This book reveals very little about national strategy or defense policy, or even about the effectiveness of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it is a worthwhile read for those interested in the ground-level experience of war and Americans who want to know more about the actions committed overseas in their name.
In theory, policy, and strategy are the product of extensive analysis, detailed cost-benefit calculations, and rational criteria for decision-making. In practice, good strategy development is also about compromise and consensus building, resolving problems, mitigating uncertainty and constraints, and steering downstream through the fluid dynamics of international and domestic politics.
The experiences of American soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes over and over again, are central to this story, including consideration of the lasting impact of their time abroad. American culture is already rife with conversations about post-traumatic stress, veterans’ services, and treatments following deployments. Unfortunately, the voice of the veterans themselves is seldom heard with clarity in these conversations.
An interesting read, but it will not be sharing space on my shelf of favorites, alongside other war poets such as Brian Turner, Marvin Bell, and Wilfred Owens. The book may, however, appeal to the casual poetry reader or to those trying a cross sample of the writing generated by individuals who fought this century’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There are several bilateral and multilateral agreements among nations to support inter-intra agency coordination and cooperation. There are also global security institutions such as United Nations Counter Terrorism Centre and its sister agencies such as United Nations Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force. However, many of these agencies continue to operate independently. This is apparent in the case of the United Nations Security Council designated Counter Terrorism Directorate and the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate that have few operational partners within the European Union and yet to begin meaningful interactions with NATO.
The question that must be faced is this: Can the EU manage its vast resources to maximise its information sharing with partner agencies and tighten its grip around radical Islamic factions returning to Europe? To answer this question and provide an appropriate response to various other underlying questions, we must better understand foreign fighter factions, their agenda, and their operational mechanism.
Ready offers a necessary antidote to the lionization of American military service, as well as an honest picture of the challenges of coming home to normal life. This is a book that will speak to anyone who’s worked in a large, complex bureaucracy, anyone who had to explain to their guys that they were taking an ‘operational pause’ because somebody forgot to pack enough batteries, and anyone who’s had a useless boss in any job, not just the military.
While future insurgencies may be inevitable, they can be marginalized. It is incumbent upon the international coalition to commit to a sustained presence in Iraq and the freed areas of Syria for years to come. This presence must include substantive improvements to security forces, reconstruction of decimated communities, and reconciliation of Sunni populations at the national level. This effort may take up to a decade, if not longer, the United States must leverage members of the coalition to the greatest extent possible, and policy makers must be made aware of the sobering timeline and costs required.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a litany of innovative ideas and programs: Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Agricultural Development Teams, Cultural Support Teams, and Village Stability Operations, to name just a few. The Anbar Awakening is arguably the most successful of all of the population-centric counterinsurgency movements. It helped spur the marginally successful Afghan Local Police (ALP) program. Despite its success in beating back Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in Anbar and helping spur the Iraq-wide Sons of Iraq (SOI) program, there has been a long debate over the Anbar Awakening narrative.
Suicide Bombing has been the subject of scholarly works and studies in multiple campaigns. For the U.S. military, suicide tactics have been an integral part of the threat environment for well over a decade. Familiarity with the concept generates a bit of complacency, but this is a false familiarity obscuring the reality that suicide bombing has changed in the last decade.
Thucydides, who authored the definitive account of the Peloponnesian War, started writing as soon as the conflict began, “...believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.” His account has also proved valuable for evaluating ensuing conflicts through to the present day. As Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote, the Peloponnesian War showed that “strategic problems remain the same, though affected by tactical difficulties peculiar to each age.” The Athenian invasion of Sicily and the American experience in Iraq were not identical, but no two wars ever are. Instead, we must look at the overarching effects the military campaigns had on political objectives.
Given their worldview and resources, the Coalition Provisional Authority did about as well as one could hope. But the next time the United States finds itself in the nation-building business, our policies should be guided less by ideology, and more by humility, historical understanding, and simple respect for the dignity of our foreign partners.
When discussing the struggles of the U.S. military in the early years of the Iraq War, Davidson uses the phrase “adapting without winning,” a formulation that surely continues to accurately describe the American experience of the post-9/11 wars. Despite the optimistic characterizations on the dust jacket that frame this book as a manual for how to succeed at counterinsurgency, though, Lifting the Fog of Peace sounds a note of caution about the gap between tactical adaptation and strategic success, even as it lauds the U.S. military for the evolution of its lesson-learning apparatus.
Operational and strategic level leaders cannot get caught in the rapid pace of tactics, but neither can they ignore the fact that decisions at the tactical level must proceed at the pace demanded by the situation. When operational and strategic leaders increase the pace of decision-making, it can lead to a chasing of the bright and shiny object mentality. Decisions in these orbits include a set of dialogues and tend to be iterative. Further, leaders at all levels must consider the complexity of decision making at each level above and below them.
Democracy will always benefit from the requirement to persuade the public––to gain consensus on, and legitimacy for, the use of force in order to defend or pursue national interests. If this opportunity is ceded for fear of being unconvincing, or in fear of explaining the ugliness it will entail, then a society will find itself bereft of clarity in the political objective and therefore unable to craft strategy appropriate the task at hand. Furthermore, the failure to have these discussions leaves the populace underprepared for the brutality and sacrifice that war may require.
In this––our final installment––we appeal to each element of the Clausewitzian Trinity to do its part. To remain silent as practitioners of policy and war, we believe, would perpetuate the betrayal of those troops and civilians––American and foreign––who have made the ultimate sacrifice for reasons this country still struggles to articulate.
War and violence decoupled from strategy and policy—or worse yet, mistaken for strategy and policy—have contributed to perpetual war, or what has seemed like 15 years of “Groundhog War.” In its wars since 11 September 2001, the United States has arguably cultivated the best-equipped, most capable, and fully seasoned combat forces in remembered history. They attack, kill, capture, and win battles with great nimbleness and strength. But absent strategy, these victories are fleeting. Divorced from political objectives, successful tactics are without meaning.
Is it possible to intervene in another nation-state and pushback against the weight of that nation-state’s history? Can the weight of history be sufficiently balanced by intervention, allowing for the creation of enduring conditions that protect the outsider’s strategic interests? Today, the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the constraints on resources and time, probably make this an unattractive policy option. Instead, managing not resolving, the threats that pose risk to strategic interests is probably a more reasonable policy approach. This means accepting that an intervention in the affairs of another nation-state is limited to advise, assist and enable; and that the intervention will be a long-term commitment that works with the grain of history to achieve incremental progress.
The fact that our most cherished ally is no longer able to analyze its own strategic situation, or participate fully in our strategic debates, should be distressing. Britain’s generals, brilliant as they may be, are trapped in a series of historical and organizational labyrinths. Needless to say, this situation may change, and Elliott is one of many voices calling out for reform. Until then, America must remain wary of allies who promise more than they can deliver.