A Culture of Punitive Raiding

[cross-posted at zenpundit.com]

Robert Haddick agrees with me, albeit with greater eloquence and length ( hat tip to Colonel Dave).

From SWJ Blog:

This Week at War: Rumsfeld’s Revenge

….Rumsfeld’s and Schoomaker’s redesign of the Army into a lighter, more mobile, and more expeditionary force seems permanent. Gone is the Cold War and Desert Storm concept of the long buildup of armor as prelude to a massive decisive battle. Instead, globally mobile brigade combat teams will provide deterrence, respond to crises, and sustain expeditionary campaigns. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the current Army chief of staff (and soon to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) recently described a sustainable brigade rotation system, an expeditionary adaptation that the Navy and Marine Corps have employed for decades. In addition, both the Army and Marine Corps have drawn up plans to shrink their headcounts back near the Rumsfeld-era levels. Rumsfeld’s concerns about personnel costs sapping modernization are now coming to pass.

There now seems to be a near-consensus inside Washington that the large open-ended ground campaigns that Rumsfeld resisted are no longer sustainable. The former defense secretary’s preference for special operations forces, air power, networked intelligence, and indigenous allies is now back in vogue. Even Gen. David Petraeus, who burnished his reputation by reversing Rumsfeld’s policies in Iraq, will now implement Rumsfeld’s doctrine in eastern Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the U.S. will counter the deteriorating situation there not by shifting in conventional ground troops for pacification, but with “more special forces, intelligence, surveillance, air power … [and] substantially more Afghan boots on the ground.”

While we agree that this is “Rumsfeld’s revenge”, unlike Haddick, I would not choose “doctrine” to describe it. This is really about a “Community of Operators” across services , agencies and their White House superiors adopting a culture of punitive raiding for at least the medium term. A doctrine might come along later but there are downsides to institutionalizing punitive raiding that have already been very well expressed by others (see comments section at SWJ). I’d prefer punitive raiding remain a flexible tool rather than a reflexive response ( it might help if we created a “Community of Thinkers” before we get too comfortable as an international flying squad).

At this point, I will stop and recommend a fine piece by Adam Elkus on the subject of punitive raiding, From Roman Legions to Navy SEALs: Military Raiding and its Discontents. A good primer on the history, implications and drawbacks.

Why is this happening? Economics and the subsequent electoral politics of a finance-sector driven global depression. The same thing that brought COIN to an end and then finally killed it as an operationally oriented policy.

Punitive raiding is relatively cheaper. It permits defense cuts in the size of the Army and Marine Corps that are badly desired by the administration and Congress. It preserves and justifies investments in naval and air striking power that will bring joy to the Lexington Institute and satisfy many MoC concerned about defense jobs for constituents. On a point of genuine importance, this also hedges against near peer competitors (ahem…cough…China).

Is it a done deal? Unless the economy roars back, yes.

13 thoughts on “A Culture of Punitive Raiding”

  1. The devolution of an army into specialized, heavily-armed, highly-mobile SWAT teams who are supposed to ‘arrest’ enemy soldiers and leaders. I prefer my armies made from the levee en masse representing an entire people at war who demand unconditional surrender and will stop only when the enemy is annihilated, but that’s just me.

  2. The levee en masse was the model from 1789 to 1945. Then the nuclear revolution made large scale interstate warfare less and less viable. We are not back to a model that well suits an Anglospheric power. Nukes have created a Neo-Victorian world of great power stability and peripheral constabulary work. We will maintain our homeland and protect the global commons and work through local proxies and low-manpower strategies to police the periphery. The interior of Eurasia is no place for English speaking soldiers, the arithmetic of the frontier will always sum out badly. Let the locals who have to be there pay the blood price of dealing with those places. This current situation plays to our strengths. This is all terrific news. The clattering green juggernaut that rolled across the Rhine in 1944 is something we should always be proud of. But it will never come back, and that is good news. Now, about that Mexican border, the only real security threat to our quasi-island-status … . Get that secured and we are good to go.

  3. Well said Lex.
    Hi ErisGuy

    I join you in being thoroughly opposed to importing law enforcement models into military equations. It’s nonsense.

    That said, punitive raiding can be kill rather than capture. It can also, in certain narrow circumstances, involve legal reprisals against hostile populations whose fighters are not following the laws of war.


    The US has officially refrained from exercisng this option since, I think, after the Marine barracks were blown up in Beirut. We replied with battleship 16 inch guns on towns with Hezbollah and IRGC camps in the Bekaa valley. There may be other examples of which I am not aware, but that was a significant one and Hezbollah has generally eschewed mass casualty attacks against US targets since

  4. On reflection we handled the whole response to 9/11 incorrectly. We should have simply nuked Mecca and Medina on the 12th.

  5. Hi Robert

    Well, aside from the consequences of using nuclear weapons against Mecca and Medina, counterintuitively this would not deter the particular group of crazies we would hope to be deterring.

    In that far-out Takfiri-Wahabbist-Qtubist radical fringe the jihadis come from, there’s an ideological point where they believe the Grand Mosque, the Prophet’s House and other historic religious sites are in actually, a corrupt legacy of pre-Islamic pagan idolatry. That’s why the terrorist followers of the lunatic “Mahdi” who seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 brought explosives to blow it up. It is a legacy of the old 1920’s Saudi Ikhwan, the bedouin Islamist tribal zealots who brought the Saudis to power before turning against them.

  6. I find that many predictions of the future are actually clear (and therefore surprising) statements of the present.

    If armies become an admixture of armed barbarian raiders and police officers, then the political counterpart will be a college of kings (er, the UN) which ‘authorizes’ (or at least fails to oppose) the kings’ wills. A world of armed raiders representing the wills of vast bureaucracies headed by ‘Presidents’ and ‘Premiers’ and ‘Prime Ministers’ (and ‘General Secretaries,’ but that word doesn’t being with a ‘p’ and so spoils by alliteration) is not a democratic world.

    The MAD conclusions and doctrines of the 1950s and 1960s are nearly at their end. Military imagination may find away to apply mass power regardless of the threat of nuclear weapons.

    The last time states had small armies that were not suitable for conquering and occupying their neighbors (e.g., 15th century, give or take), did not stop the kings from trying. That era’s paradigmatic war of raids (though that was not the intent) was 100 Years’ War, which laid waste to much of northern France. That era was succeeded by 30 Years’ War: total war.

    The era of small army of raids which might be able to conquer a small county (but couldn’t in Vietnam) and can invade and destroy critical targets in pathetic ‘countries’ (the OBL raid) is about to come to an end as the powerful kings (er, large states) grow weary of small, indecisive wars.

    Do not look at what is (a Spartan army) then conclude that is all there can be. The next leader will the Alexander, not Bismarck, and whole peoples will be annihilated.

    It may be India, not America, that decides it has had enough of Islam.

    I hope weren’t not the Persians, about to overthrown by a small band of dedicated totalitarians, but the love of the American people for the ‘socialism’ of President Zero suggests otherwise.

    And remember, I’m as good as Rumsfeld and Bernanke in predicting the future, according to Fouche–just call me citizen ‘JXS’. :)

  7. “Well, aside from the consequences of using nuclear weapons against Mecca and Medina, counterintuitively this would not deter the particular group of crazies we would hope to be deterring.”

    Like the 2×4 over the mule’s head, It would have gotten their attention.

    Besides, I no longer buy the bunch of crazies theory of GWoT. I now believe more strongly than ever, that the “terrorists” were irregular soldiers used by state level actors to pursue their goals. The soldiers were indeed bat$#;+ insane, but they were mere instruments — lemons made into lemonade.

    Blowing up M&M, would have sent the very strong message that attacks on the US homeland would not be tolerated.

  8. During the height of the Roman Empire, military strategy was to maintain a status quo. Defenses on the border were maintained but diplomacy and intelligence gathering was active across the border.

    The static defenses along the borders were not able to withstand a major force attack but were able to serve as a trip wire to mobilize the legions stationed in-depth.

    Since for centuries no major overwhelming attacking force materialized, raids by an enemy of Rome were returned by punitive raids back into the barbarian’s countryside.

    Perhaps current US thinking is along the same lines. Maintain a status quo but be able to conduct punishing raids back at any aggressor.

    That would assume that China will remain an island kingdom interested in defensible borders too. Should the day come when an aggressor arises that could upset the status quo, we’ll have to return to major nationalistic armies.

    Of course, the Roman Empire fell when its citizens no longer valued Roman citizenship enough to fight for the Empire.

  9. “Then the nuclear revolution made large scale interstate warfare less and less viable.”

    So says theory. Proof? Test? As a scientist I can’t believe a theory is even a theory without experiment.

    I vote for India and Pakistan to war. Both have nukes. Let’s see if India can over-run and occupy Pakistan. Then we’ll know. Others might prefer N&S Korea. The armies along the ‘zone are the nuclear targets theory requires. Can South Korea over-run North Korea despite a radioactive border and ruined cities? Still others might prefer the Arab-Israeli wars. Or Mexico-USA.

    ” counterintuitively this would not deter the particular group of crazies we would hope to be deterring.”

    We need to factor time into this equation. Once the initial gang of crazies dies, will the destruction of Mecca and of the Black Stone weigh heavily on the belief in Allah? Religions have disappeared when their gods failed to act. Let’s give it try. Perhaps Islam has the strength of other religions; perhaps it will fade once its holy places are uninhabitable.

  10. History is not subject to scientific proof. It demonstrates patterns. And there are exceptions. People are not carbon atoms. If I, or anyone, could predict human affairs that way I would not be blogging, I’d be a billionaire.

    The collapse in the size of armies, the diminishing occurrence of large-scale conventional warfare, the diminshing of open conflict and threats of conflict between large states, all support this thesis. Even India and Pakistan, two countries which are the best candidates for actual use of nuclear weapons against each other, which fought several large, conventional wars, have moved their conflict to the purely symbolic conflict in Kargil, or to acts of terrorism by Pakistan.

    That’s not theory. It’s evidence.

    Maybe someone with nukes will come along who is crazy enough to use them and suffer the consequences. We will find out the hard way when it happens. So far, the USA has extremely high retaliatory capacity and no one has challenged it.

    As to anyone overrunning anyone, once you have nukes, no one overruns you. That is the point of having nukes.

    As to “nuking Mecca” no one with nukes would consider doing it. Forget it.

    “Let’s give it try.”

    You really want to kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people, and make another billion hate you with a deadly hatred?

    Never happen.


  11. “As to “nuking Mecca” no one with nukes would consider doing it. … You really want to kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people, and make another billion hate you with a deadly hatred?”

    First. they already hate us, it is existential, I can live with that.

    What I really want is for them to fear us. We also need to establish that the homeland is inviolable. 3,000 Americans were killed, if the counter attack killed a 1,000 for each one, the ratio would have been about right.

    The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor cost them hundreds of thousands of lives and lead to the material destruction of their country. They don’t sit around dreaming of revenge. Some things are not worth thinking about.

    Would the wussies who run the country these days think about doing it. I doubt it. It simply shows the level of our degradation.

  12. The billion+ Muslims are not a “them” that is responsible for 9/11.

    They don’t deserve to have their holy places destroyed because of the insane behavior of Osama and his followers.

    It is not “degraded” to not consider commiting a gigantic atrocity against masses of people who are not responsible for the action you want to avenge. It is moral rationality.

  13. And 3000 Americans did not deserve to get killed because they showed up early for work one fine morning.

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