You learn and forget it all again
David Ignatius argues, after a visit to Teheran, that Iranian militants are mostly over 40, and that if the current generation is given no cause to hate America, hostility will ebb away. That seems reasonable. Now what capabilities would America need to affect Iran without actually invading it? A clue might be found in this article from SFGate: 911: FIVE YEARS LATER Military transformed -- better gear, new goals. It states the obvious, but often ignored fact, that the current US military is no longer the force it was in 2003. It is better.
Probably the most significant change is in the mission of the military. For decades, the primary focus of all branches of the military was preparing for a major land war in Europe or Asia. Now, it's all about little wars. The key phrase is "counterinsurgency on." But nothing changes quickly in an institution that is older than the nation. It remains to be seen whether changes attributed to the new age will become permanent or will slip into the dustbin of memory. "We were used to the old doctrine of warfare," said Marine 1st Sgt. Jean-Paul Courville, who has served three tours in Iraq. "The old way was, you seize an objective, usually a terrain feature like a hill or building, and then you defend it. Your opponent was another unit in roughly the same model and type as yours." ...
Now, it's not enough to see an enemy and kill him. You'll have to deal with his family and the community. Troops have to know better when to shoot or not. Officers must learn how to forge relationships with mayors and police chiefs and religious leaders. "You don't have a forward edge of the battle lines," Courville said. "It's all mixed. You have interaction with Iraqi civilians, you're training Iraqi forces, you're setting up observation posts and traffic-control points. There are so many facets that we never thought we'd be doing."
The SFGate article does not directly address Ignatius' question, which is how to tackle Iran without creating a whole new generation of anti-Americanism. But it does bound the answer: whatever the solution may prove to be, it won't be the monolingual, big battle fighting force of the 1990s. The good old days. It will require local knowledge. When to shoot and not to shoot. How to forge relationships with mayors, police chiefs and religious leaders. Training indigenous people. People who argue that Iraq was a wasted effort might ask themselves: where in the diplomatic corps and in the development set is this capability?