Friday, March 18, 2005



Douglas Feith, Defense Under Secretary for Policy, was in a press conference on C-Span today discussing strategy. One reporter asked of specifics regarding Iran; I think this demonstrates a lack of expertise, and even a general understanding, of strategy and war.

Strategy should not be mistaken for tactics, which are more explicit. Strategy is more of guide, containing both explicit and implicit aspects, which are used to determine tactics with the effect of achieving desired outcomes. A strategy may contain some specific tactics that are necessary to enable the use of other tactics which work with a broader strategy aspect, such as preparedness, but generally incorporating specific tactics into a strategy is limiting and likely bad strategy. An inflexible and overly explicit strategy is cumbersome and yet easily evaluated and manipulated by opponents and competitors.

Science can be used tactically in war, and many people would like to view war scientifically; however, in the art of war, being unpredictable is a generally a strength and flexibility allows skilled tacticians to turn potential weaknesses into strengths and an enemy’s strengths into weaknesses. We have seen this in Iraq, where choosing flexibility and being image conscious has cost lives on many occasions. But, being flexible allowed us to turn those losses into moderate wins, such as in Fallujah where insurgency led to more unified opposition to insurgents. And when we chose to disband the Bathist army, we may have helped fuel the insurgency, but detaining them would have been costly, limited the flexibility of the military, put more troops in harm’s way, been questionably beneficial and tied-up logistical resources and capabilities, fostered the dependency that is left behind by a totalitarian regime, and diminished the drive for independence that has been crucial in spreading freedom.

Strategy is an art and not a science and major aspects of strategy must remain implicit. Perfection is not an option; even if it were practical, the information broadcast to enemies would make it a devastating strategic weakness. While it is likely that much of the Iraq results were a stroke of good luck, it has been observed in humanitarian circles that countries tend to achieve most when they struggle against adversity. The most growth producing regions/countries of today were once considered the most hopeless, as noted by Sebastian Mallaby.

During the conference Feith said:

If you look at the war on terrorism, for example, it is clear to us that there is enormous importance to the capture-and-kill operations we do in the war on terrorism, but they will not allow us to win the war. The only way we are going to win the war on terrorism is, as a country, by dealing with the ideological support that the terrorists get.

Now this is not a Defense Department mission, but the U.S. government recognizes that to have a winning strategy in the war on terrorism, we're going to have to address what it is that allows the terrorists to recruit and indoctrinate new terrorists. And the kind of work that we need to do in the world as a government -- and the Defense Department only has a -- you know, a slice of this large responsibility -- but the work that we need to do as a government to win the war on terrorism does require activity, as opposed to just reaction.

And the president's strategy of freedom and democracy promotion is an example of changing the situation in the world in a way that contributes to strategic victory for us in the war on terrorism. It also serves other U.S. national security purposes.

Over the past several years, I’ve observed that the public in general can be pretty reactionary. This is especially true of a large portion of people in mid-eastern culture. The reaction that the US evoked in the mid-east before 9/11 and Iraqi Freedom certainly wasn’t a positive one. It seems clear to me that if democratization and promoting independence and unity in Iraq had been made central components of the explicit strategy and reasoning leading up to the war, the effectiveness would have been neutralized and they likely would have been used against us.

Because of the implicit nature of strategy, many components can be difficult to articulate. I think that often people are even incapable of articulating aspects of strategic thinking. In any case, the implicit nature of strategy will always leave some people in the dark and require those with a general understanding to champion the strategy. Some may follow these champions because of implicit understanding that they themselves are unable to articulate.

Even after the fact, strategy cannot be made fully explicit because it would provide valuable insight to our enemies.

Another point of interest from Feith’s conference is this:

Q: Mr. Feith, Mr. Feith, having said that you don't know where you're going to have to operate, have you identified any areas for priority attention, such as the Middle East, Taiwan Straits, Korea, maybe East Africa?

MR. FEITH: I don't think that the world gives us the luxury of picking areas. We have interests all over the world. I dare say that if anybody before September 11th, 2001, was listing places that we would want to focus on as a matter of priority, Afghanistan would have been rather low on the list.

I think we need to be very modest about our ability to predict the future, and I think a proper intellectual modesty is built into this concept of strategic uncertainty, and we tried to infuse that idea through these documents.

And what that means is we have interests all over the world; we have to be ready to work with countries all over the world, move and act in various types of operations, as I said, you know, spanning the whole range from humanitarian activities, diplomatic activities, combat activities anywhere in the world that they're required.

I think this implies the direction our military will be taking. We now realize that we can’t predict the conditions and even the rules we will be required to operate under in the future. September 11th and the Tsunami disaster have highlighted the importance of maintaining an active, adaptable, cutting-edge, ready and capable military. I think that incorporating humanitarian operations as training ops may prove to be a very effective tactic in the future of the military. Humanitarian missions would provide a variety of constraints and conditions that would keep our military active and adaptable. It would also help to justify the investment in a large military, which must exist as an insurance policy, though it might never be used in major combat operations.

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