When the Pentagon talks about the “transformation” of the military
services, the implication is that transforming means becoming faster, lighter,
more precise and efficient. But given what is going on in the world today, transformation
should rather focus on better preparing and training U.S. forces for peacekeeping
and nation-building duties, said retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, a
State Department special envoy and former head of U.S. Central Command.
Ongoing events in Iraq and Afghanistan—where U.S. forces are engaged
in urban guerilla warfare, while also saddled with police and humanitarian duties—only
confirm that the political leadership is asking the wrong questions about U.S.
military power and its future direction, Zinni said in a speech during a conference
of the U.S. Naval Institute.
“We are wringing our hands about how many troops we have. How many divisions
we have. What kind of rotations we are going to have to go through.” Those
issues are important, but they fail to address the underlying problem: No longer
does the military just do the “killing and breaking,” Zinni said.
“It has to be engaged day in and day out, building alliances and coalitions,
training others, supporting stability.”
The services, however, do not have the resources or the training to adequately
perform nation-building duties. That has to change, because, whether anyone
likes it or not, the military is “stuck with this baby,” said Zinni.
“If you are going to make the military the governors, the proconsuls,
the humanitarians, the reconstructors, then legitimize it in some way. ... We
can’t go on breaking our military and doing things like we are doing now.”
The Bush administration “came in with an idea of transforming the military
into something, God knows what, lighter, smaller, quicker, whatever,”
Zinni said. That focus is misguided, because the U.S. military unquestionably
is the world’s best combat force. Instead, the Defense Department should
figure out how to better train “our officers and leaders for a different
kind of mission out there.
“I don’t need someone who is only good at the killing and breaking.
I need someone who has the breadth and educational experience and intellect
to take on all the rest of these missions that he or she will be saddled with
when the shooting stops. They are the ones who are going to count on the ground,
more than anything else.”
Transformation generally has referred to “finding better, remarkable
ways to bring technology into our training and education, make our military
more efficient and more powerful on the battlefield,” Zinni said. “But
that is not the problem, and it hasn’t been.”
The question that has to be asked is how can the military become better equipped
to deal with the political, the economic and the information management areas,
“if the others, those wearing suits, can’t come in and solve the
problem, can’t get the resources, the expertise, the organization.”
Military troops in Iraq are in an impossible situation, he argued. With one
hand, they have to shoot people. With the other hand, they have to “feed
someone, build an economy, repair the infrastructure, build the political system.”
One notion worth considering for the future is to upgrade civil affairs units,
so they can evolve from just a “tactical organization doing humanitarian
care and interaction with the civilian population, into actually being capable
of reconstructing nations,” said Zinni.
“This is scary stuff,” he cautioned. But “in my mind, that
is the most important question we face.”
In the years and decades ahead, he predicted, “we are going to continue
to deal with this. We are going to be fighting fairly capable states that are
sanctuaries for problems. We are going to try to rebuild nations. It’s
going to threaten our people and our property.
“And it’s all going to be mixed into one big battle. It’s
going to be hard to define. It’s not going to be clear cut.”
These are “culture wars we are in,” Zinni said. “We are great
at dealing with the tactical, killing and breaking. We are lousy at solving
the strategic problems, understanding about regional and global security and
what it takes to wield that machinery and move it forward.”
Zinni specifically chastised the Bush administration for a lack of a “strategic
plan” for how to deal with the reconstruction of Iraq after U.S. and British
forces ousted the Saddam Hussein regime in April.
“It kills me when I hear of the continuing casualties and the sacrifice
being made,” Zinni said. “It kills me when I hear someone say that
those casualties, in the overall scheme of things, are statistically insignificant.
... Never should we let any political leader utter those words.” When
forces are put into harm’s way, “it’d better count for something.
... They should never be put on the battlefield without a strategic plan. Not
only for the fighting, but for the aftermath.”
The commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, meanwhile, acknowledged
that changes may be needed in military doctrine to adapt to the nation-building
demands of today’s conflicts.
Asked during a Pentagon news conference about the Marine Corps role in Iraq
in the foreseeable future, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway said, “I think that
we need to make sure we send in the right kinds of troops. And among those would
be greater numbers of [military police] MPs, a greater representation by civil
affairs, psychological operations, information operations types of folks.”
This phase of the Iraq conflict, “what we call Phase 4-type environment,
is a much better place to use those types of forces, perhaps, than your grunt,
who will do as he’s told and do a great job at it, but doesn’t have
the necessary background or training to be that expert.”
Yet, Marines normally don’t do nation building, Conway said. “The
last time was in Vietnam, almost 35 years ago. We have no consolidated doctrine
Nevertheless, “I think we all recognize that the Army is being fairly
well stretched now ... so it would not be an inordinate request” to have
Marines in nation-building roles.
The Marine Corps guidance for those “Phase 4” operations comes
from two documents, Conway explained. One is a “small wars manual”
that goes back to the Marine Corps intervention in Nicaragua in the ‘20s
“You’d be interested in how many of the lessons are still applicable,
really. And that document has maintained its application over the decades,”
The other is a concept that was developed by former commandant Gen. Charles
Krulak, who introduced the notion of a “three-block war.” In the
first block, Marines are feeding hungry people; in the second block, they are
keeping warring tribes apart, and in the third block, they are engaged in full-scale
“That captures what we’ve seen there [in Iraq] from time to time,
quite frankly. It’s pretty close,” Conway said.
In the wake of this experience, the Marine Corps should “provide much
more detailed how-to to those young commanders,” he said. It will be the
responsibility of the First MEF to be the advocate for that.
Army officials, for their part, have recognized that, even though nation building
is not what the service is about, soldiers have done remarkable work in recent
peacekeeping operations, despite having received little guidance from the civilian
“Peace enforcement is challenging business,” said Army Gen. John
Keane, vice chief of staff. “We’ve been enforcing the peace in the
Sinai since ‘82, and we’ve been in Bosnia for eight years now,”
he told reporters. Afghanistan and Iraq, however, are “even more dramatic
in my own mind, because you fundamentally have changed the entire regime, and
you are attempting to deal with a new form of government.”
The primary military mission there, he said, is to provide a secure stable
environment, so that the country can return to some kind of normalcy. As far
as nation building goes, soldiers have taken the initiative to do things they
were not necessarily trained to do. “Without any guidance whatsoever,
our division commanders restarted the entire school system,” said Keane.
“They cleaned out the schools, they found the teachers, brought them back,
and then they brought the students back. That is pretty remarkable. ... They
also started these local governments at the city and provincial level, established
criteria that just used common sense on what the criteria should be for elected
officials. No one gave them a blue print for that.
“But the military is useful in getting a country jump started, so it
is moving to some kind of self rule. But for the long-term health of the nation,
we really have to bring in others to help the military do this.”