Here's a gun. Now go build a school.
The November/December issue of the Military Review featured an article by British Army Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster. The title seemed innocuoU.S. enough, but "Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operation," has incited some ugly press response. Google the Brigadier's name, and you'll read how Aylwin-Foster "lambasted," or "attacked," the U.S. Army. The Guardian boiled down his essay to the headline, "U.S. Army in Iraq institutionally racist, claims British officer."
Certainly, this is one of the most sensational of the items in the article. Yet, lambasting the U.S. Army was totally counter to Aylwin-Foster's intentions. "Ultimately," he writes, "the intent is to be helpful to an institution I greatly respect." The simple fact that the Military Review agreed to published the work should make it fairly evident that the purpose of the analysis was to focus on how the U.S. Army can better achieve its goals in Iraq -- something Aylwin-Foster has quite a vested interest in given that he served in Iraq throughout 2004.
It would be a travesty for his observations to be packaged as "U.S. Army bashing." It is a well thought out and careful analysis in which Aylwin-Foster points to a structural weakness of the U.S. Army that should have been intuitively obvious since the end of the Cold War era: While the U.S. Army maintains its focus on combat and destruction of the enemy, the kind of "wars" we have found ourselves require a larger measure of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance.
Where the U.S. Army falters, according to Aylwin-Foster, is OOTW (Operations Other Than War). It's a disturbingly broad acronym used by the U.S. defense community that lumps together any activity that does not involve traditional concepts of offensive combat. It's also further revealing to note that reconstruction and the civic-centered "winning hearts and minds" campaign are deemed "IR" (Irregular Warfare) -- yet soldiers on the ground can attest to how "regular" this kind of campaign has become. This simplistic linguistic grouping is symptomatic of a monumental flaw in the infrastructure of military training. Aylwin-Foster notes that initially, only 6% of U.S. military operations in Iraq were focused on securing the environment for the local population.
We're sending U.S. soldiers into Iraq with grenades and then expecting them to build hospitals and serve as de facto civic leaders. Back in December, I attended a panel of U.S. soldiers back from Iraq. One of the common themes discussed was how unprepared they felt when they arrived in Iraq. While trained in combat, they were woefully unprepared for trying to build a democracy from the ground up -- one related an anecdote about trying to figure out how to start a free press.