TCS Daily

The Rumsfeld Doctrine

By James Pinkerton - November 8, 2001 12:00 AM

In the first part of this two-part series, published on October 24, I asked, "Is there a doctrine in the house?" The question was pertinent as news reports of American air-ground assaults filtered back from Afghanistan -- the first 21st century test of the Pentagon's Doctrine of Joint Special Operations. That piece focused on the interplay of technology and doctrine, and noted that superior weaponry had been undermined in the past by inferior doctrine, as the French discovered in 1914.

But over the last two weeks it's become apparent that a second interplay, between doctrine and politics, is also critical to military success. And so the Bush administration must enunciate a politico-military doctrine that maintains enduring support for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Critics Are Quick Out of the Gate

The war in Afghanistan is just a month old, and yet already the domestic critics are revving up. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took to the editorial page of the October 26 edition of the Wall Street Journal to warn against "half measures." Were McCain not such a distinguished American hero, one would be inclined to ask what in the heck he was thinking when he wrote those words, just 19 days after U.S. military operations in Afghanistan commenced.

As Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld pointed out a few days later, it took until April 1942, four months after Pearl Harbor, for the U.S. to make its first air strike and eight months until U.S. troops engaged the Japanese on Guadalcanal. Those actions were hardly "half measures." Indeed, they were the beginning of the full measure of American might, culminating in the unconditional surrender of Japan in 1945.

Yet if squawking from hawks is getting louder, so is the cooing of doves. A headline in the October 31 edition of the New York Times, for example, read, "A Military Quagmire Remembered: Afghanistan as Vietnam." And the University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer wrote an op-ed in the same paper on November 4 in which he declared, "Neither the current bombing campaign nor the deployment of American ground forces to Afghanistan offers good military options for dealing with the Taliban and Al Qaeda."

Wow. It's all so obvious to these critics, just a month after the American campaign commenced!

Still, while the polls show that the American people are solidly behind the U.S military effort, it's evident that the administration must not waver in its effort to shape the ongoing debate. Rumsfeld said from the get-go that this would be "a different kind of war"; on the op-ed pages of the Times on September 27 he declared:

"Even the vocabulary of this war will be different. When we 'invade the enemy`s territory,' we may well be invading his cyberspace. There may not be as many beachheads stormed as opportunities denied. Forget about 'exit strategies'; we`re looking at a sustained engagement that carries no deadlines. We have no fixed rules about how to deploy our troops; we`ll instead establish guidelines to determine whether military force is the best way to achieve a given objective."

The End of Weinberger-Powell

Most Americans would agree that "911" was in fact the beginning of a "different" kind of war. But Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration, in embracing the realities that differences can create, must at the same time confront older ideas of politico-military doctrine, still in circulation. Some of these might get in the way of future operations.

That's the gist of an important article that appeared in the November 5 Washington Times, headlined, "Doctrine Must Be Updated to Fit New War on Terrorism." In that piece, esteemed defense reporter Rowan Scarborough noted, "The Weinberger-Powell doctrine that influenced presidents on when and how to use American military power for nearly two decades has given way to the uncharted war on terrorism."

The emergence of that older doctrine was described by Powell in his 1995 autobiography, My American Journey. At the time, Major General Powell was an assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger had been "deeply troubled" by the disastrous suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. So, Powell wrote, "Weinberger had applied his formidable lawyerly intellect to an analysis of when and when not to commit United States military forces abroad."

This resulted in six tests designed to help determine when to use force. They were: 1) commit only if our or our allies' vital interests are at stake; 2) if we commit, do with all the resources necessary to win; 3) go in with clear political and military objectives; 4) be ready to change the commitment if the objectives change; 5) only take on commitments that can gain the support of the American people and Congress; 6) commit U.S. forces only as a last resort.

"Clausewitz would have applauded," Powell remembered, and he himself, in his subsequent career, has embraced the Weinberger Doctrine as his own.

But while the Weinberger-Powell doctrine appeals to the lawyerly-minded, it seems irrelevant to the terror-minded. After all, it only speaks to U.S. decision-making, not to the thought-process of U.S. enemies.

And while the Weinberger-Powell doctrine may be appropriate for certain military operations, the U.S. cannot make its military plans in splendid isolation from a dangerous world with suicidal terrorist bombers at large. As President Bush said in his speech to a joint session of Congress on September 20, "All of this was brought upon us in a single day, and night fell on a different world."

It's a different world and a different kind of war, but only in the way that every war is different.

Lessons From WW II

For perspective, we might consider just how different World War II turned out to be from what came before. In November 1939, Hitler had attacked Poland on September 1 and the Wehrmacht occupied Warsaw on September 27. Meanwhile the Soviets -- sudden allies to the Nazis -- had invaded from the east on September 17, occupying much of the country.

In other words, in November 1939, we witnessed two jarringly "different" phenomena: first, the effectiveness of the new German military doctrine of Blitzkrieg, combining armor and air attack; and second, the collapse of the political doctrine of "collective security," in which all the countries who feared Nazi military expansion, east and west, capitalist and communist, were united against Hitler. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, had abandoned Czechoslovakia the year before; after that, it was every country for itself.

The difference in air power from what came before also proved critical. Although the Germans had smashed the Spanish city of Guernica on April 26, 1937 -- an event immortalized in Picasso's painting, released later that same year -- few realized what aerial bombing would do. But after the terror bombing of Rotterdam on May 14, 1940, when Dutch commander-in-chief Henri Winkelman learned of the attacks, the fight went out of him: "Germany has bombed Rotterdam today, and Utrecht is threatened with destruction." He concluded: "To save the civilian population and prevent further bloodshed, I believe to be justified to order the troops under your command to stop fighting."

And so it was that the Western European countries were overwhelmed in May and June 1940, even though the combined armies of France, Britain, The Netherlands, and Belgium totaled four million, double the number of Germans troops. In fact, the allied countries even had more tanks than the Germans; the only quantitative edge the Nazis enjoyed was in their number of aircraft.

Yet if we had been observing from the perspective of November 1940, we would likely have been wrong yet again in our forecasting. Given the seeming invincibility of the Germans, who would have dared guess that the Nazi war machine could ever be thwarted? In the following year, Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union ground down in the mud before Moscow. And just as Blitzkrieg was counteracted, so was Hitler's divide-and-conquer diplomacy, as his enemies recombined into the ultimately triumphant Grand Alliance. Uncertainty, it seems, is a staple of all wars, no matter how different they may be.

The Rumsfeld Doctrine

But if the future is so uncertain, how can we know the right politico-military doctrine? The short answer is that what Clausewitz called "the fog of war" prevents anyone from knowing the sure path to victory. That's why a great power such as the U.S. must always prepare for the next war, even as it braces for surprise. In that way, if war comes, as it did on September 11, we can mobilize pre-existing military and political doctrine -- knowing, of course, that both will be subject to change as the war progresses. And that's where the additional mini-doctrine of "repetition, repetition, repetition," comes in, both in the training of troops on the warfront and the persuading of civilians on the home front.

For three decades now, Rumsfeld has emphasized the need for such traditional politico-military virtues as planning and patience. Now he is adding the additional concept, also drawn from history, of "difference." And so a new doctrine, a Rumsfeld Doctrine, is emerging: do everything you need to do first, taking as much time as you need. Then you can be certain of one thing: ultimate triumph. No matter how "different" the war proves to be.

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