The Petraeus Doctrine and Dangers of Success

Posted on September 18, 2008. Filed under: Walker Military Adventures |

Thursday, September 18, 2008–Having served as a company grade officer in the US Army Infantry 25 years ago I have just about zero qualifications to speak authoritatively on anything military. But I have paid attention as a citizen, as a veteran, and now, as a father of a soldier, to this war that was finally acknowledged on 9/11. I do enjoy reading some of the journals written by professional soldiers and some of the think tanks. So, though under qualified, I will dare to comment on things military occasionally.

In perusing the news today I came across this marvelously well thought out piece at the

and now I would like to add my 2 cents to the argument.

1) I think that for us to deny that the United States is an Empire is to close our eyes to history and to what the rest of the world thinks. Allow me to explain: using the technical definition of Empire, no, we are not an Empire (though you could call our conquest of the continent from the Indians and the resulting reign of the USA over North America an Empire I suppose, but even then the various tribes were so numerous, fractured and small that I think it a misuse of the term Empire in its technical sense). An Empire requires conquering other nations, ruling over them by force while extracting tribute, and using the conquered nations for your own security and expansion. Encarta defines Empire this way:

1. lands ruled by single authority: a group of nations, territories, or peoples ruled by a single authority, especially an emperor or empress

2. monarchy headed by emperor or empress: a monarchy that has an emperor or empress as its ruler
3. period of empire’s existence: the period during which an empire exists
4. large far-flung business: a very large, powerful, and extensive industrial or commercial organization
5. part of organization somebody personally controls: a part of an organization controlled by a single person, especially somebody who is keenly protective of personal power
6. absolute power: supreme or absolute power ( formal or literary )

So technically, America is not an empire. Even though we conquered Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the Spanish American War we do not rule any of these countries except Puerto Rico (marginally). In WW2 we did not retain Germany, Italy or Japan as part of an empire. Our present government does not want to keep Iraq or Afghanistan (despite all of the liberal caterwauling about a war for oil).

However, to fail to recognize that the American presence, language, culture, economy, science, religion and military/politics are all over the world and does make its presence not only known but felt and that this, in many ways, is the practical equivalent of an empire, is a mistake that will have bad consequences. We are in fact the inheritors of the British Empire in many ways, though we do not exercise governing control over those in our empire. Thus, I am changing the definition of empire to a degree. Let us call it a soft-empire.

Another sign that this empire, though different from previous world wide empires, is in fact an empire is the near universal loathing and envying of America. People the world over love to hate us because of our influence, wealth and power. Pres. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela comes to mind. The entire muslim world envies us and tries to use our technology and wealth, but hates us as infidels, and wants to see us fall. Not unlike how the Germans felt about Rome, or the Jews, the Parthians, etc.

For the liberals who accuse and excoriate our nation of being imperialistic I have nothing but contempt. I do not think being imperialistic is necessarily a bad thing, if we are talking about the soft-empire America has become since 1898 (you can go back even further to the Monroe Doctrine or even to the Wars with the Barbary Pirates and how WE, the USA, freed the European nations from the piracy of the muslim terrorists of the Barbary Coast thus ensuring free commerce in the Mediterranean Sea). The Soviet Union was an example of an empire in the classical sense in that it had completely absorbed nations and people groups like the Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic States, etc. and it ruled by force the Warsaw pact countries like East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia.  For the liberals to equate the American soft empire with the Soviets, as they have done repeatedly for about 70 years, is ignorant and even evil.

America needs to accept our role as an empire, a soft-empire, and no longer deny it. Then, we need to take steps to ensure that we lead (not rule) our empire wisely and justly. But how does all that relate to the Petraeus Doctrine?

2) The Petraeus Doctrine was formulated in Iraq to counter the insurgency by providing the troops necessary to fight, embedding those troops in the local areas that were having the most trouble instead of leaving them in a protected base, training the Iraqi military and police, and bribing many of the insurgents to switch sides. The goals of this doctrine included defeating the insurgents militarily, winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, persuading the insurgents to turn sides and betray AQI, and giving the Iraqi government some breathing room in which to formulate and implement plans to change their country. This smart doctrine turned the war around and Petraeus is rightfully given praise.

The problem that article presents us with is that in the Army there is now some controversy over how to interpret these events and then how to apply them to the Army in the future. The article brings out that many in the Army now think that the primary mission of the future is asymetrical warfare, counter-insurgency and nation building. This is being realized practically, according to the article, by seriously downsizing Field Artillery units and changing how the OPFOR units at the NTC train the Army units sent to Ft. Irwin. Defending against large formations of Russian tanks and APCs is no longer a big part of the training in the Army. Is this wise? Has the battlefield changed to counter-insurgency exclusively? Should we lay aside our heavy war fighting capabilities?

3) I absolutely think we are making a huge, critical mistake to think that old style warfare of opposing armored and mech infantry armies is a thing of the past. If we downgrade our capacity to wage modern armored warfare we do so at our peril. The events of August in Georgia ought to be a serious wake up call as Russia invaded Georgia with all the armor, APCs and field artillery that a modern army has.

Before we get all excited about having smaller, lighter, faster units (and CHEAPER) that will fight our future wars with high tech systems and then go about cutting out tanks, howitzers, AFVs and such, we need to realize that as long as MEN rule countries, there will be wars, small and large. Sec. Def. Rumsfield’s biggest mistake was to disavow the Powell doctrine and think we could go in with a small footprint and fight a war on the cheap.

Though we can sometimes discern some trends in warfare, it is best to always be flexible and able to fight that which we do not expect. America in particular has a very bad record of disarming after wars or of being prepared to fight the last war instead of the war you are actually facing. The article at the Atlantic showed that there were diverse opinions about how best to interpret the Viet Nam war. If we learn the wrong lessons from the current war (lighter, faster, counterinsurgency is the way  we should go) we may absolutely go down a road that leaves us totally unprepared for the next war (Russia invading Ukraine or Poland…again?)

4) The sad thing about a soft-empire is that they are very expensive, for we must still provide a strong military, and the financial rewards are obscure (free trade agreements?). If America thinks for a minute that she can lead her soft-empire with the small military we currently have, she is sadly mistaken. In essence we need two armies- one that can fight the asymmetric wars of counter-insurgency, and one that can go toe to toe with the Russians in central Europe (or fight the Chinese in N.Korea, etc.) The “Peace Dividend” declared by Pres. Bush the elder and put into place by Pres. Clinton successfully cut our military in half. Then the Clinton administration added a few more operations to the military and Bush the Younger invaded a couple of countries…all with a smaller military due to the “Peace Dividend”. There will always be wars. There will be no peace until the Prince of Peace himself comes to impose it on His terms.

But until He comes, America should be prepared to wage war in a just cause anywhere with any enemies by any means. We must have the full capabilities of our Cold War days plus the new capabilities for fighting asymmetrical warfare and counter-insurgencies. But how can we afford this, especially in light of our current near economic collapse that is requiring the treasury and Fed to poor unprecedented amounts of cash into the private sector?

5) In remembering the British Empire and the Roman, we should not only have a core professional military, we should also actively recruit, train, educate and supply some indigenous legions. If after Gulf War I we had recruited 3-4 Brigades of Iraqis, Kuwaitis, Saudis, etc., brought them to America for education, training, westernization, etc., and then employed them in the gulf with American advisers and officers, then we could have been better equipped for the Second Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan.

One of the huge deficiencies in the military now is the lack of an adequate number of reliable translators in the units (Kit Carson Scouts in the Viet Nam War) and officers or NCOs trained in the languages of the war zones. One way to help with this inadequacy is to go to the ROTC programs in Colleges and even High Schools and pay a bonus for those who study languages, and make it mandatory to study languages.

In conclusion, America can never again retreat behind the two oceans and be safe. We will either spread democracy or the other isms will spread (Communism, Islamofascism, Putinism, etc.) All that remains for evil to win is for good men, good countries, to sit idly by and do nothing. This is not a call for aggressive military expansion. It would be immoral and foolish to think we could conquer the world, or any significant part of it. We have no desire to do that. We do have a desire to see the world become a better, safer place for all. We do hate totalitarian systems that inhibit freedom and oppress the poor.

I agree with the Bush doctrine that states the best way to protect the homeland is to promote peace and democraciy around the world. This task will still demand a strong military. Stronger than what we currently possess. We must prepare for every type of warfare and the way to do that is to not merely expand our own, but raise up indigenous legions, train, educate and Americanize them, then station them in the trouble spots they are familiar with.


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    This blog exists to study the bi-vocational ministry, explore the Bible & Theology, and look at current events, history and other world religions through scripture, and have fun doing it!


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