In Washington, wide agreement exists that the Russian armys performance in the Kremlins ongoing Ukraine special military operation ranks somewhere within lousy and truly abysmal. The question is: Why? The solution in American policy circles, both civilian and military, appears all but self-evident. Vladimir Putins Russia has stubbornly insisted on ignoring the principles, practices, and methods defined as essential for success in war and perfected in this century by the military of america. Quite simply, by refusing to accomplish things the American way, the Russians are failing badly against a far weaker foe.
Granted, American analystsespecially the retired military officers who opine on national news showsconcede that other factors have contributed to Russias sorry predicament. Yes, heroic Ukrainian resistance, similar to the wintertime War of 1939-40 when Finland tenaciously defended itself contrary to the Soviet Unions better military, caught the Russians by surprise. Expectations that Ukrainians would the stand by position as the invaders swept across their country proved wildly misplaced. Furthermore, comprehensive economic sanctions imposed by the West in reaction to the invasion have complicated the Russian war effort. In no way least of most, the flood of modern weaponry supplied by america and its own alliesGod bless the military-industrial-congressional complexhave appreciably enhanced Ukrainian fighting power.
Still, in the view of American military figures, all those factors have a backseat to Russias manifest inability (or refusal) to understand the essential prerequisites of modern warfare. The truth that Western observers have a very limited knowledge of how that countrys military leadership functions helps it be all the better to render such definitive judgments. Its like speculating about Donald Trumps innermost convictions. Since nobody really knows, any forcefully expressed opinion acquires at the very least passing credibility.
The prevailing self-referential American explanation for Russian military ineptitude emphasizes at the very least four tips:
- First, the Russians dont understand jointness, the military doctrine that delivers for the seamless integration of ground, air, and maritime operations, not merely on THE WORLD however in cyberspace and space;
- Second, Russias land forces havent honored the principles of combined arms warfare, first perfected by the Germans in World War II, that emphasizes the close tactical collaboration of tanks, infantry, and artillery;
- Third, Russias long-standing tradition of top-down leadership inhibits flexibility at the front end, leaving junior officers and noncommissioned officers to relay orders from on high without demonstrating any capacity to, or instinct for, exercising initiative by themselves;
- Finally, the Russians may actually lack even probably the most rudimentary knowledge of battlefield logistics the mechanisms offering a reliable and reliable way to obtain the fuel, food, munitions, medical support, and spare parts had a need to sustain a campaign.
Implicit in this critique, voiced by self-proclaimed American experts, may be the suggestion that, if the Russian army had paid more focus on how US forces cope with such matters, they might have fared better in Ukraine. They dontand perhaps cantcomes nearly as good news for Russias enemies, needless to say. By implication, Russian military ineptitude obliquely affirms the military mastery of america. We define the typical of excellence to which others can only just aspire.
Reducing War to a Formula
Which provokes a more substantial question the national security establishment remains steadfastly oblivious to: If jointness, combined arms tactics, flexible leadership, and responsive logistics contain the keys to victory, why havent American forcessupposedly possessing such qualities in abundancebeen in a position to win their very own equivalents of the Ukraine War? In the end, Russia has only been stuck in Ukraine for half a year, while the USA was stuck in Afghanistan for 20 years and still has troops in Iraq almost 2 decades following its disastrous invasion of this country.
To rephrase the question: How come explaining the Russian underperformance in Ukraine attract so much smug commentary here, while American military underperformance gets written off?
Perhaps written off is too harsh. In the end, once the US military does not meet expectations, you can find always some who’ll hasten to point the finger at civilian leaders for screwing up. Certainly, this is the case with the chaotic US military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. Critics were quick to pin the blame on President Biden for that debacle, as the commanders who had presided on the war there for all those 20 years escaped largely unscathed. Indeed, some of these former commanders like retired general and exCIA Director David Petraeus, aka King David, were eagerly popular by the media as Kabul fell.
So if the united states military performance because the Global War on Terror premiered more than 2 decades ago rates as, to place it politely, a disappointmentand that might be my viewit may be tempting to lay responsibility at your feet of the four presidents, eight secretaries of defense (including two former four-star generals), and the many deputy secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and ambassadors who designed and implemented American policy in those years. Essentially, this becomes a disagreement for sustained generational incompetence.
Theres a flip side compared to that argument, however. It could tag the parade of generals who presided on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and lesser conflicts like those in Libya, Somalia, and Syria) as uniformly not around the jobanother argument for generational incompetence. Members of the once-dominant Petraeus fan club might cite him as a notable exception. Yet, with the duration of time, King Davids achievements as general in chief first in Baghdad and in Kabul have lost a lot of their luster. The late Stormin Norman Schwarzkopf and Gen. Tommy Franks, their very own victories diminished by subsequent events, might sympathize.
Let me suggest another explanation, however, for the performance gap that afflicts the 21st-century US military establishment. The true problem hasnt been arrogant, ill-informed civilians or generals who lack the proper stuff or have problems with misfortune. Its just how Americans, especially those wielding influence in national security circles, including journalists, think tankers, lobbyists, corporate officials in the military-industrial complex, and members of Congress, attended to think about war being an attractive, affordable method of solving problems.
Military theorists have long emphasized that by its very nature, war is fluid, elusive, capricious, and permeated with chance and uncertainty. Practitioners have a tendency to respond by suggesting that, though true, such descriptions aren’t helpful. They would rather conceive of war as essentially knowable, predictable, and eminently usefulthe Swiss Army knife of international politics.
Hence, the tendency, among both civilian and military officials in Washington, not forgetting journalists and policy intellectuals, to lessen war to a phrase or formula (or even better to a couple of acronyms), so the entire subject could be summarized in a slick 30-minute slide presentation. That urge to simplifyto boil things right down to their essenceis not incidental. In Washington, the avoidance of complexity and ambiguity facilitates marketing (that’s, shaking down Congress for the money).
To cite one small exemplory case of this, look at a recent military document titled Army Readiness and Modernization in 2022, made by propagandists at the Association of america Army, which purports to spell it out where in fact the US Army is headed. It identifies eight cross-functional teams designed to concentrate on six priorities. If properly resourced and vigorously pursued, these teams and priorities will ensure, it claims, that the army maintains all-domain overmatch against all adversaries in future fights.
Reserve the uncomfortable proven fact that, when it counted this past year in Kabul, American forces demonstrated not all-domain overmatch. Still, what the Armys leadership aims to accomplish between now and 2035 is develop a transformed multi-domain army by fielding various new systems, described in a blizzard of acronyms: ERCA, PrSM, LRHW, OMVF, MPF, RCV, AMPV, FVL, FLRAA, FARA, BLADE, CROWS, MMHEL, and so forth, pretty much ad infinitum.
Perchance you wont be surprised to discover that the Armys plan, or rather vision, because of its future avoids the slightest reference to costs. Nor does it consider potential complicationsadversaries built with nuclear weapons, for examplethat might hinder its aspirations to all-domain overmatch.
The document deserves our attention being an exquisite exemplory case of Pentagon-think. It offers the Armys preferred response to a question of nearly existential importancenot How do the Army help to keep Americans safe? but How do the Army maintain, and ideally increase, its budget?
Hidden inside that question can be an implicit assumption that sustaining even the pretense of keeping Americans safe takes a military of global reach that maintains an enormous global presence. Given the spectacular findings of the James Webb Telescope, perhaps galactic will 1 day replace global in the Pentagons lexicon. For the time being, while maintaining perhaps 750 military bases on every continent except Antarctica, that military rejects beyond control the proposition that defending Americans where they livethat is, within the boundaries of the 50 states comprising the United Statescan suffice to define its overarching purpose.
And here we reach the crux of the problem: Militarized globalism, the Pentagons preferred paradigm for basic policy, is becoming increasingly unaffordable. With the duration of time, its also become next to the point. Americans simply dont have the wallet to fulfill budgetary claims concocted in the Pentagon, especially the ones that disregard the most elemental concerns we face, including disease, drought, fire, floods, and sea-level rise, not forgetting averting the potential collapse of our constitutional order. All-domain overmatch is of doubtful relevance to such threats.
To supply for the safety and well-being of our republic, we dont need further enhancements to jointness, combined arms tactics, flexible leadership, and responsive logistics. Instead, we are in need of a completely different method of national security.
GET BACK, America, Before Its Too Late
Given the precarious state of American democracy, aptly described by President Biden in his recent address in Philadelphia, our most pressing priority is repairing the harm to our domestic political fabric, not participating in another round of great power competition dreamed up by fevered minds in Washington. Quite simply, the Constitution is more important compared to the fate of Taiwan.
I am sorry: I understand that I’ve blasphemed. However the times claim that we weigh the professionals and cons of blasphemy. With serious people publicly warning concerning the possible approach of civil war and several of our far-too-well armed fellow citizens welcoming the chance, possibly the moment has arrived at reconsider the taken-for-granted premises which have sustained US national security policy because the immediate aftermath of World War II.
More blasphemy! Did I simply advocate an insurance plan of isolationism?
Heaven forfend! What I’d accept instead is really a modicum of modesty and prudence, plus a lively respect for (instead of infatuation with) war.
This is actually the unacknowledged bind where the Pentagon has placed itselfand ordinary people: By gearing around fight (however ineffectively) anywhere against any foe in virtually any sort of conflict, it finds itself ready to fight nowhere specifically. Hence, the urge to extemporize on the fly, as has been the pattern atlanta divorce attorneys conflict of ours because the Vietnam War. Sometimes, things workout, as in the long-forgotten, essentially meaningless 1983 invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada. Generally, however, they dont, regardless of how vigorously our generals and our troops apply the principles of jointness, combined arms, leadership, and logistics.
Americans spend lots of time these days racking your brains on why is Vladimir Putin tick. I dont pretend to learn, nor do I must say i much care. I’d say this, however: Putins plunge into Ukraine confirms he learned nothing from the folly of post-9/11 US military policy.
Will we, inside our turn, learn anything from Putins folly? Dont depend on it.