This is something that’s been slooshing around in my head for a while … Richard Norton-Taylor writes on The Guardian web site that
Israel is learning a lesson that the armies of other countries, including the US, have already grasped. Military force can no longer guarantee victory, certainly not in the conflict Israel and its western allies say they are engaged in – the “war on terror”, as the Bush White House calls it, or the “long war”, as the Pentagon now prefers.
Whether you call them guerrillas, insurgents or terrorists, you cannot bomb them into submission, as the US has found to its cost in Iraq, and as Israel is discovering in Lebanon. Even Tony Blair appeared to admit this in his weekend speech to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp organisation. “My concern is that we cannot win this struggle by military means or security measures alone, or even principally by them,” he said. “We have to put our ideas up against theirs.”
The neocons still haven’t figured this out yet, of course. But this got my attention:
Senior officers in the British army are wondering whether they will ever again fight a war, let alone win one, in the conventional sense.
I sincerely believe the old-fashioned government-declared war between nation-states has become a relic of history. I could be wildly mistaken, of course. Time will tell.
For them, the phrase “war on terror” is a misnomer, one that elevates the enemy and suggests terrorist groups can be defeated by force of arms alone.
Before the attacks of September 11 2001 on New York and Washington, the MoD had published a paper entitled The Future Strategic Context for Defence. No conventional military threats to Britain were likely to emerge, it predicted, in the 30 years to 2030. Instead, it identified terrorism, along with international crime. Prompted by the experiences of the military in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s (which are far from settled), the MoD, in a further attempt to drive home the military’s limitations, decided to develop what it calls a “comprehensive approach”. In this century, it says in a paper ordered by the chiefs of staff, “the symptoms of crisis will be spawned by a combination of climate change, ideology, greed, ethnic animosity, residual territorial claims, religious fanaticism and competition for resources”.
Military force is no answer to these. What is needed is a “clearer understanding of the root causes” of potential (and actual) conflicts. Revealing the MoD’s [the UK’s Ministry of Defense] liking for acronyms, the paper says there should be more cooperation with OGDs (other government departments), NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and IOs (international organisations).
There’s that “root causes” thing again. The problem is that when Bush talk about “root causes” he seems to think that it’s just fine to bomb the smithereens out of the problem population while the smart guys work out the “root causes.”
The British general who knows this best is David Richards, who yesterday took command of an expanded Nato force in Afghanistan. He knows he is engaged in a battle for “hearts and minds”, a task that requires political and civil institutions, diplomacy and negotiations, not the barrel of a gun or a bomb from a warplane.
The reasons for the futility of force are many, but very crudely — Through history wars have been fought for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is smoldering enmity left over from the last war. Since the 17th century, when firepower began to dominate warfare, governments had a near-monopoly on war. This was partly because only nation-states had the big guns. But now the forces of changing technology and globalization have made it possible for stateless groups to wage war, too. This is true even though these stateless groups don’t have as many fighters or as much military ordnance as the “regulars,” and this takes us to “asymmetric warfare.”
Just after September 11 Richard Norton-Taylor wrote that asymmetric warfare isn’t new, but in the post-9/11 world it has taken on new dimensions. Such warfare has to be fought on many levels — psychological (the old “hearts and minds” thing), political, diplomatic, financial, and economic, as well as military.
You cannot apply a simple military response when you are challenged politically. The Americans tried in Vietnam and failed, says Wilkinson. [Phillip Wilkinson of King’s College, London]
He is about to go to Washington at the invitation of the Pentagon – the US defence department – to discuss, among other things, the development of “logic and language” and political discourse in “complex emergencies”. What exactly is meant by “war” or “victory”?
These are good questions in a world which has said goodbye (though many, perhaps most, military leaders are slow to recognise the fact) to the era of Clausewitz, the great 19th century German strategist, who was preoccupied with wars between states and the conventional enemy’s “centre of gravity”.
It seems that Mr. Wilkerson traveled in vain. The Bush Administration never did think through the basic question — What exactly is meant by “war” or “victory”? They use the words, but I bet if you gave ’em paper and pencils and asked them to write down what they mean by “war” and “victory,” coherently and concisely, they couldn’t do it. This is, IMO, the primary reason our foreign policy is such a mess.
Another current buzz-phrase is “fourth generation warfare,” or 4GW. There is a great deal of information on 4GW here. I suggest everyone become acquainted with 4GW basics, because understanding it helps clarify many things. Here’s just a bit —
We appear to be returning to the situation that characterizes most of human experience, where both states and non-states wage war. In 4GW, at least one side is something other than a military force organized and operating under the control of a national government, and one that often exploits the weakness of the state system in many parts of the world. For a graphical depiction of how the “generations” evolve, please download The Evolution of Conflict (194KB PowerPoint – version 2/December 2005). …
… One way to tell that 4GW is truly new is that we don’t even have a name for its participantsâ€”typically dismissing them as “terrorists,” “extremists,” or “thugs.”
Name calling, though, is not often an effective substitute for strategy.
The attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center dispelled the notion that 4GW is simple “terrorism.” But one can sympathize with our political and military leaders, because 4GW is a strange form of warfare, one where military force plays a smaller role than in earlier generations, supporting initiatives that are more political, diplomatic, and economic.
As important as finding and destroying the actual combatants, for example, is drying up the bases of popular support that allow them to recruit for, plan, and execute their attacks. Perhaps most odd of all, being seen as too successful militarily may create a backlash, making the opponent’s other elements of 4GW more effective.
Get this …
The distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between ‘civilian’ and ‘military’ may disappear.
Not comforting. Anyway, it seems the days of “total war,” which according to Wikipedia involves “the total subordination of politics to the war effort,” are gone. Now, the war effort must be subordinate to politics. Back in 1864 William Tecumseh Sherman set out to “make Georgia howl” and break the will of southern civilians to support the Confederate army. The March to the Sea helped the Union achieve a complete victory over the Confederacy. But that sort of war, and that sort of victory, are over.
The Bush Administration and the government of Israel have refused to face up to these new realities, and instead are trying to wage an old-fashioned World War II-type war. And it won’t work.
One of the reasons it won’t work is explained in this op ed by Caleb Carr, “Why Good Countries Fight Dirty Wars.” Carr writes that popular notions about “honor” in warfare are so much hoohaw.
The citizen-soldiers sent into the field by the United States or any other Western popular government are expected, by virtue of not so long ago having been free civilians themselves, to be more empathetic with the plight of the noncombatants with whom they come into contact. Certainly, brutal incidents like the My Lai massacre or the Abu Ghraib scandal occur from time to time, but they are widely viewed as cultural aberrations.
This interpretation, however, is as simplistic as it is misleading. All too often the armies of modern democracies have tolerated and even initiated outrages against civilians, in manners uneasily close to those of their totalitarian and terrorist enemies. Israeli troops are currently demonstrating this fact in their response to the Hezbollah rocket offensive â€” a response most of the world community, according to recent polls, believes is taking an unacceptably disproportionate toll on Lebanese civilians. And there have been times when democratic leaders have been even more open about their brutal intentions: Speaking of the Allied bombing campaign during World War II that culminated in that consummate act of state terrorism, the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, Winston Churchill flatly stated that the objective was “to make the enemy burn and bleed in every way.”
I urge you to read all of Carr’s op ed. Essentially what he says is that conventional warfare and civilian populations just don’t mix, and never did. Soldiers in war will commit atrocities. You can apply training and discipline to keep atrocities to a minimum, but you’re being foolish if you expect to eliminate them. And when applied to asymmetric warfare and 4GW, any abuse of civilians amounts to an army shooting itself in the foot. But instead of a smart, disciplined, fourth generation war, the Bush Administration launched a fiasco. Michael Hirsh:
Reading “Fiasco,” Thomas Ricks’s devastating new book about the Iraq war, brought back memories for me. Memories of going on night raids in Samarra in January 2004, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, with the Fourth Infantry Division units that Ricks describes. During these raids, confused young Americans would burst into Iraqi homes, overturn beds, dump out drawers, and summarily arrest all military-age menâ€”actions that made them unwitting recruits for the insurgency. For American soldiers battling the resistance throughout Iraq, the unspoken rule was that all Iraqis were guilty until proven innocent. Arrests, beatings and sometimes killings were arbitrary, often based on the flimsiest intelligence, and Iraqis had no recourse whatever to justice. Imagine the sense of helpless rage that emerges from this sort of treatment. Apply three years of it and you have one furious, traumatized population. And a country out of control.
Caleb Carr concludes,
… what happens when a democratic army faces an opponent whose command-and-control structure, as well as its fighting units, is intimately woven into the fabric of civilian society? Is there any solution to the problem of such insurgencies? There is, but it involves the same kind of thinking that pragmatic commanders throughout the modern age have turned to: increased and innovative discipline.
Right now, there are senior U.S. commanders in Iraq (notably Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli) who are urging new and strict training to teach American troops the cultural, political and military methods necessary to fight this kind of war, steps that could be as revolutionary in reforming how the U.S. projects its power as the more primitive but equally critical reforms instituted by Cromwell and Frederick the Great were for their nations.
If support for such steps among top Pentagon and White House leaders continues to be as halfhearted as it has proved to date, however, the beast inside America’s armed forces will remain alive, and America’s own noncombatants will suffer for it along with the nation’s soldiers, as an active desire for revenge on the part of increasing numbers of foreign civilians steadily mounts.
All week the righties have been whining that Israel just can’t help killing civilians because Hezbollah operates out of residential areas, and that ain’t fair. It’s the old “unintentional collateral damage” problem. Back in the days when “victory” meant utterly crushing another nation-state and forcing it to surrender, “unintentional collateral damage” could be tolerated. But now it cannot. Righties like Rush Limbaugh are trying to stir up outrage against the “Hezbos” who don’t wear uniforms and who bivouac in residential neighborhoods and it ain’t fair, but righties are still living in a way pre-9/11 world. .
Here Edward “Captain Ed” Morrissey argues that “terrorists” don’t have to follow rules, and this creates “an impossible double standard for Israel.” Well, yes, that’s the nature of asymmetric warfare. He complains that Israel is criticized for the bombing of Qana while Hezbollah is not criticized for the rockets that it has launched against Israel. Hey, welcome to the world of 4GW. Remember, Hezbollah started the current ruckus not by attacking civilians, but by ambushing Israeli soldiers on the Lebanon-Israel border (which side of the border they were on when this happened depends on whom you ask). In other words, this was an act between two groups of soldiers. It would have been entirely appropriate for Israel to have responded in a discriminatory way that kept the conflict limited to precise strikes, probably by ground troops or special ops, on Hezbollah strongholds. Instead, Israel indiscriminately bombed residential areas and civilian infrastructure even in areas of Lebanon where Hezbollah is not concentrated. Many wise people tried to tell them this was a real bad idea, and they wouldn’t listen.
“We have a right to defend ourselves!” they cried. Yes, but defend yourself smart. Not stupid.
The Oblivious Right thinks that all this hand-wringing over civilians is for weenies. Catch this …
Part of what is crippling Western leaders is the sacrifice-worship of the altruist morality, which programs them, in response to human suffering, to suspend thinking and react emotionally. Natan Sharansky recounts a discussion he had with former president Jimmy Carter about why the Palestinian-Israeli “peace process” kept failing. Carter responded, “You know, you are right, but don’t try to be too rational about these things. The moment you see people suffering, you should feel solidarity with them and try to help them without thinking too much about the reasons.”
Somehow I think some context got left out there, but let’s go on … in fact, it is the righties and the neocons who have suspended thinking and are reacting emotionally. They refuse to sit down and think through consequences; they cannot say precisely what they even mean by “war” and “victory.” They don’t clarify their grand objectives, but think only of killing an ill-defined and amorphous enemy. They still think they are fighting total war, in which the political consequences are subordinated to the war effort.
But even more insidious is a kind of cognitive altruism that tells men to sacrifice, not just their interests, but their judgment, subordinating their knowledge to the opinions and prejudices of others. That is what seems to be operating here. Whatever Secretary Rice knows about the Iranians’ strategy is discarded the moment lurid images of civilian casualties are splashed across the front pages of European newspapers and the broadcasts of Arab television stations. Just as, in this self-abnegating morality, you have to consider the interests of everyone except yourself–so, in this morality of cognitive self-abnegation, you have to consider everyone’s opinion except your own. Thus, faced with the united force of “world opinion,” the formerly “tough-minded” Secretary of State was flustered into an ignominious surrender of American interests.
He’s saying that we shouldn’t be so tender-hearted about the poor civilians or so craven to win the favor of world opinion. But in 4GW, the objective is not to win a military victory but to effect political change. The objective is to dry up Hezbollah’s base of support, not make them more popular. The objective is to encourage peaceful economic enterprises and democratic governments, not blow them to bits while you’re trying to get at the “bad guys.”
This is a strange kind of war, in which we have more than enough military capability to crush the enemy’s “lousy army.” Nor do we lack the intellectual power to understand and counteract the enemy’s strategy. But we lack the moral confidence to use both our power and our knowledge.
Yes, exactly; just as it says above: “4GW is a strange form of warfare, one where military force plays a smaller role than in earlier generations, supporting initiatives that are more political, diplomatic, and economic.”
The righties can’t understand why our superior military might can’t prevail. They cannot wrap their heads around the simple truth that the means they want to use and the objectives don’t fit. At this point, for example, we could bring peace to Iraq with military might, but we’d have to slaughter most of its population and leave Iraq a barren wasteland in the process. And yes, I believe we could do that. But I don’t believe that is the objective. If the objective is to effect political change and turn a population away from Islamic totalitarianism and toward the West, our use of force must be smart and strategically discriminating. Israel didn’t think that through, and that’s why Israel is losing in Lebanon. And the Bush Administration didn’t think that through, and that’s why we’re losing in Iraq.