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Lessons Relearned


After reviewing the concerted efforts of the U.S. military to prevent a recurrence of Vietnam and the smaller military failures of the 1980s, I am reluctant to suggest that there are now ways of putting systems or other reforms in place to prevent another Iraq. In fact, the United States is more likely to suffer from an "Iraq Syndrome," an overreluctance to use force again, than it is to have another President who wants to start a disastrous war. Nonetheless, war colleges, think tanks, and Lessons Learned centers in the military will be poring over the details the operations in Iraq for years. They will try to find what went wrong by examining the many After Action Reports and oral histories will be produced. They will make proposals and suggestions for change, as their predecessors did after Vietnam.

I would urge them, in addition to looking at the tactical issues and purely military concerns, to begin as I have in these two chapters look at the effects of the earlier post-Vietnam War changes. Some of them need to be abandoned or heavily modified. Specifically, the corps needs to design, in conjunction with civilians and retired officers, a post-Iraq War strategy that I believe must include the following seven changes in its approach to military, political-military, and political issues.

1. Reliance on the National Guard: The idea of the active-duty force relying on the reserves, especially the National Guard, to conduct major operations should be dropped. The Abrams restructuring did not prevent presidents from going to war or waging unpopular wars; it only disrupted families and sent units overseas that were needed at home. The National Guard is required in the U.S. territory to deal with natural and terrorist disasters, pandemic diseases, and other domestic concerns. In February 2008 the congressionally chartered Commission on the National Guard and Reserves found that the Guard had "an appalling gap" of ability to deal with catastrophic situations such as nuclear, chemical, or biological attack "that places the nation and its citizens at greater risk." Retired Marine General Arnold Punaro said, "We don't have the forces we need, we don't have them trained, and we don't have the equipment."73 The Guard's force structure should be adjusted to deal better with those problems, including the establishment of field hospitals, military police, and communications units.

The active-duty force should also be structured differently, without political considerations. We should not have to take a state trooper off the roads in America to put an MP on the streets of another country when a U.S. intervention is required. The Army should be able to operate a large force in combat without significant National Guard activations. That may mean adding military police, civil affairs, and other units to the active force. Having such units in the active force would also mean that there could be better peacetime planning and training for their utilization.

2. Special operations: The President, as commander in chief, needs to state explicitly whether he/she wants significant commando capabilities (black SOF) and, if so, direct the leaders of the U.S. military to strengthen them and employ them. If the President concludes that the traditional Big Army view is correct, that the Army should not conduct such missions, the Special Operations Command and black SOF should be eliminated and the funds for these units be reduced. The white SOF capabilities should be assigned to the regional commanders. Because the United States would still need a commando capability, the President would also need to direct the CIA to significantly enhance its paramilitary mission. I would prefer to see such missions carried out by the Army because I believe it could do them far better than any other organization, including the CIA. But even a CIA paramilitary capability is better than none and the current situation, in which the Pentagon will never use the black SOF units, is like having none. One way or another, the President needs to make an explicit decision and the NSC staff needs to enforce it. The President should not have to address this issue for the first rime when the Army and Pentagon refuse to let a small commando unit stage a stealthy raid to capture a terrorist leader.

3. Counterinsurgency: Related to the Special Operations decision is the need for a policy on how far we are willing to go in having the two related capabilities to fight counterinsurgencies and to engage in the security aspects of nation building (including peacekeeping).

On counterinsurgency, President Kennedy seems to have thought that we should have a large, robust counterinsurgency program to help friendly nations threatened by insurgents but should not supplement such operations with the introduction of U.S. conventional ground forces, such as infantry brigades. After the Vietnam War of Presidents Johnson and Nixon, the Army tried to have nothing to do with counterinsurgency and then reluctantly developed a policy that we would help friendly nations with "foreign internal defense." The Army policy, however, made it clear that U.S. conventional ground forces should not be used in such missions because their presence would be counterproductive to the goal of strengthening the friendly government. The history of counterinsurgency suggests that the Army policy is usually the right choice, but that policy requires three things: (1) explicitly informing the President of that policy and obtaining approval for it, (2) conducting large-scale training and assistance capability in Special Forces and elsewhere in the Army, and (3) developing and integrating CIA and State Department capabilities to train and assist friendly nations that are combatting insurgencies. Someone, ideally on the White House National Security Council staff, should have the clear responsibility of ensuring that the DOD, CIA, and State Department counterinsurgency capabilities are adequate and coordinated.

Because there will continue to be regional wars and failed states creating instability that threatens our interests. a similar decision needs to be made explicitly on the related issue of nation building and peacekeeping. What capabilities do we want to have, and what parts of the U.S. government should provide them? What are we willing to do as part of a U.N. operation, and what conditions need to be satisfied before we participate (e.g., that U.S. and other U.N. forces will proactively use force in self-defense and disarm those who seek to subvert the peacekeeping mission)? What do we want the United Nations to be able to do, with or without U.S. units involved? What capabilities do we want other organizations, such as NATO and the African Union, to have for peacekeeping and more robust stability operations in support of nation building? Rather than pretending that we will never undertake such missions or that international organizations are capable of doing so without us, I would suggest that the U.S. military have an active program to train, assist, and, if directed, participate in or even lead peacekeeping and stability operations. This program, in close coordination with the State Department, would have detailed joint civilian-military contingency plans, training, and doctrine, a joint civilian-military headquarters unit, and on-call forces. It would also actively support the growth of similar capabilities at the United Nations and in regional organizations. Again, the NSC staff should perform oversight to ensure that both the military and the State Department provide the required contributions and work well together, as outlined in Clinton directive PDD-56.

To ensure that the inadequacy of civilian agencies in this area is highlighted and addressed, in addition to NSC oversight, there ought to be an annual report by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the Secretary of State, describing both (1) what the military needs from State (and other civilian agencies) to conduct counterinsurgencies, peacekeeping, and aid to failed states and (2) any perceived shortfalls in those capabilities. The secretary should be required to respond with what, if anything, will be done to address those shortfalls, and by when.

4. The Powell Doctrine: It must disturb Colin Powell that the doctrine that bears his name has had such limited success in restraining presidents from using force, sometimes with unfortunate results. The motivation behind the doctrine was sensible enough after Vietnam, and Iraq has proved its value even further. So what went wrong, and can the doctrine be resurrected and adapted for the future? The first thing that went wrong was that the doctrine was so broadly drawn as to cover (and recommend against) every use of the U.S. military, no matter how small or safe. Presidents therefore ignored it, and the doctrine was discredited and fell into disuse. The second problem was, obviously, that it was not used by anyone in judging the Iraq War decision. Nothing required its use: no law, no executive order, no DoD directive.

The Powell Doctrine (or the Weinberger Doctrine if you prefer the original version) should be modified to address only those uses of the U.S. military that might involve both large-scale and long-term combat operations. For such operations, the President should be required by law to submit a report to the Congress analyzing the proposed operation in light of the Powell (or Weinberger) criteria.

Congress should be required to empanel a bipartisan/nonpartisan expert review group to do a similar analysis in parallel. In conjunction with that report and review, the intelligence community should also report to the President and Congress on the basis for the war and the possible outcomes. A bipartisan/nonpartisan expert review of that report should then be conducted for Congress. If that had been done in the case of Iraq, some of the dangers of intervening might have emerged. Although the President might not have been stopped, some of the shortcomings in the plan (or lack thereof) and some of the pitfalls might have been highlighted and avoided. There is the risk that this law would make it more difficult for the United States to launch a major war, but that risk is preferable to beginning an ill-thought-out war with not even a credible plan for an endgame. A major war almost always unleashes unexpected consequences, horror, and widespread personal suffering. It should be a last alternative. It should be difficult to start one.

5. Independent military advice: Thinking of remedies in the wake of the Iraq War, I am tempted to suggest that the leaders of the U.S. military should be able to provide the president and Congress with independent military advice, but we made that change with the Goldwater-Nichols legislation after Vietnam. Ir did no work because the two military leaders at the initiation of the Iraq War, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commander of CENTCOM, the regional command, were compliant officers without strategic vision. Moreover, even if they had given the President solid military advice, there is little reason to believe that he would have been swayed by it. Congress, however. might have been. Even if the generals had given their testimony in closed (secret) session of the Senate Armed Services Committee, their doubts would have had an effect. Congress might have passed resolutions setting prerequisites for the war. The war might have been avoided or, if it went ahead anyway, it might have been performed with a larger, better equipped force. There might have been a plan for postcombat security.

While it is likely that Bush administration officials picked General Myers as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs precisely because he was viewed as someone likely to be compliant, even if they had sought a thoughtful leader, there might have been difficulties in selecting one under the current law and practices. The law restricts the pool of applicants to the heads of the four military services and the major joint commands. Although that creates a pool of fourteen officers, it has often been the case that few of them had the experience and background necessary to lead the U.S. military. Often those who did have the qualifications failed to pass the new personal ethics standards that implicitly became criteria during the 1990s. Those unwritten standards meant that the only officers considered were the few who were thought to have been completely faithful to their spouse.

The same law that specifies which officers can be considered as candidates for the Chairman's position also allows the President to waive the requirements and appoint any officer. That could mean calling back to active duty a retired general (as President Kennedy did when he appointed Maxwell Taylor as Chairman and President Bush did when he appointed Peter Schoomaker to head the Army). To enhance the pool from which a Chairman can be chosen, the law ought to be changed to remove the criteria and the possibility of a presidential waiver. At the same time, the law could be changed to extend the tenure from two years to four. (Peter Pace was not reappointed in 2007 and served only two as Chairman, the first with such a short tenure.) Knowing that one has to be renominated by the President almost as soon as one enters the job must be a deterrent to providing truly independent military advice. Future presidents should also tell those sifting for nominees as chairman that they will consider a general or admiral even if the candidate nominee has had a messy divorce or an extramarital affair. Few of our greatest Commanders in Chief would have passed the new personal ethics standards.

Congress should then hold semiannual, closed-door hearings with the Chairman to obtain his independent military advice. Rarely will JCS chairmen use this opportunity to highlight a difference within the Pentagon any more than a civilian agency head would, but on matters of great principle they will. This process may drive future secretaries of defense mad, bur if we truly value independent military advice we ought to have a way of getting it. Secretaries of defense should have to justify their policy differences with the military. If the civilian leaders are right in their disputes with senior military officers, as often they will be, their arguments ought to carry the day.

The above is an excerpt from the book Your Government Failed You
by Richard A. Clarke
Published by HarperCollins Publishers; May 2008;$25.95US/$27.95CAN; 978-0-06-147462-0
Copyright © 2008 Richard A. Clarke

Author Bio
Richard A. Clarke served the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence community, and the National Security Council for thirty years. His eleven years of consecutive White House service on national security, for three presidents, is unprecedented. In the Reagan administration he was a deputy assistant secretary for Intelligence. In the Bush (41) administration he was confirmed by the Senate as an assistant secretary of state. In the Clinton and Bush (43) administrations he served as national coordinator for security and counter-terrorism. Since leaving government, Richard Clarke has taught at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, authored several books (including the number one best-seller Against All Enemies), been an on-air analyst for ABC News, written columns for the New York Times and other papers, and formed the security-risk management firm Good Harbor Consulting.

For information on the documentary inspired by this book, please visit www.richardaclarke.net.