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Its Glory Is All Moonshine

I just picked up Colonel Thomas X. Hammes’ book, “The Sling and the Stone”, about what the military calls Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW); the kind of conflict we saw in Vietnam, Central America, Somalia, and now in Afghanistan and Iraq. While most of us have been quick to blame the Bush administration for the current situation in Iraq, Hammes hangs a big portion of it squarely on the Pentagon.

Warfare is indeed evolving. Unfortunately, despite the fact that some of these conflicts involved direct attacks on the United States, our defense establishment chose to ignore them. We preferred to focus on our tactical success in the wars with Iraq and the amazing high-technology weapons we were developing. We did not want to deal with the manpower intensive, low-technology conflicts that were actually taking place around the world. It was much more comfortable to theorize about future high-technology conflicts with "near peer competitors."

In retrospect, that's obvious. Even worse, the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld see the insurgency in Iraq as a distraction from the real task of gearing up for war with our only possible "near peer competitor": China. After the fall of Baghdad, they pretty obviously felt their job was done. Rather than re-orienting our military toward the challenges we face in Iraq - and the challenges we're most likely to face in the future - our military and its civilian leadership are concentrating on ballistic missile defense, next-generation nuclear weapons, submarines, and tank-busting bombs and attack aircraft in anticipation of some future war with China.

For a large number of economic, military, and political reasons - not least of which is the fact that half the Taiwanese would prefer to be reunited with China anyhow - there is no realistic scenario that leads to a Sino-American war. In addition to current 4GW operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's far more likely that US forces will be called upon to stabilize and rebuild a collapsed North Korea, Sudan, Syria, or even Bolivia or Venezuela. A big World War III scenario just isn't on the threat horizon.

Since 9/11, there have been several calls from within and without the military establishment to refocus on 4GW threats. The most prominent was John Kerry's proposal to raise two new divisions, one of combat troops, and one of military police and civil affairs officers to focus on stabilization and peacekeeping. Some, like Thomas P. M. Barnett, have even proposed a new branch of military service that would focus solely on 4GW operations. Col. Hammes (and Gen. Anthony Zinni in his book, "Battle Ready") makes the case that something must be done, or we once again face winning all the battles but losing the war.

With the deaths of more than 1,700 US troops in Iraq and no end in sight, even Republicans in Congress are finally awakening to the fact that something's wrong. While President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are focused on Howard Dean, Terri Schiavo, packing the courts, privatizing Social Security... In short, with everything but dealing with the current conflict in Iraq and preparing for similar future conflicts that are all but inevitable, the Republican Congress is getting jittery,

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, said on CNN's Late Edition, that "many of us warned this administration before we ever put a boot on the ground" that it would face a long-term conflict. "We didn't have plans for it. And we are now where we are," he said.

"The insurgency is alive and well. We underestimated the viability of the insurgency," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on CBS' Face the Nation. He said the administration has "been slow to adjust when it comes to troop strength and supporting our troops."

Republicans (in Congress, at least) have finally gotten beyond denial. If they can move beyond the blame game, I'm certain they'll come to the conclusion that many in the Democratic Party and the military have already reached: Our military must stop dreaming of hypothetical, big glorious wars, and focus on winning the obscure, dirty, unpleasant little conflicts we're already fighting - and are most likely to fight in the future.

Posted by American Pundit at June 13, 2005 9:23 AM