“I don’t believe in non-attribution,” said Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, the director of force management and development at SOCOM and a co-host of the conference. “Anything I say I stand behind,” he said. “You can quote me.”
The veteran special operator was well worth quoting. For example, when one participant said the strategic landpower effort was created in large part to institutionalize a decade of improvements since 9/11, such as better interservice cooperation and new skills in working with local populations, Sacolick — who was present at the creation of the concept — bluntly said, that’s wrong.
“It wasn’t built on 10 years of kumbayah on the battlefield; it was built on 10 years of frustration [and] not working together properly,” Sacolick said. “It wasn’t 10 years of wonderful success. It was 10 years of abject failure that we don’t want to repeat.”
“There is too much self-congratulatory talk,” agreed RAND scholar Linda Robinson, who also gave me permission to quote her by name. “Looking at everything that has happened over the last decade until now, we are not good enough at ‘shape and influence’” — the military terms for getting people, groups, and governments to do what we want without having to shoot at them first.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, said Sacolick, “most of our successes on both those fronts came not from shooting people but from talking to them…. living with people and talking to them in their native language.” That said, he added bluntly, soft-speaking won’t be taken seriously unless you have the proverbial big stick to back it up. “What makes my guys effective in Afghanistan is not their diplomatic skills, quite frankly,” he said. “It’s the threat of force.”