By Kyle Staron
If we accept the Clausewitzian proposition that war is an extension of politics, then it naturally follows that no war can be considered successful until a political consolidation has occurred. Wars are caused by unsustainable political situations and continue until the political situation is resolved. Thus, any attempt to separate the political from the military is a fool’s errand, a new form of alchemy.
Creating and building a new political order is the terminus of a successful military campaign. Compare two different conquests of capital cities from American military history: Mexico City in 1847 and Baghdad in 2003. Both advances amazed military observers because of their speed and competence. In both cases, the enemy was routed and stunned. If we accept the notion that stabilization starts once combat ends, these two cases are equivalent in their success. But we know they aren’t.
General Winfield Scott integrated stability operations with combat throughout the advance to Mexico City and the American army was able to withdraw from Mexico relatively quickly, leaving behind a new Mexican government. On the other hand, General Tommy Franks said to civilians, “you pay attention to the day after, I’ll pay attention to the day of.” One day, combat. The next day, stabilization. Consequently, the arrival to Baghdad was the high-water mark for a war that became synonymous with debacle, quagmire, and bog.
Dr. Nadia Schadlow examines these two cases and more in her book War and the Art of Governance. Starting with the Mexican War and ending with Iraq, she looks at the Army’s attitude towards and relationship with stability operations and military governance in war. Looking across American military history, trends begin to emerge.
First, the Army has consistently tried to divest itself of governance responsibility. From drawing down Civil Affairs forces in peacetime to buying into General Franks’ above sentiment, the Army has largely conceived of war as separated into discreet periods of combat then peace. During combat, soldiers will fight. Then, civilians will arrive when peace breaks out and handle the rebuilding.
Dr. Schadlow discusses several reasons for this reticence for governance. For
instance, the American military does not include stabilization or governance in its professional definition. Managers of violence, yes. Managers of political development, no. And there is a deeply entrenched suspicion in the American psyche of any military officer who seems to enjoy politics. An ambitious Soldier is extremely dangerous to democracy.
Despite its repeated tendency to ignore, deny, or forget its responsibility to govern after conquest, the Army has been forced to take on governance responsibility when it becomes apparent that there is no other organization that is capable, in terms of manpower and resources, of handling the immense challenge of stabilization in a war zone. The most successful commanders, such as Scott and Eisenhower, have accepted their roles as stabilizers and saw that stability is intertwined with any conception of victory.
These trends present an opportunity to the Civil Affairs Regiment, active and reserves. By strengthening its competence and knowledge base on governance and stability, the Regiment can provide the right expertise that transforms tactical military success into lasting political success.
As the Army prepares for Great Power Competition or continued Grey Zone operations, the ability to understand and advocate for strengthened governance increases the likelihood that American objectives will be secured in a sustainable peace.
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About the Author
CPT Kyle Staron is currently an AFRICOM Planner at the 353rd CACOM at Fort Wadsworth, NY and a Master of International Affairs Candidate in International Security Policy at Columbia University. He has deployed as an active-duty Civil Affairs officer to AFRICOM and CENTCOM.