Saturday, July 22, 2006

Prescription - One Bullet, Repeat As Needed.

Hold tight, I've a feeling this could get controversial pretty quickly.

On Wednesday, I posed three questions, in which I tried to capture the three themes I think have arisen most strongly from various conflicts and incidents in Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere over recent months. Although all are inter-connected, I am going to try to tackle each seperately.

Although as a democratic socialist I believe that whenever possible conflict should be settled by diplomacy and negotiation I am also a realist enough to understand that is not always possible. In particular, fundamentalist extremists willing to turn to terror and violence - often backed by states with a vested interest in keeping such groups on some kind of leash, have historically preneted a major problem to peaceable conflict resolution. Given that force must occassionally be used as a last resort, where diplomacy will not suffice, it makes sense to me to say that we want to use that force in the best way - that is, the most successful for conflict resolution. Thus one of the questions I asked was:

  • It is an article of faith among many that overwhelming military force is just as valid and valuable a response in fighting terror as it induibitably is in fighting another State's regular armed forces - is that actually the case?

    The short answer to that is undoubtably "No". To see this we only have to look at the situations in which America and some of its major allies around the world find themselves. Even where 3rd generation warfare was incredibly successful in the state-on-state phase of a conflict, the occupations or hunting down and eradicating of terrorist and insurgent groups has been an universal failure when using the same equipment and tactics.

    Afghanistan is close to anarchy, according to the senior British military commander there. In Iraq, there is talk of partitioning the capital into ethnic enclaves and that shocking talk has finally pushed even the most optimistic Iraqis into serious contemplation of the de facto civil war there. In Lebanon and Palestine, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, bombing even with "precision" weapons seems to kill and radicalize more of the civilian population than it kills terrorists - a shaky trade-off at best and a counterproductive disaster at worst. Heavy troop presence becomes an incitement to radicalization when the populace sees it's land as "occupied" rather than seeing "liberators". Tanks and heavy artillery simply add to the dispoportionate civilian carnage of the fighter-bombers while being easier for an insurgency to gain PR points by counter-attacking. Surely only the dumbest of the dumb would expect a different outcome from exactly the same set of failed tactics.

    For those who seem to be exactly that dumb, here's a short refresher course in Guerrilla War 101, coutresy of the guy who literally wrote the book (and who thinks the neocons are morons) William S. Lind:

    Air power works against you, not for you. It kills lots of people who weren’t your enemy, recruiting their relatives, friends and fellow tribesmen to become your enemies. In this kind of war, bombers are as useful as 42 cm. siege mortars.

    Big, noisy, offensives, launched with lots of warning, achieve nothing. The enemy just goes to ground while you pass on through, and he’s still there when you leave. Big Pushes are the opposite of the “ink blot” strategy, which is the only thing that works, when anything can.

    Putting the Big Push together with lots of bombing in Afghanistan’s Pashtun country means we end up fighting most if not all of the Pashtun. In Afghan wars, the Pashtun always win in the end. [Apply this to the ethnic/religious group with a generations-long warrior tradition of your choice for other regions. It still works. - C]

    Quisling governments fail because they cannot achieve legitimacy.

    You need closure, but your guerilla enemy doesn’t. He not only can fight until Doomsday, he intends to do just that-if not you, then someone else.

    The bigger the operations you have to undertake, the more surely your enemy is winning.

    And more - as Lind quotes from expert Chet Richards in his forthcoming book "Neither Shall The Sword":
    war is terrorism, so a “war on terrorism” is a war on war. We are not in a war on “terrorism” or engaged in a “struggle against violent extremism.” Instead, we are faced with an evolutionary development in armed conflict, a “fourth generation” of warfare that is different from and much more serious than “terrorism”…

    to see the difference between 4GW and “terrorism,” run this simple thought experiment: suppose bin Laden and al-Qaida were able to enforce their program on the Middle East, but they succeeded without the deliberate killing of one more American civilian. The entire Middle East turns hostile, Israel is destroyed, and gas goes up to $15 per gallon when it is available. Bin Laden’s 4GW campaign succeeds, but without terrorism. Do you feel better?

    This applies to situations like Iraq and Afghanistan:

    It’s not a war followed by a blown peace. That is conventional war thinking, even if the war is waged and quickly won by 3GW. Instead, it will be an occupation against some degree of resistance, followed by the real, fourth generation war.
    Jon Henke at Qand O responds to all this by suggesting that states should perhaps form their own tame non-state actors - pet extremist groups - to carry out reprisals and attacks on their behalf. However, that seems an unsatisfying answer if only for one reason - as Iran can no doubt attest, groups you think are tame have a disconcerting tendency to assert themselves as independent at the most inconvenient times.

    I've a notion that the correct strategy lies in going exactly the other way in applying assymetric force. Less is more. Assasinate known and self-admitted terrorist leaders and those who noisily support them from positions of state or popular power. Those individuals who lead, support and advocate terror only and no others. Do not create civilian casualties to fuel the next round of hate. One of the very first effects will be to concentrate the minds of both sides' leadership - often the very people who are safest from the destruction they create, towards ceasefires, conflict resolution and peace.

    Let the terrorists be the only ones to ever mass-kill innocents and even many who support them will change their minds about that support, gradually removing their power base of generational hatred. Back that up with a genuinely universal foreign policy of ethical intervention and aid (hearts and minds) and the effect will be multiplied. Between the two, it would even dampen down, through both positive and negative reinforcement, the process of replacing the terrorist leaders and the leaders who enable them.

    The West has the tools - highly trained special forces and intelligence units. No person is safe from a trained and motivated assasin backed by the kind of support technology modern democracies can provide. But don't use bombs and artillery - they just aren't accurate enough, even when "precision" is prefixed to their names by the advertising blurb.

    Should this mean threats of reciprocity - killing of the West's leaders and and its own versions of advocates of genocide - then let those threatened people declare "bring it on". Let them too have the courage to face the bullet from afar. (Isn't the dream of the common man to have the two leaders in a conflict fight it out as champions without a multitude of peasants' deaths? This would be as close to it as we are likely to get.)

    Should any nation descend into chaos because too much of its leadership class has been removed then - as the neocons never cease to remind us - not all medicine tastes nice. Which is prefereable, a chaotic nation where inimical strongmen are still around to help guide the chaos along to their own ends or one where a true "hearts and minds" policy can soften the blow, shorten the interregnum and help the blameless innocent - all of whom will blissfully still be alive - choose a decent path for their nation free of the machinations of terrorist leaders and their enablers?
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