The Military’s Next Great Debate

Leonard O Goenaga



                                                                                                            Paper 2

The Military’s Next Great Debate

It is no myth to emphasize the troubles the U.S. military experienced when first dealing with the insurgency within Iraq. It is also no myth to emphasize the success seen by the Surge, both for turning the pace of the negative war, as well as countering both the political and physical influence of the insurgents.  After lessons were learned from these two stages of the war in Iraq, a great debate is now stirring within the midst of the Army community. This great debate focuses around two questions: “First, why, after its promising start, did Operation Iraqi Freedom go so badly wrong? Second, how should the hard-earned lessons of Iraq inform future policy?” (Bacevich).

This great military debate involves two separate groups. The first of these groups contains individuals whom attribute the difficulties faced during Operation Iraqi Freedom as belonging to errors committed by the military itself. This group, including General Petraeus, argues that counter-insurgency must not only focus on conventional war, but focus on socially changing a nation. An early inspiration of this first group includes individuals who believe the war in Vietnam could have been won, given emphasis was continued on the ‘winning hearts and minds’ of the Vietnamese, in combination with the search and destroy missions. This strategy in Vietnam, which they argued could have brought success, was instead shortened by the lack of patience and guts of the American people and their politicians. They argue, as the success of the surge and its counter-insurgency policy, that stabilizing nations is the root of preventing environments that create instability, and thus brood with anti-Americanism (which thus lead to such terrorist activity). This camp argues that “the United States can prevail in “stability operations” as long as commanders grasp the true nature of the problem and respond appropriately,” (Bacevich). The better the military becomes at changing societies (learning languages, understanding cultural issues) over refining engagement and weapons, the further chance of success in environments like Vietnam and Iraq.

The second camp, led by Colonel Gentile, disagrees with this ‘Petraeus Doctrine’, and instead argued against the idea of such a change. They tend to agree more with the style of combat defined in the “Powell Doctrine,” which argued instead for quick overwhelming forces, ending combat quickly and decisively. These individuals attribute the success of the surge and Gen. Petraeus efforts to the ‘pay for cooperation’ method that focused on buying the aid of Sunni’s and former insurgents. These individuals fear that the focus on social rebuilding will remove the importance of strengthened conventional warfare, which could prove militarily disastrous. It will be quite interesting to see which camp comes out on top.


Bacevich, Andrew J. “The Petraeus Doctrine?” The October 2008. 18 Sept. 2008



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