News / Middle East

US Becoming More Leery of Long Wars

US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates walks with a group of service members at Forward Operating Base Waltman, Kandahar, Afghanistan, June 5, 2011
US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates walks with a group of service members at Forward Operating Base Waltman, Kandahar, Afghanistan, June 5, 2011
Al Pessin

The counterinsurgency approach the United States and its allies have used to fight their enemies and help build democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to be fading in its popularity.  Some U.S. officials and many members of Congress and the public have grown weary of that type of long-term and costly campaign.  Our correspondent reports on what could be a significant change in the way the United States uses its power to pursue its interests.

When the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began in 2001 and 2003, U.S. officials hoped to remove the countries’ rulers, install representative governments, make the countries inhospitable to terrorist groups and get out quickly.  It did not work out that way.

Instead, U.S. troops and diplomats became embroiled in long, bloody conflicts, struggling to help develop credible new leadership and capable security forces.  The Afghan war is approaching its 10th anniversary, with at least three more years of allied involvement planned.  The U.S. military presence in Iraq is scheduled to end in December, after more than eight years, but the conflict smolders on.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed the growing concerns of many during a speech in February to future Army officers at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

“[I]n my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined," said Gates.

Secretary Gates’ remarks reflected the pain of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, even if, in the end, some of the strategic goals are achieved.

In those wars, the United States and its allies ran into what for some experts is a familiar problem - the difficulty of fighting insurgents who have popular support based on ideology and long-festering grievances, with the ability to hide among the people, refill their ranks and, in the case of Afghanistan, receive a measure of safe haven in a neighboring country.

After several years of struggling to relearn forgotten lessons from Vietnam and other past conflicts, the U.S. military wrote a new counterinsurgency doctrine in 2006.  It is designed to provide a “How To” guide for troops in the field, who had to earn the support of the local people, develop local leaders and train security forces while fighting the insurgents at the same time.  Military historian and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Conrad Crane was brought in to lead the effort.

“If the political decision makers decide we need to conduct a counterinsurgency to achieve national objectives, then the doctrine is designed to show how we do it," said Crane.

The concepts of counterinsurgency and the doctrine Crane helped write became a sort of mantra for many members of the military and outside experts, and they say the improved approach led to more successes.  But it did not result in a quick end to the conflicts.  Now, particularly after the death of Osama bin Laden, more and more members of Congress, Obama administration officials and others are being more open with their concerns about the high cost - in lives and money - of the NATO plan to continue significant military involvement in Afghanistan for several more years.  Crane finds some irony in that.

“We warned when we wrote the doctrine that counterinsurgency is always long and expensive and bloody," he said. "And now people are complaining because they are finding that counterinsurgency takes a long time and it is expensive and bloody.”

Another retired Army officer welcomes the decline in the popularity of counterinsurgency.

“If the counterinsurgency fad has run its course, then that is a good thing for our country," said Andrew Bacevich.

Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University is a retired colonel who has written several books and many articles criticizing what he sees as the excessive willingness of American leaders to commit troops, prestige and economic capacity to lengthy conflicts.

“The whole notion that war is the only response to violent anti-Western Jihadism is preposterous, and backs us into a corner where all choices are bad choices," he said. "I think the United States needs to be more selective in its willingness to use power.  Being more selective would very much serve our interests.”

Bacevich says terrorists should be treated like criminals, not military opponents.  And while he acknowledges that U.S. adversaries have a role in determining when the United States goes to war, he says U.S. officials need to consider a broader range of options than invasions and counterinsurgency campaigns.

In a speech on the future of warfare Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn indicated that the department is moving to do that - to balance how much it invests in counterinsurgency versus more traditional military capabilities.

"I think you can decide which of those two you want to emphasize," said William Lynn. "I don't think you can eliminate either. I don't think that's possible."

Lynn says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been more difficult than had been expected, but the U.S. military must have enough troops and the right kind of training, equipment and family support for future long conflicts, which he said are still "plausible."

The counterinsurgency doctrine author, Conrad Crane, says the 240-page document is a good guide if political leaders decide such an effort is necessary in the future.  But he also acknowledges there are other types of military campaign, like the air and naval effort in Libya today, that the United States and its allies can use in many situations, as well as economic sanctions, diplomatic efforts and other means.  And he agrees with Secretary Gates, saying that no American leader is going to be eager to commit the country to a long, expensive, bloody counterinsurgency campaign for some time to come.

You May Like

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid