Richard Fernandez has some interesting insights:
…It is frequently argued that the United States Armed Forces are being destroyed in Iraq. Not literally perhaps, but in terms of unit readiness, morale, equipment maintenance and so on. All those metrics may have in fact suffered to some extent, as they are measured. But it is less easy to quantify such factors as combat experience have had not only upon line units; but on intelligence, combat support and all-arms coordination. It is harder still to estimate the effect on doctrine. In the way the Armed Forces does business with the enemy. Gen Petraeus remarks suggest that the US Armed Forces are far more lethal and much more practiced than they have ever been before.
Of course these “software” multipliers have all been recognized by the media. But all on the enemy side. We are told that the enemy is becoming more experienced, sophisticated, tough and wily. That blowback from Iraq in the form of super-Jihadis unleashed on the West is imminent. But for some strange reason the same advantages are never believed to accrue to the US Armed Forces. The subject is hardly mentioned at all, except when parenthetically referenced in interviews which will hardly see the light of day in the mainstream media. Yet common sense argues that the US Armed Forces must be up on the learning curve to some degree. Learning occurs within all organizations when efficiency means life or death. To assume otherwise would be too fantastic.
At tonight’s blogger round table I sensed a real confidence in the way military operations against insurgent cells are trending, but less so with respect to the political reconstitution process. The military effects can be gauged from the increasing sluggishness in the rebuilding of broken cells inside Iraq. While once an insurgent organization could replace its leaders, etc in X amount of time, it now requires longer periods. The enemy is clearly hurting. There is palpable blood on the floor, as it were. But there is less certainty about how to convert these military successes into reaching the psychological “culminating point” — a Clauswitzian phrase which indicates a moment where the population throws in with one side or the other — which the sense in which BG Robert Holmes, USAF, Deputy Director of Operations for CentCom seemed to use it. How close the MNF-I’s effort was to reaching the “culminating point” was harder to reckon.
BG Holmes seemed most interested in being able to out-adapt the enemy, which he felt sure was going to morph and shift its point of attack, even out of the theater. It was fascinating to see how the battle was regarded in some sense, as a race of mutability. And in that contest, anything went. Diplomatic pressure, aid, the use of the “shame and honor” culture to encourage the rejection of surprise attacks — all were fair weapons to use in this fight. In this case particularly so, because a “transnational” enemy like al-Qaeda could flit to the other side of the globe and attack in a substantially different way.
My own impression, and I should emphasize that it is a subjective feeling, is that the section of the US military I have heard has come to a practical, working understanding of what fighting a networked insurgency entails. It’s an imperfect understanding, but it’s not lip service, not buzz-word garnishing, and its getting better all the time. This understanding can typically enter a huge institution like the US military in only one way: from hard experience felt from the noncoms to the general officers. But this understanding is essential. “Getting it” makes all the difference.