After a hiatus of several years, I am happy to report that I have returned to the pages of the Wall Street Journal with a piece today on the US Army and counterinsurgency. Unfortunately, a subscription is required so I can’t provide a link.
Here’s the gist of my argument. Citing the late Carl Builder of Rand whose book "The Masks of War," demonstrated the importance of the organizational cultures of the various military services, I observe that each service possesses a preferred way of fighting that is not easily changed. Since the 1930s, the culture of the U.S. Army has emphasized "big wars." But this has not always been the case.
Throughout the 19th century, the U.S. Army was a constabulary force that, with the exception of the Mexican and Civil Wars, specialized in irregular warfare. Most of this constabulary work was domestic, the Indian Wars representing the most important case. But the U.S. Army also successfully executed constabulary operations in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, which involved both nation-building and counterinsurgency.
Emory Upton planted the seeds of change after the Civil War, and by the 1930s, the US Army had become Upton’s Army, a force designed to fight the armies of other countries and pretty much rejecting the constbulary and "irregular war" focus of the past.
I argue that focused as it has been on state-versus-state warfare, Upton’s Army has not cared much for counterinsurgency, a point illustrated by Vietnam, especially during the tenure of Gen. William Westmoreland as commander of U.S. troops from 1965 to 1968.
Westmoreland took issue with the approach favored by the Marines in Vietnam, which was based on the Corps’ experience in the Caribbean during the early 20th century. His successor, Creighton Abrams, adopted something closer to the Marines’ approach and we almost won.
But after Vietnam, the Army decided it would avoid such conflicts and the service discarded the doctrine and lessons it had learned in Vietnam. The Army that entered Iraq in March of 2003 was still Emory Upton’s Army.
But Iraq proves that we don’t always get to fight the wars we want. While the Army must continue to plan to fight conventional wars, given the likelihood that future adversaries will seek to avoid our conventional advantage, it must be able to fight irregular wars as well. Gen. Petraeus’s success in Iraq so far indicates that the Army has begun the necessary transformation. Let us hope that the Army will internalize these lessons, something Emory Upton’s Army has not done in the past.
Sorry. Nothing about Lincoln or Jaffa.