21 September 2014

Is the Nation State Obsolete?


Introduction to the Changing Face of War

Uri Avnery’s thoughtful essay Scotland on the Euphrates questions the future viability of the nation-state as a form of social organization.  His concerns are not new, although as Avnery noted, recent events certainly make them more believable — or less unbelievable to those who opine for the comforting stasis predicted by Fukyama’s silly postulation of the "end of history."  The Israeli military historian, Martin van Creveld, has been making arguments along these lines for years (e.g., The Rise and Decline of the State, 1999).  And van Creveld was not the only one to address the emerging problems of sustaining the nation state in the emerging world.


Twenty-five years ago, in October 1989, four active duty military officers (2 marines and 2 army) and one civilian military historian wrote a prescient article in the Marine Corps Gazette, entitled “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” attached below.  At that time, the Gazette was edited by Colonel John Greenwood (USMC Ret.); and thanks to him, the Gazette was by far the most stimulating, vibrant, and spunky of the professional military journals.  The article initially attracted a lot of attention, but unfortunately 4GW became a buzzword in some overly enthusiastic circles.  To make matters worse, the buzz triggered sharp resistance in traditional circles.  In my view, the authors’ warning became diluted by the intersection of uncritical enthusiasm with hardening resistance, and was missed entirely.  

But their warning was timeless and is particularly appropriate for today. For example, they predicted the general outlines of why the drone war — the apotheosis of what the traditionalists call the military-technical revolution —  is failing so miserably in the face of the kind of adversaries these authors identified.  Some might argue that their paper is written from the narrow confines of European military history and variations of what they call 4GW have always been around, particularly in the East.  But this is a red herring; a careful reading shows that they accounted for and agreed with both these points.  

More importantly, their central recommendation was missed entirely by their critics and many of their enthusiasts alike.  These men were not being dogmatic about the future; the authors' aim (and Greenwood’s) was to stimulate critical thinking and debate about future possibilities.  Unfortunately, they were arrogantly dismissed by those living comfortably off a continuation of the status quo, and the unbridled enthusiasm of some of their followers weakened their case.  In the end, they failed utterly in achieving their aim of stimulating a serious debate, but not for wont of trying.  

The results of that failure to stimulate debate and reform can be seen generally in the perpetual war on terror and specifically in President Obama’s declaration of a hi-tech bombing war against ISIS

The big green spending machine, the Military - Industrial - Congressional - Complex (MICC), rolled throughout the 1990s into the 21st Century, essentially unthinking and unchanged, driven by its own well established internal dynamics and constituent interests.  The authors feared the MICC's  claim of a military-technical revolution quite explicitly in their discourse on what they called a technology-driven 4GW — which I urge readers to pay particular attention to.  

As they feared, the MICC opted for a technology driven answer to the war on terror by force-fitting the MICC’s tired old cold-war-inspired vision of techno war — i.e. the system of network centric systems embodying (1) an all-seeing surveillance system, coupled to (2) an all-knowing computerized assessment, decision making and targeting system and a (3) command system that controls (4) precision weapons — into what Avnery clearly recognizes as an ideas-driven change to the face of war.  The results have been disastrous and are continuing to worsen, an outcome also foreseen by these five men.

The United States is paying the price today: The arrogance of ignorance has created a perpetual war at ever increasing cost that is ruining America’s image in the world and bankrupting its government.  Where this will lead, no one can say. 

It is with a sense of admiration* that I am attaching their Gazette paper.  I urge you to read it carefully and hope you find it interesting.
_________
Caveat emptor: two of the authors, William Lind and Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMC ret), were colleagues and remain valued friends of mine.  

Chuck Spinney

"The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation."

By William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR)
Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989, Pages 22-26
The peacetime soldier's principal task is to prepare effectively for the next war. In order to do so, he must anticipate what the next war will be like. This is a difficult task that gets continuously more difficult. German Gen Franz Uhle-Wettler writes:
"At an earlier time, a commander could be certain that a future war would resemble past and present ones. This enabled him to analyze appropriate tactics from past and present. The troop commander of today no longer has this possibility. He knows only that who ever fails to adapt the experiences of the last war will surely lose the next one."
The Central Question
If we look at the development of warfare in the modern era, we see three distinct generations. In the United States, the Army and the Marine Corps are now coming to grips with the change to the third generation. This transition is entirely for the good. However, third generation warfare was conceptually developed by the German offensive in the spring of 1918. It is now more than 70 years old. This suggests some interesting questions: Is it not about time for a fourth generation to appear? If so, what might it look like? These questions are of central importance. Whoever is first to recognize, understand, and implement a generational change can gain a decisive advantage. Conversely, a nation that is slow to adapt to generational change opens itself to catastrophic defeat.
Our purpose here is less to answer these questions than to pose them. Nonetheless, we will offer some tentative answers. To begin to see what these might be, we need to put the questions into historical context.
Three Generations of Warfare
While military development is generally a continuous evolutionary process, the modern era has witnessed three watersheds in which change has been dialectically qualitative. Consequently, modern military development comprises three distinct generations.
First generation warfare reflects tactics of the era of the smoothbore musket, the tactics of line and column. These tactics were developed partially in response to technological factors the line maximized firepower, rigid drill was necessary to generate a high rate of fire, etc. and partially in response to social conditions and ideas, e.g., the columns of the French revolutionary armies reflected both the elan of the revolution and the low training levels of conscripted troops. Although rendered obsolete with the replacement of the smoothbore by the rifled musket, vestiges of first generation tactics survive today, especially in a frequently encountered desire for linearity on the battlefield. Operational art in the first generation did not exist as a concept although it was practiced by individual commanders, most prominently Napoleon.
Second generation warfare was a response to the rifled musket, breechloaders, barbed wire, the machine-gun, and indirect fire. Tactics were based on fire and movement, and they remained essentially linear. The defense still attempted to prevent all penetrations, and in the attack a laterally dispersed line advanced by rushes in small groups. Perhaps the principal change from first generation tactics was heavy reliance on indirect fire; second generation tactics were summed up in the French maxim, "the artillery conquers, the infantry occupies." Massed firepower replaced massed manpower. Second generation tactics remained the basis of U.S. doctrine until the 1980s, and they are still practiced by most American units in the field.
While ideas played a role in the development of second generation tactics (particularly the idea of lateral dispersion), technology was the principal driver of change. Technology manifested itself both qualitatively, in such things as heavier artillery and bombing aircraft, and quantitatively, in the ability of an industrialized economy to fight a battle of materiel (Materialschlacht).
The second generation saw the formal recognition and adoption of the operational art, initially by the Prussian army. Again, both ideas and technology drove the change. The ideas sprang largely from Prussian studies of Napoleon's campaigns. Technological factors included von Moltke's realization that modern tactical firepower mandated battles of encirclement and the desire to exploit the capabilities of the railway and the telegraph.
Third generation warfare was also a response to the increase in battlefield firepower. However, the driving force was primarily ideas. Aware they could not prevail in a contest of materiel because of their weaker industrial base in World War I, the Germans developed radically new tactics. Based on maneuver rather than attrition, third generation tactics were the first truly nonlinear tactics. The attack relied on infiltration to bypass and collapse the enemy's combat forces rather than seeking to close with and destroy them. The defense was in depth and often invited penetration, which set the enemy up for a counterattack.
While the basic concepts of third generation tactics were in place by the end of 1918, the addition of a new technological element — tanks — brought about a major shift at the operational level in World War II. That shift was blitzkrieg. In the blitzkrieg, the basis
of the operational art shifted from place (as in Liddell Hart's indirect approach) to time. This shift was explicitly recognized only recently in the work of retired Air Force Col John Boyd and his "OODA (observation-orientation-decision-action) theory.
Thus we see two major catalysts for change in previous generational shifts: technology and ideas. What perspective do we gain from these earlier shifts as we look toward a potential fourth generation of warfare?
Elements That Carry Over
Earlier generational shifts, especially the shift from the second to the third generation, were marked by growing emphasis on several central ideas. Four of these seem likely to carry over into the fourth generation, and indeed to expand their influence.
  • The first is mission orders. Each generational change has been marked by greater dispersion on the battlefield. The fourth generation battlefield is likely to include the whole of the enemy's society. Such dispersion, coupled with what seems likely to be increased importance for actions by very small groups of combatants, will require even the lowest level to operate flexibly on the basis of the commander's intent.
  • Second is decreasing dependence on centralized logistics. Dispersion, coupled with increased value placed on tempo, will require a high degree of ability to live off the land and the enemy.
  • Third is more emphasis on maneuver. Mass, of men or fire power, will no longer be an overwhelming factor. In fact, mass may become a disadvantage as it will be easy to target. Small, highly maneuverable, agile forces will tend to dominate.
  • Fourth is a goal of collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him. Targets will include such things as the population's support for the war and the enemy's culture. Correct identification of enemy strategic centers of gravity will be highly important.
In broad terms, fourth generation warfare seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; 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. Actions will occur concurrently throughout all participants' depth, including their society as a cultural, not just a physical, entity. Major military facilities, such as airfields, fixed communications sites, and large headquarters will become rarities because of their vulnerability; the same may be true of civilian equivalents, such as seats of government, power plants, and industrial sites (including knowledge as well as manufacturing industries). Success will depend heavily on effectiveness in joint operations as lines between responsibility and mission become very blurred. Again, all these elements are present in third generation warfare; fourth generation will merely accentuate them.
Potential Technology-Driven Fourth Generation
If we combine the above general characteristics of fourth generation warfare with new technology, we see one possible outline of the new generation. For example, directed energy may permit small elements to destroy targets they could not attack with conventional energy weapons. Directed energy may permit the achievement of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) effects without a nuclear blast. Research in superconductivity suggests the possibility of storing and using large quantities of energy in very small packages. Technologically, it is possible that a very few soldiers could have the same battlefield effect as a current brigade.
The growth of robotics, remotely piloted vehicles, low probability of intercept communications, and artificial intelligence may offer a potential for radically altered tactics. In turn, growing dependence on such technology may open the door to new vulnerabilities, such as the vulnerability to computer viruses.
Small, highly mobile elements composed of very intelligent soldiers armed with high technology weapons may range over wide areas seeking critical targets. Targets may be more in the civilian than the military sector. Front-rear terms will be replaced with targeted-untargeted. This may in turn radically alter the way in which military Services are organized and structured.
Units will combine reconnaissance and strike functions. Remote, "smart" assets with preprogrammed artificial intelligence may play a key role. Concurrently, the greatest defensive strengths may be the ability to hide from and spoof these assets.
The tactical and strategic levels will blend as the opponent's political infrastructure and civilian society become battlefield targets. It will be critically important to isolate the enemy from one's own homeland because a small number of people will be able to render great damage in a very short time.
Leaders will have to be masters of both the art of war and technology, a difficult combination as two different mindsets are involved. Primary challenges facing commanders at all levels will include target selection (which will be a political and cultural, not just a military, decision), the ability to concentrate suddenly from very wide dispersion, and selection of subordinates who can manage the challenge of minimal or no supervision in a rapidly changing environment. A major challenge will be handling the tremendous potential information overload without losing sight of the operational and strategic objectives.
Psychological operations may become the dominant operational and strategic weapon in the form of media/information intervention. Logic bombs and computer viruses, including latent viruses, may be used to disrupt civilian as well as military operations. Fourth generation adversaries will be adept at manipulating the media to alter domestic and world opinion to the point where skillful use of psychological operations will sometimes preclude the commitment of combat forces. A major target will be the enemy population's support of its government and the war. Television news may become a more powerful operational weapon than armored divisions.
This kind of high-technology fourth generation warfare may carry in it the seeds of nuclear destruction. Its effectiveness could rapidly eliminate the ability of a nuclear-armed opponent to wage war conventionally. Destruction or disruption of vital industrial capacities, political infrastructure, and social fabric, coupled with sudden shifts in the balance of power and concomitant emotions, could easily lead to escalation to nuclear weapons. This risk may deter fourth generation warfare among nuclear armed powers just as it deters major conventional warfare among them today.
major caveat must be placed on the possibility of a technologically driven fourth generation, at least in the American context. Even if the technological state of the
art permits a high-technology fourth generation, and this is not clearly the case, the technology itself must be translated into weapons that are effective in actual combat. At present, our research, development, and procurement process has great difficulty making this transition. It often produces weapons that incorporate high technology irrelevant in combat or too complex to work in the chaos of combat. Too many so-called "smart" weapons provide examples; in combat they are easy to counter, fail of their own complexity, or make impossible demands on their operators. The current American research, development, and procurement process may simply not be able to make the transition to a militarily effective fourth generation of weapons.
A Potential Idea-Driven Fourth Generation
Technology was the primary driver of the second generation of warfare; ideas were the primary driver of the third. An idea-based fourth generation is also conceivable.
For about the last 500 years, the West has defined warfare. For a military to be effective it generally had to follow Western models. Because the West's strength is technology, it may tend to conceive of a fourth generation in technological terms.
However, the West no longer dominates the world. A fourth generation may emerge from nonWestern cultural traditions, such as Islamic or Asiatic traditions. The fact that some non-Western areas, such as the Islamic world, are not strong in technology may lead them to develop a fourth generation through ideas rather than technology.
The genesis of an idea-based fourth generation may be visible in terrorism. This is not to say that terrorism is fourth generation warfare, but rather that elements of it may be signs pointing toward a fourth generation.
Some elements in terrorism appear to reflect the previously noted "carryovers" from third generation warfare. The more successful terrorists appear to operate on broad mission orders that carry down to the level of the individual terrorist. The 'battlefield" is highly dispersed and includes the whole of the enemy's society. The terrorist lives almost completely off the land and the enemy. Terrorism is very much a matter of maneuver: the terrorist's firepower is small, and where and when he applies it is critical.
Two additional carryovers must be noted as they may be useful "signposts" pointing toward the fourth generation. 
The first is a component of collapsing the enemy. It
is a shift in focus from the enemy's front to his rear. Terrorism must seek to collapse the enemy from within as it has little capability (at least at present) to inflict widespread destruction. First generation warfare focused tactically and operationally (when operational art was practiced) on the enemy's front, his combat forces. Second generation warfare remained frontal tactically, but at least in Prussian practice it focused operationally on the enemy's rear through the emphasis on encirclement. The third generation shifted the tactical as well as the operational focus to the enemy's rear. Terrorism takes this a major step further. It attempts to bypass the enemy's military entirely and strike directly at his homeland at civilian targets. Ideally, the enemy's military is simply irrelevant to the terrorist.
The second signpost is the way terrorism seeks to use the enemy's strength against him This "judo" concept of warfare begins to manifest itself in the second generation, in the campaign and battle of encirclement. The enemy's fortresses, such as Metz and Sedan, became fatal traps. It was pushed further in the third generation where, on the defensive, one side often tries to let the other penetrate so his own momentum makes him less able to turn and deal with a counterstroke.
Terrorists use a free society's freedom and openness, its greatest strengths, against it. They can move freely within our society while actively working to subvert it. They use our democratic rights not only to penetrate but also to defend themselves. If we treat them within our laws, they gain many protections; if we simply shoot them down, the television news can easily make them appear to be the victims. Terrorists can effectively wage their form of warfare while being protected by the society they are attacking. If we are forced to set aside our own system of legal protections to deal with terrorists, the terrorists win another sort of victory.
Terrorism also appears to represent a solution to a problem that has been generated by previous generational changes but not really addressed by any of them. It is the contradiction between the nature of the modern battlefield and the traditional military culture. That culture, embodied in ranks, saluting uniforms, drill, etc., is largely a product of first generation warfare. It is a culture of order. At the time it evolved it was consistent with the battlefield, which was itself dominated by order. The ideal army was a perfectly oiled machine, and that was what the military culture of order sought to produce.
However, each new generation has brought a major shift toward a battlefield of disorder. The military culture, which has remained a culture of order, has become contradictory to the battlefield. Even in the third generation warfare, the contradiction has not been insoluble; the Wehrmacht bridged it effectively, outwardly maintaining the traditional culture of order while in combat demonstrating the adaptability and fluidity a disorderly battlefield demands. But other militaries, such as the British, have been less successful at dealing with the contradiction. They have often attempted to carry the culture of order over onto the battlefield with disastrous results. At Biddulphsberg, in the Boer War, for example, a handful of Boers defeated two British Guards battalions that fought as if on parade.
The contradiction between the military culture and the nature of modern war confronts a traditional military Service with a dilemma. Terrorists resolve the dilemma by eliminating the culture of order. Terrorists do not have uniforms, drill, saluting or, for the most part, ranks. Potentially, they have or could develop a military culture that is consistent with the disorderly nature of modern war. The fact that their broader culture may be nonWestern may facilitate this development.
Even in equipment, terrorism may point toward signs of a change in generations. Typically, an older generation requires much greater resources to achieve a given end than does its successor. Today, the United States is spending $500 million apiece for stealth bombers. A terrorist stealth bomber is a car with a bomb in the trunk — a car that looks like every other car.
Terrorism, Technology, and Beyond
Again, we are not suggesting terrorism is the fourth generation. It is not a new phenomenon, and so far it has proven largely ineffective. However, what do we see if we combine terrorism with some of the new technology we have discussed? For example, that effectiveness might the terrorist have if his car bomb were a product of genetic engineering rather than high explosives? To draw our potential fourth generation out still further, what if we combined terrorism, high technology, and the following additional elements?
  • A non-national or transnational base, such as an ideology or religion. Our national security capabilities are designed to operate within a nationstate framework. Outside that framework, they have great difficulties. The drug war provides an example. Because the drug traffic has no nationstate base, it is very difficult to attack. The nationstate shields the drug lords but cannot control them. We cannot attack them without violating the sovereignty of a friendly nation. A fourth-generation attacker could well operate in a similar manner, as some Middle Eastern terrorists already do.
  • A direct attack on the enemy's culture. Such an attack works from within as well as from without. It can bypass not only the enemy's military but the state itself. The United States is already suffering heavily from such a cultural attack in the form of the drug traffic. Drugs directly attack our culture. They have the support of a powerful "fifth column," the drug buyers. They bypass the entire state apparatus despite our best efforts. Some ideological elements in South America see drugs as a weapon; they call them the "poor man's intercontinental ballistic missile." They prize the drug traffic not only for the money it brings in through which we finance the war against ourselves but also for the damage it does to the hated North Americans.
  • Highly sophisticated psychological warfare, especially through manipulation of the media, particularly television news. Some terrorists already know how to play this game. More broadly, hostile forces could easily take advantage of a significant product of television reporting the fact that on television the enemy's casualties can be almost as devastating on the home front as are friendly casualties. If we bomb an enemy city, the pictures of enemy civilian dead brought into every living room in the country on the evening news can easily turn what may have been a military success (assuming we also hit the military target) into a serious defeat.
All of these elements already exist. They are not the product of "futurism," of gazing into a crystal ball. We are simply asking what would we face if they were all combined? Would such a combination constitute at least the beginnings of a fourth generation of warfare? One thought that suggests they might is that third (not to speak of second) generation militaries would seem to have little capability against such a synthesis. This is typical of generational shifts.
The purpose of this paper is to pose a question, not to answer it. The partial answers suggested here may in fact prove to be false leads. But in view of the fact that third generation warfare is now over 70 years old, we should be asking ourselves the question, what will the fourth generation be?

19 September 2014

Cockburn Report: The Fatally Flawed Theory of Victory Thru Airpower Alone


Introduction

President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS depends crucially on precision bombing by drones and airplanes.  The heavy lifting on the ground is supposed to be accomplished by our ‘allies' in Iraq and the Syrian opposition, but as any reader of the news knows, these allies are, to put it charitably, unreliable and prone to panic and/or treachery.  So, despite Obama’s rhetoric, our new war against ISIS will be an air power war.
The key ideas in Obama's bombing strategy will be the identification and killing of ISIS leadership targets and the disruption/destruction of coherent ISIS ground operations with precision weapons.  That target identification task is likely to be done by small numbers of US forces working with our supposed allies. This plan is a prescription for disaster.
The seductive idea of victory thru airpower alone is not a new one, and Obama has fallen for a modern improv of an old score —  no doubt, in part, for domestic political reasons.  The background music was conceived and advocated in the 1930s by a small group of officers in the Army Air Corps based in the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.  The two-part claim was that (1) targeteers use detailed analysis to identify key nodes crucial to functioning of the enemy’s economic infrastructure and (2) precision bombing of those nodes would bring about a socio-economic collapse. (Destroying ball bearing factories in WWII became the quintessential example of this thinking).  A subsidiary proposition was that precision bombardment (code for the Norden bombsight) would minimize civilian casualties, even when targets were inside cities.  The theory was tried in Germany and failed. The bombing campaign did not achieve its predicted effects; the ambiguity surrounding perceptions of progress caused the target list to grow like crazy; and the bombing campaign degenerated into carpet bombing on cities, killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of civilians — readers who doubt this should read the Strategic Bomb Survey conducted after WWII (The Summary Report is easily available, but the real meat is in the full report.)  The fire bombing raids on Japanese cities and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not pretend to play the charade.   The intent behind the claim of victory thru air power alone was that such a war winning capability justified an independent Air Force, equal in stature and budget grabbing capability to the Army and the Navy.  That intent was achieved in 1947.
Using wildly proliferating target lists to cover for failed predictions has been a staple of every precision bombing campaign since WWII.  Strategic bombing in subsequent wars (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I, Kosovo, Iraq II, Afghanistan) played on the idea of the critical target theme with similar results.  This phenomenon has reached what may be an apotheosis of absurdity in the proliferating lists of high value terrorist targets.  And the rise of ISIS proves the point — we obsessed over and eventually killed Abu Musab al-Zakawi,  the founder of the original incarnation of ISIS, only to see an even more capable ISIS arise from ashes. 
But there is more to the failure of the theory of precision bombardment.  The precision war in its current incarnation suffers from the same historical flaw that complimented the theory of critical targets: Bombing is never as precise as its advocates claim. The theory assumes we can use technology to turn war into a methodical predictable battle; in effect this mentality places priority on technology at the expense of human factors.  The substitution results in magnified organizational and technical complexities that always break down in real war.  My good friend Andrew Cockburn has just written an outstanding essay (also attached below) in Harpers that examines this aspect of a fatally flawed theory of victory thru airpower alone. And in so doing, he has provided a case study in how this theory captures thinking and creates a rigid, non-adaptable, techno-mechanical OODA loop* that turns Colonel Boyd’s maxim — machines don't fight wars, people do, and they use their minds — on its head.
________
* An  introduction to the late Colonel Boyd’s theory of the OODA loop and why it is a foundation for thinking about tactics and strategy in any type of conflict can be found here.  Ironically, Boyd was a retired Air Force officer.

HEART OF EMPIRE — September 18, 2014, 2:55 pm


Flying Blind

The U.S. air-power lobby, botched bombing missions, and bootless combat.
President Obama’s war against the Islamic State will represent, by a rough count, the eighth time the U.S. air-power lobby has promised to crush a foe without setting boot or foot on the ground. Yet from World War II to Yemen, the record is clear: such promises have invariably been proven empty and worthless. Most recently, the drone campaign against the Yemeni jihadists has functioned mainly as an effective recruiting tool for the other side, now rapidly growing in strength (and pledging loyalty to the Islamic State).
Such realities, however, are of little concern to the lobby, which measures success in terms of budgets and contracts. Therefore, in assessing progress in the anti-IS crusade, observers should be aware that the choice of weapons and associated equipment being deployed will be dictated by Pentagon politics, not the requirements of the battlefield. Hence the appearance, in late August, of the $300 million B-1 bomber in the skies over Iraq. ... continued.

10 September 2014

The Struggle for Palestine (II)

Who Won the Gaza War?

I am pleased to post Part II of William R. Polk's three part series, "The Struggle for Palestine."  This posting is long (almost 14,000 words including end notes) but it is well worth the investment of your time.  
The 2014 Gaza War just ended in a truce, with both sides declaring victory. But as Uri Avnery (Israel's leading peace activist, a former Knesset member, and a hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) concluded here: Israel may have have won at the physical level of the conflict in the sense that Israel inflicted the more punishing damage, but Hamas seems to won at the mental and moral levels of conflict. In his words, "the delegitimization of Israel throughout the world is accelerating."
Indeed, the 2014 Gaza War may prove to be a watershed.

In his theory of conflict, the American Strategist Colonel John R. Boyd explained why the physical, mental and moral effects of any military strategy should reinforce each other.  In so doing, he also showed why the moral level is by far the most important level of conflict.    But in the Gaza Siege, the massively destructive physical effects of Israel's attacks were offset, at least to some degree, by the mental and moral effects of the resistance by Hamas and worldwide revulsion at Israel's brutality. 

My previous post, Photoshopping the Gaza War, and Gareth Porter's followup report reveal how Israel's efforts to manipulate mental effects are still backfiring at the moral level of conflict. Further evidence of this backfiring can be seen the asymmetry of approval ratings: In Gaza, notwithstanding its horrendous material destruction, a recent poll indicated the approval rating of Hamas is at an all time high, whereas Netanyahu's approval rating has tanked.  Moreover, according to Israel's defense minister, the cost of only 52 days of fighting was $9 billion. This amounts to almost three years of U.S. military aid to Israel and to over half of Israel's $14 billion annual defense budget.  

To be sure, these and other physical, mental, and moral asymmetries flowing out of the Gaza War are lost on most of the members of Congress, who will, no doubt, accede to Israel's demands for additional military aide to make up for all or part of Israel's material consumption.   These asymmetries are also lost on the mainstream media.  


Once you begin losing at the moral level of conflict, it becomes almost impossible to recover your previous position of moral legitimacy or even respect -- but if left uncorrected, that slippery slope becomes a prescription for evolving into a grand strategic disaster over the long term.
Regardless of whether you think any of the above is correct, one thing is clear: The latest round of the Gaza Siege did not satisfy the central criteria of a sensible grand strategy, because it did not end on terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflict.  

The struggle for Palestine  will continue and is likely to escalate and become uglier.  
Therefore, given the shifting sands made visible in 2014 Gaza Siege, and particularly the disinformation and propaganda surrounding this conflict, it behooves us all to learn about the Arab-Israeli question, particularly its history, to understand why it continues without an end in sight.  

Understanding the Arab-Israeli conflict is important for another reason: The U.S. approach to its own war on terror -- a pure attrition strategy whose measure of success is based on targeted killing (i.e., a 21st Century variant of the notorious body count in Vietnam) -- is similar to the Israeli approach to solving its Palestinian Question.  Like the Israeli style of war, the U.S. style of fighting its war on terror appears to be a losing proposition that is escalating without end, at ever increasing cost.  Like Israel, the U.S. is not addressing the root causes of its conflict ... and, its primitive attrition strategy is creating enemies faster than it can kill them.  

And like the wars of Israel, the cost of our global war on terror (GWOT) is going though the roof: After removing the effects of inflation, the GWOT is now the second most expensive war in U.S. history, exceeding the far larger Civil War, WWI, Korean War, or Vietnam.  Only WWII cost more.  And yet, as this post is being written, President Obama is about to announce yet another escalation of the GWOT and the defense budget.  

Bill Polk's three-part series on the Struggle for Palestine is a good place to start learning about the Israeli problem, and by extension, about much of what lies underneath our own problems in the Middle East.  Part I can be found here, attached below is Part II.  If you prefer PDF files of these reports, they can be down loaded at these links: Part I and Part II.  Part III will be posted when it becomes available.

THE STRUGGLE FOR PALESTINE  
(Part Two: 1947-1973)
William R. Polk, August 31, 2014

I.
The British Foreign Secretary told Parliament on February 18, 1947 that "there is no prospect of resolving this conflict by any settlement negotiated between the parties." Further, he said, according to the League of Nations mandate, the legal basis for Britain's rule over Palestine, Britain did not have the authority to partition the country as everyone thought would be necessary.  Thus, the British government had decided to turn the problem over to the United Nations.  The Foreign Secretary did not mention, but it was obviously a significant factor, that Britain could no longer afford to keep nearly 100,000 troops employed in an increasingly vain effort to keep the peace in what was in comparison to India a relatively unimportant area.
In response to Britain's  request, the UN Secretary General on April 2, asked that the General Assembly (UNGA) take up the question of what should be done about Palestine.  Five of the member states thought they already knew what to do: Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia,  proposed ar "The termination of the Mandate over Palestine and the declaration of its independence."  Their motion was rejected by the UNGA which instead, voted to establish a "Special Committee for Palestine" (UNSCOP)  to recommend a different solution.   It should have been sobering to the members of this, the last in the long line of inquiries, to hear the British delegate say, 
We have tried for years to solve the problem of Palestine.  Having failed so far, we now bring it to the United Nations, in the hope that it can succeed were we have not.  If the United Nations can find a just solution which will be accepted by both parties, [we would] welcome such a solution [but ] we should not have the sole responsibility for enforcing a solution which is not accepted by both parties and which we cannot reconcile with our conscience.
UNSCOP was to be composed of a diverse group, representatives of Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia.  As diverse as the committee was, its members shared one characteristic:  none of them knew anything about Palestine.  And they could not expect that they would get a "balanced" view since the representative of one party, the Palestinians, decided to abstain from collaboration with UNSCOP.  In default of the Palestinian voice, the general ignorance of the members of the Committee and sporadic demonstrations in Palestine against its inquiry,  the Jewish Agency dominated the proceedings.  
Despite these problems, UNSCOP set out, or at least signed,  a generally fair and informative appreciation of "the Elements of the Conflict" in its Report to The General Assembly.  In summary, it portrayed two populations, one European, technologically advanced, united and determined, numbering about 600,000, and the other, numbering 1,200,000, Asian, divided both religiously and geographically into about 1,200 autarkic, self-governing communities and "native quarters" of the few cities, suffering from all of the inherited problems of colonialism, living in one small (26,000 square kilometer/10,000 square mile) area of which "about half ...is uninhabitable desert" with seasonal and limited rainfall and access to ground water only from fragile and (what ultimately have proven to be) endangered aquifers.  Palestine was almost totally without minerals other than the potassium and sodium salts of the Dead Sea.   
The delegates must have thought there was little to divide.
UNSCOP accepted as given, probably on legal advice, that it should work within the intent and functioning of  the League of Nations mandate.  In retrospect curiously, UNSCOP did not apparently consider the utility of negotiating with and between the Palestinians and the Zionists.  Nor, as in various contemporary and subsequent instances of decolonization did it regard the majority community as the presumed legal heir to the colonial government.  Only the Arab states thought of turning the "case" over to the International Court.
Viewing the mandate document as tantamount to a constitution for Palestine, UNSCOP emphasized that the Mandatory Power (Britain) had been obliged to "secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home," to "facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions" and to "encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish Agency...close settlement by Jews on the land..." while it "speaks in general terms only of safeguarding or not prejudicing the 'civil and religious rights' and the 'rights and position' of the Arab community in Palestine."  
In attempting to balance these unequal obligations, the Committee observed, the "Mandatory Power has attempted, within the limits of its interpretation of the 'dual obligation' of the mandate, to provide some satisfaction of Arab political desires," but such moves "were generally rejected by the Palestinians and vigorously opposed by the Zionists." 
UNSCOP was told that the Zionists demanded the right of "return" for European Jews in numbers defined only by the "economic absorptive capacity of the state." The Zionist representatives declared, however, that "The immigrant Jews [would] displace no Arabs, but rather [would] develop areas which otherwise would remain undeveloped."   In an earlier communication (March 19, 1899) to an official of the Ottoman Empire, Theodore Herzl had written that the Zionist movement was "completely peaceful and very content if they are left in peace.  Therefore, there is absolutely nothing to fear from their immigration...Your Excellency sees another difficulty, in the existence of the non-Jewish population in Palestine.  But who would think of sending them away?   It is their well-being, their individual wealth which we will increase by bringing in our own."⁠1
The basis of the Zionist claim to Palestine was, as from the beginning of the movement in Theodore Herzl's words,  "Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home." 
In a separate opinion, the Representative of India held that the Jewish contention that they were the "original" natives was both historically questionable and,  if held to be the basis of a legal claim,  would be a recipe for chaos since virtually all modern states would be open to similar claims based on ancient history.   As he wrote, 
To found their claim on their dispersion from Palestine after a period of approximately 2,000 years, whatever religious sentiment may be attached by them to the land occupied by their Prophets, appears to me to be as groundless as anything can be.  A multitude of nations conquered various countries at various times and were eventually defeated and turned out of them.  Can their connexion, however long, with the land which they had once conquered provide them with any basis after the lapse of even one century?  If this were so, Moslems might claim Spain, which they governed for a much longer period than the Jews had governed part of Palestine...[moreover] this claim  cannot be made by those who were subsequently converted to Judaism.  Khazars of Eastern Europe, Turco-Finn by race, were converted to Judaism as a nation about 690 A.D.  Can their descendants possibly claim any rights simply because the ancestors of their co-religionists had once settled in Palestine. 
There is no indication that UNSCOP as a whole reacted to the Indian delegate's demarche.  But it was, in part, foreshadowed by the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee which "postulate[d]  the 'natural' right of the Arab majority to remain in undisputed possession of the country, since they are and have been for many centuries in possession..."  [continued]

07 September 2014

Photoshopping the Gaza War

A Metaphor for the Post-Information Era
Beginning in the early 1970s, advocates of de-industrialization argued that the United States was entering another economic revolution, a post-industrial era so to speak. The they named it the Information Age or the Information Revolution.  They argued that emerging information technologies would create a rich knowledge-based society, wherein the exploitation of information would yield better decisions and greater economic rewards for a than would industrial production in the United States; and therefore, industrial production could be left to less economically developed societies in the increasingly globalized economy.  To be sure, the technology industry — computers, sensors, software, connectivity — grew exponentially since the mid-1960s; it transformed the nature of our society, bringing benefits and hitherto unimaginable capabilities to many. Today, we live in a very different world than in 1960. 
Yet this societal transformation also coincided with a welter of increasingly objectionable developments, including inter alia
  • rising wealth inequality and a stagnation of middle class wages; 
  • sluggish job creation, with most of the job growth in low wage service industries;
  • a growing loss of control in government decisions, including a breakdown of comity in government, manifested by increasing paralysis and chaos, together with an increased dependence on multi-thousand page, incomprehensible omnibus legislative packages; 
  • a growing displacement of analysis by ideology in the economic, scientific, social, and foreign policy spheres of decisionmaking; 
  • more frequent and sharper recessions, caused in part by the rise of massive financial corruption and speculation, hidden by arbitrary assumptions buried deeply inside incomprehensible computer models, notwithstanding the appearance of increased scientific rigor; 
  • a dumbing down of the mass media to a degree that reflects the fear expressed by James Madison in his 1822 letter to W.T. Barry (i.e., "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”); 
  • a computer-driven domestic spying system, based on unreliable assumptions (especially artificial intelligence based on arbitrary Bayesian assumptions) buried in data analysis algorithms that has turned the Bill of Rights into a hollow shell; 
  • a well documented breakdown of decision making in the Pentagon created by the predictions of an un-auditable, corrupt bookkeeping system that is driven by the conscious bureaucratic gaming of the world’s most elaborate, computer-driven program planning system; 
  • and perhaps most destructively, the rise of a political system that is growing ever-more dependent on manipulating information to fuel the politics of fear and perpetual war.  
To be sure, correlation or coincidence is not causation. There are many other independent causes in each of these developments, and information manipulation is as old as mankind.  Also, information technologies are neutral and can be used for good or ill. The normative question has to do with their application.  Nevertheless, the pervasive negativity in these developments embodies at least one common theme that is diametrically opposed to the central promise of the information revolution: each development can be interpreted as an outward indicator of decay in society’s collective capacity to make salutary decisions.   
Since all decisions are based on the processing of information, is it reasonable to ask how the information revolution or knowledge based society could be coincident with the explosion of these kinds of developments? 
The answer is obvious: these technologies have revolutionized the ability for individuals and factions to create, propagate, and hide inside alternative impressions of reality when they are competing for resources and authority.  This is true whether the competition for advantage takes place in economics, science, politics, or war.  At the very least, these alternative impressions of reality create an atmosphere of ambiguity, if not outright deception. While Sun Tzu first wrote about the benefits of deception in 400 BC or so, more recently Colonel Boyd explained why creating an atmosphere of ambiguity and/or deception is crucial in the struggle to get inside your adversary’s Observation - Orientation - Decision - Action loop in any kind of competition.  Ambiguity and deception free up room for quicker maneuvering by enabling a competitor to get inside the head of his adversary, and thereby paralyze him with a welter of unexpected ‘shaping' operations to collapse his observations of and orientation into a mass of disconnected and disorderly images.  Boyd showed how this will cause your adversary to over and under react to changing conditions that drives him further away from his goal.  If you doubt the importance of ambiguity’s paralyzing effects on the mind, spend a Sunday morning trying to make sense out of the alternative realities that are sold as analysis and spouted with absolute certainty by the self-assured pundits and politicians on the different talk shows.
As one wag in the Pentagon said to me in the 1980s when we were discussing the mental and moral problems created by the alternative realities in DoD's Plans/Reality Mismatch, “Welcome to the Post-Information Era; think of what Joseph Goebbels could have done with our information technologies.”  
Attached herewith is a concrete example illustrating how the hi-tech game of creating alternative realities is played in the 21st Century.  In this case, it is being played for the most nefarious of reasons related to the promotion of a self-interested agenda.  The author of this report, Gareth Porter, is one of the finest investigative reporters left standing in the fight to offset the alternative foreign-policy realities created by Amerika’s ruling war party.  

Exclusive: Israel's Video Justifying Destruction of a Gaza Hospital Was From 2009

By Gareth Porter, Truthout, 06 September 2014 09:29

The video clip showing apparent firing from an annex to the hospital was actually shot during Israel's 2008-09 "Operation Cast Lead," and the audio clip accompanying it was from an incident unrelated to Al Wafa. (Screengrab: The Times of Israel)
A video distributed by the Israeli military in July suggesting that Palestinian fighters had fired from the Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital in Gaza City was not shot during the recent Israeli attack on Gaza, and both audio and video clips were manipulated to cover up the fact that they were from entirely different incidents, a Truthout investigation has revealed.
The video, released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on July 23, the same day Israeli airstrikes destroyed Al Wafa, was widely reported by pro-Israeli publications and websites as proving that the hospital was destroyed because Hamas had turned the hospital into a military facility. But the video clip showing apparent firing from an annex to the hospital was actually shot during Israel's 2008-09 "Operation Cast Lead," and the audio clip accompanying it was from an incident unrelated to Al Wafa.
The misleading video was only the last in a series of IDF dissimulations about Al Wafa hospital that included false claims that Hamas rockets had been launched from the hospital grounds, or very near it, and that the hospital had been damaged by an attack on the launching site.  … continued

22 August 2014

Why Washington’s War on Terror Failed


The Underrated Saudi Connection
by PATRICK COCKBURN, Counterpunch, AUGUST 21, 2014
There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.
But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis.  It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.
The reality of U.S. policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well.  This has now happened.
By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the U.S. has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.
Using the al-Qa’ida Label
The sharp increase in the strength and reach of jihadist organizations in Syria and Iraq has generally been unacknowledged until recently by politicians and media in the West. A primary reason for this is that Western governments and their security forces narrowly define the jihadist threat as those forces directly controlled by al-Qa‘ida central or “core” al-Qa‘ida. This enables them to present a much more cheerful picture of their successes in the so-called war on terror than the situation on the ground warrants.
In fact, the idea that the only jihadis to be worried about are those with the official blessing of al-Qa‘ida is na├»ve and self-deceiving. It ignores the fact, for instance, that ISIS has been criticized by the al-Qa‘ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for its excessive violence and sectarianism. After talking to a range of Syrian jihadi rebels not directly affiliated with al-Qa‘ida in southeast Turkey earlier this year, a source told me that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the U.S.”
Jihadi groups ideologically close to al-Qa‘ida have been relabeled as moderate if their actions are deemed supportive of U.S. policy aims. In Syria, the Americans backed a plan by Saudi Arabia to build up a “Southern Front” based in Jordan that would be hostile to the Assad government in Damascus, and simultaneously hostile to al-Qa‘ida-type rebels in the north and east.

The powerful but supposedly moderate Yarmouk Brigade, reportedly the planned recipient of anti-aircraft missiles from Saudi Arabia, was intended to be the leading element in this new formation. But numerous videos show that the Yarmouk Brigade has frequently fought in collaboration with JAN, the official al-Qa‘ida affiliate. Since it was likely that, in the midst of battle, these two groups would share their munitions, Washington was effectively allowing advanced weaponry to be handed over to its deadliest enemy. Iraqi officials confirm that they have captured sophisticated arms from ISIS fighters in Iraq that were originally supplied by outside powers to forces considered to be anti-al-Qa‘ida in Syria.
The name al-Qa‘ida has always been applied flexibly when identifying an enemy. In 2003 and 2004 in Iraq, as armed Iraqi opposition to the American and British-led occupation mounted, U.S. officials attributed most attacks to al-Qa‘ida, though many were carried out by nationalist and Baathist groups. Propaganda like this helped to persuade nearly 60% of U.S. voters prior to the Iraq invasion that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and those responsible for 9/11, despite the absence of any evidence for this. In Iraq itself, indeed throughout the entire Muslim world, these accusations have benefited al-Qa‘ida by exaggerating its role in the resistance to the U.S. and British occupation.
Precisely the opposite PR tactics were employed by Western governments in 2011 in Libya, where any similarity between al-Qa‘ida and the NATO-backed rebels fighting to overthrow the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was played down. Only those jihadis who had a direct operational link to the al-Qa‘ida “core” of Osama bin Laden were deemed to be dangerous. The falsity of the pretense that the anti-Gaddafi jihadis in Libya were less threatening than those in direct contact with al-Qa‘ida was forcefully, if tragically, exposed when U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by jihadi fighters in Benghazi in September 2012. These were the same fighters lauded by Western governments and media for their role in the anti-Gaddafi uprising.
Imagining al-Qa’ida as the Mafia
Al-Qa‘ida is an idea rather than an organization, and this has long been the case. For a five-year period after 1996, it did have cadres, resources, and camps in Afghanistan, but these were eliminated after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Subsequently, al-Qa‘ida’s name became primarily a rallying cry, a set of Islamic beliefs, centering on the creation of an Islamic state, the imposition of sharia, a return to Islamic customs, the subjugation of women, and the waging of holy war against other Muslims, notably the Shia, who are considered heretics worthy of death. At the center of this doctrine for making war is an emphasis on self-sacrifice and martyrdom as a symbol of religious faith and commitment. This has resulted in using untrained but fanatical believers as suicide bombers, to devastating effect.
It has always been in the interest of the U.S. and other governments that al-Qa‘ida be viewed as having a command-and-control structure like a mini-Pentagon, or like the mafia in America. This is a comforting image for the public because organized groups, however demonic, can be tracked down and eliminated through imprisonment or death. More alarming is the reality of a movement whose adherents are self-recruited and can spring up anywhere.
Osama bin Laden’s gathering of militants, which he did not call al-Qa‘ida until after 9/11, was just one of many jihadi groups 12 years ago. But today its ideas and methods are predominant among jihadis because of the prestige and publicity it gained through the destruction of the Twin Towers, the war in Iraq, and its demonization by Washington as the source of all anti-American evil. These days, there is a narrowing of differences in the beliefs of jihadis, regardless of whether or not they are formally linked to al-Qa‘ida central.
Unsurprisingly, governments prefer the fantasy picture of al-Qa‘ida because it enables them to claim victories when it succeeds in killing its better known members and allies. Often, those eliminated are given quasi-military ranks, such as “head of operations,” to enhance the significance of their demise. The culmination of this heavily publicized but largely irrelevant aspect of the “war on terror” was the killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011. This enabled President Obama to grandstand before the American public as the man who had presided over the hunting down of al-Qa‘ida’s leader. In practical terms, however, his death had little impact on al-Qa‘ida-type jihadi groups, whose greatest expansion has occurred subsequently.
Ignoring the Roles of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
The key decisions that enabled al-Qa‘ida to survive, and later to expand, were made in the hours immediately after 9/11. Almost every significant element in the project to crash planes into the Twin Towers and other iconic American buildings led back to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was a member of the Saudi elite, and his father had been a close associate of the Saudi monarch. Citing a CIA report from 2002, the official 9/11 report says that al-Qa‘ida relied for its financing on “a variety of donors and fundraisers, primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia.”
The report’s investigators repeatedly found their access limited or denied when seeking information in Saudi Arabia. Yet President George W. Bush apparently never even considered holding the Saudis responsible for what happened. An exit of senior Saudis, including bin Laden relatives, from the U.S. was facilitated by the U.S. government in the days after 9/11. Most significant, 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report about the relationship between the attackers and Saudi Arabia were cut and never published, despite a promise by President Obama to do so, on the grounds of national security.
In 2009, eight years after 9/11, a cable from the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, revealed by WikiLeaks, complained that donors in Saudi Arabia constituted the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. But despite this private admission, the U.S. and Western Europeans continued to remain indifferent to Saudi preachers whose message, spread to millions by satellite TV, YouTube, and Twitter, called for the killing of the Shia as heretics. These calls came as al-Qa‘ida bombs were slaughtering people in Shia neighborhoods in Iraq. A sub-headline in another State Department cable in the same year reads: “Saudi Arabia: Anti-Shi’ism as Foreign Policy?” Now, five years later, Saudi-supported groups have a record of extreme sectarianism against non-Sunni Muslims.
Pakistan, or rather Pakistani military intelligence in the shape of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was the other parent of al-Qa‘ida, the Taliban, and jihadi movements in general. When the Taliban was disintegrating under the weight of U.S. bombing in 2001, its forces in northern Afghanistan were trapped by anti-Taliban forces. Before they surrendered, hundreds of ISI members, military trainers, and advisers were hastily evacuated by air. Despite the clearest evidence of ISI’s sponsorship of the Taliban and jihadis in general, Washington refused to confront Pakistan, and thereby opened the way for the resurgence of the Taliban after 2003, which neither the U.S. nor NATO has been able to reverse.
The “war on terror” has failed because it did not target the jihadi movement as a whole and, above all, was not aimed at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two countries that fostered jihadism as a creed and a movement. The U.S. did not do so because these countries were important American allies whom it did not want to offend. Saudi Arabia is an enormous market for American arms, and the Saudis have cultivated, and on occasion purchased, influential members of the American political establishment. Pakistan is a nuclear power with a population of 180 million and a military with close links to the Pentagon.
The spectacular resurgence of al-Qa‘ida and its offshoots has happened despite the huge expansion of American and British intelligence services and their budgets after 9/11. Since then, the U.S., closely followed by Britain, has fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and adopted procedures normally associated with police states, such as imprisonment without trial, rendition, torture, and domestic espionage. Governments wage the “war on terror” claiming that the rights of individual citizens must be sacrificed to secure the safety of all.
In the face of these controversial security measures, the movements against which they are aimed have not been defeated but rather have grown stronger. At the time of 9/11, al-Qa‘ida was a small, generally ineffectual organization; by 2014 al-Qa‘ida-type groups were numerous and powerful.
In other words, the “war on terror,” the waging of which has shaped the political landscape for so much of the world since 2001, has demonstrably failed. Until the fall of Mosul, nobody paid much attention.

This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, with special thanks to his publisher, OR Books.  

18 August 2014

The Messy Side of Precision Warfare


Since the 1920s, air power theorists and technologists in the United States have been obsessed by the idea of precision bombardment of critical targets or nodes deep in the adversary's infrastructure.  From famous Norden computing bombsight of WWII to the so-called precision guided weapons launched by a network of drones today, successive generations of advocates of precision warfare have predicted that new technologies promised surgical levels of destruction that would produce revolutionary increases in both economy effort and and combat effectiveness.  It is the promise of the silver bullet or free lunch.

In January 1988, for example, a Pentagon accepted a report, Discriminant Deterrence by produced for the Secretary of Defense the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, a blue ribbon panel composed of the bluest of defense bluebloods.*  Their predictions included inter alia: 

"The precision associated with the new technologies will enable us to use conventional weapons for many of the missions once assigned to nuclear weapons.” [pg. 8] and  
"The equipment, training, uses of intelligence, and methods of operation we have developed mainly for contingencies involving massive worldwide attacks by the Soviet Union do not prepare us very well for conflicts in the Third World. Such conflicts are likely to feature terrorism, sabotage, and other "low intensity" violence. Assisting allies to respond to such violence will put a premium on the use of some of the same information technologies we find increasingly relevant for selective operations in higher intensity conflicts. The need to use force for political purposes and to discriminate between civilian and legitimate targets is even more evident here. In particular, we will need optical and electronic intelligence, communications and control, and precise delivery of weapons so as to minimize damage to noncombatants.  We will need advanced technologies for training local forces. These will be important both for obtaining local political support and support in the United States and elsewhere in the West.” [pg. 67 emphasis added]

In short, the same technologies used to deter the Soviets will enable the surgical use of force in coercive diplomacy to mold third world countries and terrorists to our will, while providing the grist to build political support at home.  

As for the promise of economy of force, suffice to say that the use of these technologies in the low intensity war on terror that began after 9-11 has now made it the second most expensive war in US history, exceeded only by WWII, but exceeding the costs of the far larger, more intense Civil War, WWI, and Viet Nam wars (after adjusting for the costs of inflation).  

As for effectiveness, every extended precision bombardment campaign conducted by the United States — i.e., WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, The First Iraq War, Kosovo, and now the War on Terror -- has been accompanied by wildly escalating target lists suggesting (1) an inability to surgically discriminate important from unimportant targets in real war or (2) frustrated expectations about the actual effectiveness attending to those targets successfully destroyed or (3) both.

The drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia represent the apotheosis of the precision surgical strike mentality so evident in prognostications of the wise men of 1988.  The obsession with critical targets may have devolved from the destruction of industrial nodes like ball bearing works in WWII to the targeted liquidation individual terrorist leaders in the war on terror, but as in all previous precision bombardment campaigns, the actual conduct of the drone war reveals a far messier reality.  Add this limited effectiveness (or worse, counter productiveness and blowback) to the theory that these surgical strikes can be combined with tit for tat coercive diplomacy and you have a indiscriminate prescription for perpetual war.

Attachment 1, introduced below, are the opening paragraphs of an outstanding report that indirectly supports these points.  It was written by Gregory D. Johnsen for Buzz Feed News, and his subject is collateral damage caused by drone strikes in Yeman.  It is impressively researched and is one of the best descriptions yet of how fatally flawed assumptions implicit the precision bombardment theories propping up the drone the war are bogging the United States from the President on  down in the mental and moral quagmire of perpetual war.  

This report is long but well worth the investment in time.  This is where thinking like that in Discriminent Deterrence takes us, because the real name of the game is shoveling money to the MICC at the expense of John Q. Average American; or as one defense expert told me, the Discriminant Deterrence report may not have been on the money as far as effectiveness and economy go, but its authors certainly understood how to get the money! 
-------------
* The members of the commission was a who’s who list of the Beltway Establishment, including: Anne Armstrong, Zbigniew Brzesinski, William P. Clark, W. Graham Caytor, Gen. Andrew Goodpastor, Adm. James Holloway, Samuel Huntington, Henry Kissinger, Joshua Lederberg, Gen. Bernard Schriever, and Gen. John Vessey. With respect to their prognostication abilities,  even a causal perusal of their 1988 report reveals the Soviet threat is portrayed as being 10 feet tall and growing, with superior capabilities in many dimensions to those of the United States.  It contained no hints of any discriminating awareness of internal problems that were then causing the Soviet Union to crumble from within, leading inevitably to its dissolution only four years later in 1991.  A more accurate threat appreciation could have been found five years earlier at far less cost by buying and reading my friend Andrew Cockburn’s, The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine (1983).

Attachment #1

Nothing Says “Sorry Our Drones Hit Your Wedding Party” Like $800,000 And Some Guns
On December 12, 2013, a drone struck and killed 12 members of a wedding party in Yemen. If the U.S., which claims the strike was clean and justified, didn’t pony up the $800,000 in cash and guns as reparations, then who did?
Gregory D. Johnsen, Buzz Feed News
Michael Hastings Fellow

Posted on Aug. 7, 2014, at 10:29 p.m.
Muhammad al-Tuhayf was relaxing at his house late in the afternoon on Dec. 12, 2013, when his iPhone rang. A boxy, tired-looking Yemeni shaykh with large hands and a slow voice, Tuhayf heard the news: A few miles from where he was sitting, along a rutted-out dirt track that snaked through the mountains and wadis of central Yemen, U.S. drones had fired four missiles at a convoy of vehicles. Drone strikes were nothing new in Yemen — there had been one four days earlier, another one a couple weeks before that, and a burst of eight strikes in 12 days in late July and August that had set the country on edge. But this one was different: This time the Americans had hit a wedding party. And now the government needed Tuhayf’s help.
The corpses had already started to arrive in the provincial capital of Radaa, and by the next morning angry tribesmen were lining the dead up in the street. Laid out side by side on bright blue tarps and wrapped in cheap blankets, what was left of the men looked distorted by death. Heads were thrown back at awkward angles, splattered with blood that had caked and dried in the hours since the strike. Faces that had been whole were now in pieces, missing chunks of skin and bone, and off to one side, as if he didn’t quite belong, lay a bearded man with no visible wounds.
Clustered around them in a sweaty, jostling circle, dozens of men bumped up against one another as they struggled for position and a peek at the remains. Above the crowd, swaying out over the row of bodies as he hung onto what appeared to be the back of a truck with one hand, a leathery old Yemeni screamed into the crowd. “This is a massacre,” he shouted, his arm slicing through the air. “They were a wedding party.” Dressed in a gray jacket and a dusty beige robe with prayer beads draped over his dagger, the man was shaking with fury as his voice faltered under the strain. “An American drone killed them,” he croaked with another wild gesture from his one free hand. “Look at them.”
A few miles outside of town, Tuhayf already knew what he had to do. This had happened in his backyard; he was one of the shaykhs on the ground. Only three hours south of the capital, the central government held little sway in Radaa. Like a rural sheriff in a disaster zone, he was a local authority, someone who was known and respected. And on Dec. 12, that meant acting as a first responder. Tuhayf needed to assess the situation and deal with the fallout. Every few minutes his phone went off again, the marimba ringtone sounding with yet another update. Already he was hearing reports that angry tribesmen had cut the road north. Frightened municipal employees, worried that they might be targeted, kept calling, begging for his help. So did the governor, who was three hours away at his compound in Sanaa.
It didn’t take Tuhayf long to reach a conclusion. The Americans had made a mess, and to clean it up he was going to need money and guns.
This is the other side of America’s drone program: the part that comes after the missiles fly and the cars explode, when the smoke clears and the bodies are sorted. Because it is here, at desert strike sites across the Middle East, where unsettling questions emerge about culpability and responsibility — about the value of a human life and assessing the true costs of a surgical war.
For much of the past century, the United States has gone to war with lawyers, men and women who follow the fighting, adjudicating claims of civilian casualties and dispensing cash for errors. They write reports and interview survivors. But 
  • what happens when there are no boots on the ground? 
  • When the lawyers are thousands of miles away and dependent on aerial footage that is as ambiguous as it is inconclusive? 
  • How do you determine innocence or guilt from a pre-strike video? 
  • When everyone has beards and guns, like they do in rural Yemen, can you tell the good guys from the bad? Is it even possible? 
  • And when the U.S. gets it wrong, when it kills the wrong man: What happens then? Who is accountable when a drone does the killing?

On Dec. 12, 2013, a U.S. drone carried out a strike in Yemen. Little of what happened that day is known with any degree of certainty. Most of the facts are adrift somewhere in the shadowy sea of a classified world. Identities shift and change depending on the vantage point, and what appears true thousands of feet up in the air often looks different on the ground. Following two reviews, the U.S. claims it was a clean strike and that all the dead were militants. Yemen disagrees, calling the attack a tragic mistake that killed civilians. Two countries, two conclusions. But one of them paid the families of the dead men a lot of money.
Yemen is a U.S. ally that says it approves every drone strike, but it is also so strapped for cash that the government has implemented numerous austerity measures. Either it handed out the money and guns to cover for its partner, or the U.S. privately paid money to the families of men it publicly describes as al-Qaeda while simultaneously promoting the man responsible for the strike. 

In truth, only three things are known for certain: Twelve men are dead, $800,000 in cash was delivered, and the dead can’t be both guilty and innocent …. continued