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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Countering Lind-dinistas - if the mission is impossible, don't blame me

    I am looking for assistance with a project. Normally I would ask in the RFI section but there is a thread going there that I don’t want to step on, so I make my Request For Assistance here.

    I am getting tired of the Lind’s of the world who feel that the fact we could not create a stable democracy in either Iraq or Afghanistan as a failure of Army Leadership. My response is that the military could not create such a political entity because it is impossible to do. You cannot create a stable democracy where the conditions do not exist to support it. You certainly cannot do it by external force of arms.

    My basic argument I have. Three points:

    1. The requisites for democratization did not exist in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

    2. Attempting to create a democracy where one was not possible created instability perpetuating the conflict

    3. COIN could not overcome 1 and 2. Pop-Centric COIN is correct, but it cannot create legitimacy. It must adapt to the desires of the population.

    The three arguments support the final point that the failure was never on the part of the military. The mission was de facto impossible. Therefore, to look to reform the military based on the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan is folly. The military is good at what it is designed to do. It is not good at social engineering, nor should it be.

    What I am looking for is any references or anecdotes to support any of the three arguments.

    I am also happy to listen to counter-arguments, as I would like to address them as well.

    Thanks

    Stan aka the curmudgeon
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

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    Default Reference

    Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson. Not a military tomb by any means, but is an easy read with historic examples that do a good job of providing a baseline understanding of conditions required for "democracy" and thus COIN. Good hunting.

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    Default Some links

    For those who do not read everything published by Small Wars, of late William Lind has appeared on the following:

    1) The Continuing Irrelevance of William Lind - a SWJ article, with two comments and is on:http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art...f-william-lind

    2) Our Debating Military - a SWJ Blog notice, with no comments and on:http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/our-debating-military

    3) Mr. Lind, May We Focus Our Rage Please?- a SWJ Blog notice, with four comments and on:http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/mr-...ur-rage-please

    4) Gardening in a “Barren” Officer Corps- a SWJ notice, with three comments and on:http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/gar...-officer-corps

    Yes there are other, older items which mention Mr Lind, these appear to be those that are relevant.

    These two SWJ Blog notices appear relevant: COIN's funeral an FP article: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/coin%E2%80%99s-funeral and Next COIN Manual Tries to Take Commanders Beyond Iraq, Afghanistan on:http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/nex...aq-afghanistan
    davidbfpo

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    A widely defined negative is impossible to prove, so it's impossible to prove that the mission was impossible.
    This means it's faulty to use this assertion as a cornerstone of a case.

    On the other hand, the burden of proof falls on the other party - but it's impossible to prove that the mission was possible.


    The disagreement is no fertile ground for a debate, as both parties are logically unable to prove even only their assumptions. This leaves a huge playing field for unfounded assertions, and basically no potential for a conclusive, decisive argument.


    It's much easier to argue that a political effort should be carried by political forces, not by military forces. It's hardly possible to make a conclusive case for the assumption that military forces should execute a political effort that cannot succeed by disarming the opposition alone.
    State Dept. 'lost' the Iraq occupation by not throwing its weight into the conflict.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    A widely defined negative is impossible to prove, so it's impossible to prove that the mission was impossible.
    This means it's faulty to use this assertion as a cornerstone of a case.

    On the other hand, the burden of proof falls on the other party - but it's impossible to prove that the mission was possible.


    The disagreement is no fertile ground for a debate, as both parties are logically unable to prove even only their assumptions. This leaves a huge playing field for unfounded assertions, and basically no potential for a conclusive, decisive argument.


    It's much easier to argue that a political effort should be carried by political forces, not by military forces. It's hardly possible to make a conclusive case for the assumption that military forces should execute a political effort that cannot succeed by disarming the opposition alone.
    State Dept. 'lost' the Iraq occupation by not throwing its weight into the conflict.
    I will work in probabilities. How does a 1 in 1,725 chance of success based on the known socioeconomic factors in play in Iraq in 2004. So, yes, I can't prove an impossibility, I can assert that it was highly improbable.

    Long Time Coming: Prospects for Democracy in Iraq.

    In fact, there was almost no known factor in favor of democracy in Iraq. This quote is from a 2004 article:

    Iraq lacks any of the preconditions academics generally accept as being necessary for democratization to succeed. It has no middle class to speak of independent from the state; oil revenues, the life-line of any Iraqi regime, are notorious for their ability to centralize rather than democratize power; the country has no tradition of limited or responsible government; national identity is weak in the face of rival religious or ethnic loyalties; regional neighbors will do what they can to undermine whatever democratizing movements exist; and the democrats themselves lack a figure such as Nelson Mandela or Kim Dae Jung who could give them leadership.
    I think I am safe to make the assertion I will make.
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 04-25-2014 at 08:15 PM.
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    After the fact. Our perceptions are now tainted by experience.
    This clouds our vision for what was actually in the realm of possibilities.

    I suppose a "pre-1982 Lebanon"-style republic was possible. It would have required a balancing of powers, and enough commitment to the folly that the powers in-country believe in the persistence of the balancing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    State Dept. 'lost' the Iraq occupation by not throwing its weight into the conflict.
    I can't agree with that. State has no more capacity for "nation-building" than the military does. As far as I can determine the US Government has no such capacity, which is why the job got dropped on the military.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    Slap, while Lind is my current target, he is simply a representative of a wider group of civilians who want to place the blame for the failures of the last 12 years squarely on the military. I don't care if they choose to blame us for their failures. Just don't tell me I need to fix what is not broken.

    We have problems, don't get me wrong. But looking at why we failed to create a democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is not our problem. It was beyond the capabilities of the resources and time put against the problem.
    I couldn't agree more, been chanting this mantra for over a decade: asking an army to build a nation is like asking an engineer to perform surgery. Trying to remake the army into a nation-building force is going to get you an inadequate nation-building force and is also likely to compromise the army's ability to perform its core functions, which could be a real problem if we ever actually need an army.

    Even the best hammer in the world makes a very lousy screwdriver. That's not the fault of the hammer, it's the fault of those who choose to deploy the hammer because they forgot that they don't have a screwdriver in their kit.

    As you say, none of this means the army has no flaws: every institution has flaws and problems, and every institution can improve. Blaming the failure of "nation-building" on flaws in the army, though, is to me both irrational and dangerous, the danger being that efforts to reshape the army to correct those hypothetical "flaws" could render the army less able to perform the functions for which it is actually intended.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    I am getting tired of the Lind’s of the world who feel that the fact we could not create a stable democracy in either Iraq or Afghanistan as a failure of Army Leadership. My response is that the military could not create such a political entity because it is impossible to do. You cannot create a stable democracy where the conditions do not exist to support it. You certainly cannot do it by external force of arms.

    My basic argument I have. Three points:

    1. The requisites for democratization did not exist in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

    2. Attempting to create a democracy where one was not possible created instability perpetuating the conflict

    3. COIN could not overcome 1 and 2. Pop-Centric COIN is correct, but it cannot create legitimacy. It must adapt to the desires of the population.

    The three arguments support the final point that the failure was never on the part of the military. The mission was de facto impossible. Therefore, to look to reform the military based on the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan is folly. The military is good at what it is designed to do. It is not good at social engineering, nor should it be.

    What I am looking for is any references or anecdotes to support any of the three arguments.

    I am also happy to listen to counter-arguments, as I would like to address them as well.

    Thanks

    Stan aka the curmudgeon
    I have a bit of a counter-argument for you. In general, I agree with most of your points... but I cannot understand how you do not view this as at least a partial failure of our military leadership. Particularly in light of the other points you make, specifically calling the mission "impossible."

    1. Accepting your premise that the mission is "impossible," the question that naturally arises to my mind is who is it that should know what constitutes an impossible mission for the military?

    2. If you do not know that an impossible mission is, in fact, impossible, whose fault is that?

    3. If you do know that a mission you are given is impossible, but you decide to give it the old college try anyway, as opposed to, say, resigning in protest that your boss is about to spend a lot of blood and treasure in pursuit of something that you know to be impossible, whose fault is that?

    The answer to all of the above is Army and Marine leadership. The answer to (1) is simply a matter of employing your troops in line with their capabilities. If you willingly employ your troops out of line with their capabilities, you should expect either failure or a miracle, the former being significantly more likely. The answer to (2) has to do with professional competence. If you don't understand that a mission is impossible, why not? Should (a) the fact that it is impossible have been obvious to you from the outset, or (b) is it that what you were doing was so far outside of both your own and others' past experience that you could not reasonably have been expected to understand the enormity of the endeavor? The answer to (3) has to do with moral courage. If you did understand the impossibility of your task, why didn't you fall on your own sword to prevent it from happening?

    Personally, I think that the right answer is probably mostly in line with 2(b). However, even if that's the case, it doesn't absolve our senior leadership in totality, though more so than the other cases. In the case of 2(b), I'd say it makes them guilty of extreme over-optimism. As in, the sort of optimism which would lead someone to believe that they can cross the Pacific Ocean in a single bound...

    If it's not 2(b), but one of the other cases, that leads to significantly different conclusions...

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    Quote Originally Posted by former_0302 View Post
    I have a bit of a counter-argument for you. In general, I agree with most of your points... but I cannot understand how you do not view this as at least a partial failure of our military leadership. Particularly in light of the other points you make, specifically calling the mission "impossible."

    1. Accepting your premise that the mission is "impossible," the question that naturally arises to my mind is who is it that should know what constitutes an impossible mission for the military?

    2. If you do not know that an impossible mission is, in fact, impossible, whose fault is that?

    3. If you do know that a mission you are given is impossible, but you decide to give it the old college try anyway, as opposed to, say, resigning in protest that your boss is about to spend a lot of blood and treasure in pursuit of something that you know to be impossible, whose fault is that?

    The answer to all of the above is Army and Marine leadership. The answer to (1) is simply a matter of employing your troops in line with their capabilities. If you willingly employ your troops out of line with their capabilities, you should expect either failure or a miracle, the former being significantly more likely. The answer to (2) has to do with professional competence. If you don't understand that a mission is impossible, why not? Should (a) the fact that it is impossible have been obvious to you from the outset, or (b) is it that what you were doing was so far outside of both your own and others' past experience that you could not reasonably have been expected to understand the enormity of the endeavor? The answer to (3) has to do with moral courage. If you did understand the impossibility of your task, why didn't you fall on your own sword to prevent it from happening?

    Personally, I think that the right answer is probably mostly in line with 2(b). However, even if that's the case, it doesn't absolve our senior leadership in totality, though more so than the other cases. In the case of 2(b), I'd say it makes them guilty of extreme over-optimism. As in, the sort of optimism which would lead someone to believe that they can cross the Pacific Ocean in a single bound...

    If it's not 2(b), but one of the other cases, that leads to significantly different conclusions...
    Former, first, thanks for the counterargument.

    There were certainly high ranking members of the military who should have known that the plan had holes. GEN Franks high on that list. I will address that towards the end of the article.

    But is War is an extension of policy, then we rely on our politicians to lay out the policy. Democratizing the middle east with a Pollyanna view of what that was going to take, and then blaming the failure to succeed on the military, I have a problem with.

    We are not trained as political scientists or sociologists. We learn the art and science of war. We depend on the politicians to get the political science right. We are not in a position to tell them they got it wrong. As I have been told many times, my only option is to resign. That does not fix the problem.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    But is War is an extension of policy, then we rely on our politicians to lay out the policy. Democratizing the middle east with a Pollyanna view of what that was going to take, and then blaming the failure to succeed on the military, I have a problem with.
    War is certainly an extension of policy, but the two are not separable IMO. It makes no sense for a nation to set as policy something which it knows is not achievable militarily, and it is incumbent upon the professional military to 1) know what is and is not militarily achievable, and 2) to explain it to the policy makers in no uncertain terms. Kim Jong Whoever is in charge of NK now could set as his policy tomorrow that it was necessary for NK to conquer China (a task similarly impossible for NK, in my view, as us democratizing Afghanistan). It's his military leaders' job to explain to him that it's a REALLY bad idea. In that country, they might get shot for saying something that the boss doesn't want to hear. Over here, they might have to take their pension a bit earlier than they had planned, and then go get a cushy job at some think tank making six figures and thinking big thoughts. My sympathy doesn't exactly overflow.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    We are not trained as political scientists or sociologists. We learn the art and science of war. We depend on the politicians to get the political science right. We are not in a position to tell them they got it wrong. As I have been told many times, my only option is to resign. That does not fix the problem.
    No argument as to our training. We weren't even really prepared for COIN, never mind nation-building. While you're right that the military is not in a position to tell pols they're wrong with the political science part, it is certainly within the military's purview to explain its own capabilities and limitations to them. Thereby letting them know, among their policy options, which ones they can actually expect to succeed. The distance between "overthrow the Taliban" and "make Afghanistan a functioning democracy" is so vast in scope that you could measure it on a galactic scale. One is achievable, the other...

    Maybe if enough people resigned, it would send the right message... Because frankly, those who have stayed in haven't fixed the problem either. Unfortunately, I haven't seen anything that indicates that the problem is getting solved. Only that we have a sexual assault epidemic, that women should be able to do any job men do in the military, and budget, budget, sequestration, budget... none of which addresses the problems we are discussing. I'm not confident that the solution can come from within the belly of the beast.

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    Former 302,

    First off you assume that the military understood not just Nation Building but Democratization theory? Yeah, right.

    I am sorry, but all this arguing that the "military should have known" only goes to let the politicians, the people who REALLY should have known, off the hook.

    It would have been one thing if they would have let it go with "you guys suck cause you keep losing." It is another whey they say "not only do you guys suck cause you keep losing, but you are broke and you need to fix yourself before we give you another stupid mission." Sorry, not waiting for the next shoe to drop.

    Perhaps what needs fixing is the civil-military relationship.
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    Former 302,

    First off you assume that the military understood not just Nation Building but Democratization theory? Yeah, right.
    Not at all. Rather, I assume that they knew that they DIDN'T understand it, and therefore should know to stay in their lane. How successful is any large organization at coming up with a way to do something that basically no one's ever done before and no one is trained how to do under fire? You might as well try to run a tank/infantry integration range with a bunch of civilians who are picking up a rifle for the first time. The result is predictable.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    I am sorry, but all this arguing that the "military should have known" only goes to let the politicians, the people who REALLY should have known, off the hook.
    All I'm arguing for is that the military should have known its own capabilities and limitations, and have delivered potential COAs to the policy makers which were in line with them. If the military says that it can do something that it can't, whose fault is that? If, on the other hand, they are ordered to do something while protesting that they can't do it, that's a different situation. It seems to me the former, and not the latter, is what actually occurred though. I may be in error.

    In any event, I'm not excusing the politicians; they are a breed of people permanently divorced from reality. If those advising them are equally divorced from reality, however, it's something of an exponential effect of bad.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    It would have been one thing if they would have let it go with "you guys suck cause you keep losing." It is another whey they say "not only do you guys suck cause you keep losing, but you are broke and you need to fix yourself before we give you another stupid mission." Sorry, not waiting for the next shoe to drop.

    Perhaps what needs fixing is the civil-military relationship.
    I'd agree that the civil-military relationship is indeed what is broken. I could write a novel about why I think it is, but to keep it short, it seems to me that our instant-information age and sensationalist media have made the military's job infinitely more difficult. I never let my boys take personal cameras outside the wire, precisely so that no videos or pictures ever found their way into the interwebs. But what do you do about youtube videos of Marines pissing on TB corpses? There would have been little if any rage about such an incident in WWII. Probably would have been in VN, were it possible, but it wasn't. Nowadays, the President of the US has to be concerned about what a Lance Corporal is doing. Think FDR ever gave much thought to the political ramifications of what some E2 somewhere was doing? We have so much oversight that we pay attention to all the things we can't get caught screwing up, instead of all the things that we're actually out there to do...

    I'm rambling now... but to end, I just want you to understand that I'm mainly playing devil's advocate here. As I said initially, I agree with your points in the main.

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