Robert H. Scales Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Military Strategy and the Future of Land Wars: Conversation with Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr. (U.S. Army, ret.); March 9, 2004, by Harry Kreisler, with Thomas Barnes

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The Perception of America's Weaknesses

You enumerated in your book the U.S. vulnerabilities, and I'll throw your list back at you, because it's a pretty comprehensive and a good list: "The enemy knows our weaknesses: aversion to casualties, aversion to excessive collateral damage, a sensitivity to domestic and world opinion, and an apparently lack of commitment to prepare for a longtime engagement."

Remember, I wrote that back in the late nineties.

So how has it changed?

The change is driven more than anything else by the nature of those who fight us. One of our problems as a society is our own cultural arrogance when dealing with foreign cultures. Part of it has to do with a sense of ahistoricism and an inability to truly understand foreign cultures. Those who seek to do us ill have learned all about that.

An interesting fact which is not in the book, but Saddam Hussein's favorite movie was Black Hawk Down. He made over 3,000 copies of Black Hawk Down and distributed it to all of his senior leaders, because he understood, and he believed -- falsely, at least so far -- that if you just kill enough Americans they will go home. And to your point, exactly ... Oh, by the way, not just to kill Americans, but to kill Americans in such a dramatic and open fashion that the Americans get sick of it and pack up and go home and leave the country to you. That's what we've seen in both Afghanistan and Iraq, a playback of those factors that I've listed as our vulnerabilities. We didn't invent that. Those who seek to do us ill are the ones that came up with that list, because they believe that's how you beat the United States.

And they weren't entirely wrong.

Clausewitz is right. Clausewitz is alive and well. The technologists would say this: I can take a rock, and through the use of any number of cutting-edge information technologies, I can make the battlefield so transparent and so open that I can see, sense, track, and kill anything that moves about on the battlefield. And the more technology I apply at that, the more clear the battlefield becomes, the more success we'll have until we get to the time when we absolutely dominate the battle space. Well, the enemy hears that and says, "Okay. What I'll do is I'll just disappear. I'll go into the urban clutter, I'll mix in with the civilian population, I'll attack the Americans with busses, SUVs, and pickups rather than tanks. I'll hide behind the skirts of women and children, and I'll find ways to terrorize and intimidate the local population and force them to provide sustenance for me." All of the overhead sources on the planet can't look into a crowd in a souk and pick out the insurgent from some teenager playing in the street. This is nothing new; this is as old as war itself. It's just that our obsession with technology has made us a little bit slow in picking up on it.

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