One eye open
The recent attacks on crowds at the pet market in Baghdad by two retarded women wired up as bombs by al-Qaeda are reminders that we are in an era of "persistent" conflict. Unlike wars between nations (like the Second World War) which are sharply defined, conflicts between communities and subnational groups drag on for a long time. There will probably never be a V-Terror Day. Participants at a recent Symposium at Fort Leavenworth examined the issue of how the Armed Forces should be structured to fight a "persistent conflict" -- one which literally doesn't go away.
One of the major bones of contention was whether the Armed Forces should have two separate components: one to fight regular kinetic wars and another geared toward stability and security force missions.
Should we create a separate “advisor corps” (Nagl) or “SysAd” force (Barnett) to focus on these missions – a separate structure and career path? Or, should we focus on having the so-called General Purpose Forces having a ‘full spectrum operations” capability – able to run the gamut from major combat operations to long-term advisor missions?
The advantage of having an 'Advisory Corps' was obviously one of specialization. Armies are after all broken down into specialties like artillery, armor and infantry. Why not "advisors"? But the idea, which looks appealing at first, also had its share of problems.
…the idea that we can have two Armies with two officer corps, one for regular fighting, and one for security force assistance, is a snare and a delusion. Educate our officers to think, not just to follow recipes, and they will rise to the situation and adapt, whatever comes.
Reading those words reminded me of a recent conversation I had the privilege of having with a senior officer when I asked whether his command was structured for the task of transitioning from combat operations to building stability. His response was to pointedly remark that problem-solving skills were universal; you either had them or you didn't and in his opinion his unit possessed the ability in spades. That was certainly fair enough. Besides, situations are often ambiguous. The situation in Iraq for example has changed so quickly that units who were mentally prepared for one thing often found themselves facing another and back again. Jack D. Kem, who was at the Leavenworth conference wrote: "It all comes to the issue of balance – how to create the right mix of generalists (full spectrum forces) and specialists (SF and SOF) to handle the issues of today and tomorrow."
One issue that did not apparently receive much attention but which I think is essential to fighting a persistent war is the question of creating a standing capability in the civilian sector to support kinetic action, but more often to assist in the stabilization operations. For example, over the course of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan the DOD has gradually built up relations with bloggers to help in getting the word out. Men in the field have little time to write; to develop and prettify websites or conduct lengthy research. But they do have time to give interviews and people back home can take these as starting points to effectively counteract the propaganda of the cyberjihad. Yet another example of the way in which civilian capability helps fight persistent conflict is the nexus of cooperation between civilian inventors and those in the field. The Armed Forces may have gone into Iraq equipped to fight the Warsaw Pact but things have changed considerably since. There are indications that the State Department and other civilian government agencies have also made some progress towards restructuring themselves to fight the long war.
A protracted war between two world views is a conflict waged with the entire resources of each. It is a chronic confrontation punctuated by occasional spasms of violence. The side which succeeds in mobilizing its resources effectively and continuously will probably win over the other. The Armed Forces are invaluable in confronting the spasms of violence. The hard part now lies in putting society, not on a permanent 'war footing' -- that term has probably gone out with the Second World War -- but in a continuing state of wariness, where even in sleep part of it remains awake. That's a change no armed force can effect. It's a task that a society must willingly undertake for itself.