolution of the issue.

But in 21st Century informal war, even resolution of the issue becomes blurred – once upon a time, a war was ‘resolved’ when the opponent was defeated and the victors occupied their territory – how now (brown cow?) do we define victory when our opponents don’t actually occupy any ground worth seizing and the nation’s capital is already occupied by our (apparent) friends and allies. The phrase that always comes to my mind when I think of this is from that great military theorist, Princess Leia Organa “When you broke in here, did you have a plane for getting out?” Defining the conditions for victory can be tricky: Phase One of WW2 was all about restoring Polish sovereignty but, despite occupying Berlin in 1945 we didn’t actually achieve this until 1989 – and then without occupying Moscow…In Iraq (version 2 anyway), it was a relatively simple task to define, although somewhat bloodier and more expensive to achieve, but then Iraq had been a centrally-governed society before March 20 2003.

Afghanistan is a whole different ball game and we now see the coalition start to wobble as some nations simply pack their bags and leave, although doing it to the tune of The Animals’ We’ve Got To get Out Of This Place instead of Het Wilhelmus was probably a bit tacky….while others discover that amazingly, they are now actually closer to achieving their in-theatre endstates that they had realised and thus can commence transition to a steady state Afghan-led structure…and recently we have seen the resurgence of statistics ‘proving’ how well that transition programme is going, especially the training of the Afghan National Police and Army but numbers aren’t everything. In fact, in this arena, they may be meaningless, certainly without some form of qualitative measures to accompany them…some interesting viewpoints on endstates here:

Kiwi-soldier-killed—full-interview-with-Louis-Gardiner

Tomgram: Body Count Nation

The other enemy

What does the Military Endstate in Bamiyan look like?

One of the things that those who might only be in war should remember, and one which may drive those at war, is that by opting to intervene or interfere in someone else’s country, they accept a certain responsibility for their actions. As those in war nations slowly slip away, they should remember that the people of those countries have no such option to just walk away and that the last helicopter off the Embassy roof always leaves someone behind…

In other news

John Birmingham seeks new ideas to develop the America-less post-Wave environment…the way things are developing in the latest thread on this topic, the rest of the world will write itself off in petty score-settling and an almost vacant America will reassert itself by default…

The Lite version of the UK’s Joint CombatOperations Virtual Environment (JCOVE) simulation based on Bohemia’s uber-successful Virtual Battlefield System 2 is availbale for download (and has been for some time but I only just found it) through the JCOVE Lite forum – yes, you do have to register and then you do have to post a welcome post to a thread before the download link activates but it is well worth it…VBS2 is the de facto standard simulation across the Anglospheric nations, well, the land forces anyway and is a superior tool for SOP and TTP development, AO familiarisation and mission rehearsal and well worth a look from anyone in the training or capability development arena….

The rules murdering their troops…

A top article from the NY Post on the COIN Center blog – most definitely stimulating for the grey matter and really makes you wonder what’s it all about. The day of 911, I was working with a guy who had just come back from a US college and I clearly remember his words that this was Pearl Harbor all over and from this point on, America would consider itself at war. The implications of this were that the gloves would come off and any pretence of being a team player would vanish if it got in the way of the main effort…

Somewhere along the way, the ‘war’ seems to have been lost out of the whole ‘war amongst the people’ model – the key part is that, unlike peace support and reconstruction and peacekeeping and all the nice safe sounding words (like offshore and deployment and operations…) is that war is war and there not very much nice about it – certainly it is not about trying to be nicer to the bad guys or potential bad guys than to your own troops, or hobbling them with rules to prevent anything bad happening (apparently except to them)…this is a war.

Bad things happen in wars. Sometimes people get caught in the middle and get hurt. That’s war but we accept these risks because there are bigger things at stake…Any non-combatant death is bad but the key is whether there was an intent to kill, either directly or passively by failing to apply a reasonable duty of care (key word: REASONABLE!!) War is and always has been (possibly always will be so long as people are involved) messy, untidy, dangerous and indiscriminate…we should not be kidding ourselves that we can write a book and toss in some technology and all of a sudden make it squeaky clean and politically palatable.

However, this article and FM 3-24 both skirt around or possibly even overlook the key point: the keys to successful COIN are probably endurance and habit forming – the foe that can stick it out the longest AND ensure that the habits it desires are embedded over a couple of generations (Note: speed is not a characteristic of COIN!!) will most likely be declared the winner. While the Malaysian Emergency may have been declared ‘over’ (won?) in 1960, the last CT did not surrender til 1988. Similarly, and they are probably halfway there, it will still be another ten or so years before anyone can confidently state that the troubles in Ireland are truly over. You want to be out of Afghanistan in ten years? You’re dreaming – you might as well pull the pin and bail out right now…

Wars are wars and you can not fight (definitely not win) them with a sterile ‘big arrows, little maps’ approach…forget the non-lessons of DESERT STORM and get down and dirty…