Tuesday, May 31, 2011

When will America Gain its Senses?

Paul Vallely

Our nation simply does not have the human and financial resources to continue investing blood and treasure into nation building enterprises or foreign aid packages into the Middle East. Obama along with other broke, financially strapped European countries is now committing billions of new US dollars to new nation building to the Middle East. All of these Islamic countries seem to be willing to protect terrorists/jihadists, rule by Sharia law in the guise of seeking democracy, chastise America at every opportunity for their own selfish interests and hope of keeping U.S. money flowing into their coffers. How senseless is this? Oh, Treasury, keep printing money - no problem there! Maybe I am naïve, but I think we need to shore up America first. War, more than any other human activity, engages our senses: at times providing a rush of fear, anxiety, horror, confusion, rage, pain, helplessness, nauseous anticipation, and hyper-awareness. It is in these vagaries that imponderables and miscalculations accumulate to paralyze the minds of military and political leaders. In the cauldron of war, “It is the exceptional Warrior who keeps his powers of quick decision intact.” There are other aspects of conflict that will not change no matter what advances in technology: fog, ideology and friction will distort, cloak, and twist the course of events. Fog will result from information overload, our own misperceptions and faulty assumptions, and the fact that enemies will act in unexpected ways. Combined with the fog of war there will be infinite a number of seemingly insignificant incidents and actions that can go wrong. It will arise from fundamental aspects of the condition and unavoidable unpredictability that lies at the very core of combat and international engagement.”

This constant fog and friction of war and conflict turns the simple into the complex. In combat, people make good decisions and mistakes. They forget or know the basics. They become disoriented or oriented. Occasionally, incompetence prevails. Mistaken assumptions distort situational awareness. Chance disrupts, distorts, and confuses the most careful of plans. Uncertainty and unpredictability dominate. Where friction prevails, tight tolerances, whether applied to plans, actions, or materiel are an invitation to failure – the more devastating for being unexpected. Operational and logistical concepts or plans that make no allowance for the inescapable uncertainties of war are suspect on their face – an open invitation to failure and at times defeat. Still another enduring feature of conflict lies in the recurring fact that military leaders often fail to recognize and understand their enemy. War is not the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass... but always the collision of two living forces. Those living forces possess all the cunning and intractable characteristics human beings have enjoyed since the dawn of history. Even where adversaries share a similar historical and cultural background, the mere fact of belligerence guarantees profound differences in attitudes, expectations, and behavioral norms. Where different cultures come into conflict, the likelihood that adversaries will act in mutually incomprehensible ways is even more likely. Thus, Sun Tzu’s maxim that, “if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles” is easier said than done. The conduct of war demands a deep understanding of the enemy – his culture, history, geography, religious and ideological motivations, and particularly the manifest differences in his perceptions of the external world.

The Nature of change – War and conflict will remain a human endeavor, a conflict between two forces, yet changes in the political landscape, adaptations by the enemy, and advances in technology and techniques will change the character of the battle. Leaders are often late to recognize such changes and adjust to the proper uses of hard and soft power options, and even when they do, inertia tends to limit their ability to adapt quickly. Driven by an inherent desire to bring order to a disorderly, chaotic universe, human beings tend to frame their thoughts about the future in terms of continuities and extrapolations from the present and occasionally the past. But a brief look at the past quarter century, to say nothing of the past four thousand years, suggests the extent of changes that coming decades will bring.

Twenty-five years ago the Cold War encompassed every aspect of the American military’s thinking and preparation for conflict – from the strategic level to the tactical. Today, that all-consuming preoccupation is a historical relic. A quarter century ago, the United States confronted the Soviet Union, a truculent, intractable opponent with leaders firmly committed to the spread of Marxist-Leninist ideology and expansion of their influence. At that time, few in the intelligence communities or even among Sovietologists recognized the deepening internal crisis of confidence that would lead to the implosion of the Soviet Empire. The opposing sides had each deployed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, as well as vast armies, air forces, and navies across the globe. Soviet forces were occupying Afghanistan and appeared on the brink of crushing an uprising of ill-equipped, ill-trained guerrillas. In El Salvador, a Soviet-backed insurgency was on the brink of victory.

Beyond the confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union lay a world that differed enormously from today. China was only emerging from the dark years of Mao’s rule. To China’s south, India remained mired in an almost medieval level of poverty, from which it appeared unlikely to escape. To the sub-continent’s west, the Middle East was as plagued by political and ideological/religious troubles as today. But no one could have predicted then that within 25 years the United States would wage two major wars against Saddam Hussein’s regime and commit much of its ground power to suppressing simultaneous insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I was advised years ago (2001 to be precise) by an Arabian confidant, “ Do not put bases or large land forces into the Middle East, as it is a giant SPONGE that will soak up everything with no viable end!”…meaning human and financial resources……

We should have more sense and wisdom about engagement and conflicts in this year 2011 but we do not seem to look back in history well and have major problems in seeing the future. We seem to be a nation that is rudderless. We, the people, are the Masters of our Fate and Captains of our Soul and Destiny.

Paul E. Vallely is Chairman of Stand Up America


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