In the (very wild and over-the-top) anime Hellsing, there is a character who fires a musket whose bullets always hit the target. In one scene, she destroys a British Navy helicopter loaded with commandos with one round that ricochets across the interior of the helicopter from her sun chair on the deck of a commandeered carrier. She hums the theme from a Carl Maria von Weber's opera called "The Marksman." Now, beyond my usual penchant for referencing anime (and lolcats) when writing about strategy, what's the point of this?
I've been reading this monograph as well as bits and pieces of other Clausewitzian writings on friction and attrition, as well as reading Antulio Echevarria's new monograph on strategic thought. I'm beginning to wonder if the dominant strategic story, as per what Joseph Fouche described in the past, of the last twenty years has been the search for the strategic magic bullet. The Iraq War was merely the endpoint of this process. Why do I think this?
Steven Metz's description of the Iraq war military planning in his book as well Frederick Kagan's book on the Transformation era all point to a convergence in political, military, and economic factors that led to the idea that an operational "magic bullet" existed that could overcome the political issue of the US's grand strategic problems in the Persian Gulf. Although Saddam was certainly a manifestation of that problem, it was as old as the Carter-era conundrum over the problems of rapid reaction to Soviet intervention. In some sense one might see it as a kind of smaller American analog to the Schlieffen Cannae operational concept.
The United States was looking for an operational concept that would extend operational simultaneity (granted by AirLand-Battle era technologies) to strategic simultaneity of breaking states. I think it is difficult to judge this in a purely empirical sense, as Iraq's forces in 2003 hardly constitute a viable test case. What theory and military history tell us, however, is to be suspicious.
Whatever the theoretical purity of Rapid Decisive Operations and other related concepts, the key point was simply that they were used in a manner that merged a "way of battle" with a "way of war." That alone, not necessarily lack of counterinsurgency skills or garbled postwar planning, was the key element. What we should worry about is that the wrong lesson was learned--and that the COIN vs. whatever else debate may be a red herring that obscures more harmful strategic tendencies that could repeat themselves in the near future.