Tuesday, May 27, 2014

LTG Bolger and the Path Not Taken

Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger, USA (Ret) isn't waiting for this summer's withdraw date in AFG to put out his marker on the post-911 wars. He is holding few punches in his upcoming book, Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

As reported by Mark Thompson in Time;
“By next Memorial Day, who’s going to say that we won these two wars?” Bolger said in an interview Thursday. “We committed ourselves to counterinsurgency without having a real discussion between the military and civilian leadership, and the American population —’Hey, are you good with this? Do you want to stay here for 30 or 40 years like the Korean peninsula, or are you going to run out of energy?’ It’s obvious: we ran out of energy.”

The military fumbled the ball by not making clear how long it would take to prevail in both nations. “Once you get past that initial knockout shot, and decide you’re going to stay awhile, you’d better define ‘a while,’ because in counter-insurgency you’re talking decades,” Bolger says. “Neither [the Bush nor the Obama] Administration was going to do that, yet I was in a military that was planning for deployments forever, basically. An all-volunteer force made it easy to commit the military to a long-term operation because they were volunteers.”

The nation and its military would have been far smarter to invade, topple the governments they didn’t like, and get out. “Both wars were won, and we didn’t know enough to go home” after about six months, Bolger argues. “It would have been messy and unpleasant, and our allies would have pissed and moaned, because limited wars by their nature have limited, unpalatable results. But what result would have been better — that, or this?”
As I have often found with Army officers, Bolger seems very USA and military-centric in his thinking. Sound, but not complete.

I would like to make a point of order that I hope he brings up in his book. After 911, one of the subtle ways the media and the think-tank ponderatti liked to tell us, "It was out fault," was to point out that after the Soviet withdraw and collapse of the AFG government left behind, that the USA and the West just forgot AFG. Did nothing to help ... etc. The move was then to "fix" everyone to show our goodness and greatness.

The military at the start of the AFG and IRQ conflicts did not, it is true, have any great plan to occupy and fix either place. Didn't see that as our job at the time. The powers that be and the self-appointed thinking classes had greater ideas from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay. When things went sideways, they bugged out or hid behind walls - leaving the military to try to rediscover then anti-joy of COIN. So we did.

While there are good odds that Bolger's book will be misused by the usual suspects to beat up on the military. That is expected. Though the review does not give this appearance, I hope his book does address the D, I, & E of our "comprehensive" approach to these wars, but if we only get the M, that's fine. We'll wait for someone else to address the other three parts of DIME.

I believe that the argument can be made that we got something close to a win in IRQ, but that AFG does not look like it will rise to that low standard.

As reported so far, Bolger's thoughts are more on target and heading in the right direction than not - and in some ways are Salamanderesque;
Bolger recently wondered when the U.S. military was going to conduct a formal and traditional After-Action Report (AAR) on its performance in the two wars. “Some say the Iraq surge of 2007 proved counterinsurgency tactics worked. Others point out that today’s Iraq is a sectarian mess, undermining that belief. As for the Afghan surge of 2010-11, well, who knows? We cannot even say, or will not even say, who won these campaigns. It sure does not seem to be us,” Bolger wrote in the February issue in Signals, the journal of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

Such studies, long a part of military learning, have lessons for both the past and the future. “You might think such an assessment might be rather useful as we prepare to carve up and rearrange our armed forces to face today’s uncertain world. Facts offer a better starting point than hunches, emotions and ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ What did we learn from the current war? We owe it to the citizens we serve, and we certainly owe it to the men and women we have lost. We are past due for a long, hard look.”

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