The grand strategies of the United States (US) military have evolved all too slowly over the course of wartime history, and Sun-Tzu’s words from over 2,000 years ago bear an uncanny call to action. I posit, however, that simply shifting from the war strategy of leading (or perhaps more accurately, policing) the world via military might, with a long arm and strong hand, to one of multilateral conflict resolution complete with “winning hearts and minds,” is equally insufficient in guaranteeing a successful outcome. Rather, succeeding in a modern conflict requires modern thought; we must stop thinking in terms of archaic dichotomies. When it comes to creating a grand military strategy, we cannot afford to think in terms of “either/or,” instead we must consider thinking in terms of using strategies from both.
In this essay, I present evidence that both a pre 9/11 war like World War II; with strong world leadership and a post 9/11 war like Afghanistan which was politically-based; multilateral strategies were indispensable. In analyzing three challenges of pre/post 9/11 warfare, I first examine the influence of politics and other circumstances on warfare. Next, I evaluate the difficulty and challenges of translating military outcomes into desired political outcomes. Finally, I assess the unique challenges such as modern coalition warfare and irregular warfare. By the end of this analysis, the challenges the US faces in translating military power into desired political outcome will be clear.
It is necessary to define, the US pre 9/11 military strategy to the post one that has emerged, before getting to the major points of this analysis. I contend a critical point of evolution in war-fighting occurred on 11 Sept 2001. The American mindset for pre 9/11 wars significantly shifted in the post 9/11 era. Historically, Americans fought using a strategy with the following traits: it is large-scale, aggressive-offensive, impatient, excellent logistically and technologically dependent. [Gray, pg 30]
In this post 9/11 setting, the strategy has changed, albeit slowly. According to Daniel W. Drezner in his essay, “Why we Need Doctrines in Uncertain Times,” President Obama has two grand strategies. These strategies Drezner labels “multilateral retrenchment” and “counterpunching.” The first allows the US to shift the burden of rebuilding after a war to global partners and the United Nations. The latter deals with asserting influence only when directly challenged. [Drezner, Why we Need Doctrines in Uncertain Times, pages 57-68]
Circumstances of War
The traditional American way of war was to overcome the opponent using advanced technology and might, whereas the Obama policy relies on multinational assistance. I maintain each of these strategies must be employed in a linked fashion. The greatest challenges in US warfighting are time, space and human nature. History has shown these challenges remain relevant, so we must employ a culmination of pre/post...