Lifting the Fog of Peace: How Americans Learned to Fight Modern War

Lifting the Fog of Peace: How Americans Learned to Fight Modern War

by Janine Davidson


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Lifting the Fog of Peace: How Americans Learned to Fight Modern War by Janine Davidson

Lifting the Fog of Peace puts the U.S. military’s frustrating experiences in Iraq into context and reveals how the military was able to turn the tide during the so-called surge in 2007–8.

Lifting the Fog of Peace is a captivating study of an agile and adaptive military evolving through the chaos of the post-9/11 world. In what is certain to be regarded as the definitive analysis of the reshaping of American combat power in the face of a complex and uncertain future, Dr. Janine Davidson firmly establishes herself as a rising intellectual star in government and politics. A thoroughly captivating study of organizational learning and adaptation—a ‘must read’ for leaders in every field.”
—LTG William B. Caldwell IV, Commanding General, NATO Training Mission—Afghanistan

In Lifting the Fog of Peace, Dr. Janine Davidson explains how the American military has adapted itself to succeed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are the most likely future face of combat. The book is informed by her experience of these wars in the Department of Defense, where she now plays a critical role in continuing the process of learning that has so visibly marked the military’s performance in today’s wars. Highly recommended.”
—John A. Nagl, President, Center for a New American Security

“. . . a ‘must read’ on the E-Ring of the Pentagon and in security studies programs across the nation.”
—Joseph J. Collins, Professor, National War College, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780472034826
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 08/29/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Janine Davidson is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Plans. She has served as Director of the Department of Defense's Stability Operations Capabilities.


Read an Excerpt

Lifting the Fog of Peace

By Janine Davidson

The University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2010 Janine Davidson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-11735-2

Chapter One

Military Learning and Competing Theories of Change

To Carl von Clausewitz, the father of modern military thought, military learning and military change were a simple matter: "If, in warfare, a certain means turns out to be highly effective, it will be used again; it will be copied by others and become fashionable; and so, backed by experience, it passes into general use and is included in theory." 1 In other words, if something works, militaries will change their doctrine and their practice accordingly. Although Clausewitz provides little explanation as to how this learning on the battlefield becomes organizational practice or why some armies learn while others do not, he claims that armies have at least three opportunities to learn-historical examples (of self and others), personal battlefield experience, and the experience of other armies.

In the case of the challenges facing the military today, the U.S. military has had the opportunity to learn in all three of the ways suggested by Clausewitz. Starting with frontier duty in the early 19th century and continuing to Iraq and Afghanistan today, the U.S. military has built schools, run local governments, monitored elections, and provided general law and order for war-torn societies both at home and abroad throughout its history. As chapter 2 describes, long before the peace operations of the 1990s or the "Phase IV" and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan today, U.S. soldiers and marines performed myriad S & R tasks in the American South, the Philippines, the Caribbean, Europe, Japan, and Vietnam.

In addition to this historical and recent experience, the U.S. military also has a tradition of studying other militaries around the globe, demonstrating that the U.S. military is adept at learning from the experience of others. For example, the Small Wars Manual written by the Marine Corps in the 1930s reflects the lessons of the British from their 19th-century colonial wars as well as the Marine Corps' own experience in the Caribbean in the first decades of the 20th century. Today, both the Army and the Marine Corps consult the British and other allies in preparing for urban operations, counterinsurgency, and peacekeeping. Given this tradition, combined with their own long history of performing military operations other than war (MOOTW), Clausewitz would predict that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps would be quite adept at performing them by now. Moreover, their techniques would differ little from each other or from those of their allies whose doctrine they had studied.

In contrast to Clausewitz, modern theories of military change suggest that militaries will have a difficult time innovating at all. A primary debate among scholars of military change is over the catalyst for innovation. Do militaries change on their own or in response to perceived threats, new technologies, or changes in the global system; or is some external stimuli required to force the organization and its leaders to "see the light" and adapt? If militaries are resistant to change, what does it take to influence their behavior from the outside? Under what conditions might efforts to force the military to innovate succeed or fail? If, on the other hand, militaries do change on their own, what (or who) influences the choices they make? Finally, whether the catalyst is internal or external, what explains the failure of militaries to change when needed?

In this literature, many posit that for various reasons, militaries need external actors to force innovation or change. The critical point of agreement among these scholars is that if left alone, the military would be unlikely to change or would otherwise tend toward inappropriate doctrine. Scholars of military innovation draw on three overlapping categories of theory to explain why militaries often fail to adapt: organizational theory, bureaucratic politics, and organizational culture. In each of these schools, there exist factors that make them either averse to change in general or inclined toward offensively oriented doctrine in particular. Accordingly, each leads to different conclusions about how barriers to innovation might be overcome.

Organization Theory

Organization theory sees military organizations as highly resistant to change. For organizational theorists, militaries resist innovation as a result of structural systems, norms, and standard operating procedures that together focus behavior toward particular outcomes. Graham Allison describes organizational behavior in this school "less as deliberate choices and more as outputs of large organizations functioning according to standard patterns of behavior." Moreover, organizational culture emerges from these routines that reinforce norms, and "the result becomes a distinctive entity with its own identity and momentum." In this model, even when various actors within a military organization desire a change in strategy or doctrine, such structural mechanisms would likely mitigate against it. Thus, in order for such change to occur, the actual structures and processes that produce strategy and doctrine must be changed.

For today's military, many would point to the Pentagon's "planning, programming, budgeting, and execution" (PPBE) cycle as a key example of this phenomenon. In this complex process, the four services ideally submit budgets based on the leadership's strategic priorities as outlined in the National Defense Strategy or the Quadrennial Defense Review, which should in turn reflect the immediate and projected needs of the warfighters, as articulated somehow by the combatant commanders around the world. In reality, budgets often seem out of touch with both top-down priorities and bottom-up requests, reflecting a mysterious disconnect between bottom-up learning, strategic direction, and budgeting.

Pushing change from above requires the strategic manipulation of the system at key "nodes" in this PPBE process. For example, the choice of defense planning scenarios (DPSs) or war games and analytical scenarios used for capability analysis inside the Pentagon during the budget cycle or during the development of the Quadrennial Defense Review can have cascading effects on what the services think they are required to program and budget for. A war game that presumes major conventional warfare against a fictitious peer competitor, for instance, would lead the Army to buy big tanks and the Air Force to buy high-tech fighter planes capable of air-to-air combat. If, on the other hand, the directed scenarios emphasize military operations such as counterinsurgency or humanitarian intervention, the justification for these major weapons systems gives way to other capabilities: for example, special operations; language skills; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment; and humanitarian relief capabilities.

For analysts trying to measure change, however, the budget can often be misleading. The same size budget for military education, training, or doctrine development, for instance, may look the same on the outside, but the character and content of these programs may have adapted dramatically. The way in which experience affects how the military thinks, trains, and learns, as evidenced in its doctrine, training, and education (more so than its budgeting and weapons procurement), is the primary focus of this book.

Despite such barriers to innovation, organization theory makes room for military change in response to three catalysts: (1) external pressure, (2) the opportunity or need to grow and/or survive, and (3) failure. In the first instance, external civilian leadership-Congress, the president, or even the secretary of defense-would be the source of change. In the second case, a military might change in order to acquire more resources or influence. The last of the organizational theory categories, failure, is more intuitive with respect to the military. In this case, as militaries face new technologies or tactics in use by an enemy on the battlefield, they are forced to adapt. In a very Clausewitzian sense, militaries that do not adapt do not survive. What is less clear in these cases is how the change takes place. What are the mechanisms and institutional processes that enable this change?

Bureaucratic Politics

Like organization theory, bureaucratic politics theory might predict similar outcomes when the military is viewed as the amalgam of myriad subgroups and branches as well as one agency among others within the U.S. government. In this model, most commonly summarized by the adage "Where you stand depends on where you sit," military leaders, like leaders of other large organizations, seek to promote the importance of their organization and to preserve the organization's distinct organizational "essence." Morton Halperin defines this essence as "the view held by the dominant group in the organization of what the missions and capabilities should be." In this model, roles and missions that challenge this essence will be rejected, unless such roles are seen to enhance the importance and influence of the organization. Thus, in the bureaucratic politics model, we would expect the military to resist stability operations missions unless they can be viewed as somehow supporting the organization's essence or somehow increasing its stature or relevance.

Because, as we will see, the predominant view of the U.S. military as a whole is that its role is to "fight and win the nation's wars," it would seem unlikely that the military would embrace counterinsurgency (COIN) or stability operations as its role. In the post-Cold War environment, however, when it seemed that the implosion of the Soviet enemy meant massive downsizing and a diminished role for the U.S. military, the bureaucratic politics model, like organization theory described above, would lead to the competing hypothesis that the military would embrace what it then called "MOOTW" as its new raison d'être, as a means to maintain its organizational influence. Likewise, inside the military establishment, the bureaucratic politics model would lead to an additional hypothesis that subgroups such as the Special Forces or the Light Infantry, whose capabilities are uniquely suited to the challenges of MOOTW missions, might also advocate for increased emphasis on this role. Indeed, this is the behavior that began to emerge in the 1990s and especially once operations in Afghanistan and Iraq began.

Organizational Culture and Military Change

Scholars who focus on organizational culture often use different terms with slightly different emphases to describe a similar phenomenon. For example, Elizabeth Kier defines organizational culture as follows: "the set of basic assumptions and values that shape shared understandings, and the forms or practices whereby these meanings are expressed, affirmed, and communicated to the members of an organization." Closely related to organizational culture is Morton Halperin's concept of organizational essence, described above. Other scholars focus on institutional memory, "the conventional wisdom of an organization about how to perform its tasks and missions." Richard Downie clarifies this concept further by stating, "In a sense, institutional memory is what older members of an organization know and what new members learn through a process of socialization." Finally, Carl Builder presents the theory of organizational personality: "a 'face' that can be remembered, recalled, and applied in evaluating future behavior [of a military service]." These terms, which are often used interchangeably, are for some scholars the key to understanding most differences in military behavior.

The centrality of culture and the relationship of these concepts for military organizations are articulated clearly by Lieutenant General Theodore Stroup: "The Army's culture is its personality. It reflects the Army's values, philosophy, norms, and unwritten rules. Our culture has a powerful effect because our common underlying assumptions guide behavior and the way the Army processes information as an organization." General Stroup goes on to claim, "Our Army culture, however, can also be a liability when it is inappropriate and does not contribute to the Army's overall goals." But where does culture come from, and what, if anything, can be done to overcome its powerful and potentially negative, reactionary influence?

To understand the origins of organizational culture, most scholars look to an organization's history. As Carl Builder explains, recent and historical experience is key to understanding the origins of organizational personality.

Like all individuals and durable groups, the military services have acquired personalities of their own that are shaped by their experiences and that, in turn shape their behavior. And like individuals, the service personalities are likely to be significantly marked by the circumstances attending their early formation and their most recent traumas.

That early experiences have a disproportionately formative influence on the personality and behavior of an institution (or a person) resonates in learning theory as well. Moreover, as John Nagl observes, "organizational culture also plays a critical role in determining how effectively organizations can learn from their own experiences." Thus, an organization's history affects the development of the organization's personality, which in turn affects the ability of the organization to learn from new experience. This iterative relationship between experience, culture, and learning suggests that culture can be an incredibly determinate factor in the behavior of an organization. Accordingly, for a number of students of military performance in MOOTW, organizational culture is the key to understanding success or failure in new operating environments.

Integrated Theories of Military Change

Most scholars take an integrated approach to explaining military change. Modern literature on military innovation focuses on either external or internal sources of military innovation and borrows from the theories and perspectives outlined above. In combining many of these approaches, scholars also frequently highlight the importance of organizational culture and civil-military relations in promoting or preventing innovation. A common theme in this literature is how uncommon or difficult it is for militaries to change. Defining the conditions under which barriers to change may or may not be overcome is the goal of such research.

The first category of military change literature consists of scholars who posit that militaries need external actors to force innovation. Explanations for this failure to adapt include organizational or bureaucratic barriers, cultural factors, a predilection for offensively oriented doctrine, or some combination of these elements. In this literature, the civil-military dynamic is critical, as civilian leaders must interact with their military counterparts to drive the organization to innovate.

The scholar most commonly attributed to this "civilian-intervention" approach is Barry Posen. In The Sources of Military Doctrine, Posen demonstrates that militaries resist change or otherwise cling to offensive doctrines in accordance with organization theory. Although military leaders may consider adjusting their doctrines "when threats become sufficiently grave," it is mostly civilians who, in accordance to balance of power theory, identify the need for new military doctrine and intervene to force change on the military. Their success in pushing change from outside the military depends on the delicate nature of civil-military relations. In the United States, efforts by civilians to reorient or transform the military (i.e., President Kennedy's push for counterinsurgency doctrine during the Vietnam conflict or President Clinton's push for interagency coordination for peace operations) have often been uphill battles. Theories developed by scholars such as Deborah Avant and Stephen Rosen provide different explanations for why militaries are not always responsive to such civilian efforts.

Stephen Rosen suggests that career structures within military organizations reward officers who follow traditional paths. Armor officers, for example, get promoted for mastering armor doctrine and being good tank drivers, not for promoting new warfighting tactics that emphasize the benefits of light forces and smaller vehicles in urban terrain. A recent illustrative case is that of the officers who wrote the Army's manuals for peace operations in the 1990s. They claimed they spent time on the project even though they knew that it would "kill" their chances of getting promoted. This supports Rosen's assertion that "maverick" officers who advocate change from within a conservative military organization often suffer professionally for their efforts.


Excerpted from Lifting the Fog of Peace by Janine Davidson Copyright © 2010 by Janine Davidson. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents


List of Acronyms....................xi
Introduction: On the Front Lines with America's Nation Builders....................1
CHAPTER 1. Military Learning and Competing Theories of Change....................9
CHAPTER 2. Two Centuries of Small Wars and Nation Building....................27
CHAPTER 3. Vietnam to Iraq: Debating the "New World Order"....................67
CHAPTER 4. Learning to Learn: The Training Revolution in the Post-Vietnam Military....................97
CHAPTER 5. Doctrine and Education for the New Force....................129
CHAPTER 6. Learning to Surge in Iraq....................159
Conclusion: Learning Theory and Military Change in the 21st Century....................191
Appendix: Key Terms and Conceptual Confusion....................203

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