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Time to revise the adage that amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics

Max Boot, in the 5 July 2006 LA Times wrote "Our Enemies Aren’t Drinking Lattes" (thanks Small Wars Journal for the heads up). He starts:

"Amateurs strategy. Professionals talk logistics." That well-worn saying, sometimes attributed to Gen. Omar Bradley, contains an obvious element of wisdom. Modern militaries cannot fight without a lengthy supply chain, and the success or failure of major operations can turn on the work of anonymous logisticians.

The real take-away is the impact of Little America on the locals. The growing literature on Cultural Warfare (aka Cultural Diplomacy) by both academic and military authors should cause the classic saying about amateurs and professionals with something like "Realists understand the enemy". Or "Victors understand the enemy", mimicking what Sun Tzu wrote:

“Knowing others and knowing oneself, in one hundred battles no danger.
Not knowing the other and knowing oneself, one victory for one loss.
Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself, in every battle certain defeat.”

Counter-insurgency (and insurgency for that matter) readings by Galula, Mao, and Nagl (to name just a few) have key take-aways of avoiding alienation of the locals through animosity or otherwise (where is electricity a surething? in the IZ / Green Zone is where). One of the take-aways of the Shadow Company movie by Nick Bicanic (on the private security industry in Iraq) is how the Brits, in their bases and their interactions in Iraq, get to know the locals, living and eating with and like them. Boot is right on, but he needs to go further.

Do you get awareness by living (or "hiding" as locals may see it) within fortresses? As General Abizaid put it, when he was still CENTCOM commander: "The long term battle is develop an Officer Corps (and Senior NCO Corps) that is as comfortable and acculturated operating in this region tomorrow, as we were operating in Central Europe yesterday." Does this happen when drinking lattes on the "front" lines? Boot should take his argument further when questioning the cost of creating these "mini Americas" into the impact it has perceptions of Americans overseas. We already know the Iraqis are well aware that one of the few massive projects in Iraq that is on-schedule is the fortress known as the US Embassy (see previous post on that here).

Original LA Times story:

"Amateurs strategy. Professionals talk logistics." That well-worn saying, sometimes attributed to Gen. Omar Bradley, contains an obvious element of wisdom. Modern militaries cannot fight without a lengthy supply chain, and the success or failure of major operations can turn on the work of anonymous logisticians.

Yet there is a danger of professional soldiers becoming so focused on supply lines that they lose sight of larger strategic imperatives. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we may already have crossed that threshold…

Some front-line units continue to operate out of spartan outposts where a hot meal is a luxury and flush toilets unknown. But growing numbers of troops live on giant installations complete with Wal-Mart-style post exchanges, movie theaters, swimming pools, gyms, fast-food eateries (Subway, Burger King, Cinnabon) and vast chow halls offering fresh-baked pies and multiple flavors of ice cream. Troops increasingly live in dorm-style quarters (called "chews," for "containerized housing units") complete with TVs, mini-refrigerators, air conditioning/heating units and other luxuries unimaginable to previous generations of GIs.

No one would begrudge a few conveniences to those who have volunteered to defend us. But the military’s logistics feats come with a high price tag that goes far beyond the $7.7 billion we spend every month on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. troops in those countries consume 882,000 liters of water and 2.4 million gallons of fuel every day, plus tons of other supplies that have to be transported across dangerous war zones. Centcom has more than 3,000 trucks delivering supplies and another 2,400 moving fuel — each one a target that has to be protected…

Successful counterinsurgency operations require troops to go out among the people, gathering intelligence and building goodwill. But few Iraqis are allowed on these bases, and few Americans are allowed out — and then only in forbidding armored convoys.

Most of our resources aren’t going to fight terrorists but to maintain a smattering of mini-Americas in the Middle East. As one Special Forces officer pungently put it to me: "The only function that thousands of people are performing out here is to turn food into [excrement]."

How to explain this seemingly counterproductive behavior? My theory is that any organization prefers to focus on what it does well. In the case of the Pentagon, that’s logistics. Our ability to move supplies is unparalleled in military history. Fighting guerrillas, on the other hand, has never been a mission that has found much favor with the armed forces. So logistics trumps strategy. Which may help explain why we’re not having greater success in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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