CARLISLE BARRACKS, Pa. -- Officers studying at the Army War College walk the ground at nearby Gettysburg where Pickett's men walked across an open field under fire. They wonder, how did Confederate officers get men to do that? The lesson: Men can be led to places they cannot be sent.
Today's officers lead an Army that was sent into Iraq in 2003 and by 2004 the operation became, as an officer here says, "a deployment in search of a mission." Since then, missions have multiplied. Today's is to make possible an exit strategy. Gen. David Petraeus' Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says counterinsurgency's primary objective is to secure the civilian population rather than destroy the enemy. This inevitably involves the military in organizing civil society, a task that demands skill sets that are scarce throughout the government and have not hitherto been, and perhaps should not be, central to military training and doctrine. Nevertheless, the War College is coming to grips with the fact that what soldiers call "nonkinetic" -- meaning nonviolent -- facets of their profession are, in Iraq, perhaps 80 percent of their profession.
For soldiers, the tempo of change, technological as well as intellectual (and technological change is a driver of intellectual change), is accelerating. For centuries, nations assumed that they could be seriously threatened only by other nations; that terrorism was a weapon of the weak and therefore a weak weapon; that wars are won by large decisive battles.
America's Weinberger-Powell doctrine of the 1980s seemed vindicated in 1991 in Operation Desert Storm: Force should be used as a last resort, overwhelmingly and on behalf of clearly defined objectives. That doctrine was jettisoned in 2003, when forces less than one-third the size of those deployed in 1991 for the modest objective of liberating Kuwait were sent into Iraq to implement grandiose nation-building and democracy-implanting objectives.
Today, those who believe that Operation Iraqi Freedom was well-named and wise also believe that Petraeus' surge is succeeding and that criticism of Iraq's dysfunctional government is primarily a ploy by war critics to distract attention from that success. Petraeus, however, says his mission is to buy time for political reconciliation to occur. The recent National Intelligence Estimate said that although the surge is producing real if uneven security improvements, progress toward political reconciliation has been negligible and might be perishable. Hence the surge is a tactical success disconnected from the strategic objective it is supposed to serve.