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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs