When I started reading this book, the word Clausewitz in the title had me bracing for the worst. Clausewitz's On War is not an easy read: written over a period of almost a decade, its a collection of papers that never were edited, revised or formatted for a single book. To make things worse, the obscure, pseudo-philosophical writing in the original German version has suffered a a lot during translation. It was a pleasure to find out that Melton didn't go at large into just another Clausewitz de-codification but rather limited his analysis to the concepts that are incorporated into the US Army doctrine and the ones that make On War obsolete. First, Clausewitz's preference for war-ending battles of annihilation rather than protracted wars of attrition (a way of warfare where the US Army historically excelled). Second, the Clausewitzian concept of center of gravity, the hard-to-find entity that will allegedly bring the enemy down to its knees pretty much like kryptonite will do to Superman (no wonder is that hard to find, maybe it doesn't even exist). Third, the absence of post-conflict governance considerations (this one not Clausewitz's flaw but rather a product of the times of limited warfare where he lived in).
The way forward proposed by Melton is a return to the recipes that made the US Army to succeed in the past: attrition warfare and nation building (real nation building, not the hastily executed plans carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan). The book's recipe for waging offensive wars is not pretty: attrition warfare means there will be blood, lots of it. But in all honesty, even when I am almost a pundit in the opposite camp (maneuver warfare), Melton's careful treatment of the issue of attrition is convincing. When it comes to nation building, I'm only going to say that at the end of the book there is a reprint of Field Manual 27-5 Military Government, dated 1940, and that is impossible to read it without aching at the mess and loss of life that happened in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. There was a better way to do things, from half a century ago ...
Stephen Melton is a retired US Army officer and now a faculty member of the US Army Command and General Staff College. As a retired soldier and professor, his views on the subject of doctrine are the ones of an insider. In this era of pervasive think-thank mentality and self-proclaimed military analysts with questionable credentials, I can only hope that we see more books like this one. It may be a long wait for the next book matching the quality of this one: right in the preface of the book, Melton laments how the hectic life in the military prevents any type of reflective thought. He also comments that collaborative work is very difficult due to the dispersed nature of the US Army institutions.
Soldiers win battles that can’t be foretold. Scholars foretell battles that can’t be won. Don't let go the opportunity of having both in the same book.
The Clausewitz Delusion : How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (a Way Forward).
Steven L. Melton.
Zenith Press, 2009.