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I got the heads up on a battle brewing in southern Afghanistan a few months ago. Not a battle between Marines and insurgents, mind, but one over the appropriate tactics to fight the Taliban. Specifically, I heard the staff of Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson's MEB was getting frustrated by being forced to essentially camp out on the population and, Marines being Marines, wanted to go chase the bad guys. Now this from today's Washington Post:
"I'm not a big fan of the population-centric approach. We can't sit still. We have to pursue and chase these guys," said Col. George Amland, deputy commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand province. "I haven't seen any evidence it's working. The only thing that's working is chasing them."
I've heard Col. Amland is a thoughtful officer, but I wonder if he's thoughtful enough to recognize that a) his decades-long education as a Marine officer might have prejudiced him toward a preference for violent offensive operations and b) many counterinsurgents through the years have been in exactly the same spot where Col. Amland finds himself today -- and have pursued violent offensive operations, like battalion sweep-and-clears, that have brought no lasting security. But as the author of the Post article notes, "hunkering down to the slow work of improving governance" is a lot less sexy than killing bad guys. But you have to do both, and if given the option of choosing between the two, the operational and strategic culture of the U.S. Marine Corps will lead its officers to do the former at the expense of the latter.
I think we sometimes focus too much on trying to understand the culture of the enemy without first recognizing our own cultural quirks, norms and biases. The individual services within the U.S. military are especially effective at conditioning their officers to believe that the service's preferred theory of victory is the one most appropriate for a conflict. As a remedy for this, I wish Marines would be more conscious of their "Marineness" -- and all the assumptions, biases and norms (most of them good) that entails. (The same goes, of course, for Air Force officers, Army infantry officers, Naval aviators, Army armor officers, Army Special Forces officers, submariners, etc., etc., etc.)
In the end, though, I'm left with this image in my head of Col. Amland as Daniel-son wandering why the hell he's been waxing Mr. Miagi's car.