LeRoy Collins Commentary 92

Commentary #92
25 September 2007

A matter of will

The attached essay is worthy of our careful scrutiny.

Our National will to succeed in times of enduring National conflict requires a foundation of devotion/love/loyalty to democratic principles, which is not easily jump-started, nor learned overnight. In my past I got them from a combination of home, church, school, Scouts, sports, patriotic movies and other re-enforcing mediaworks. While our hi-tech communications today do a better job of timely broadcast; the volume and speed are greater, but the content (with little exception) is far more deficient...even abysmal.

But Colonel Bedley lays it out better than I do. I commend him for his thoughtful study and share his conclusions. When we have leaders in Congress today who say we have already lost the war in Iraq, I can only say that such pessimists do not have the benefit of knowing the members of the U.S. Armed Forces like I do. The young women carrying that burden today will go all the way to achieve the objectives defined by their seniors. And the seniors will go all the way once their broader objectives are explained.

But such a system requires that the planners have given adequate thought to those broader objectives beforehand. But with the Congress now occupied with less than 30% who have EVER served in the U.S. military, we should not be surprised with the posturing we observe where political careers are at stake.

/s/ LeRoy Collins


A Matter of Will
Author: Colonel David F. Bedey
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: September 20, 2007

Col Bedey is a Professor of Physics at West Point.

Carl von Clausewitz said of war: “to impose our will on the enemy is its object.” Have we forgotten this? FSM Contributing Editor Col. David F. Bedey summarizes why the will to win is not only important for America in the short run of the Iraq war, but in the face of a long, drawn-out conflict with a barbaric totalitarian ideology.

A Matter of Will
By Col. David F. Bedey

A few days ago during the course of an interview with Carol Iannone, editor-at- large of the journal Academic Questions, I was asked for my thoughts on “why the Army was not more successful in establishing security in Iraq after the fall of Saddam.” At the time, I declined to respond because it seemed to me that broaching this contentious subject would detract from our discussion of undergraduate education at West Point. But now having thought about it a bit more, I have come to believe that the answer to Carol’s question bears directly on how the United States Military Academy might better educate the future leaders of our Army. The implications for West Point transcend current operations on one front of the long war that must be waged if we are to defeat radical Islam. Rather, they concern a “civilizational choice” – which Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has starkly set forth – between vigorously defending our Western culture or docilely surrendering to the forces of a barbaric totalitarian ideology.

In short, I contend that our experience in Iraq underscores a systemic failure on our part to account for the significance that “will” plays in the conduct of war. But it is necessary to understand the genesis of the present state of affairs before one can draw inferences relevant to preparing our next generation of military leaders.

While policy analysts continue to debate what are essentially tactical aspects of operations on the Iraqi front, others engage in partisan wrangling over the rationale for fighting there at all. But one need not enter into these frays in order to resolve the apparent dichotomy between our initial success in Iraq and our difficulty in dealing with the aftermath of that success. Instead, a revealing approach is to examine a mindset that, over the past 20 years, became ingrained within our national security establishment (both military and civilian, and among liberals as well as conservatives).

This mindset has two defining characteristics: a pessimistic view of the American people’s capacity to endure the struggles of a protracted war and a belief that modern technology is the decisive factor in war. To understand how this came to be we must first return to the mid-1970s. In the wake of Vietnam, a demoralized Army struggled to overcome what it perceived to be betrayal by the Nation’s political elites and by the public at large, especially the anti- war Left. Under the Reagan Administration, the Army rebuilt itself; but there lingered a suspicion among military and political leaders alike that if the going ever got tough, America’s will would fail and the Army would again be pointlessly sacrificed. This gave rise in the early 1990s to the “Powell Doctrine,” a central tenet of which is that an “exit strategy” must be defined before commitment of the military to action. The demand for exit strategies may seem to be a simple matter of prudence, but in fact it connotes a tacit lack of confidence in the willpower of the American people.

The Army’s enthusiastic embrace of technology has come about in part as a matter of experience and in part as a matter of necessity. For example, during Desert Storm we rapidly reduced the world’s (then) fourth largest army to shambles while suffering remarkably few casualties. While superior training and doctrine also played major roles in that victory, who can forget the images of “smart bombs” directed through the doors of buildings, or of our M-1 tanks decimating those of the hapless Iraqis? This demonstration of technology’s power coincided with the end of the Cold War. As the military’s size was drastically reduced to yield the “peace dividend,” reliance on technology to offset declining troop strength became an article of faith that echoed throughout the Nation’s war colleges, the graduate schools of strategy attended by those who are today leading our armed services.

So as we entered what we hoped would be a “strategic pause” before the emergence of a threat akin to that posed by the Soviet Union, the Army engaged in an effort to leverage technology to transform itself into smaller – but much more lethal and agile – force. Concurrently, there emerged a strategic concept for the employment of this transformed force: direct and devastating attack of an enemy’s strategic “center of gravity,” i.e., the source of an enemy’s ability to wage war. The result would be the abrupt collapse of enemy resistance. An exit strategy would thus be easy to define, and the problem of maintaining national commitment to a war effort obviated. It seemed as though technological advances had put us in a position to forego prolonged conflict.

Sooner than we had hoped, transformation was interrupted by the emergence of the Islamofascist threat. Still, much headway had been made, and the doctrinal underpinnings were in place. The rout of the Taliban in Afghanistan was encouraging. But the decision to depose Saddam Hussein would provide a true test of a military that had been designed to exploit technology in order to achieve victory without the need to call upon the resilience of the American people.

The success of the “shock and awe” campaign of precision attacks on key targets in Baghdad, followed up by the 3rd Infantry Division’s lightning march through Iraq, constituted a textbook example of striking an enemy’s strategic center of gravity. And it seemed to work, once Saddam’s command-and-control structure was disabled, resistance collapsed. We should have been able to go home in short order. But we hadn’t anticipated the emergence of disaffected Sunni insurgents, or of Shi’ite opportunists, or of foreign al Qaeda terrorists. Many suggest that our political and military leaders should have anticipated this outcome (hindsight is 20/20). But in today’s heated political debates, it is usually overlooked that initial support for the war in Iraq was bipartisan. Quick and decisive prosecution of the war was at least a subconscious expectation shared by most leaders on both sides of the political aisle (as well as most military officers).

How did we get it wrong? An answer to this question can be had by recalling an elemental truth about the nature of war articulated nearly 200 years ago by Carl von Clausewitz, who pointed out that “war is. . . an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will,” and again that “force is. . . the means of war; to impose our will on the enemy is its object.” War in essence is a clash of wills. And simply put, while we concentrated our attention on perfecting the means of war, we forgot the preeminent position occupied by “will.” We underestimated the difficulty of bending an adversary’s will to our own, and moreover deluded ourselves into believing that war can be fought without attending to the willpower of our people and of our Army. The incongruity between our initial success in Iraq and our difficulty in dealing with the aftermath of that success was not – in my estimation – an error in either political or military judgment, per se. Rather, it was the almost inevitable consequence of the mindset described above, which had grown and flourished within our national defense establishment since the end of the Cold War.

Today one hears in the media relentless calls for a withdrawal timeline – the close cousin of an “exit strategy” – for Iraq. Perhaps the situation on the ground is so dire that conceding defeat at the hands of the Islamists is the only option. But we ought not to be so swift to dismiss the resolve of the American people. In the weeks after the attacks of 9/11, the capacity of the public to rally to a cause was evident. Determined political leadership now and in the years ahead may be able to mobilize the national will necessary for us to prevail over our zealously determined enemies. But the effectiveness of political leadership is constrained by the character of the citizenry. Among the many factors that form our national character is our higher education system. However, in recent years many colleges and universities have come to define their mission to be that of questioning the worthiness, or very existence, of a common American culture. Sustaining national will in war demands a common frame of reference and a sense of shared pride. If we are to survive this war – and those that will inevitably follow as new challenges emerge – our institutions of higher education must cease preaching cultural relativism (or blatant anti-Americanism) and instead turn to instilling in our college students a thoughtful appreciation of our shared American values.

But maintaining the will to win in war is not only a concern for the American people as a whole. In the face of a long and bloody war against an antagonistic belief system, the members of the Army’s officer corps must have absolute confidence in the value of our culture if we are to prevail. Otherwise, sustaining personal commitment and inspiring commitment in our soldiers are inconceivable. How is sustainable willpower created? It is not a matter of training or indoctrination – commitment to a set of ideals cannot be piped into one’s mind. Rather, it requires deep engagement and introspection. The implications for the United States Military Academy are clear. A durable belief in one’s own culture presupposes an understanding of that culture. Hence, a comprehensive study of Western civilization with an emphasis on our shared American culture – complete with its blemishes as well as its triumphs – ought to be at the center of the West Point curriculum. It is essential that the Academy carefully attends to providing cadets an education that prepares them not only to employ the means of war, but more importantly to steadfastly defend our culture against its rivals. To that end, West Point’s core curriculum ought to be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure that it best fulfills this critical function.

The conundrum posed by our military’s performance in Iraq has given us the opportunity to regain an appreciation for the significance of “will” in the conduct of war. As Senator Lieberman pointed out, we now face a civilizational choice. The side with the greater reserve of willpower will in the end prevail. But the will to preserve our culture is not a static thing. It can be nurtured. It ought not to be too much to ask our civilian schools to support this effort. And we must insist that our service academies take this task seriously, as well.

COL David F. Bedey is a Professor of Physics at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.


/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.


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