Leadership: Reality Is A Bitch

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January 31, 2012:  The U.S. Department of Defense has been told that, for the foreseeable future, there will be no more large-scale land campaigns. The air force, navy, and marines responded with a plan (Air-Sea Battle) that has been in the work for years. The new strategy is designed to cope with the rising power of China in the Pacific. Air-Sea Battle involves tighter planning and coordination of navy, marine, and navy forces, plus the development of some new weapons and tactics and cooperation with allies.

Air-Sea Battle has been widely accepted, and now all eyes are on the army, which does not yet have a new plan. Actually, the army does have a new doctrine. Four years ago the army came out with "stability operations" (the kind of "small wars" being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan). In addition the army has always had "full spectrum operations" (total war, against troops in uniform, armed with a full spectrum of weapons and tactics). As of four years ago the army was committed to training for both types of combat. The key to this is training the commanders. One discovery in the last decade is that the troops can switch from conventional combat to irregular type operations more quickly and efficiently than their bosses.

Alas for the army the U.S. government has decided that full spectrum and stability operations are something the U.S. will avoid from now on. This is a fine political move but it ignores the fact that wars are often not something you go looking for but come looking for you. Before September 11, 2001 the U.S. was, officially, backing away from any kind of wars, especially stability operations. Going into Afghanistan was not something the government could avoid after September 11, 2001. Iraq is still debated as a choice that could have been avoided. It was Afghanistan on a larger scale. Both wars killed or wounded 40,000 Americans in the last decade and cost a trillion dollars. The army knows that there are several other situations that could drag the U.S. military in, no matter what the polls tell the politicians. North Korea is still in danger of blowing up into a war the United States cannot avoid involvement in. Planners can come up with all sorts of ideas about how to keep American ground troops out but when the shooting starts, such peacetime plans tend to fall apart. Reality is a bitch. Same deal with the Middle East, where Iran continues to be a threat. The problem here is that all our allies over there (except for Israel and Turkey) have a terrible combat record. The Iranians, on the other hand, can be quite capable on the battlefield. Guess who the Arabs are going to call on for help if the Iranians start moving west?

Getting back to the Pacific, China is making all its neighbors nervous. That's because the Chinese name for China translates as "middle kingdom" as in "China is the middle of the world." The Chinese government, a communist dictatorship by any other name, is using nationalism to keep its pro-democracy opposition off balance. China has border disputes, expressed or implied, with all its neighbors. This has made the neighbors uneasy, especially as Chinese military forces have been modernized and more aggressive over the last decade.

While Air-Sea Battle was developed to keep the United States out of extensive land combat (the navy still has commandos and marines for brief operations ashore), those kinds of wars tend to show up when you least expect, want, or are prepared for them. The U.S. Army wants to say it is ready in a politically correct way, while at the same time preparing for more likely futures.

 


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