The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in a radical shift in the U.S. Armed Forces’ concept of war, observes Texas A&M History Professor Brian McAllister Linn. Prior to these conflicts, both U.S. military and political leaders believed that technology would make wars rapid, decisive and cheap, he asserts.
In an article published in the summer issue of Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy Arts and Sciences, Linn notes that the pre-Iraq military dialogue on war was filled with terms such as “effects-based operations” and “full spectrum dominance.”
“Many believed that the next war was going to be an engineering problem,” Linn says. “You just had to figure out how much military force to apply and where to apply it. By hitting a few select points simultaneously, you could cause the collapse of the enemy’s ability to fight.”
However, the flaw in this theory was that the U.S. Armed Forces assumed that defeating the enemy’s military forces was all that was needed to secure victory, and no one really thought about the aftermath, Linn continues.
Using this approach with governments that are not like the U.S. essentially destroys the entire society, the Texas A&M professor continues. While the U.S. did a good job of taking down the Saddam Hussein regime and Taliban rule in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, Linn notes, the fallout created a fragmented society of troubling divisions including ethnic warfare and insurgency.
Linn says he believes that a noticeable shift in the U.S. military’s vision of warfare occurred in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He cites the 2007 Counterinsurgency Manual as one of several indications that U.S. Armed Forces are developing a new concept of war that emphasizes the importance of human relations, sustained operations and cultural awareness.
Even though this human-centered approach caused the momentum in these wars to change, Linn warns that the country’s vision of war should not remain stagnant but must continue to evolve conflict to conflict.
“A particular vision of war took over the military, and after it ceased to work, a new vision emerged,” the Texas A&M military history scholar says. “However, that new vision of war is predicated on a particular type of war that we may never fight again in the foreseeable future.”
Linn’s past works have received several prestigious awards, including the Distinguished Book Prize from the Society for Military History and have also been placed on the U.S. Army Chief of Staff and U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s reading lists. His soon-to-be-published book, titled Elvis’s Army: Creating the Atomic Soldier, 1946-1965, is under contract with Harvard University Press.