January 12, 2004

No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy

You're starting to see snippets of stories about the upcoming troop rotation in Iraq. 130,000 soldiers and Marines are leaving...and 110,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines are replacing them. That means the Pentagon is going to be moving 240,000 soldiers...a heckuva logistics challenge, at the very least. What's more interesting is who will be going where. Right now, it's the Army and especially the digitized 4th Infantry Division that runs the show in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" where the Hussein loyalists are. The 4th ID has taken to some harder-line tactics...surrounding villages with barbwire for example, to bring down the hammer on the insurgents. The commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, Lt. General James Conway, says the Marines won't do that. He plans on using a "velvet glove." It's not just semantics. Conway's Marines were stationed in the mostly Shiite south during their first deployment, and didn't have to deal with the restive Sunnis in the north. But the Marines also have a very different approach than the Army...at least it appears that way. I'm working more on this in the Defense Report I hope to have ready by the end of the month. Part of it is just size and money. The Marines are smaller than the Army and are, in fact part of the Navy. The Army is a large bureaucracy. The Marines pride themselves on adaptability and improvisation. And their Small Wars Manual ( a compilation of combat tactics and strategy in the banana republic wars of the 19th and early 20th century) prepares them for asymmetric warfare better than any U.S. service. Where the Marines end up in Iraq, I think, will have a lot to do with how smooth the transition goes for U.S. forces. I asked an old friend of mine (a Marine who ended up in Kirkuk and Mosul during the war) if he was hearing anything about the Marine's different approach come this spring. Here are a few of his comments: "Marines don't go where they don't have to go. Some times it seems like the Army just strolls through the town for no reason and then they get hit b/c they don't have the {sic} ass behind them to back it up. I bet we will base our operations off the British in Northern Ireland" "Now as to the velvet glove theory, apparently a lot think the Army is using a sledge hammer to catch a fly. We don't plan on doing company and battalion sized raids to catch one or two guys, unless we have definite Intel. Apparently the army has been doing sweeps of villages and pissing everyone off. We are not going to do those types of raids. If we have to, we will secure and area and wait for the one we are looking for tries to leave. Apparently we are now doing the "no better friend, no worse enemy" theory now." I had a particular question about the idea of "net-centric" warfare, an idea you saw with the Army 4th ID, and one that, not coincidentally, is very popular with Congress and gets the Army a lot of money. I asked if the Marines as hot on the net-centric, total situational awareness, tactical network concept as the Army? He responded, "The higher levels are, but the average grunt doesn't need or want that crap. We saw some Army guys with computers in their hummv's to keep track of adjacent units, but I believe it distracts from the action at hand. The last observation I found interesting. The Army appears to be sold on the idea that "total situational awareness" is attainable in combat, and constitutes an enormous advantage. They may be right, too. Having a simple graphic screen showing you in red and blue where the good guys and the bad guys are helps lift the "fog of war." You can see your adversary, but he can't see you. That definitely moves the odds in your favor. The Army has embraced the idea that superior information is now as critical war as superior firepower. And of course, intelligence is always--maybe even THE--most important element. What's worth thinking about, and preparing for, is what the logical conclusion of all this is. If technology gives you better command and control, better intelligence, better reconnaissance (UAVs), and better surveillance, then you are more lethal on the battlefield. Your "network" has itself become a weapon. And the question in my mind is, if your way of war is so dependent on the quality of your "network," what happens if you lose it? It becomes imperative that you don't lose it. And it also means that sooner or later, the network itself will become a target for future adversaries. In fact, I'm sure it already is. Next, it's a particularly American way of thinking that technology trumps strategy and tactics. Americans love technology. And the idea that its what makes us better warfighters seems be alluring to a lot of the folks championing the idea. One of John Boyd's key observations, though, is an effective force is built around people, ideas, and hardware...in THAT order. It's a mistake to think your advantage rests entirely on technology. Sooner or later, you'll lose that advantage. And when you do, you'd better have good people and good ideas. And finally...in the realm of the completely abstract...technology and "network centric warfare" probably make us a more effective fighting force...against conventional military foes. But the sheer strength and skill of the American military might do just the opposite of what policy makers hope...it may encourage adversaries (other nation states or non-state actors like drug lords, terrorists, etc) to engage in a non-military war...to take the fight to use where our soldiers aren't...to expand the idea of warfare beyond military combat. This, of course, is exactly what Al Qaeda has done...and we've tried to turn it, at least publicly, back into a contest of military tactics and strategy. In reality, it's a matter of "grand strategy," of realizing that military combat will be only one small part of the campaign. It's all very discouraging to talk about, to be honest. But this is the age of Nation States. And what we're seeing, I believe, is a contest between secular Nation States and those who work outside civil law...for religious or other reasons. It launches us all into the world of total Warfare...not a Cold War exactly...but something like it. Military conflict on a large scale between nations is less likely. But smaller wars, or unconventional ones (trade wars, currency wars, diplomatic shuffling), all these are much likelier, and indeed are ALREADY happening. The Marines have it right, I think. Technology is not the key in a world like this, although it helps. Adaptability is...the ability to orient yourself to new circumstances and take effective action. And of course, now I'm speaking in investment terms as much as any other. Food for thought...no more blogging today. Tomorrow morning, the weekly e-mail for Strategic Investment. Until then, g'night from the right bank.


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