View Full Version : Punitive Ops revisited

04-02-2007, 01:46 PM
Some time ago, one of our community members put forth the punitive operation suggestion. Given the way Iraq has played out, I wonder if this might still be an option for the future. I just finished reading an article discussing Kissinger's opinion that we cannot win militarily and I'm sensing another "peace with honor" movement. I think this sort of thinking plays into the hands of those that oppose us because it makes us look weak. Punitive ops might provide a solution for the future. I'm sort of thinking out loud here, so here goes...

Assume for a moment that instead of staying in Iraq, we launched a punitive operation. In other words, we pushed to Baghdad just like we did in OIF I, but instead of staying, we pulled out and left.

1) What would we gain from this type of action? What would we lose?

2) Given the huge anti-war mentality across the globe, would we have been better off by just doing a punitive op? Would we still have to deal with the anti-US activity, just of a different type?

3) In the long run, doesn't the punitive op play to our strengths and mitigate our weaknesses, especially when it comes to US public support for a "long war?"

04-02-2007, 01:56 PM
Assume for a moment that instead of staying in Iraq, we launched a punitive operation. In other words, we pushed to Baghdad just like we did in OIF I, but instead of staying, we pulled out and left.

Depends what you mean by "punitive op."

The reason why the war was opposed by so many across the globe was largely because Iraq was not viewed as a legitimate target at all, not simply because the world was against an occupation of Iraq. The world could not see a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda / Sep 11, and indeed there was none. Thus the war could be easily characterized as, in the words of Milton Friedman, "aggression."

Now an attack as you describe might have resulted in a better situation than the one we are caught in now, but I doubt the political realism of launching such an attack.

If you have in mind the sort of op that the Brits used to run in Afghanistan, what Churchill called "Butcher and Bolt" --- I think it depends on the situation. Frankly, unless properly targeted, I think this sort of thing is ultimately self-defeating, especially as pursued against non-state actors. Who exactly is being punished? A "punitive operation" of that sort differs little from what AQ did to the U.S. on 9/11.

John T. Fishel
04-02-2007, 03:53 PM
Are we thinking about the Pershing Punitive Expedition of 1916 against Pancho Villa? There is little doubt the US was justified in going after him for the Columbus NM raid but there is much doubt about what was accomplished. Villa was largely a spent force in Mexican politics and the expedition really didn't affect that much one way or the other. It did anger the Carranza government and affected US/Mexican relations negatively for many years after.

CPT Holzbach
04-02-2007, 04:18 PM
Here is a link to the original thread, which was brilliantly suggested by the illustrious CPT Holzbach. Note the skillful use of the word "efficacy" in the title...

Efficacy of punitive strikes? (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=853)

Bill Moore
04-02-2007, 07:58 PM
I posted this elsewhere last night, but it seems appropriate here. It talks about retaliation, which is basically a punitive strike. Bill

During recent readings on the Philippine War (1899-1902) I uncovered some information I missed previously on General Order 100, which was apparently signed by President Lincoln during the Civil War, but used extensively during Philippine War to guide martial law, retaliation etc. I found a link to the full text (posted below) and I cut and pasted some highlights. Does anyone know if this GO is still valid? I believe this was the predecessor to the Genevan Convention. Interesting reading....


04-03-2007, 01:23 PM
From a purely selfish point, what do we gain from nation-building? As we approach the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, we still haven't produced a government that controls it own territory and we face increasing opposition at home. Maybe I'm just frustrated, but it seems like there has to be a better way.

Tequila mentioned the "butcher and bolt" campaigns the Brits engaged in. This is more in line with what I'm talking about. When there is a clearly defined threat to our security, we go in and remove the threat and then leave. If this is our stated goal or strategy then we do not face the repercussions of losing face before the enemy by pulling out of a nation-building effort too soon because of domestic pressure.

Recent news indicates that the Democrats are becoming more serious about ending the war, with talk of cutting the funds becoming more prevalent. This type of politics is not likely to end, but rather become the norm. Recognizing that, like it our not, this is a reality, shouldn't we consider another way of waging war?

One argument against this type of action is that we will continually have to go into the same places. Of course this is a possibility, but it would surely be cheaper in blood and treasure than an extended COIN campaign, right? Right now, we face a command structure that apparently doesn't get COIN, our international prestige has taken a huge hit, our country is politically divided and the rancor is increasing. Going back to the questions posed in my initial post here, I just think that the benefits of a strategy of punitive operations outweigh the negatives. Where am I wrong?

CPT H - thanks for the link. I guess I was being lazy. :o

04-03-2007, 01:40 PM
I asked some of these questions and got an interesting answer (if I get any of the following "wrong" totally my fault).

The Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korean wars are colonialism or imperialistic altercations where a paternalistic veneer overlays the conflict. Nobody wants a whooping but it's for your own good (how many dads have said this?). The reasons for this type of conflict and it's associated political troubles are varied but are put in a couple of bins. Political will of the aggressor is low (Korea), the actual reason for the conflict is not known or realized by the public (Vietnam), the conflict is a response to a historical precedent (Iraq).

In contrarian view to the imperialism and colonialism is punitive expeditions like Grenada, Panama, Haiti where similar issues of political will, through historical precedent existed. Even with similar issues the mission objectives were alliterated differently and length of conflict was entirely different. The political goal of nation building seems to be the thread that gets us into trouble.

04-03-2007, 01:48 PM
A few issues.

Butcher and bolt never solved the Frontier issue for the British. Indeed, the British never expected it to ever be solved, but rather were content with leaving the tribes at a low boil.

What is the threat to be resolved? The tribes suffered when the British burned their villages and massacred their women, children, and elderly. The British also did not suffer any serious consequences from this behavior as their atrocities were not broadcast to a global audience. The U.S. does not have this leeway. Indeed, the enemy would reap far greater gains from such an action properly publicized than almost any loss of manpower they suffered from such an expedition.

To take such an example into the real world, what happens if the enemy is not as easily targeted as Afghan villages once were? For example, Iran. The U.S. could bomb the crap out of Iran, invade, occupy Tehran, destroy the nuclear sites, execute lots of mullahs and nuclear scientists, and then run like hell for the border. What, exactly, would this accomplish?

The Bad:
Something of a roll of the dice militarily. We would guarantee a ferociously hostile Iran for the next hundred years. We would convince the world that the U.S. was no longer a guarantor of security but rather a rogue state. Oil prices through the roof. We would remove nearly all of our allies in the GWOT, including the government of Iraq.

The Good:
Iran's leadership would be destroyed and Iran would be crippled by the infrastructure and economic damage inflicted upon it. No nuke program in the short term.

Help me out, I'm having trouble thinking of any additional benefits.

Major questions: What if it becomes difficult to locate key figures in the Iranian leadership? What if the IRGC and Iranian Army chooses to engage in an insurgency rather than fight us straight up? What guarantees that more radical leadership does not emerge thereafter? What country in the Middle East would agree to harbor American troops afterwards? What would an Iran in chaos mean for any regional allies we have left?

04-03-2007, 02:06 PM
LawVol, you are not wrong in fact punitive ops are recommended in Caldwell's Small wars manual. In fact Caldwell recommended what I have all along when an enemy does not have a well defined king or country "Hit them in the Pocket book"
Two major law suits were prohibited by our government that would have had far reaching effects on GWOT,One was the WTC survivors the other was going to be brought by the Iran hostages. both were stopped by our Government:mad:
A lot of 4GW talk is about the empowered individual terrorist and his access to small portable weapons which enable him to act outside the government framework. We need to do the same for our individuals in an unconventional manner. Sue the Bastards and if they don't pay send the Marines to collect and then leave. War for profit!!! is the way out of this mess, we should do it with the intention of making our country stronger not weaker. Kick their ass,take their gas, and steal their cash.:D

04-03-2007, 02:52 PM
When I used the term "butcher and bolt" from tequila's post, I wasn't being literal. We still would need to adhere to the rules of war. My thinking on the puntive op is that it is a last resort as is war in general. When all esle fails and we are going to resort to military action, the choice becomes one of long-term vs. short-term military action. Do we want to go in an set up look-a-like democracy? Or do we just want to eliminate a threat and move on?

Tequila's "bad" points are equally present if we engage in military action for the long haul. Much of the world already doubts our position as a guarantor of security and our "coalition" is quite small. In analyzing the punitive operation option, I am not specifically thinking of Iran. Personnally, I do not see military action as an option at this time and I think were not even close to it.

As for some benefits, I see the potential to shorten our exposure to world condemnation as a huge benefit. When we are in for the long haul, the world media is filled with images of death and destruction caused by the "unfeeling imperialistic Americans." A punitive op shortens our presence in the country and by adhering strictly to our selected targets, we potentially minimize damage to infrastructure. We remove the bad seeds, but essentially leave the government intact. For example, how would Iraq look now if we hadn't engaged in an extensive de-Baathification process and left the military intact? Chances are much of the government could have remained functioning.

An additional benefit would be the lessened impact on American blod, treasure, and public opinion. As I've said, I'm just thinking out loud here.

Slapout: being a (damn) lawyer, I find the lawsuit idea intriguing. But, then again, I'm not that kind of lawyer. You're sort of touching on a point raised by the AF Deputy Judge Advocate General, Charles Dunlap (some of his opinions have taken a beating in this forum). He uses the term "lawfare" to discuss the issue.


04-03-2007, 03:08 PM
I think the stellar results we are seeing from the Iraqi oil industry show the problems inherent in the "war as a racket" idea. Frankly I think this sort of idea was at the least partially present in the "planning" for the Iraq adventure, for instance in this sort of silliness (http://www.forbes.com/markets/newswire/2003/12/09/rtr1175008.html)after the fall of Baghdad.

04-03-2007, 03:14 PM
LawVol, I know your a damn lawyer, but your a prosecutor so you have redeeming social value:wry: I have read Dunlap's Law fare and agree with him it is when he went "Cheech and Chong" in his last Air power article I disagree with. you ask any DEA man and any KKK man and they will tell you the all time put you out of business attack was to take their money!!
And if they refused they sent the Marshall and helped them make the right choice. We should be doing the same in GWOT with the military except think of Seizing, Arresting, Capturing and exploiting every non-lethal or less lethal capability we have. Again every attack against us should be exploited in a way that we make a profit or become stronger in some way and start by making the victims rich!! That is how you beat them! Killing them creates another generation that will seek revenge.

04-03-2007, 03:19 PM
I think the natives might object to stealing of natural resources. Thus killing them would be required, no?

See Nigeria (http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/02/junger200702).

04-03-2007, 03:40 PM
My fault for not clarifying. The non-lethal aspect would mainly be used to try and limit colateral damge as much as possible. As for the teorrist or the gangsters that committed the crime or attack? Yep you would end up killing a lot of them.

04-03-2007, 03:54 PM
What about people who object to the theft of resources? Kill them too?

04-03-2007, 04:01 PM
What theft? They attacked us first. It is a Punitive Operation is it not?

04-03-2007, 04:04 PM
Who attacked us?

Do we topple the Saudi government and start pumping oil for the U.S. market because OBL is from Saudi?

04-03-2007, 04:10 PM
1-The initial reference I used was the WTC victims and the Iran hostages and yes they did attack us first.
2- I would not have a problem with holding Saudi financially responsible for UBL.
3-I have never said anything about regime change as a form of punitive attack.

04-03-2007, 04:15 PM
Kind of hard to collect on such a debt without a regime change, especially if you are using the U.S. Marines as the collection agency.

Saudi Arabia after all legitimately say, "OBL is not our citizen, hasn't been for years. Go ask Afghanistan for your money." What then?

Bill Moore
04-03-2007, 04:30 PM
From a purely selfish point, what do we gain from nation-building? As we approach the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, we still haven't produced a government that controls it own territory and we face increasing opposition at home. Maybe I'm just frustrated, but it seems like there has to be a better way. Posted by lawVol

I think you're a realist, a quality that is clearly missing in our current administration (and the previous one). The military is trained and organized to achieve military objectives that are in our national interests. It is normally a coercive form for diplomacy. I mentioned this elsewhere, but a perfect example of military coercion was our air raid into Libya in response to a terrorist incident. It didn't solve all of our problems, but it definitely made Libya more cautious and manageable. The air raids in Iraq circa 98 put Saddam back in his place for awhile. Both were relatively cheap, didn't present enough time for poltical opposition to develop, and the end both accomplished our limited (but realistic) objectives. The U.S. appeared to be to strong in the end.

In contrast every time we fail at nation building we lose political power and restrict the ability of our military to operate in future conflicts because we're worried about another failure (Vietnam Syndrome).

Regime change strategies (if we're going to pursue them) should be implemented by the CIA (with the military potentially in support), because if they fail we're not stuck in a quagmire.

Nation building has infrequently brought lasting results (Germany and Japan being the exception), but has frequently resulted negatively on the U.S.

More later

04-03-2007, 04:44 PM
1- I would expect Saudi or anybody to tell us no. That is why I would use the military to collect.
2-I think the hard part is thinking about using military force in a non traditional manner to seize economic assets that have political value despite the fact that are enemies do it very well. (Iran)
3- Saudi is the home base of the UBL family business which has and is sponsoring radical ideologies that result in are country being attacked directly or indirectly so If Saudi did not cooperate then they could be the target of a Punitive Operation.

04-03-2007, 04:49 PM
2-I think the hard part is thinking about using military force in a non traditional manner to seize economic assets that have political value despite the fact that are enemies do it very well. (Iran)

Whose economic assets has Iran seized?

So to be clear, you are basically arguing for a limited invasion of Saudi Arabia, apparently confined to the oil fields?

04-03-2007, 05:07 PM
1-They seized 15 British sailors and marines which are not strictly economic assets like an oil field but they do have value and they will exploit for a definite gain.

2-No not at this time. We should have threatened to do it if they did cooperate completely in the following investigation!

3-I do think the WTC families should have been allowed to pursue the lawsuit and when they won they should have seized any assets in the US and if that is not enough then go for the oil fields or their banks and cars and anything else until the judgment was settled. Plus the cost of rebuilding New York.

04-03-2007, 06:02 PM
Do we actually incur a greater potential for future attacks when we attempt to nation-build and fail? In other words, assume for a moment that we do the "peace with honor" thing in Iraq and pull out sometime next year leaving the Shia and Sunni to fight it out. Does this embolden our terrorist enemies? I think so. Osama bin Laden's own words indicate that he learned a valuable lesson from watching US forces pull out of Somalia.

Using punitive ops avoids this since we rely solely on our strength by using overwhelming military force in pursuit of a clearly defined goal. Once this goal is acheived, we leave. Of course, this will invite criticism as well (how can we ever really avoid it), but you hardly have room to honestly complain when the neighbors dog bites you after you've taunted him all day. Besides, as I've said before, I do believe that the criticism over punitive ops would be less than what we see now.

04-03-2007, 07:04 PM
I think much, probably most, of the success to be garnered from such an approach would depend on realistic goal-setting.

04-04-2007, 01:22 AM
But when there is no king to conquer,no capital to seize,no organized army to overthrow, and when there are no celebrated strongholds to capture, and no great centers of population to occupy, the objective is not easy to select. It is then that the regular troops are forced to resort to cattle lifting and village burning and that the war assumes an aspect which my shock the humanitarians. "In planning a war against an uncivilized nation who has, perhaps no capital," says Lord Wolseley,"your first object should be the capture of whatever they prize most, and the destruction or deprivation of which will probably bring the war most rapidly to a conclusion." This is the root of the whole matter. If the enemy cannot be touched in his patriotism or his honor,he can be touched through his pockets.

Sounds like a very good Philosophy for the GWOT.

04-04-2007, 01:27 AM
How do you touch bin Laden's pockets?

The answer may lie in the Fed's relationships with Gulf State bankers, not necessarily in 5.56mm going downrange.

04-04-2007, 10:30 AM
That would be a good place to start.

04-04-2007, 03:32 PM
Callwell's lessons are good only to a point. We cannot fight by burning villages and pursuing a Sherman-esque vision of war. World opinion will simply not allow it. It does no good to win on one front by creating havoc within our enemy's country only to lose on another front by marginalizing the world. Like it or not, globalization requires that we temper our responses because we need other countries (maybe not militarily, but certainly economically).

That being said, we can hurt the Muslim world in the pocket book by aggressively pursuing alternative fuels. I'm certainly not an expert in this area, but from the little I've read, it seems like we could use biofuel topretty much replace our oil consumption and use our own agriculture to do it. In other words, our fuel needs could be meet right here at home. Of course, this will take some time, but movely quickly now could more quickly bring about the day when the Middle East isn't such a strategic consideration.

BUt this is not what the Islamic Terrorist values the most. I think he values his version of Islam most. Now we certainly can't destroy Islam, but we can destroy the radical version of it. This cannot be done by through total war but instead with a hearts and minds campaign akin to how we approached our fight against Communism in the Cold War.

John T. Fishel
04-04-2007, 03:53 PM
But it is not just the most recent version of globalization that creates these constraints. The French found to their dismay that the same kind of constraints cost them Algeria even after they had won the tactical and operational war.

04-05-2007, 12:10 AM
LawVol I disagree from the standpoint of time. If we had struck back brutally immediately after 911 it would have been accepted without a lot of condemnation of world opinion. But the waiting for a long period after the attack gives the appearance of revenge as opposed to striking back in self defense.

04-09-2007, 01:47 PM
While I have previously cited domestic and international political responses to our efforts in Iraq as support for moving to a punitive operation strategy, perhaps the link below provides another. It would seem that we are not geared to the long war in the procurement arena either. The problems just keep mounting. How can we expect our military to build nations when we improperly prepare and equip it for the mission? I still think a punitive operations strategy would solve alot of issues. I have yet to hear a viable argument against their use, at least in some cases.