Ron@cognitivewarriorproject.com

Update: Get Away Day Podcast Listening: The Hubris of Doctrinal Inflexibility

Update: Get Away Day Podcast Listening: The Hubris of Doctrinal Inflexibility

It’s get away day for me and I have several podcasts that I am going to listen to on the drive! I have not been a music listener when I drive for quite some time and I usually try to nerd out on podcasts instead. Nothing like listening to a discussion on urban warfare or space exploration am I right!?

I know that it has been a little while for one of these posts, but here at The Cognitive Warrior Project, we are dedicated to the continuing education for war fighters that embrace the adaptation required for tomorrow’s battlefield.

For today’s featured podcast we are going back to the Modern War Institute’s Irregular Warfare Podcast: Are Some Militaries Better at Counterinsurgency than Others? The description from their website:

Are the US Marines better at counterinsurgency than the US Army? How about the British Army? If so, why, and if not then what else might explain success and failure in different COIN campaigns over time?

In this episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, Kyle Atwell and Nick Lopez discuss whether some military organizations are more effective at COIN than others with Dr. Colin Jackson and Dr. Austin Long.

Colin and Austin start by framing where COIN falls in current national security priorities. They then move on to debate whether some military organizations are more effective at COIN than others, what characteristics support learning and influence success in COIN, and what lessons we can derive from recent COIN experiences for how to organize for and fight COIN warfare in the future.

Ouch. I have not listened to it yet and will update the post accordingly if the drive goes as planned. Remember, you too can listen to these podcasts at:

 The Irregular Warfare Podcast is a collaboration between the Modern War Institute and Princeton University’s Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. You can listen to the full episode below, and you can find it and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, or your favorite podcast app. And be sure to follow the podcast on Twitter!

Maybe I will even be able to squeeze in a podcast or two on proxy wars!

Update:

I promised an update and I am glad to report that not only was I able to complete the Are Some Militaries Better at Counterinsurgency than Others? I listed to Proxy Wars, Part 1: War Through Local Agents in Africa, Proxy Wars, Part 2: Opportunity and Risk in the Middle East and two John Batchelor podcasts with Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio which you can find here and here. It was a long but productive drive. Since I was driving I was not able to take the best notes, only a couple thoughts and the show descriptions.

Are Some Militaries Better at Counterinsurgency than Others?

This was a very good podcast and well worth you time…I think 40 minutes or so. Some things that I jotted down while I was driving were that for a military to be successful at counterinsurgency, they must possess these three characteristics:

  1. Humility
  2. Empathy
  3. Endurance

Nothing truly ground breaking but important none the less. There focus was more on conventional forces but I think these three attributes are true for all forces. They also talked about the cycles of relearning that each unit had to do when troops rotate in and out of theater and how that sets relationships back. These two statements resonated with me the most.

  1. The Taliban: “You have the watches, but we have the time.”
  2. Successful units asked the question, “Who owns what?” Instead of, “How many troops have you trained?”

The first statement talks about the tactical patience that has been culturally implanted in the population. This is not something that is exclusive to the Taliban but any population that has faced repeated invasion. Think Revenge of Geography.

The second statement references how all insurgencies are really political fights. Answering questions about beans and bullets are delay tactics that really waste time. If you want to cut through to the root of local problems begin with painting the picture of who owns what and who will be empowered or disenfranchised by your actions.

This podcast was very, very good and every (especially entry level) special operator should give it a listen.

Proxy Wars, Part 1: War Through Local Agents in Africa, Proxy Wars, Part 2: Opportunity and Risk in the Middle East

These were both good but I really got hung up on a couple points and everything else they talked about all came back to the first 10 minutes. But before I go there, here is the description from the website.

Part I:

In this episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, Kyle Atwell and Shawna Sinnott discuss proxy and partner warfare in Africa with retired Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks and Dr. Eli Berman. This is the first installment of a two-part discussion on fighting irregular warfare through proxy forces.

Eli and Mark discuss the objectives of proxy and partner warfare, the tools available to influence local agents, and whether the United States should increase or decrease its military and diplomatic footprint across Africa in an era of renewed great-power competition. The episode provides insights on the opportunities and challenges of working with local partners from the perspectives of a senior practitioner and an acclaimed academic. 

Retired Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks served as the commander of Special Operations Command Africa from 2017 to 2019, where he was responsible for all special operations forces across the continent. Before that he was the chief of staff and director of operations at US Special Operations Command headquarters and a career AC-130 pilot.

Dr. Eli Berman is a professor at the University of California, San Diego. He is the co-editor of the book Proxy Wars: Suppressing Violence Through Local Agents and co-author of the book Small Wars, Big Data: The Information Revolution in Modern Conflict, which was the topic of Episode 1 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast. Before entering academia, Eli was a member of the Israel Defense Forces, where he participated in the 1982 Lebanon War.

Part II:

In this episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, Shawna Sinnott and Kyle Atwell discuss the history and context of proxy and partner warfare in the Middle East with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Dr. Eli Berman. This is the second installment of a two-part discussion on fighting irregular warfare through proxy forces.

Eli and Ryan highlight the complexity of actualizing strategic objectives in the Middle East, a region which poses distinct challenges to principals in identifying, managing, and incentivizing local agents.  Issues of control are discussed in the context of historical case studies, with an in-depth analysis of Israel’s use of proxies during its conflict with Lebanon in the early 1980s.  Examples are given to illustrate the risks to principals when agents are poorly vetted or managed.

The episode provides insight on the opportunities and challenges of proxy warfare from the perspectives of a senior practitioner and an acclaimed academic.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker is a career ambassador with the United States Foreign Service and is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Over the course of a career spanning four decades, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon.  Most recently he was the Diplomat in Residence at Princeton University.  

Dr. Eli Berman is a professor at the University of California, San Diego. He is the co-editor of the book Proxy Wars: Suppressing Violence Through Local Agents. Before entering academia, Eli was a member of the Israeli Defense Force where he participated in the 1982 Lebanon War. The Irregular Warfare Podcast is a collaboration between the Modern War Institute and Princeton University’s Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. You can listen to the full episode below, and you can find it and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, or your favorite podcast app. And be sure to follow the podcast on Twitter!

The first question they posed was something to the extent of, “If you have the right doctrine, why do you keep losing wars?” The answer to the question just stuck with me and tainted the rest of the podcast. The guest basically stated that, yes, they have the right doctrine but we worked with flawed ‘proxies’ and its basically their fault. If I was conducting the interview I would have asked, “How can it be the right doctrine if the partner force refuses to implement it?” Maybe I am wrong here but, in the “By, With and Through” concept for proxy forces the “By” portion requires some level of “Buy-In” from the force you are working with. Am I wrong here? How can this be successful without buy-in? If you do not have ‘buy-in’ don’t you need to change the doctrine to match and seek out common goals or is doctrine separate from motivation?

The other portion of the podcast that really stuck was that, “when we send forces we are typically sending forces to assist a flawed partner and it is the flawed partner/government that is at least partially the reason for the insurgency in the first place.”

If this is true, and I definitely believe that it is. Will we ever truly ‘win’? If the primary driver for the insurgency is politics and a political solution, if those problems are not effectively solved will any amount of battlefield victories end the insurgency? Those are complex issues and definitely involve the biggest criticism of our efforts that last 20 years and the lack of an overall strategy. In some ways, I believe the focus shifting to The Great Power Competition between the U.S. and China/Russia will help focus our efforts. I hope. All in all, both were good podcasts and probably worth the listen but I just got too caught up in semantics.

The John Batchelor podcasts, The Taliban is not tired and Al Qaeda is not on the road to defeat

Both of these podcasts really just drove the above points home. There can be no question at this point that we have a very flawed partner in Afghanistan and I am not sure how that region will ever be stable. In my opinion, democracy is not for everyone and the central government there is just too weak. I don’t know how to fix that.

So, that was my drive. Is my analysis correct? Where am I wrong? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe!

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