Sunday, February 26, 2017

We Ain't Gonna Study Conventional War No More?

You wouldn't complain that a hammer you used to nail two pieces of wood together is proven worthless because it can't smooth the combined surface, would you?

Then why complain that the Vietnam War and the Iraq War prove that conventional warfare is inadequate?

And I have no idea how Afghanistan fits in there.

Seriously, I am perplexed by this:

Conventional warfare, though still relevant, demonstrated its limits in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the prevalence of insurgencies, coups, popular uprisings, and revolutions has made it clear that future threats are likely to include a complex brew of irregular conflict that is centered on resistance movements[ii]. Preparing to meet such a challenge requires a disciplined approach to understanding resistance movements. Studying the nature, evolution, and dynamics of resistance through the lens of science is an effective approach. [emphasis added]

I have no problem with studying "resistance" that takes the form of insurgencies, coups, uprisings, and revolutions.

But why preface that--which is an ongoing area of study by the way--with references to those three wars as limits of conventional warfare?

America and our allies fought a blended war of large units and counter-insurgency in South Vietnam. Our conventional forces fought the North Vietnamese Army to a standstill and the COIN effort defeated the insurgency before we left in 1973. Where was the failure--the limit--of conventional warfare?

Indeed, the failure was in the conventional realm when the South Vietnamese military, deprived of American fire and logistics support, failed to stop a conventional North Vietnamese invasion in 1975. Ragtag peasants didn't topple the Saigon government. North Vietnamese tanks and artillery did.

In Iraq in 2003, we set the land speed record in the Middle East by destroying Saddam's conventional military in a lighting campaign that itself was the definition of a "cake walk" culminating in the elimination of the Saddam state.

And although conventional warfare--by definition--did not defeat the various insurgencies and terror campaigns--we did evolve to defeat the battlefield threat of the "resistance" by early 2008.

So again, where is the limit of conventional forces and operations that is supposed to justify this urgent new approach to studying "resistance?"

Heck, where is the failure of COIN? The Obama administration boasted about how good Iraq looked when we left.

And I have no idea what Afghanistan is doing in that list. I don't recall a conventional American campaign to destroy the Taliban regime in 2001. That was quite the blend of small conventional forces supporting local forces and backed with air power and cash. I suppose you could say that it was conventional if you dim the lights and squint. Yet it too worked.

You have to go back to the Soviet Union to see a more purely conventional invasion of Afghanistan, that did in fact rapidly overthrow the government to install a pro-Soviet government. The Soviet failure came after that success.

Conventional warfare is a form of warfare that is not discredited because it is not appropriate for dealing with enemies who are not organized and fight as conventional militaries. You wouldn't get to the COIN stage without the conventional campaign that turns a conventional enemy into irregulars.

I think that article would have been far more valuable without the pointless and perplexing introduction that seems only intended to diminish the importance of conventional warfare in order to argue for the study of "resistance."

By all means, continue to study non-conventional forms of warfare and unrest, whether we want to wage war for or against that. But we risk much by thinking that conventional warfare is merely "still relevant" rather than crucial to master.