US Joint Chiefs Chairman Changes Principles on Use of Force

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  1. Joint Chiefs Chairman Readjusts Principles on Use of Force
    Published: March 3, 2010

    WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, laid out new principles Wednesday for how to use the military in meeting contemporary threats, saying that overwhelming force can be counterproductive if used recklessly.

    In a speech on Wednesday, he reinterpreted the so-called Powell Doctrine.

    In a careful recalibration of well-known principles set forth years ago by a predecessor, Gen. Colin L. Powell, Admiral Mullen said the military “must not try to use force only in an overwhelming capacity, but in the proper capacity, and in a precise and principled manner.”

    Speaking at Kansas State University, he pointed to new rules restricting the use of combat force in Afghanistan, where civilian deaths caused by American troops and American bombs have outraged the local population and made the case for the insurgency. That kind of restraint, at the insistence of the field commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has been criticized in some quarters as reneging on the so-called Powell Doctrine, which favored overwhelming force to achieve unambiguous victories.

    Even when the forces brought into combat are clearly superior, as in the huge assault on the Taliban stronghold of Marja in southern Afghanistan that began Feb. 13, there can be a difference from assaults of the past, Admiral Mullen suggested.

    At Marja, he said, “We did not prep the battlefield with carpet bombing or missile strikes. We simply walked in, on time. Because, frankly, the battlefield isn’t necessarily a field anymore. It’s in the minds of the people.”

    Admiral Mullen, the nation’s senior military officer, steered clear of declaring an official new “Mullen Doctrine.” Even so, the organization and content of the speech meant that it would be read as an update to the principles of modern American warfare laid out by General Powell when he served as chairman for the first President Bush. Those were the years of the first Persian Gulf war, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

    The so-called Powell Doctrine held that the American military should be sent to war only when a vital national interest was at stake, when support from the public and its elected representatives was assured — and when overwhelming force was committed to the effort.

    Some military experts and academic analysts have argued that the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush violated all three guidelines, and some senior military officers said their advice to commit more troops to the invasion had been disregarded by senior civilian officials.

    In his speech, Admiral Mullen did not set up the Powell Doctrine as incontrovertible, and did not dwell on decisions made before he became chairman in October 2007. He seemed more focused on the military’s experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

    His comments reflected the interplay over the past year between the military and the Obama administration as the new president reshaped the military mission in Afghanistan.

    After taking office, President Obama replaced the senior commander in Afghanistan, added significant numbers of troops and reshaped the mission after a prolonged internal debate.

    Admiral Mullen said civilian and military leaders should encourage and embrace discussion, debate and even disagreement “that inevitably plays out between policy making and strategy execution.”

    He noted that “such interplay is healthy for the Republic and essential for ultimate success.”

    Admiral Mullen also said that “policy and strategy should constantly struggle with one another” — a provocative phrase that he defined as meaning that military leaders and their civilian bosses must engage in a continuous, honest dialogue so that both can adapt to shifting security challenges.

    “The day you stop adjusting is the day you lose,” he said.

    The Joint Chiefs chairman offered a new precondition before military force should be committed in the new era of counterinsurgency warfare: “That we will do so only if and when the other instruments of national power are ready to engage, as well.”

    He went so far as to declare, “U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military.”
  2. in_the_cheapseats

    in_the_cheapseats LE Moderator

    Good Lord - common sense now becoming doctrine as well as practice?

    Our friends on the other side of the pond have learned well....
  3. Ah does this mean that the days of the OODA loop - observe, over-react, destroy, appologise - are nearly done?
  4. I see you are a Boyd fan. :D