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Old 10-24-2012   #1
Fuchs
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Default The Best Trained, Most Professional Military...Just Lost Two Wars?

The Best Trained, Most Professional Military...Just Lost Two Wars?

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(...) President Obama has described our military as “the strongest military the world has ever known.”

There’s just one problem with this...

That military just lost two wars in a row.(...)

If our military is so great, why have the last fifty years been so disastrous? (...)
He's got his opinion about this, and it won't come as a huge surprise to the usual suspects in here.

(I don't agree completely.)
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Old 10-24-2012   #2
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Winning is achieving your objectives. If the selected objectives are not achievable through armed force, or if mission creep shifts the goalposts to a point not achievable by armed force, no military mission will succeed, no matter what level of training and equipment are employed.

The US military is trained and equipped to defeat an opposing armed force. This it has done in the recent wars. When it was asked to build nations and install self-sustaining governments, success was a lot harder to find. These are not tasks that the US military is trained and equipped to pursue, and they are not tasks appropriate for a military force in the first place. Even the world's best hammer makes a very lousy screwdriver.

Not that the training and equipment are perfect (nothing ever is), but IMO the failure to fully achieve goals (call it "defeat" if you must) in recent wars was less due to military deficiency than to the selection of impractical and unrealistic goals that were not achievable by military force in the first place.
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Old 10-25-2012   #3
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Default Then why didn't anybody say so?

If "...the failure to fully achieve goals (call it "defeat" if you must) in recent wars was less due to military deficiency than to the selection of impractical and unrealistic goals that were not achievable by military force in the first place." then why didn't anybody say so in the first place?
Was it foreseeable that goals were unacheivable?
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Old 10-25-2012   #4
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Originally Posted by tjmc View Post
If "...the failure to fully achieve goals (call it "defeat" if you must) in recent wars was less due to military deficiency than to the selection of impractical and unrealistic goals that were not achievable by military force in the first place." then why didn't anybody say so in the first place?
Was it foreseeable that goals were unacheivable?
I recall believing - and writing - before the Iraq war that while defeating Saddam's military forces would be relatively easy, installing a new government and bringing it to a functional level was likely to be a very formidable task for which the US had little effective capacity. I think a fair number of people pointed out that mission creep in Afghanistan and the emergence of "nation-building" roles was handing the military a role that is not trained or equipped to perform.

Obviously nobody listened, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from those mistakes. To learn from them, though, we have to recognize them, and that means recognizing that the root problem is not lack of capacity in the military but the decision to assign the military a set of tasks that are simply not suited to achievement by a military force. The whole concept of "armed nation building" was fatally flawed from the start. My opinion only, of course.
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Old 10-25-2012   #5
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Dayuhan correctly framed the issue, but to add when it comes to military capability there isn't any other military that comes close. Population centric COIN is a failed approach that the author of the article thinks would work if the military just adapted to it. The fact is the military did adapt to it and results are telling. When it comes to military activities to include engaging with civilians there is no better, but rightly so our core competency is waging and winning battles. In short we do have the world's best military, there is no other military who could have done better in either war (neither of which were lost) given the same policy objectives.

Last edited by Bill Moore; 10-26-2012 at 05:53 AM. Reason: author was right, it was a personal attack, so I removed it.
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Old 10-25-2012   #6
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Idiot should check the scoreboard. It's a sure sign of ignorance to place these things in a win loss paradigm. Everyone loses its war. But there is a little less evil in some dark corners due to our efforts. We hear this too much. If you don't know keep your mouth shut.
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Old 10-25-2012   #7
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Originally Posted by OfTheTroops View Post
Everyone loses its war.
Not sure what you mean because of grammar, but the Swiss will want to disagree if my suspicion about what you mean is correct.

@Bill;
he's easily a top tier military affairs analyst if "highly naive" is the worst that can be said about his articles. There's not much shining competition...


I personally don't agree with his idea to about the direction to go (pop-centric COIN) and would if at all rather treat this as a political fight (=deal with those who have influence, don't try to influence millions of people directly).

I do believe he's more right about the "losing" thing, and consider your and dayuhan's position as rather reflexive partisan - especially in the case of Iraq, where the troubles were started more by occupation mistakes than in Afghanistan.

Furthermore I wouldn't place so much trust in the core competence of winning battles. The American way of warfare works well against near-defenceless opposition (at least superficially) and it works well with overwhelming resources. Competence is yet to be demonstrated in battle, and especially so in crisis. The 101st in Bastogne was probably the only U.S. Army ground forces formation that prevailed in a crisis with inferior resources - ever!
That's not much to show for. Too many Kasserines to contrast this with.

The current doctrine and near-total radio comm dependency of the entire army still needs to be proved to be an effective system in a conflict against a great power. I've got my doubts about the viability of the entire concept in such a scenario.
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Old 10-25-2012   #8
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...he's easily a top tier military affairs analyst if "highly naive" is the worst that can be said about his articles. There's not much shining competition...
Agree there's little competition but believe that naivete is dangerous. Being intelligent, articulate and passionate does not bestow competence.
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I personally don't agree with his idea to about the direction to go (pop-centric COIN) and would if at all rather treat this as a political fight (=deal with those who have influence, don't try to influence millions of people directly).
Agreed.
Quote:
I do believe he's more right about the "losing" thing, and consider your and dayuhan's position as rather reflexive partisan - especially in the case of Iraq, where the troubles were started more by occupation mistakes than in Afghanistan.
Also agree. We are victims of our own propaganda and are not nearly as good as we could be or should be.

It should be noted though that we are as competent as most want us to be -- and allow us to be. Fortunately, that's generally been adequate and competitors have all had their own problems -- political and military...
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Furthermore I wouldn't place so much trust in the core competence of winning battles. The American way of warfare works well against near-defenceless opposition (at least superficially) and it works well with overwhelming resources. Competence is yet to be demonstrated in battle, and especially so in crisis. The 101st in Bastogne was probably the only U.S. Army ground forces formation that prevailed in a crisis with inferior resources - ever!
That's not totally correct. Just in the past century from WW I's 'Lost Battalion' and Belleau Wood to the failed defense of Bataan and numerous smaller actions in WW II -- the 101st may be the most notable in the Ardennes but there were other units that did well at the time against the odds. Add the 1st Marine Division at the Reservoir in Korea to dozens of smaller battles in both Korea and Viet Nam as well as some more recent examples. That said, while your statement omits a bunch of successes, it is broadly correct -- like all Armies, we've had more failures than successes. Thus OfTheTroops comment; no one wins -- and even the Swiss lost a few, not least Bicocca...
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The current doctrine and near-total radio comm dependency of the entire army still needs to be proved to be an effective system in a conflict against a great power. I've got my doubts about the viability of the entire concept in such a scenario.
Me too. Doubts that is; we are far too technology, mass and firepower reliant. That's mostly due simply to the fact that we can provide those things (currently, anyway...) and accordingly have been unwilling to properly invest in, train and educate our forces. Dumb way to do business but Congress likes it.
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Old 10-25-2012   #9
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Originally Posted by Ken White View Post

That's not totally correct. Just in the past century from WW I's 'Lost Battalion' and Belleau Wood to the failed defense of Bataan and numerous smaller actions in WW II -- the 101st may be the most notable in the Ardennes but there were other units that did well at the time against the odds. Add the 1st Marine Division at the Reservoir in Korea to dozens of smaller battles in both Korea and Viet Nam as well as some more recent examples. That said, while your statement omits a bunch of successes, it is broadly correct -- like all Armies, we've had more failures than successes.

Thus OfTheTroops comment; no one wins -- and even the Swiss lost a few, not least Bicocca...Me too. Doubts that is; we are far too technology, mass and firepower reliant. That's mostly due simply to the fact that we can provide those things (currently, anyway...) and accordingly have been unwilling to properly invest in, train and educate our forces. Dumb way to do business but Congress likes it.
As most things it is mostly a grey affair but I think is always important to show the links between the society and the ressources it provides and it's military forces. There is nothing deterministic in those links but there is certainly a strong tendency in them.

The great nomadic societies of the vast Eurasian steps tended of course to field highly mobile forces almost all horsed. But the degree of skill and capability as well as the mix between armored and light, lancers and archers or combined differed greatly. To a similar degree it was natural that the famous Swiss had little heavily armored knights and little artillery but were mostly lightly armored infantry. But it was not at all given that they would become often very competent at a tactical and operational level. (There would be a lot of interesting details to add but I will leave it there)

So it is quite logical that the US military enjoys a great endowment of capital (ressources) and technology per capita combined with a specific human capital pool. Obviously this was and is just the starting point and usually the US stepped up in other departments when there was a dire need.
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Old 10-25-2012   #10
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Wait, so when the U.S.military trumps over say, the miniscule Panamanian Forces, it's the greatest military on earth.

Yet when if fails this can be excused with 'others fail as well', completely ignoring that budget-wise it's almost the sum of all 'others'?!?
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Old 10-25-2012   #11
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Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
Wait, so when the U.S.military trumps over say, the miniscule Panamanian Forces, it's the greatest military on earth.

Yet when if fails this can be excused with 'others fail as well', completely ignoring that budget-wise it's almost the sum of all 'others'?!?
I don't know if this is directed at my post. Anyway is the question about the 'greatest' bit about absolute capability - or efficiency with the relationship between in- and output in mind?

The type of conflict is of course also of great importance because industrial might might be more easily recruited and applied or 'converted' into military effectivness at one end of the scale.
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Old 10-25-2012   #12
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Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
we are far too technology, mass and firepower reliant. That's mostly due simply to the fact that we can provide those things (currently, anyway...) and accordingly have been unwilling to properly invest in, train and educate our forces.
I don’t know if this question can be addressed in short answer form, and I realize that the answer entails also addressing the question, “What are they expected to be able to do?”, but here it is just in case: what would forces adequately invested in, trained, and educated look like as compared to those currently in existence?
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Old 10-25-2012   #13
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Default One of the more popular posts...

One of the more popular posts on the Small War Council asks, "What can we do to keep the SWJ relevant?" Maybe the answer for the SWJ council is, "Quit insulting each other."

I stopped posting on here because people like Bill Moore and "Of the Troops" immediately descend to calling me an idiot or the author of "highly naive articles and this is just another one to add to the compost pile." As a result, I only check the council side when someone links to my article. As usual, most of the "discussion" chooses to personally attack me and avoid the argument.

You gentlemen stay classy.
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Old 10-26-2012   #14
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As usual, most of the "discussion" chooses to personally attack me and avoid the argument.
I don't think the argument has much substance, and I've never been in the military or involved with it in any way.

To use your own athletic metaphor, sending an army to "do state-building" is like sending an ice hockey team into a basketball game... and then of course blaming them for committing fouls.

This is not just a question of failure to prepare for irregular war or post cold war conflict. The military is perfectly correct to point out that it should not be used for "state building". That's simply not a military function from the start. If you order an engineer to perform surgery, don't blame the engineer if the patient dies.

"Pop-centric COIN" is an abortion of an idea that's based on unsustainable assumptions and programmed to fail from the start. Blaming failure to achieve the goals on inability to execute the strategy is like ordering someone to ride a unicycle up K2 and blaming the rider for the consequent failure.

I wouldn't say the military is completely devoid of responsibility (the world "blame" is really to infantile to be in the discussion at all), and I don't think anyone here would make that claim: certainly there's been an enormous amount of discussion of military shortcomings here. I don't see any point, though, in focusing on that degree of responsibility to an extent that ignores the massive shortcomings on the policy level.

Winning is achieving your objectives. The first step toward winning is selecting a clear, practical, achievable set of objectives and defending them against mission creep. This is not a military function, and if this step gets botched the job of everyone down the line, from the strategic level down to the tactical, gets infinitely more complex.

All the talk we hear of increased complexity stems to me less from any inherent complexity of the situations than from the complexity we impose by adopting vague, ephemeral, impractical goals and pursuing those goals using inappropriate tools and methods.
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Old 10-26-2012   #15
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Wink You wrote that, I didn't...

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Wait, so when the U.S.military trumps over say, the miniscule Panamanian Forces, it's the greatest military on earth.
I've NEVER said or written that the US Military was very good, much less great -- or even far less, the greatest on Earth. I have frequently written that both the German Army and the Commonwealth Armies train to a better standard than do we. I've also harped on our poor state of training for years.

As an aside, the Panama operation won by sheer mass; the number of screw ups there and the flaky actions by too many senior people would have been diastrous had that mass not been present. No trump or triumph there, just heavyweight steamrolling.
Quote:
Yet when if fails this can be excused with 'others fail as well', completely ignoring that budget-wise it's almost the sum of all 'others'?!?
I did not and am not excusing anything -- I am pointing out that military failure is universal simply because warfare is unpredictable. All forces win some and lose some -- and again, we've lost more than we should have.

I also pointed out indirectly that a big part of our problem is just what you mention in your last sentence here. We have too much money and that encourages waste -- and inefficiency; that leads to poor performance.

I'm not a Tom Ricks fan but he's got it right on mediocre generals -- and they are a reflection of our personnel policies, many of which are dictated by the Congress (particularly with respect to Officers...). That is not an excuse, it is a complaint.
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Old 10-26-2012   #16
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Originally Posted by ganulv View Post
I don’t know if this question can be addressed in short answer form, and I realize that the answer entails also addressing the question, “What are they expected to be able to do?”, but here it is just in case: what would forces adequately invested in, trained, and educated look like as compared to those currently in existence?
""""They'd have less money. The American solution of throwing money at a problem instead of fixing it has not worked with Education, Medical care -- or the Armed Forces.

For the active forces, there would be fewer people, they'd be a bit older (and thus, hopefully, a bit more mature) and would spend a bout one and half to twice as much time in institutional training staffed by selected Trainers with demonstrated expertise in subject matter and instructing. They would stay in the same units for years and their equipment fit would be a little different -- much of it to allow sea and land basing but rapid reaction to crisis area movement (we pay lip service to that but do not really want to do it -- too much uncertainty and careers might be damaged...). All would have spent some time in Reserve Units before being ALLOWED to enter the active force.

The Reserve Forces OTOH would very much resemble those of today but would be about 50% larger -- they would provide the mass and base for expansion if needed for a major war.

Movement between the two forces, active and reserve would be simplified. Personnel policies that over emphasize 'fairness' and 'objectivity' in selection criteria; 'everyone a generalist * ,' and the very mistaken idea that all persons of like education and experience are equally capable and can perform any job for that rank -- a structure, process and system that needs a MAJOR overhaul so we stop promoting based on 'potential' and being forced to reward decent performance with a promotion until the Peter Principle takes hold -- would disappear...""""

Then the Bwaa-ha-ha-ha-ha-hah from the Capitol and Five Sided Funny Farm in DC woke me up and I fell on my Lance. Sancho laughed and laughed..

* That 'generalist' stuff and excessive rotation of personnel exist not to better train the force but to make assignments and finding square pegs to put in round holes easy for the Personnel bureaucracy. The unnecessary costs of that approach adversely impact the expansion of needed training; that lack of comprehensive training leads to mistrust of subordinates and reluctance to undertake any complex operations. The training process needs to ditch the Tasks, Conditions and Standards approach that limit abilities to aggregate and combine tasks to accomplish a mission; we need Outcome Based Training and Eduction.
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Old 10-26-2012   #17
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Posted by Fuchs

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personally don't agree with his idea to about the direction to go (pop-centric COIN) and would if at all rather treat this as a political fight (=deal with those who have influence, don't try to influence millions of people directly).
Agreed

Quote:
I do believe he's more right about the "losing" thing, and consider your and dayuhan's position as rather reflexive partisan - especially in the case of Iraq, where the troubles were started more by occupation mistakes than in Afghanistan.
I differ with you here, because the author attempted without providing any supporting evidence to conflate military competence with losing strategies/policies. Sen McCain is absolutely correct when he said we have the world's best military, but that doesn't mean it will achieve national objectives if the objectives and policies are based on fantasy, or conditions exist that are well beyond a military solution. From a strictly military capability stand point we currently have the best the military in the world. There may smaller militaries that are more tactically proficient, but they are too small to overcome our mass and technological advantages in a battle (a war is different if they can survive long enough to counter our strategy). Ken is absolutely right that we could be much better if we revamped our training programs, but despite our numerous shortfalls we are still quite capable. On the other hand, our ability to develop a winning strategy is another matter altogether.

As for losing, the only one we lost is Vietnam and even calling that one a loss is debatable. We debated that enough in other forums, so we may just have to agree to disagree, but more importantly if we listened to our military experts who were familiar with the situation we wouldn't have gotten involved in the first place.

I take issue with the assertion that great armies can't be defeated. Other great armies have been defeated, the British were the best Army in the world when our colonalists defeated them, and after they were defeated they were still the best military in the world. If the British felt it was worth it and if they were willing to employ their full might against our citizens they would have won (opinion obviously), but fortunately they weren't, much like we weren't prepared to do what was necessary to win militarily in Vietnam. The Germans probably had the world's best army when WWII started, but they over extended themselves and made a few other strategic errors, but that doesn't take away from their military competence. I'm not trying to be defensive, but I think it is important to point out there is a difference between having a great military and having a great strategy. Great armies/militaries can be defeated by lesser foes if they have a better strategy, or in some cases if the better military is following such a flawed strategy it ends up defeating itself.

Quote:
Furthermore I wouldn't place so much trust in the core competence of winning battles. The American way of warfare works well against near-defenceless opposition (at least superficially) and it works well with overwhelming resources.
Actually quite the opposite, we're very good at defeating miliaries that have capable defenses. They provide us targets that we well suited to destroy. I agree with the second part of your sentence, we do rely on overwhelming resources, and that may be one reason we're so bad at strategy? We don't think we need to out think our adversary if we can out muscle him. Unfortunately we do rely on industrial age strategy to mass firepower on alleged centers of gravity with large forces that are enabled with information technology. I agree we have a lot of room to increase our sophistication when it comes to strategy, yet it seems the desire for ever larger forces instead of new ways of fighting still dominates our discussion despite guidance to do otherwise. It is important to note that the Pop Centric approach requires excessively large ground forces to implement.

Last edited by Bill Moore; 10-26-2012 at 05:47 AM. Reason: modify
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Old 10-26-2012   #18
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Why do you think we did so well during Desert Storm and in Panama? Clearly defined and feasible military objectives.
"No competent and motivated opposition" did certainly kind of help.


I've got a standard example which I use to disrupt others' confidence in their nation's military - including my countries':

The Italians wiped the floor with the Abbessinians in 1936.
The British and ANZACs wiped the floor with said Italians in 1940.
The Germans wiped the floor with said British in 1941.


The invasion of Panama says about as much about the U.S. military's competence as the invasion of Denmark, and if you look very much at logistics, of Norway in 1940. The real test of competence for the German army was France, though. The U.S. military had no such test. Its major victories came to being with vastly superior, not about equal, resources.

For this reason I withhold final judgement of the U.S.ground forces' actual (relative) competence even for what's called conventional warfare. Their way of war and especially their love for gold plating and radio comms is dubious.


Bill; show me American ground troops fighting against well-armed opposition and we'll see whether this ability to destroy isn't overcompensated by an inability to survive in face of such an opposition.
I understand American army troops pride themselves in their supposedly unique quality at shattering formations, but this self-image appears to found almost entirely on fighting demoralised and 1970's monkey-model-equipped Iraqis.
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Old 10-27-2012   #19
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Fuchs wrote,

Quote:
The real test of competence for the German army was France, though. The U.S. military had no such test. Its major victories came to being with vastly superior, not about equal, resources.

For this reason I withhold final judgement of the U.S.ground forces' actual (relative) competence even for what's called conventional warfare. Their way of war and especially their love for gold plating and radio comms is dubious.

Bill; show me American ground troops fighting against well-armed opposition and we'll see whether this ability to destroy isn't overcompensated by an inability to survive in face of such an opposition.
I understand American army troops pride themselves in their supposedly unique quality at shattering formations, but this self-image appears to found almost entirely on fighting demoralised and 1970's monkey-model-equipped Iraqis.
If you're talking post Korea it is difficult, but I think an argument can be made that the US Army proved its ability to endure against a potentially superior force during the Battle of Ia Drang in 1965. Some may have some valid arguments to counter argue this.

It seems the fact of the matter is we simply haven't had a hard test in the past few decades, but I'm not sure what nation could test us in a conventional battle based on our current technological dominance? Obviously irregular warfare is a different animal altogether.
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Old 10-27-2012   #20
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"Best in the world" isn't a measure of absolute capability or competence, it's a measure of relative capability and competence. What military would anyone say is better, and on what basis?

Certainly there's room for improvement, as there always is, but I'm not sure we should be pursuing improvement in pop-centric COIN or state-building, tasks that are likely to degrade competence at core military functions. If we really want to run about building states - and I can't see why we should - it's time to develop a specific non-military state building capacity, in which the military's only functions would be providing security and training corresponding military forces.
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