"In military journals, midlevel officers’ conferences and gatherings around the Pentagon, a growing number have expressed concern that the Defense Department’s planning and resources are being trained disproportionately on small guerrilla wars.
At the same time, they fear that important military skills — storming beaches, fighting tank battles, using air and land power in unison to attack enemy lines — are beginning to atrophy.
"The military is almost always accused of preparing to fight the last war," said former Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne. "The most interesting part of ‘next-war-itis’ is that we are being accused of trying to fight the next war."
The military, Wynne said, has the responsibility to prepare for wars against competing nations even as it fights what he calls the war of "choice" in Iraq. "We shouldn’t have to pick between this war and the next war," he said. "That is a bad deal."" NY Times
After Vietnam the armed forces, particularly the US Army turned away from all that had been learned by hard experience and study of counterinsurgency (COIN). This subject was resolutely avoided for decades and over time was largely forgotten Counter-terrorism became the principal mission of the community of light forces called, "Special Operations Forces." For a long time, this mission consisted largely of preparation and exercises, but 9/11 brought that to the front of everyone’s mind. Counter-terrorism became the "flavor of the month," and these forces have been allowed to operate across the world with a degree of independence that is worrisome to many in the armed forces.
The disastrous miscalculations regarding Iraq were compounded early on by the US ground forces’ ignorance and frankly disbelief in the possibility of a serious guerrilla enemy. The inability at that time of many officers to think usefully about insurgency and counterinsurgency without official sanction for such thought should give one pause. Perhaps the right habits of thought are not being inculcated?
Now we have a great ongoing resurgence of counterinsurgency doctrine and practice. In Vietnam and the other COIN wars of the 20th Century, specialists in that field largely ran such wars while the main ground forces of the US remained focused on the Soviet Army and the central German corridor. When brought into Vietnam they thrashed around in the woods looking for the enemy’s main forces (the North Vietnamese Army with its divisions, artillery and tanks) and were hardly involved in COIN at all. Now, the main forces of US ground power have been told that COIN is the thing for them to do. Great! I love it that battalion commanders of infantry read learned articles by foreign experts and speak with confidence in the vocabulary of social anthropology (cool) and political science (not cool).
Nevertheless, this is a mixed blessing. I have written earlier of my concern that a cult of generational development in warfare is spreading the idea that warfare develops progressively new forms and that old forms are no longer relevant because the nature of world society has moved "beyond" them. This is a false and misleading notion. War is a process of human social interaction carried out along a broad spectrum of possible forms. The resort to these forms has much to do with local conditions and the relative strength of the adversaries. In other words, many different forms of warfare can exist simultaneously and have generally always done so.
In the era of COIN doctrine ascendancy and the re-organization of the US Army into a brigade based structure largely stripped of mass, and heavy weaponry, the question must be asked, "what happens if we encounter an adversary who has a lot of equipment and who is determined to fight for a long time?" I asked Rumsfeld that question five years ago. His answer was that the crowd of obviously intimidated generals whom he had brought to the meeting had told him that this was not a problem. Maybe that is why I was not invited to any more meetings.
Now, we have a group of officers who are arguing at the risk of their careers that history does not march in lockstep towards the future. They should be heard. A balanced defense policy and forces are what are needed. pl