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Avoiding a Napoleonic Ulcer: Bridging the Gap of Cultural Intelligence (Or, Have We Focused on the Wrong Transformation?)

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Nearly two centuries ago, Napoleon Bonaparte preemptively occupied Portugal and Spain and ousted the Spanish royal family for being less than cooperative in supporting his Continental System. The resulting guerrilla resistance, as described by Martin van Creveld, made do without armies, campaigns, battles, bases, objectives...or even territorial units clearly separated by a line on a map. Napoleons Spanish ulcer, as he described the Spanish response to his occupation, provides a myriad of timeless lessons for strategic and operational planners. The strategic gap that developed between Napoleons rapid conventional military victory and the immediate requirement to influence positively the population as part of postwar stabilization operations highlights the limits of conventional military power in post-conflict operations and the perils of forgetting the people in the initial and ongoing strategic calculus. Unfortunately, nations and militaries around the globe have been forced to relearn that lesson many times in the ensuing 200 years. The parallels of Napoleons challenges in Spain with the challenges of contemporary coalition forces in Iraq are striking. While there is a danger in attempting to take historical parallels too far, some similarities are too close to ignore. Moreover, such similarities may reflect the failure to understand the local populace within campaign planning. That understanding forms the bedrock for any successful post-hostility occupation phase. Thus, cultural intelligence preparation of the battlespace IPB with a focus on the post-hostilities landscape is perhaps more important than traditional IPB, which typically has monopolized the intelligence effort. This essay recounts Napoleons occupation of Spain, discusses the mistakes he made in planning for that occupation and those that were made in planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and suggests ways to incorporate cultural intelligence into todays joint military doctrine.

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  • Sociology and Law
  • Humanities and History
  • Unconventional Warfare

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