Lewis and Clark College is holding its 47th Annual International Affairs Symposium. Last night’s (4/6) topic was “The War’s to Come: Preparing for Tomorrow’s Conflicts.” The two speakers were General (retired) Anthony Zinn (wiki here) and Lt. Col. Gian P. Gentile, professor of history at West Point.
Given scarce public resources, there is a conflict raging in
the Pentagon between the advocates of big weapons systems to prepare for a
conventional war against a near peer (think China or Russia) and the advocates
of putting more resources into the wars we are in now (think Iraq and Afghanistan)
and the likely ones to come like them. The two speakers did, in nuanced ways,
each represent different sides in this insider conflict. Lt. Col Gentile argue
for building the army as “a general fighting force” and not one too focused on
counterinsurgency and nation building. General Zinni said what “threatens us
the most is instability” in spots around the world. The effects of these instability
spots are both large migration flows and harboring of terrorists. We “do not
have the option to ignore” them any more. But he also said the “military is not
designed or capable of building social, political or economic institutions.”
Tom Ricks covered it here.
General Zinni also spoke eloquently of the failures of the Bush political appointees to follow the military's plans for the Iraq War, especially the failure to have enough troops after the initial invasion.
Given my interest in language immersion programs, I was instantly interested when General Zinni spoke briefly of his living with a Vietnamese family while serving in Vietnam. A google search turned up more details (here):
As a young lieutenant in my first tour of duty in Vietnam, I
was as an advisor to the Vietnamese Marines. To prepare for that I had to learn
the Vietnamese language, taught to us by Vietnamese families in Fort Bragg,
North Carolina, in the course I went through. They not only taught us language
but taught us much about the culture. When I went there I was immersed in the
culture, in the society, we wore the uniforms of the Vietnamese, I rarely saw
another American. We lived amongst the people, they had a quartering act, for
example, so when we were in operations around the villages we literally moved
in with the families and the villagers. I came away from that experience a year
later having seen a different war than my colleagues who were with U.S. units
and operating in a bubble of isolation within the culture, society. I saw the
war from the perspective of the Vietnamese people, and I saw a much different
war. I saw in many ways that it certainly wasn't going to be determined by just
military successes. You know, we won every battle on the so-called battlefield
and still did not win the war.
I wonder how many young Marine officers get that kind of experience now?