Friday 20 May 2022 | 21:24 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 May 2022 | 21:24 | SYDNEY

In military interventions, some things never change

16 February 2010 16:37

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

I take exception to Sam's characterisation of my position on Afghanistan and Iraq as not being able to '…countenance the idea that it is simply too hard to transform these places in the ways we would like' and that my only solution is 'more' – 'More troops, more money, more advisers, more political and diplomatic capital' (I assume 'transform' is being used pejoratively). Sam speculates that '(t)he disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan seem unable to shake this faith in the restorative capabilities of military force'.

This is an extraordinary simplification of a position that I have put in a book, in any number of opinion pieces and on this blog, and perhaps reflects more on Sam's blinkers than my inadequacies. I arrived at my position, not from academic or theoretical deduction or reading quotes, but from actually doing this in a far from perfect world, from trying the alternatives, and being part of their success and failure.

My position has always been that military force 'restores' nothing much by itself, but the right amount of military force applied at the right time in the right way can create the security situation whereby other non-military objectives can be achieved by non-military agencies and resources.

In situations amenable to non-intervention, military or otherwise, I support non-intervention. In situations where NGOs alone can achieve results, I strongly support their use. In situations where NGOs plus local lightly armed police or gendarmerie can achieve results, then use them. In situations where external forces are appropriate, then get it right and use them as part of an adequate package.

There are two 'near-constants'. The first is that the non-military people who make decisions about the use of military and non-military elements will almost always under-commit in the first instance. There are few exceptions; Colin Powell's successes in 1991 and in the use of massive force in Panama City come to mind. We could all wonder what might have been if Powell and not Rumsfeld had been the Secretary of Defense in 2003.

The second constant is that everyone will talk about the importance of the non-military element in all of this (under the name of interagency or cross-government or whatever), and it rarely happens. Powell could not get his diplomats and aid people out of their 'nice' capitals.

There are consequences of these 'near-constants' in situations that require the use of military force to establish security before non-military elements can be effective. First, the military is permitted insufficient initial capacity to establish security, as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. This means the non-military decision-makers then need to commit more forces because they did not allocate the right level to begin with (perhaps this is where Sam's 'more' might come from). Secondly, the non-military elements do not materialise so we revert to (guess what) 'more' military.

Photo by Flickr user US Army Korea - IMCOM, used under a Creative Commons license.