Saturday, March 25, 2006
4GW and Other Theories
The major wars of the 20th century also show that political,
social, and economic capabilities were, in many cases, employed
to the maximum extent possible. Some historians go so far as to
maintain that World Wars I and II were, in effect, examples of “total”
war precisely because of the extent to which the major combatants
mobilized the elements of their national power. Even the theoretical
offshoots of netcentric warfare, which 4GW rightly rejects, recognize
the need to integrate all the elements of national power in the pursuit
of strategic aims. The problem is that this notion of total integration
has become the new mantra; the idea itself has almost been elevated
to a panacea for the various ills plaguing the American way of war.
The fundamental rub, which even 4GW advocates do not address, is
how to coordinate diverse kinds of power, each of which operates in
a unique way and according to its own timeline, to achieve specific
objectives, and to do so while avoiding at least the most egregious
of unintended consequences. It is one thing to assert that all the
elements of power must be coordinated to meet the challenges of
this century, it is quite another to think through the next level of that
problem, and figure out how.
In sum, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel with regard to
insurgencies—super or otherwise—and their various kin. A great
deal of very good work has already been done, especially lately, on
that topic, to include the effects that globalization and information
technologies have had, are having, and are likely to have, on such
movements. We do not need another label, as well as an incoherent
supporting logic, to obscure what many have already made clear.
The fact that 4GW theorists are not aware of this work, or at least
do not acknowledge it, should give us pause indeed. They have
not kept up with the scholarship on unconventional wars, nor with
changes in the historical interpretations of conventional wars. Their
logic is too narrowly focused and irredeemably flawed. In any case,
the wheel they have been reinventing will never turn.
My Comments: Unnecessary Attachments
Theory cannot equip the mind with formulas for solving problems, nor can it mark the narrow path on which the sole solution is supposed to lie by planting a hedge of principles on either side. But it can give the mind insight into the great mass of phenomena and of their relationships, then leave it free to rise into the higher realms of action.
On War, Carl von Clausewitz
One of the things that can weigh us down in dealing with today's conflicts is an unnecessary attachment to a single theory or doctrine of war, be it EBO, NCW, or 4GW. No single theory or perspective can explain the totality and all the phenomena associated with what is perhaps the most complicated of human endeavors: war. In science, no single theory can't explain all aspects of a phenomenon (e.g. general relativity, quantum mechanics); the same applies for warfare. Neither the generational warfare model, nor EBO or NCW, represent, by themselves, a "theory of everything" regarding war.
It can be beneficial to study the concepts pertaining to each theory, but getting married to a single theory can prove to be detrimental. They way I see it, as warfighters we really have no dog in this academic fight. We should be fighting the war, not the doctrine. The concepts we learn studying the different theories live in our minds (not necessarily in our hearts), but ultimately when it comes time to take action we should try what suits each occasion best, regardless of whether it conforms to a theory or another. We have all this concepts in our toolkit, and that's precisely what these concepts are: tools for understanding certain aspects of warfare. No single tool is appropriate for every job.
The generational model of war, of which 4GW is a part, is more a representation of a different viewpoint than a reinvention of the wheel. What we now call insurgency has been a part of warfare since antiquity. 4 GW looks at insurgency, and war as a whole, from a different standpoint. The 4GW proponents added another layer to the discussion of war. If nothing else, they revitalized the concept. Whether you agree with 4GW or not, the discussions generated by the theory at least are getting us to talk about a topic long neglected by the military: insurgency and unconventional warfare.
Globalization has changed many aspects of our lives; commerce, politics, and or course, the way human beings wage war. Technology also changes how we fight, whether we like it or not. Even the "low-tech" insurgents and terrorists adapt technologies to their advantage.
In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman talks about the democratization of technology, finance, and information: "three fundamental changes-changes in how we communicate, how we invest and how we learn about the world."
Fareed Zakaria in The Future of Freedom adds, "We often read during the roaring 1990s that technology and information had been democratized. This is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, technology helped reinforce centralization and hierarchy. For example, the last great information revolution--in the 1920s involving radio, television, movies, megaphones-had a centralizing effect."
The democratization of technology and information along with the weakening of the state has contributed to what Zakaria calls the democratization of violence. To those factors, I add the post-Cold War resurgence of ethnic and religious conflict. 4GW is growing on fertile ground.
Peaceful and hostile non-state actors have benefited from these democratizations. You can get in touch with anyone across the world cheaply and exchange news, make arrangements for your latest cocaine shipment, or put the finishing touches on your terrorist attack. The fact that governments can intercept some of these communications will not stop a determined adversary. They have ways to go around that.
The discussion on 4GW and insurgencies will remain front and center for a long time. Neither 4GW, NCW, or EBO deserve a blanket disapproval. Each perspective offers something useful in understanding certain, but not all, aspects of warfare.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Boston Globe, March 6, 2006, Pg. 1, Filling A Void, Iraqi Militias Assert Authority, Outlawed units expand reach, By Thanassis Cambanis, Globe Staff, BAGHDAD -- In the ranks of the Mahdi Army militia, the deadly sectarian fighting that took Iraq to the verge of civil war wasn't so much a crisis as an opportunity.A warrior sees every crisis as an opportunity. Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army is composed of primitive "warriors", who are very comfortable with inflicting violence. Warriors who have no stake in civil order in Iraq. In fact, they would rather see civil war than civil order. Sadr and his army will never play by our rules. The many disappointments of reconstruction in Iraq will bring these warriors back again and again. We can outlaw their militias and declare cease fires, but these primitive warriors do not respect treaties, and do not follow orders they don't like.
Moqtada al-Sadr is a supporter of violence in Iraq. He believes the clergy should play a direct role in politics. Unfortunately, his concept of political dialogue is broad enough to include the murder of rival Shiite clerics like the Grand Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al Khoi on April 10, 2003, (right after the fall of Saddam Hussein), denouncing the members of the Iraqi interim government as puppets in a series of sermons that started as early as July of 2003, and of course, Sadr's supporters have fought multiple bloody battles against U.S.-led troops since 2003.
Popular support in Iraq for reconstruction efforts will increasingly erode as long as characters like Sadr continue to play divisive roles. Sadr has never been willing to give reconstruction a chance. He has been a thorn on our side since the first days after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Sadr has been nothing but a source of instability in Iraq; many times he has called for a national rebellion against foreign troops in Iraq.
Sadr is particularly popular in Sadr City (named after his father), the over-crowded Baghdad slum where many Iraqi Shiites have been encouraged to cast their lot with Sadr's militia group. Sadr City has been suffering from neglect since the time of Saddam when the slum was called Saddam City. Sadr City has been the site of some of the fiercest fighting between U.S. troops and Shiite militias. More than Najaf or Karbala, Sadr City will always be the center of any Shiite rebellion in Iraq.
We had made some progress in Sadr City. Progress that Sadr tries to negate. The residents of this sprawling slum will be, for the foreseeable future, somewhat wary of American presence, but they have responded positively to reconstruction efforts. Money, clean water, and electricity, along with security are always good ways to make friends. However, Sadr's vision does not include American-led reconstruction efforts.
If you thought is was tricky to fight the Mahdists inside the Holy City of Najaf wait until you see combat is a 3-million person slum. The key to victory in a place like that lies with the Iraqis themselves. Any increase in U.S. led combat operations in Sadr City will inevitably stir our over-sensitive Western consciences and it can also incite more demonstrations throughout the Islamic world.
Sadr may finally give in to a just and sincere peace--but only when his other options include Bradley fighting vehicles, Apache gunships and F-16 jets. A thug like Sadr will not be cowed by spoken reprimands from diplomats and politicians. Al Sadr represents a major threat for U.S. plans in Iraq. He is opposed to any kind of U.S. influence in Iraq. He has managed to carve out an important role in the Iraqi political scene, but is not content with peaceful solutions. He exploited the outbreak of Shiite-Sunni violence to expand his reach. He is linked to radical Islamic groups (Hizballah) and regimes (Iran, Syria) in the region. The Mahdi Army is does nothing but weaken the Iraqi government's authority.
Sadr's vision for Iraq is very different from what the U.S. would like to see. Sadr belives that Iraq should become an Islamic state. There is no room for true democracy in Sadr's theocratic vision.
We have to come up with a strategy for success in Iraq. It is not too late, but time is running out. We have to help the Iraqis rebuild their nation while dealing with insurgents, militias and an impending civil war. Many young, unemployed Iraqis seek the immediate relief of joining a militia that fills the void of what is perceived as a slow reconstruction. The more the militias grow the more the chances increase of a full-blown civil war in Iraq.
Establishing security should be our first priority in Iraq. Security is the crucial precondition for any functioning state.
For 30 years Iraq was neglected by Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, who spent more time building palaces than creating a viable nation. We've had 3 years to rebuild from this neglect. And we've have done under downright dangerous combat conditions, reconstruction fighting insurgents and militias along the way. What sometimes saddens me is that we need to keep reminding the American people how much has been accomplished.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Back in Virginia
Well, I survived my latest US Gov-sponsored trip and I finally made it back to the beautiful state of VA., where my home-base is located. On my way back, I also had a chance to stop in Nellis AFB, and of course I had to go to nearby Vegas. This time around, I spent more time in Caesar's Palace. I always wonder what the ancient Romans would think of that place.
If you have ever traveled with the US military, you are probably painfully familiar with the concept of "hurry up and wait". Basically your showtime would be some ungodly hour like 0500hrs, but you end up leaving at 1300hrs, if you are lucky. I see this as an opportunity, rather than a curse and I use this time waiting in base terminals to catch up on my reading, so I always pack a few paperbacks (hardcovers are too heavy and bulky) in my gear. This time around, I packed two books: Emergence by Steven Johnson and Warrior Politics by Robert Kaplan.
I am interested in the subject of spontaneous intelligence, especially as it relates to warfare, and Emergence provides an excellent overview of this phenomenon. Johnson does not delve into the military implications of emergence, but it provides some insight into the growth of gradually intricate actions among simple parts. Intelligence is born out of connectivity. The study of emergence is essential to understanding our current nonlinear battlespaces.
Ever since I read Imperial Grunts, I decided to read every book by Robert D. Kaplan. In my opinion, Kaplan really gets it. Some may say that he is somewhat pessimistic, but I am also pessimistic by nature and I'm always thinking about the worst-case scenario. Warrior Politics is a fairly comprehensive essay/book on that argues for a practical approach to foreign policy instead of idealistic high expectations. Good government emerges only from a "sly understanding of men's passions".
That's it for now. I need to get some rest now.
Monday, March 13, 2006
A Busy Stretch
There are other options to the natural instinct of fight-or-fight. In fact, to think of possible reactions to conflict merely in terms of this dichotomy, considerable limits our array of options in responding to a challenge.
Running away is almost never a good option. We can't run away indefinitely. We might be merely postponing the inevitable. There are times when running is not an option. There are times when we have to fight. Some challenges have to be met head on. One of the big unknowns is how we are going to react in a combat situation. You never know until you are there. I find that the most exposed you are to conflict, the most comfortable you become with it. Suppressing emotions is important. Time plays tricks with your mind. Thirty seconds feel like two hours. Two hours feel like thirty seconds. And when all is said and done, your knees feel weak. You feel like right after having sex.
To constantly be in a fight is a sign of failure. To constantly be flying from our attackers is not a sign of success. The third option is strategy.
No matter the outcome, conflict is always costly. Even the winner can lose something in the process. You have to know the type of fight you are getting into so you can formulate your strategy. Having done some boxing when I was a teenager I had to adapt my style to karate when I first started sparring in my dojo. In boxing, you are in for the long haul. You guard yourself differently. You can take a few hits. In competitive karate, the lighting strike is emphasized. You can get hot once and the match is over. You cover more of your body since your sparring partner can use his legs he has more weapons at his disposal. Boxing is more brute force and stamina. Karate is more about strategy: how can I hit you, fast, without getting hit myself.
It helps to know both forms, boxing and karate. Before a fight, you have to be able to judge if it's going to be short of long. Sometimes is best to go in hoping for the short fight, but ready for the long one. All this we must take into account when we formulate our strategy to deal with the challenge.
Strategy is the ultimate alternative. Strategy combines fight, flight, posture and even sometimes, submission.
I should be going back home sometime this week. It's been really busy out here. Long hours. Hopefully, when I get home, I'll be able to make more coherent posts.