Mullen finished off the Powell Doctrine
After a long illness and years of neglect, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, finally euthanized the Powell Doctrine. Mullen administered the coup de grâce in a speech he delivered on March 3 at Kansas State University.
During his tenure as chairman, Gen. Colin Powell stated the principles he thought the U.S. government should follow when contemplating the use of military force. According to Powell, the situation should involve a vital national security interest. There should be a clear and obtainable objective. A clear exit strategy should be planned from the beginning. The action should have broad political support. The military plan should employ decisive and overwhelming force in order to achieve a rapid result. And the country should use force only as a last resort. Powell's principles were no doubt the product of his negative experiences as an officer during the Vietnam War and the results of Operation Desert Storm, which seemed at the time to be a vindication of his ideas.
Needless to say, the deployments of U.S. military force this decade have obeyed precious few of these guidelines. Powell wrote his doctrine in an attempt to keep the United States from thoughtlessly involving itself in ill-defined and open-ended military quagmires. But critics have argued that modern irregular adversaries have exploited gaps the doctrine left uncovered. By this view, rigid adherence to the Powell Doctrine would prevent the United States from having any effective response to irregular warfare challenges. Neither the Bush nor Obama administrations have followed its precepts.
So what is the new Mullen Doctrine? For the chairman, the issue of whether the United States will employ military force has long been settled. The issue now is how the United States should apply its national power. Mullen summed up his views this way:
We must not look upon the use of military forces only as a last resort, but as potentially the best, first option when combined with other instruments of national and international power.
We must not try to use force only in an overwhelming capacity, but in the proper capacity, and in a precise and principled manner. And we must not shrink from the tug of war -- no pun intended -- that inevitably plays out between policymaking and strategy execution. Such interplay is healthy for the republic and essential for ultimate success.
The Mullen Doctrine accepts that every day for the foreseeable future, U.S. military forces will shoot at, or will be shot at, by somebody somewhere in the world. Given this seemingly permanent state of war, Mullen says that politicians, soldiers, and the public will need to engage in an open-ended discussion that will constantly adjust how the country employs its military forces.
Mullen assumes that the public now accepts that low-level warfare is an enduring fact of life. If he is wrong about this, the Powell Doctrine could rise from the grave.