James Joyner touches upon this question in a couple of recent posts. He points out that while lip service has been given over the last decade or so to reorganization of the U.S. military - "to vastly increase the numbers of special forces, civil affairs, psychological operations, military police, linguist, and other forces specializing in what are now called 'stabilization operations'" - it has mostly been just that, lip service. The military/industrial complex isn't ever going to want to redirect to penny-ante special ops equipment when there's trillions to be made from new stealth bombers and so far politicians of bipartisan stripe have allowed them to continue dragging their feet while taking massive campaign contributions.
However, Joyner also makes the mistake of believing the neocon meme that "the United States military is pretty good at counterinsurgency" and the problem is the American public's patience with that counterinsurgency method. It's a strange mistake to make, given that he writes elsewhere that Israel, who use an essentially identical anti-terror and counterinsurgency paradigm, seem to be having problems with that paradigm in their own current efforts.
I would note that Israel tried had dozens of “true military responses” over the last several decades without managing to destroy Hezbollah, Hamas, the PLO,the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and others. I would note, too, that the reason Hezbollah is running low on rockets–presuming they are in fact running low on rockets and this is not just wishful thinking on the part of Israeli intelligence–is because they have been expended on Israel’s cities. While rope-a-dope worked for Muhammad Ali against George Foreman, it is not necessarily an ideal strategy for counter-terrorism.The simple truth is that both nation's are incredibly bad at counterinsurgency because they rely on massive sweeps by third generation warfare units (tanks, airstrikes, huge but innacurate firepower) and insist on treating the indigenous populace as part of the problem rather than potentially part of the solution. Attempts in the 80's and 90's to do something about that were partly swept aside by a drive towards bigger, shinier and more expensive toys instead.
The other major factor in forgetting and thus having to relearn - the hard way - the basic principles of counterinsurgency has been the neocon movements strong hold over American foreign policy in recent years. The neocons have to believe - or at least pretend to believe - that "asymmetrical warfare cannot beat a true military response". Those are the very words of the neocon Heritage Foundation's new blogger, Ed Morrissey. Yet that assertion flies in the face of every single piece of evidence from the resitance fighters of World War Two right through to the present day. Why should they wish to deny reality like this? I will have more to say in a later post but for now will quote the libertarian Cato Institute's Gene Healy:
For the neoconservatives, it’s not about Israel. It’s about war. War is a bracing tonic for the national spirit and in all its forms it presents opportunities for national greatness. “Ultimately, American purpose can find its voice only in Washington,” David Brooks once wrote. And Washington’s never louder or more powerful than when it has a war to fight.Joyner's assertion that the U.S. military is great at counterinsurgency is surely rooted deeply in that neocon spirit of "bracing war", where it becomes treasonous to sugest that anything American isn't the biggest, brightest and best. So deeply rooted that I don't think even Joyner himself is aware of the dichotomy between his statements on America's military and its paradigm sharing ally Israel - far less the almost subliminal reason for that dichotomy.
Together, conservative acceptance of the neocon message and the monetary wants of the military industrial complex have ensured that what was being taught at military academies in the '80's was sidelined and became the "maverick view" by the time the Afghanistan and Iraq occupations came around.
Nor is the military the only place where this has happened. Just for once, the neocon Weekly Standard has managed to hit the nail on the head by printing an article by two outside experts, Richard H. Shultz Jr. and Roy Godson, about the suitablity of the current U.S. intelligence paradigm and organisation to fourth generational enemies. The answer is that it isn't - and again we see a pattern of old ideas from the '80's and '90's being utterly ignored by a bipartisan system that favors huge funding of lucrative high-tech contracts over actually doing what works. In this case, even the Israelis do better than the U.S.:
The Israelis and others have learned over decades that intelligence dominance involves a major commitment of time, money, men, and patience. If you do it right, they explained, you will obtain the intelligence that enables you to control the territory vital to your security.Now the Weekly Standard has printed this purely because it is another move in the neocon game of blaming the CIA for all of the foreign policy ills and anti-terror failures of the neocons and the Bush administration - but it is still valid.
Some democracies--notably the United Kingdom and Israel--have mastered this approach through bloody trial and error, in the course of meeting the challenges posed by armed groups. Though each country tailored its techniques to the specifics of its geopolitical situation, the techniques they came up with are similar from country to country.
"We had to be in command of the local situation on the ground," said the soft-spoken local practitioner who met us at the airport in Belfast and drove us into the countryside a few weeks after our visit to Israel. He had served at the operational level his whole career, turning down every proffered promotion to a management position because he knew that the war against the IRA and other paramilitary groups had to be waged on the streets and in the alleyways. "We had to know what the IRA boys were doing, keep them on the defensive, always causing them to worry about our next move. You must collect comprehensive intelligence--complete block by block coverage--of each location out of which the terrorists operate."
This intelligence operator described an approach similar to the one the Israelis had told us about. It was perfectly logical; not to adopt such a strategy would, in fact, have been counterintuitive. But it was not, and is not, part of the official lexicon of the U.S. intelligence community, whose operations we have both studied for decades. (Perhaps there is one exception: This sort of approach briefly became part of the U.S. tool kit during the late 1960s in Vietnam, but it became a lesson lost when the North Vietnamese invaded and their tanks swept into Saigon in 1975.)
Still, the neocons could easily make the jump from this to seeing that the American/Israeli paradigm of military counterinsurgency and counter - terror operations is massively ineffective. It is more like pouring gasoline on a fire. By contrast, the British model of "hearts and minds" first and as low an impact troop presence as possible, accompanied by a carefully targeted and selective mix of "shoot to kill" and imprisonment of leaders (you kill the really intracable ones and lock up the more moderate ones so you can do a deal for their freedom later) has been generally more successful. The Brits call it "Raid and Aid". It worked in Northern Ireland, has been successfully used by Spain to bring ETA to negotiations and was arguably the more successful paradigm in Iraqi provinces right up until U.S. neocon meddling in higher level policies threw the Basra baby out with the Shiite bathwater.
Maybe, though, as the Weekly Standard has something when it says that an American attitude of "not invented here" also has something to do with resistance to neccesary change. It's not as if they haven't been told before. This from The Guardian back in April 2003:
Senior British military officers on the ground are making it clear they are dismayed by the failure of US troops to try to fight the battle for hearts and minds. They also made plain they are appalled by reports over the weekend that US marines killed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, as they seized bridges outside Nassiriya in southern Iraq. "You can see why the Iraqis are not welcoming us with open arms," a senior defence source said yesterday. General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the army, drove home the point at a press conference in London on Friday. "We have a very considerable hearts and minds challenge," he said, adding: "We are not interested in gratuitous violence."The great irony of America's current paradigm is that the U.S. will lose the war by winning every battle and that won't change while vested corporate, political and beaurocratic interests are placated.