As part of our ongoing conversation about the international community and the U. S. role in it, Joerg of Atlantic Review asked that I substantiate some of the claims I’d made. In this post I’ll attempt to do just that and review the U. S. experience in placing its forces under foreign command. This topic is sufficiently dense that it would be more appropriate for a book or doctoral dissertation than a blog post but I’ll do what I can in the medium.
The U. S. is allergic to placing its military forces under foreign command. The current U. S. military doctrine is that, while its forces may be placed under foreign command, they are never placed under foreign operational control. Whether the president has the power to place U. S. forces under foreign operational control is a topic for legal scholars and is beyond the scope of this post but the reality is that at least four presidents have placed U. S. forces under both foreign command and foreign operational control.
Some definitions might be in order. PDD-25 defines command as the authority to issue orders covering every aspect of military operations and administration and operational control as the authority to assign tasks to U.S. forces already deployed by the President, and assign tasks to U.S. units led by U.S. officers.
The U. S. military doctrine is a consequence of the experience that the U. S. has had with foreign command of its forces in World Wars I and II, Korea, Lebanon, and, finally, Somalia.
World War I
When the U. S. entered World War I in 1918, the initial units that reached Europe were integrated into French and British units. This was a practical necessity since there were so few of them, they had not received enough training, and the French and British units were already in place.
The senior officer of the U. S. forces, General John Blackjack Pershing soon recognized that the French and British were not satisfied with the U. S. forces at their disposal in their training, demeanor, or numbers and began to lobby for American command of the American forces. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of the Great War, Pershing is quite discrete but it’s clear that he recognized the morale problems that foreign command caused for our forces.
This stands to reason. The composition of the officer corps of the European forces differed quite markedly from ours. Consider this list of World War I military commanders. Dukes, princes, barons, baronets. Of course, the regular soldiers were mostly from lower classes. Here’s Pershing’s biography:
John Joseph Pershing (1860-1948) was born on 13 September 1860 in Laclede, Missouri.
After a period spent as a schoolteacher at Prairie Mound, nine miles from Laclede, Pershing (known as ‘Black Jack Pershing’) entered a competitive examination for an appointment to West Point in spring 1882; his primary aim being to secure further education. Pershing won the exam and went to West Point.
Although not an especially outstanding student (graduating 30th out of a class of 77) he was noted early on by officers for his leadership qualities. He was elected president of the class of 1886, and each year held the highest rank in the Cadet Battalion. Pershing commanded the Corps of Cadets when it crossed the Hudson from West Point to Garrison to stand and present arms while the funeral train of Ulysses S. Grant passed by.
Pershing took up duty as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Nebraska in September 1891, a post he held for four years.
During his varied military career Pershing performed frontier duty against the Sioux and Apache from 1886-90, where he won the Silver Star Medal; fought in the Cuban War in 1898; in the Philippines in 1903, cleaning up the Moro insurrectionists; and with the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5, as an observer. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1906. This was followed by the Mexican Punitive Expedition (of 10,000 men) to capture Pancho Villa in Mexico in 1915.
Following the U.S. declaration of war against Germany in 1917, Pershing â€“ now a General – was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). At the time of his appointment there was no expeditionary force available as such; the regular army comprised 25,000 men at most, and no effective reserves. Pershing needed to recruit an organised army and get it into the field; 500,000 men. Eventually the National Army grew – over the period of a year and a half – to nearly 3 million men.
Pershing personally led the successful Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918.
In 1921 Pershing became U.S. Army Chief of Staff. He retired from active duty in 1924 at the age of 64, having been awarded the title â€˜General of the Armiesâ€™ by Congress, a post previously held only by George Washington (and only then retrospectively awarded in 1976).
His autobiography, My Experience of War, was published in 1931, winning the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1932.
John Joseph Pershing died on 15 July 1948 in Washington, D.C.
Our officers were, by and large, from the same social class as the men they commanded. And that, IMO, inevitably resulted in a different attitude towards their men on the part of American commanders than was typical for aristocratic European commanders.
It’s also apparent, at least to me, that the British and French political leaders incurred less political cost when casualties suffered were not British or French, respectively. This, I think, is a partial explanation for the treatment of Australian troops at Gallipoli.
Pershing was soon successful and, under American command, the American Expeditionary Force served with distinction for the rest of the war.
Let’s consider a single action: the AEF action in Northern Russia. In this action roughly 5,000 American soldiers were placed under British command along with a significantly larger number of British troops. In the opinion of the senior American officer the expedition was not particularly well managed and his troops were subjected to needless hardships. More than 400 casualties were suffered by this small American force, most of them occurring after the fighting had ceased on the Western Front. In spite of this, however, and the trying nature of their service, the American units performed their duties with great fortitude and bravery. Here’s how Vincent Cortright described the situation in an article in Military History magazine:
As darkness closed in, the situation turned critical. Ammunition was low, and since the one telegraph line to the rear had been cut, neither supplies nor reinforcements were on the way. The temperature had plunged as well, bringing on the first heavy snowfall of winter.
One advantage, at least for the Americans, was that no communications meant no outside British control. Captain Boyd of B Company was in charge of the garrison as ranking Allied officer. Deciding to use his powers to the fullest, Boyd proposed a daring gamble to break the siege.
This, IMO, is a pattern that is repeated with some regularity: American forces under foreign command face dwindling morale; for one reason or another (in this case a breakdown in communications) American command is asserted; our forces display initiative; and significant progress is made in what otherwise was a stalled sitution.
World War II
U. S. forces were under foreign command in the following theaters:
|Under control of Australian General Sir Thomas Blamey
|Units of the 1st Infantry Division
|Placed in British and French corps
|November 1942 to February 1943
|Units of 1st Armored Division
|Placed in French corps
|November 1942 to February 1943
|North Africa (Ousseltia Valley)
|Units of 1st Armored Division
|Under operational control of French Algiers Division
|North Africa (Fondouk Gap)
|34th Infantry Division
|Attached directly to 9th British Corps
|Northern Europe (Battle of the Bulge)
|Northern portion of 1st Army
|Assigned to British Field Marshall Montgomery
|December 1944 to January 1945
|Northern Europe (Battle of the Bulge)
|36th Infantry Division
|Passed to French First Army control
|December 1944 to January 1945
All of these arrangements rapidly proved unworkable.
The difference between American and European commanders was similar to what it had been in the Great War. French Supreme Allied Commander Maurice-Gustave Gamelin was a graduate of Saint Cyr, the elite French military academy. In the late 19th century, when Gamelin attended the school, it was primarily reserved for young aristocrats or the scions of distinguished military families. Here’s a snippet from the biography of the American Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower:
Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, the third of seven sons born to David Jacob Eisenhower and Ida Elizabeth Stover, and their only child born in Texas. He was named David Dwight, but quickly began to go by his middle name. The Eisenhower family is from German descent and came from Forbach, Alsace, but had lived in America since the 18th century. The family moved back to Abilene, Kansas, in 1892. Eisenhower graduated from Abilene High School in 1909 and he worked at Belle Springs Creamery from 1909 to 1911.
Once again, he was a member of the same social class as the men he commanded.
Here’s what Col. David Hackworth had to say about his experience with foreign command during World War II (and relates it to the Somalia debacle):
I am opposed to American troops ever being placed under foreign command. Fifty-three years ago, as a young soldier, I got my first bitter taste that Yanks don’t fare well under other than the U.S. military when my 351st Infantry Regiment was placed under the Brits only a few hundred miles from Kosovo. We were fighting the same serial killers, not over Kosovo, but a similarly ethnically divided Territory of Trieste.
It also didn’t work in the dozens of other debacles I’ve waded through as a soldier or a reporter since then. Take Somalia as an example. There, on Oct. 3, 1993, our Ranger Task Force got into trouble executing a dumb Clinton order to snatch Mohammed Aidid in the Civil War-shattered streets of Mogadishu. Our Special Operations soldiers were surrounded by Aidid’s rebels and in deep trouble. They’d taken casualties but couldn’t get them out. U.S. tanks were needed to bust through Aidid’s lines, but Clinton and his inner circle failed to have them available. Then, when American Gen.Thomas Montgomery went to his commander, a Turkish general, and asked for U.N. tanks, it took six hours to saddle them up and six more for them to bust into the Ranger’s position. Phone calls to foreign capitals had to be made; orders — sometimes given at gun point — had to be translated from English to Malaysian and Pakistani tank crews. While all this jabbering was going on, Ranger James Smith, Bravo Company, 3/75th Ranger Regiment, bled to death from a leg wound. An American skipper would have had that armor into Smith’s position, and he and the other wounded Rangers would have been in the hospital within an hour. Clinton should remember Ranger Smith and the 17 other American warriors who died following his orders on that fateful day in Mogadishu, and think out the consequences of his Kosovo call before it’s too late.
U. N. Peace Operations
The following table summarizes the U. S. participation in U. N. peace operations since 1990:
|Peak U. S. forces involved
|Iraq and Kuwait
|Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Note: the data in this table is from 1999.
The Blackhawk Down debacle, attributed by American officers (as noted above) to U. N. chain of command issues was the last straw for many Americans. I suspect that it may be a generation before U. S. forces in any substantial numbers are placed under foreign command or operational control.
As a coda to this post I’d like to draw your attention to a very interesting article which argues that U. S. forces make poor U. N. peacekeepers. Here’s the nub of the argument:
There are four major reasons why United States troops make poor peacekeepers. They are: political decision making, super power status, training , and expectations. Political decision makers in the United States are pragmatic, results orientated individuals who are weak in the historical aspects of problems. Consequently, they tend to make decisions looking for concrete results in a short time period. The United States super power status dictates that peacekeeping deployments it is involved with must succeed. They must succeed because of the tremendous combat power available. Unfortunately, the availability of combat power encourages people to try to solve a problem by using it. Doctrinal training for soldiers emphasizes the aggressive, warrior image that is not normally compatible with peacekeeping. Finally, the United States soldier is always regarded as primarily under control of Washington, even when supposedly under the United Nations.
All of these reasons make it extremely difficult for United States troops to make good peacekeepers.
I think that these observations have relevance for the situation in Iraq and, in particular highlight why it’s a shame that most Europeans don’t seem to share the U. S. vision of a democratic Iraq.