A senior British Army officer has sparked indignation in the US with a scathing article criticising the US Army’s performance in Iraq.
The U.S. Army’s tardiness in adapting to the changing operational imperatives of OIF Phase 4 was indeed a contributory factor in the Coalition’s failure to exploit the rapid victory over Saddam achieved
in the preceding conventional warfighting phase. Furthermore, its approach during the early stages of OIF Phase 4 exacerbated the task it now faces by alienating significant sections of the population.
However, to conclude, as some do, that the Army is simply incompetent or inflexible, is simplistic and quite erroneous. If anything the Army has been a victim of its own successful development as the ultimate warfighting machine. Always seeing itself as an instrument of national survival, over time the Army has developed a marked and uncompromising focus on conventional warfighting, leaving it ill-prepared for the unconventional operations that characterise OIF Phase 4. Moreover, its strong conventional warfighting organisational culture and centralised way of command have tended to discourage the necessary swift adaptation to the demands of Phase 4. Its cultural singularity and insularity have compounded the problem, as has the recent so-called ‘de-professionalisation’.
Though justifiably confident and proud as a warfighting organisation, the Army acknowledges it needs to change. It is, rightly, considering adjusting its core focus to encompass Operations Other Than War, with all that that entails in terms of proponency, doctrinal development and a broader training base, although Army planners are keenly aware how difficult it will be to achieve this without compromising unduly the Army’s existing warfighting pre-eminence. Likewise, it plans to bolster leadership training and rectify shortcomings in cultural awareness. However, these initiatives may not be enough: the inconsistency between trends observed in OIF Phase 4 and signals from the training base and leadership raise the concern that the Army still does not appreciate the extent of the watershed it faces. To that end, the planned Army Transformation needs to focus less on generating warfighting capability and much more on:
• The realisation that all military activity is subordinate to political intent, and must be attuned accordingly: mere destruction of the enemy is not the answer.
• The development of a workforce that is genuinely adaptive to changes in purpose, as opposed to merely adapting to be even better at conventional warfighting.
• Keeping the lure of technology in perspective, and realising that the human component is the key to adaptability.
As important, the Army needs to learn to see itself as others do, particularly its actual or potential opponents and their supporters. They are the ones who need to be persuaded to succumb, since the alternative approach is to kill or capture them all, and that hardly seems practicable, even for the most powerful Army in the world.
General Schoomaker asks, rhetorically: ‘When the historians review the events of our day, will the record for our Army at the start of the 21st Century show an adaptive and learning organisation? I think so, and we are committed to making it so’. His intent is absolutely right. But he faces a challenge potentially no less tough than his post-Vietnam forebears, and it is to be hoped that the historians from all nations, not just America, will agree with his provisional verdict.