Coming to grips with the memories and lessons of America’s long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a task that will occupy those who fought them, and who still fight them, for many years. That ongoing struggle is especially complicated for those whose responsibilities gave them a perspective into the strategic decisions that determined the courses of those wars. The histories of these conflicts and of relevant predecessors will predominate in any thinking about them, but their counterparts in fiction can also convey the subjective and personal aspects of the experience of war in ways that history cannot.
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.
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.
Retire the Colors is a reference to the command given at the end of a service or ceremony directing the color guard to retrieve the national and unit colors and remove them from the ceremony. Rendering honors and retiring the colors marks the official end of the ceremony, and frequently, the transition to the informal social activities afterward. The reference is appropriate for this anthology of stories dealing with transition between military service and the civilian world.
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.
Castner has written a compelling account of how particular technologies put their stamp on a certain kind of war. In going far beyond that, to explore the human dimensions and costs of that war, and to point to the possibility of hope and resilience for its veterans, Castner’s achievement is as much literary as it is a technical. All The Ways We Kill and Die offers insight both into the ways that wars can be fought, and how they may be survived.
Strategic performance is strongly affected by the state’s information management capabilities. Top policymakers must have the ability to understand the environment in which they are acting (outside information) and how their national security organizations are behaving in that strategic environment (inside information). Strategic risk assessment is based on an understanding of the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, the challenges and opportunities present in the international environment, and the capability of the state to act in a purposeful way along multiple lines. Without sound outside and inside information, risk assessments will suffer, as will the quality of strategy.
In the Information Institution Approach, Bakich gives critical importance to whether or not key decision makers have access to multi-sourced information and whether the information institutions themselves have the ability to communicate laterally. When information is multi-sourced and there is good coordination across the diplomatic and military lines of effort, Bakich predicts success. When information is stove piped and there is poor coordination, he predicts failure. Where the systems are moderately truncated, Bakich expects various degrees of failure depending on the scope and location within the state’s information institutions.
From the first pages of No Place to Hide, I found myself transported back to Iraq. I walked between the rows of sandbags and around the puddles of filth as I made my way through long rows of modular housing units. Eventually I popped out near the courtyard fence, the one that separated the pool area from the palace itself. I shuffled my feet across the wet patio and made my way to the fifty-five gallon drum filled with concrete, mounted at an angle, and pointed the barrel of my empty nine millimeter Beretta pistol into the three inch opening. I pulled back the slide, checked the empty chamber for the one hundredth time, and let it spring back into position. As I made my way into the chow hall to wash my hands again and dry them with something that felt like wet toilet paper, I tried to ignore the dull feeling deep inside.
The Unraveling demonstrates how badly a war can go when a nation does not apply all of its resources to the problem. The U.S. lacked diplomats trained and intimately knowledgeable of Iraq to work alongside the military in rebuilding what we broke. In some areas, military leaders performed the civil affairs duties successfully but in others, the military was the wrong tool to use. America, after each war swears there will never be another, but memories fade and the ramifications of going to war and sending troops into battle are replaced with the idea that the U.S. has the answer for every problem. Maybe having a staff pacifist is the answer?