January 09, 2008

Rogers vs. Gentile in Armed Forces Journal

A few days ago, Abu Muqawama received over e-mail the proofs for the new edition of Armed Forces Journal. There is some good stuff in this latest issue, including a thoughtful essay by MAJ Daniel Davis on the continued (ir)relevance of net-centric warfare. He writes:

...given the current state of technology, the probability of future development in nations across the globe, and a historical perspective on the performance of new and emerging technologies in the past, does this theory stand up to rigorous examination? I argue that it does not. Aside from a near-faith-based, unsubstantiated belief in the efficacy of technology to do anything and everything imaginable, one of the primary factors upon which this assessment is based is its failure to give proper consideration to the capabilities of the future enemy force.

Davis then goes on to talk about tanks and planes and all kinds of expensive weapons systems that Abu Muqawama freely admits he has no experience with. But for those of you who like reading this blog for defense issues not related to counterinsurgency -- who the hell are you? -- this article will be thought-provoking.

For the rest of us, the real treat in this issue of AFJ is the debate between MAJ Chris Rogers and LTC Gian Gentile on the new counterinsurgency doctrine. Gentile has a big problem with the new counterinsurgency doctrine. In a previous, controversial essay for AFJ, he wrote:

The eminent scholar and strategic thinker Eliot Cohen noted that counterinsurgency war is still war, and war in its essence is fighting. In trying to teach its readers to eat soup with a knife, the COIN manual discards the essence and reality of counterinsurgency warfare fighting, thereby manifesting its tragic flaw. ... War is not clean and precise; it is blunt and violent and dirty because, at its essence, it is fighting, and fighting causes misery and death. The authors of the Army’s 1986 AirLand Battle doctrine premised their manual on fighting as the essence of war. Fighting gave the 1986 manual a coherence that reflected the true nature of war. The Army’s new COIN manual’s tragic flaw is that the essence of war fighting is missing from its pages.

Basically, Gian Gentile thinks the new COIN manual leaves the enemy out of the equation, a dangerous thing to do when thinking about, you know, stuff like war. War, for Gentile, is fighting. And if you describe a kind of war without violence, you're just going to go and confuse the American Soldier. In the latest issue of AFJ, Gentile refines his message:

...the predisposition to focus exclusively on ourselves and our doctrine leads us potentially to violate the guidance of one of the oldest philosophers of war, Sun Tzu, to know oneself and the enemy and the environment, too. Our doctrine directs us to believe that in a counterinsurgency war, the people are the center of gravity. In this theory, the enemy is removed from the essence of war and placed at the fringes. Then, within this so-called war devoid of an enemy, applied scientific processes align the people to their government. Because the enemy is removed as the central element in war, the element of friction in war is gone, too.

Gentile is especially put off by the admonition found in FM 3-24 (the new COIN manual) that "tactics mean nothing." (The manual doesn't actually say this, so this is a straw man. The manual says that tactical success guarantees nothing. Which is not to say that tactics are not important. It's just saying that good tactics are not the "end state" here.) Rogers gamely addresses this claim, though:

The salient point from this paradox is not that tactics mean nothing — it is that tactics must be employed as part of a larger design aimed at achieving strategic goals.

Now, you guys can all read these articles yourselves, but in Abu Muqawama's opinion, Rogers gets the better of Gentile mainly because Rogers has the advantage of being right. Gentile, apparently, thinks FM 3-24 seeks to push the Army and Marine Corps into some crazy post-Clausewitzian era. But Gentile -- for whom Abu Muqawama has a lot of respect -- takes this to mean we have moved past the "era of battles and wars of decision." Abu Muqawama -- who may be silly and ignorant but has read his Clausewitz -- sees FM 3-24 actually pushing the Army and Marine Corps closer to Clausewitz.

The essence of war is not to fight and kill the enemy. The essence of war is to achieve political aims through the application of force. Everything an army does must be subservient to the overall political objective. War seen as the destruction of the enemy's fighting force is some kind of alternate, Jominian concept. Sometimes you "fight" by applying violence to (read: shooting and bombing) the enemy's fighting force, sure. Sometimes you "fight" by merely threatening the enemy. But however you do battle, the single most important thing is the political aim you wish to achieve. Nothing else -- neither body counts nor seized cities nor sunken battleships -- takes precedence over the political aim.

In a U.S. Army operations order, the single most important thing is the commander's intent. If you forget everything else, soldiers are told, remember the commander's intent and work toward that goal. Abu Muqawama is sorry if someone told Gian Gentile and his soldiers that killing the enemy was their job, but it's not -- at least not necessarily. Accomplishing the stated political aims of the American political leadership through the application of force is their job, and that may or may not mean shooting bad guys. To remind soldiers of that -- even if it means shattering the illusion that war necessarily means lots of killing -- is no bad thing.