Unfortunately, the United States’s strategies against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) are fundamentally flawed and doomed to fail. A review of the U.S. Joint Doctrine demonstrates that we lack both clear objectives and strategies. This is recipe for failure.
First, the matter of objectives. According to Joint Doctrine, objectives are the common thread that integrate and synchronize all planning activities. Objectives provide purpose and focus for the planning and employment of military forces and as such, they are the responsibility of the president and the secretary of defense. In short, the objective is simply the “what” of what you want to accomplish.
In light of this, the objective must meet three criteria. First an objective must be clearly defined, pointing toward clear end states at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war. Once developed, everyone involved must be able to look at an objective and say, “Yes, I understand what we are trying to accomplish."
During the First World War, Colonel Billy Mitchell wrote that he had a certain mediocre captain on his staff. Before any order was published, Mitchell ensured this captain read it. Mitchell knew that if this captain understood the written order, he knew anybody in his command could. An objective should leave absolutely no ambiguity to the reader.
Next, the objective must be measureable. How does one know when they have achieved their objective? This is not necessarily an easy endeavor. Do we destroy a certain percentage (rarely a good measure) of enemy forces? Do we drive an enemy out of an area? Do we stop them before they reach a certain "line in the sand?" Do we shut down an electrical grid for XX hours? A lot of thought must go into crafting a coherent measure of effectiveness. Simply stating you want to “degrade” an opponent, as our administration once said about ISIS, is in no way a clear measure. Degrade? How do you define “degrade”? For how long? In what way? To what end? Although degrading the enemy is an operational or tactical level “effect” according to Joint Doctrine, it is in no way a strategic or operational objective.
Lastly, the objective must be attainable. If there is no possibility of achieving an objective, there remain only two options for the planner or commander. The objective must either be abandoned or modified so as to be achievable. One can bomb targets all day long, but if the subsequent death and destruction cannot achieve the stated objective, those actions are useless. This is why the too often poorly crafted objective of "winning the hearts and minds" of an enemy is so tenuous. In reality, depending upon the enemy, no matter what you do, this is may never be achievable. An admiral goal perhaps, but often destined to fail.
An excellent example of a clearly stated strategic level objective was put forth by President George H.W. Bush after Iraq invaded Kuwait. After the November 1990 U.N. Security Council authorization to use “all necessary means” to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait, the primary strategic objective that guided all U.S. and coalition political and military plans and actions simply stated when the war was over, no Iraqi military personnel would remain within Kuwaiti territory. Without question, this is an excellent objective that clearly satisfied the entire metric we previously put forth.
Now, consider strategy: the method for the overall conduct for accomplishing stated objectives. For the sake of simplicity, think of strategies as “how” you are going to achieve your objectives --- the "what." Here, planners and commanders use the full range of military options like lethal, non-lethal, kinetic, non-kinetic, alliances, coercive strategies, humanitarian missions and the like. While the particulars are not important in this discussion, one must understand that strategies must work to achieve objectives and thus a strategy is never “what” you want to accomplish. Clearly defined, measurable and attainable objectives must therefore come before strategies.
This is why before politicians espouse “strategies for defeat,” they must first define unequivocally what it is they want to accomplish including their strategic end states. Until then, they are simply spinning their wheels. With regards to ISIS, until we as a nation decide what it is we want to accomplish, no strategy is going to motivate them out of their current behavior. One can rest assured that ISIS is exploiting both our indifference and unfamiliarity with operational thought.
Robert Tate, formerly a U.S., NATO, and Royal Saudi Air Force AWACS instructor evaluator pilot, taught operational planning at Maxwell Air Force Base for nearly a decade.
In the middle of March, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard published a revised version of their 2007 paper, A Cooperative Strategy for the 21st Century. The 2007 edition reflected the strong influence of 9/11, U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the global campaign against Islamist jihadis. It suggested broadening the reach of U.S.
With the World Series opening tonight in Kansas City, the Giants are no doubt feeling their oats. They’re coming off of a three-homerun performance in their game five win over the St. Louis Cardinals, which landed them their third World Series appearance in five years. However, the Giants should be wary, for power is a fickle friend.
President Obama just announced that he is bringing a counter-terrorism strategy to an insurgency fight. He was at pains to repeat the phrase “counter-terror” four times in a short speech. Noting that ISIL is not a state (partly because the international community thankfully does not recognize it), he declared, “ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.” Neither of those sentences, unfortunately, is true.
On Wednesday, the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, President Obama will speak to the American people about his strategy for dealing with the rise of the Islamic State, the would-be caliphate bestriding Iraq and Syria, the most palpable and present threat to the region since Saddam Hussein invaded Iran and, later, Kuwait.
Speaking earlier this morning in Estonia, President Obama addressed dealing with ISIS. He talked of making ISIS a "manageable problem" if the "international community" comes together:
"We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISILl's sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem," said Obama.
"Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” President Obama told the American Legion’s annual convention in Charlotte on Tuesday, August 26. He repeated the thought in his pre-Labor Day weekend press conference on August 28. A week before, the day after the murder of James Foley, Obama had remarked, “From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread.”
Vice President Joe Biden told a reporter today that the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the ISIS will not alter the approach to the terror group. An "AP reporter asked if Foley's beheading changed the U.S. approach to ISIS," the White House pool report reads. "Biden said no, but it shines a spotlight on the horrors going on in that part of the world."
In March 1975, with the United States in post-Watergate disarray at home, stunned by repeated diplomatic defeats at the United Nations, and about to suffer the humiliation of seeing an ally at whose side we had fought for many years be overrun by the North Vietnamese Communist Army, Daniel Patrick Moynihan asked: “What then does the United States do?”