View Full Version : What Putin learned from the U.S. invasion of Iraq

05-09-2014, 04:14 PM
This is what future wars will look like: not the massed armor of battalions on the move, but a close intermeshing of targeted violence and information control in pursuit of political ends.


05-09-2014, 05:22 PM
Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV, the American Army general charged with writing the Army’s doctrine, recently stated:
"The future is not one of major battles and engagements fought by armies on battlefields devoid of population; instead, the course of conflict will be decided by forces operating among the people of the world. Here, the margin of victory will be measured in far different terms than the wars of our past. The allegiance, trust, and confidence of populations will be the final arbiters of success."
The idea of populations as the prize in war, that they are the focus, is drawn directly from the pages of FM 3-24.

Perhaps COL Gentile spoke too soon when he announced the death of COIN. Insurgency, and war amongst the people, seems to be the way to go ...

09-04-2014, 07:59 PM
Still if options A or B don't work against a forceful enough 'conventional' offensive that massed armor by battalions with plenty of indirect heavy fire support seems to get still used.

Personally I'm always reminded of Clausewitz:

"The aggressor is always peace-loving; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed."

... or take it just cheaply. While the specific shape of the current war against Ukraine is unique war is ever changing, even if combines the same basic principles. The other side has always a vote and in a future scenario such a 'hybrid' effort might be counter-productive.

Indeed a classic massed invasion some months ago might have been the less bad option for Russia even if nobody can know that for sure. Obviously they used the threat of it to support the creation of their more shadowy forces. Still after all that talk about hybrid this and new that 'conventional' military might seems to be currently the decisive factor of the overall mix.

We have seen, therefore, in the foregoing reflections, that there are many ways to the aim, that is, to the attainment of the political object; but that the only means is the combat, and that consequently everything is subject to a supreme law: which is the decision by arms; that where this is really demanded by one, it is a redress which cannot be refused by the other; that, therefore, a belligerent who takes any other way must make sure that his opponent will not take this means of redress, or his cause may be lost in that supreme court; that, therefore, in short, the destruction of the enemy's armed force amongst all the objects which can be pursued in war appears always as that one which overrules all.


If when political objects are unimportant, motives weak, the excitement of forces small, a cautious commander tries in all kinds of ways, without great crises and bloody solutions, to twist himself skilfully into a peace through the characteristic weaknesses of his enemy in the field and in the Cabinet, we have no right to find fault with him, if the premises on which he acts are well founded and justified by success; still we must require him to remember that he only travels on forbidden tracks, where the God of War may surprise him; that he ought always to keep his eye on the enemy, in order that he may not have to defend himself with a dress rapier if the enemy takes up a sharp sword.*

Putin has now been forced to use the sword of the regular army as his hybrid violent games were too weak in face of the military response. We will see what long term consequences for the war this will have.

*From Book One, Chapter II Ends and Means in War, at the very end.

09-04-2014, 09:28 PM
To make my last point clearer: That Putin had to use a considerable amount of regular troops to avoid the defeat of shadow force does not mean that those 'violent hybrid games' had no value in the prosecution of his political goals. Those operations helped to shape the conflict and it's perception, especially and most important at home. There are however considerable trade-offs, possibly the biggest of that gradual escalation is the time given to the opposition to react. In this case the other side chose to defend themselves mostly based on rather usual military means and Putin would likely have lost in that 'supreme court' if he had sent in many more regular units.

09-05-2014, 08:56 PM
Please forgive me if I'm posing the obvious observation, but I see two possible advantages to Putin having tried to use shadowy methods for the first step of his current war in Ukraine.

The first comes to mind due to the OPs quote about this being what future wars would look like. The US enjoyed quite a bit of success in the early stages of OEF by supporting the Afghan tribals instead of sending the XVIII Airborne Corps. That we ineffectively followed up on that success doesn't invalidate the model that was so successful in the first place. Russia might have been trying to experiment with using this model themselves.

The second thing that comes to mind is the cold-war era concept of plausible deniability. Had Russia suited up and simply rolled into the Crimea and then on into the Ukraine, who knows what the US or NATO might have done. This let Putin put his feet in the water without being so committed that the not inconsiderable Russian pride would be on the line should things have gone poorly for him. Then when he saw no serious impediment to more direct involvement, and he saw the tactical necessity for such a thing, in he went.

09-05-2014, 09:19 PM
Indeed it is very important to state the obvious, especially if for some it might not be so obvious. :wry:

It is possible to speculate that a Crimean scenario might have worked also across parts of Eastern Ukraine, but who knows?

Perhaps the most important lesson out of history is that in limited (and not only those) wars it is difficult to predict the eventual outcome. In a decade we will likely look back all wiser. For now I'm curious on how Putin's Russia will sustain the war effort in Ukraine and/or sanctions with the West. There has been a lot of talk about 4GW and now hybrid war as the war of the future. If you read some of the orignal e-papers about the Great war you it is surprising how much of the writing at the beginning was about agents here, franc-tirateurs there, marauding bands, political agitators and so forth. In the end politics can alter a lot during war but never stop. In most cases most elements of the political (and economic) fabric rarely make it into short summaries about long past conflicts.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons relearned is that in a 'complex conflict' or 'hybrid war' one side might suddendly attack directly with rather old-fashioned hard military power more akin to a tiny version of something expected decades ago. Now even in wars like Afghanistan (quite a few of them) or Vietnam (ditto?) we saw that in some occasion the other side could concentrate a surprising amount of military power against specific targets, quite distinct from the more usual forms.