A Desire for Context from the Knowledgeable

So, we’re having coffee after lunch and tune in C-span. The speaker , General Michael Rose, is at Columbia’s Saltzman’s Institute of War and Peace Studies making the argument of his new book, Washington’s War: The American War of Independence to the Iraqi Insurgency. I thought the analogy had some rather major weaknesses and found his position a bit irritating. Still, it is somewhat bracing to hear a British military man discuss our earlier conflicts. His very British point of view defines his values and positioning; they of course differ somewhat from a Midwesterner’s vision. He admires Petraeus, although the book was clearly written and argument solidified before the Petraeus strategy had developed. He remains sure, however, that we are losing, that the government there is accomplishing nothing, and that we should declare it a lost war, leave, and move on. His analogy encourages later, perhaps more cheerful, parallels as well – in the aftermath for Iraq (America’s Constitution) and for America (Britain’s great Victorian age). He repeatedly argues decisions should not be made in terms of the worst scenario – though we should have foreseen the worst scenarios when entering Iraq. Considering a blood bath might follow an early retreat is not reasonable, since bad seldom (not as much as 1 out of 10 he says) follows such conflicts.

He is a fifth generation military man. C-Span gives some biographical context: “Gen. Michael Rose (ret.) commanded the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment from 1979 to 1982. He was later commander of the UN forces in Bosnia (1994-1995). ” He strongly defends in the C-span interview as well as in his interview with Charlie Rose, the UN’s actions in Bosnia and criticizes NATO. The force in both interviews of this discussion indicates it contains points he wants to make. (I thought of Hanson’s argument that Lew Wallace did book tours for Ben Hur as much to defend his Civil War record as to sell books.) Also, he believes Tony Blair should have been impeached.

So, I turn to Chicagoboyz and ask for information, intelligence and a sense of proportion. (I did do a search of him on our site, but may have entered the search poorly. If, as seems to be happening lately, my mind is wandering and someone has talked of him, please let me know.)

10 thoughts on “A Desire for Context from the Knowledgeable”

  1. I have haerd General Rose’s name many times but I do not have any special insight or informaton rregarding his military worldview other than the British Army approach has always been far more economical in terms of use of force than has the U.S. Army. I’d be curious to hear what Gen. Rupert Smith thinks of his colleague’s assesssment of Iraq.

    Regarding the not considering worst case scenarios – at best that’s a reflection of traditional British ruthlessness in cutting loose and letting the chips fall for locals as they may and at worst it’s simply a recipe for inviting catastrophe (another British Army tradition – the flip side of their historical adaptive problem solving by junior officers has been poor planning and operational blindness by senior commanders). Worst case scenarios need to be envisioned, not only to be prepared for logistically but psychologically as well.

  2. “…traditional British ruthlessness in cutting loose and letting the chips fall for locals as they may …”

    Right. Pulling out of some tropical pest-hole when the going gets tough is a British specialty, even if they have been there 100+ years. Iraq is a clear cut-your-losses scenario, from their perspective.

  3. Ginny,

    It sounds like this guy is blotivating for money, nor does he really know American history that well to make the comparison.

    The best single source I have found for the unconventional warfare in the American Revolution was this book:

    Washington’s Partisan War, 1775-1783 By Mark Vincent Kwasny

    Amazon link:


    Google Books Preview link:


    The American militia served several roles in the American Revolution. The first role was internal security. They suppressed Tory sympathizers and risings of Tory militia or Indians in support of British Armies. The American militia consistently defeated Tory militias whenever the British field armies were not in close support and they were able to outnumber and overwhelm smaller British Army and German mercenary units foraging or trying to resupply while deep in American territory.

    For example see the battles of Bennington (http://www.americanrevolution.com/BattleofBennington.htm), Kng’s Mountain http://www.americanrevolution.com/BattleofKing'sMountain.htm and Vincennes http://www.americanrevolution.com/BattleofVincennes.htm

    The militia’s second role was as spies of British military movements working as field scouts or coast watchers.

    The third role was direct support of Washington’s field army. They did that as loose order infantry in support of the close order volley firing Continental line or behind hasty fortifications.

    They were not very effective supporting the Continental line, unless they were very well handled like at Cowpens or Saratoga, or the British were over confident and frontally attacked them behind field fortifications like at Bunker/Breeds Hill.

    See http://www.americanrevolution.com/BattleofBunkerHill.htm http://www.americanrevolution.com/BreedsHill.htm http://www.americanrevolution.com/BattleofSaratoga.htm

    The last role, as partisans between field armies, was where the American Revolutionary militia shined. This is what Kwasny has to say about that:

    “On the other hand, the militia served the army well in other capacities. Whenever British forces maneuvered outside their defensive works, militiamen would rally in small detachments and hover around the British. They would harass and skirmish, hit and run, and then pull back and find another position from which they could snipe at the enemy. They obstructed British moves, and they joined continental Army detachments to create a swirl of activities around the armies. These regular armies did not campaign through empty countryside, but instead moved through an area swarming with small parties of militia and even Continentals. The British were never able to march from one point to another in the middle states without fighting every mile of the way. In this kind of partisan warfare, the militiamen’s constant fluctuation in numbers was not as critical, and their lack of discipline did not matter as much. They proved to be effective partisans in this kind of war, and Washington preferred to use them in this fashion whenever armies took to the field.”

    When the British columns were too small in territory where the American Militia was very strong, like outside Boston, the results were like those seen in the British retreat to Boston from their raid on Concord (see: http://www.americanrevolution.com/BattleofLexingtonandConcord.htm).

    The leading killers of British troops in North America were 1) Disease, 2) The American Militia, and 3) Wounds from major battles with the American Continental line, in that order.

    At no point during the Iraqi occupation campaign was there anything like the American Continental Line that could beat American ground forces in stand up engagements. This meant there were absolutely no safe “base areas” for the Iraqi insurgents that American ground forces could not take and destroy.

    In addition, after starting by scratch in 2004, the American Army built Iraqi security forces capable of defeating insurgents while outnumbered beginning in late 2007.

    Neither were never true for the British in the American Revolution.

  4. Grrr…

    That last line should have read:

    Neither were _ever_ true for the British in the American Revolution.

  5. >“Gen. Michael Rose (ret.) commanded the 22nd Special Air
    >Service Regiment from 1979 to 1982. He was later commander of
    >the UN forces in Bosnia (1994-1995). ” He strongly defends in
    >the C-span interview as well as in his interview with Charlie
    >Rose, the UN’s actions in Bosnia and criticizes NATO.

    Oh ho!

    This was the guy in charge of UN forces in Bosnia when the Srebrenica Massacre happened.




    He is the UN commander who left 400 ill-arned Dutch conscripts out on a limb when the Serbs destroyed the Bosnian Muslim Srebrenica enclave.

    He knew for weeks it was coming because the Serbs were not allowing Dutch troops going on leave to return to Srebrenica (200 of the original 600 Dutch) nor allow supply convoys of UN relief supplies enter the enclave.

    As near as I can tell. This guys job was to move Bosnian Muslims into reservations for orderly disposal by the Serbs.

    Stopping this from happening to more Muslims is why Pres. Clinton should have a lot of statues of his likeness in Bosnia

  6. I appreciate the commentors references to books and analysis. Googling, I get farther and farther adrift. His interpretations of America in 1776 seem a bit strained. The British point of view, however, must have been challenged in his professional life. His Fighting for Peace: Bosnia 1994, is reviewed negatively by Noel Malcolm. But, then, Malcolm, too, appears controversial. Does anyone come out of the Balkans without being “controversial”?

    Thanks for everyone’s time.

  7. Nothing comes out of the Balkans without controversy, because there are ongoing, life-and-death struggles happening there. Any comment about some historical event, even more so with recent events, is political ammunition which can and will be put to use.

  8. Following on Lexington Green: Either a British or American diplomat(I can’t remember which) once made the point that the great, central difficulty in negotiating anything, large or small, in the Balkans is that everyone involved (which, as he pointed out, can involve four or five sides)
    brings their own set of maps and history books to the table.
    All of which (i.e., the entire mess–past, present, and future prospects) leads me to seriously consider the fact that Bismark had the greater insight hear (“The Balkans are not worth the life of a single Grenadier!”).

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