Friday, May 28, 2004

The Global Battlefield

Blogger JK and reader TH both sent links to a tongue-in-cheek article by David Wong called I Want a War Sim. Wong says he is fed up with unrealistic simulations in which good guys and bad guys square off in empty, exotic locales. That is totally unrealistic. What he wants is a simulation where the combatants fight in an area where civilian casualties are unavoidable, television crews dog your steps and Congressional hearings second-guess every move.

I want a War Sim where I spend two hours pushing across a map to destroy a "nuclear missile silo," only to find out after the fact that it was just a missile-themed orphanage. I want little celebrities to show up on the scene and do interviews over video of charred teddy bears, decrying my unilateral attack. I want congressional hearings demanding answers to these atrocities. On the very next level I want to lose half of my units because another "orphanage" turned out to be a NOD ambush site. I want another round of hearings asking why I didn't level that orphanage as soon as I saw it, including tearful testimony from a slain soldier's daughter who is now, ironically, an orphan.

Every War Sim has a "Fog of War" that obscures the map in darkness until units scout the landscape. Well, I want a hazy, brown "Fog of Bullshit" layer below that. I want it to make a village of farmers look like a secret armed militia, I want it to show me a massive enemy fortress where there is actually an Aspirin factory. I want to never know for sure which it was, even after the game is over.

It is a measure of how strange the world has become that Lt. Col. Robert R. Leonhard, U.S.A. (ret) writes in the Army Magazine about how situations similar to Wong's satirical scenario will become the rule rather than the exception (Hat tip, reader MIG). Col. Leonhard argues that Sun Tzu's maxim to fight in cities "only when there is no alternative" is hopelessly outdated because there is nowhere else to fight.

We do not live in Sun Tzu’s world, nor even in that of Clausewitz, Fuller or Liddell Hart. The modern world has urbanized to an unprecedented degree, and it is inconceivable that future military contingencies will not involve urban operations. Sun Tzu lived and wrote (if indeed he was a real person) in the agrarian age, when most of the land was either wilderness or cultivated. Large segments of the population lived outside cities, and warfare typically occurred in flat, open terrain. Such battlefields--the stomping grounds of warriors from Sun Tzu to Napoleon--are becoming scarcer each day. Furthermore, the very success of American joint operations--and joint fires in particular--guarantee that a clever opponent will move into cities for protection. The modern battlefield is urban.

Because such a battlefield is densely populated, modern operations will cease to become purely military in character, instead becoming complex politico-military-media problems. Leonhard maintains that a US military constituted around largely military functions lacks the dimensionality necessary to successfully fight in this new arena. The US military is laboring under the crippling disadvantage of having no dedicated method of dealing with charred teddy bears.

In addition to the familiar tactical issues described above, the urban warrior must deal with refugees, media, curfews, crowd control, municipal government, street gangs, schools, armed citizens, disease, mass casualties, police, cultural sites, billions of dollars of private property, infrastructure and religion, to name but a few factors. In this context, the brigade combat team that dominates the central corridor is woefully inadequate; likewise, the doctrine and force structure behind it.

I have previously tried to demonstrate ("Factors of Conflict in the Early 21st Century," ARMY, January) that the operational level of war is becoming an anachronism because the idea of a theater military campaign is no longer relevant. Theater operations have become so intertwined with global considerations, and military factors have become so integrated with diplomatic, economic and cultural factors, that theater warfare is becoming indistinguishable from global grand strategy. In a similar manner, the challenge of urban operations will serve to redefine the tactical level of war.

The answer to the problem in his view is to break down the traditional walls between military operations and civilian governance. Wars will no longer be fought between armies. They will be fought between societies.

The interagency task force, rather than the joint force, must become the basis for future operations. With the elements of national power coalescing at the tactical level of war, a loose confederation of governmental agencies at the combatant commander level is simply insufficient. An honest look at our recent operations in Afghanistan would reveal a superb performance by our military and a half-hearted, poorly integrated participation by the rest of the U.S. government agencies. As a result, American foreign policy appears to be 90 percent military with a few economic and diplomatic add-ons. This is a recipe for disaster in future urban warfare. We need to graduate to the formation of the interagency task force.

The interagency task force would be built around a Marine expeditionary unit or an Army brigade, reinforced with joint fires. In addition, it would have active participation from the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Justice, the CIA, the FBI and (as needed) Agriculture, Health and Human Services, the Office of Economic Advisors and Labor. It would also have congressional liaison teams. At present, most of these agencies of the U.S. government lack a mission to assist in foreign policy, but this must change. The elements of national power--the integration of which is crucial to effective grand strategy--reside in these agencies. They must become players in war and peace.

Readers who thought that David Wong's idea of sims with "congressional hearings demanding answers" was funny should consider the Army Time's solemn proposal to deploy congressional liaison teams to the battlefield. After all, if the battlefield will not come to the Congressional hearing, the Congressional hearing will come to the battlefield. Nor are these ideas confined to the academic musings of retired Army Colonels. The Belmont Club linked to press release describing the reorganization of Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Iraq into two components, one dealing with the military fight and the other with the political aspects of the operation.

Kimmitt explained that Multinational Corps Iraq will focus on the tactical fight -- the day-to-day military operations and the maneuvering of the six multinational divisions on the ground. Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz will command the corps. Meanwhile, Multinational Force Iraq will focus on more strategic aspects of the military presence in Iraq, such as talking with sheiks and political leaders, and on training, equipping and fielding Iraqi security forces.

The President's speech at the Army War College marked how far down this path the Armed Forces have already gone. These short paragraphs, describing operations against the enemy in Fallujah and Najaf contain concepts which would have been familiar to Julius Caesar and possibly Napoleon, but totally alien to any Second World War commander.

In the city of Fallujah, there's been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors. American soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force. Our commanders, however, consulted with Iraq's Governing Council and local officials, and determined that massive strikes against the enemy would alienate the local population, and increase support for the insurgency. So we have pursued a different approach. We're making security a shared responsibility in Fallujah. Coalition commanders have worked with local leaders to create an all-Iraqi security force, which is now patrolling the city. Our soldiers and Marines will continue to disrupt enemy attacks on our supply routes, conduct joint patrols with Iraqis to destroy bomb factories and safe houses, and kill or capture any enemy. ...

In the cities of Najaf and Karbala and Kufa, most of the violence has been incited by a young, radical cleric who commands an illegal militia. These enemies have been hiding behind an innocent civilian population, storing arms and ammunition in mosques, and launching attacks from holy shrines. Our soldiers have treated religious sites with respect, while systematically dismantling the illegal militia. We're also seeing Iraqis, themselves, take more responsibility for restoring order. In recent weeks, Iraqi forces have ejected elements of this militia from the governor's office in Najaf. Yesterday, an elite Iraqi unit cleared out a weapons cache from a large mosque in Kufa. Respected Shia leaders have called on the militia to withdraw from these towns. Ordinary Iraqis have marched in protest against the militants.

But the really frightening aspect of Col. Leonhard's argument is not that the military and political aspects of warfare have fused, but his realization that foreign battlefields and home front have merged into one integrated area of operations. There is now no real distinction between winning the "media war" and cleaning out a sniper's nest in Ramadi; between Abu Ghraib the prison and Abu Ghraib the media event. Many readers have criticized the Belmont Club's An Intelligence Failure as being too "soft" on the liberal press, arguing that the media's distortions are not simply the effect of incompetence but the result of a deliberate campaign of partisan information. Doubtless many in the liberal press harbor symmetrical resentments. Yet I have held back from framing the argument in these terms until I could place it in the framework of Col. Leonhard's concept of a global battlefield: one in which the WTC towers and the New York Times newsroom are front line positions no less than any corner in Baghdad; and where victory is measured not simply by the surrender of arms but the capitulation of ideas. We have begun the 21st century just as we inaugurated the 20th: at the edge of old familiar places and on the brink of the unknown.