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Teachers and students at West Point question US war doctrine

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For two centuries, the United States Military Academy has produced generals for America’s wars, among them Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, George S. Patton and David H. Petraeus. It is where President George W. Bush delivered what became known as his pre-emption speech, which sought to justify the invasion of Iraq, and where President Obama told the nation he was sending an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan.

Now at another critical moment in American military history, the faculty here on the commanding bend in the Hudson River is deep in its own existential debate. Narrowly, the argument is whether the counterinsurgency strategy used in Iraq and Afghanistan — the troop-heavy, time-intensive, expensive doctrine of trying to win over the locals by building roads, schools and government — is dead.

Broadly, the question is what the United States gained after a decade in two wars.

“Not much,” Col. Gian P. Gentile, the director of West Point’s military history program and the commander of a combat battalion in Baghdad in 2006, said flatly in an interview last week. “Certainly not worth the effort. In my view.”

Colonel Gentile, long a critic of counterinsurgency, represents one side of the divide at West Point. On the other is Col. Michael J. Meese, the head of the academy’s influential social sciences department and a top adviser to General Petraeus in Baghdad and Kabul when General Petraeus commanded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Nobody should ever underestimate the costs and the risks involved with counterinsurgency, but neither should you take that off the table,” Colonel Meese said, also in an interview last week. Counterinsurgency, he said, “was broadly successful in being able to have the Iraqis govern themselves.”

You now know – from this point in the conversation forward, this is a flunky whose understanding is ruled by ideology and politics.


Will he grow up thinking of American soldiers as saviors?
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

The debate at West Point mirrors one under way in the armed forces as a whole as the United States withdraws without clear victory from Afghanistan and as the results in Iraq remain ambiguous at best…

At West Point the arguments are more public than those in the upper reaches of the Pentagon, in large part because the military officers on the West Point faculty pride themselves on academic freedom and challenging orthodoxy. Colonel Gentile, who is working on a book titled “Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace With Counterinsurgency,” is chief among them.

Colonel Gentile’s argument is that the United States pursued a narrow policy goal in Afghanistan — defeating Al Qaeda there and keeping it from using the country as a base — with what he called “a maximalist operational” approach. “Strategy should employ resources of a state to achieve policy aims with the least amount of blood and treasure spent,” he said.

Counterinsurgency could ultimately work in Afghanistan, he said, if the United States were willing to stay there for generations. “I’m talking 70, 80, 90 years,” he said…

Now, as American troops head home from Afghanistan, where the new strategy will be a narrow one of hunting insurgents, the arguments at West Point are playing out in war colleges, academic journals and books, and will be for decades.

The NY TIMES – speaking as an occasionally critical voice – will not challenge the basic premises of US foreign policy since the end of World war 2. The NY TIMES will not challenge the posture of Cold War in place since the end of World War 2.

Would you – therefore – expect the NY TIMES to challenge the methods widely accepted as the ultimate means for implementing these policies?

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Written by Ed Campbell

May 28, 2012 at 6:00 pm

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