Saturday, November 15, 2014

On ISIS and Fourth Generation Warfare

"We need to go on offense.  There is no force within the Mideast that can neutralize or contain or destroy ISIS without at least American air power.”~~Senator Lindsey Graham

"ISIS is a direct threat to the United States of America.”~~Rep. Peter King

"We are now facing an existential threat to the security of the United States of America”.”~~Senator John McCain

The above comments proffered by leading GOP politicos are demonstrative of the lack of strategic and moral judgment infecting the conservative movement and the American body politic writ large. 

What should be done concerning ISIS?  To answer that question we must first establish some context.  ISIS is a Frankenstein monster created by American policy.  One consequence of Washington’s reckless military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria has been to open a Pandora’s Box out of which has sprung ISIS.  ISIS is a synthesis of Sunni jihadis battling the Shia-backed government of Bashar Assad (a US enemy backed by Shia Iran), holdovers from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist army and inner circle, and a handful of former al-Qaida in Iraq. By toppling the Iraqi regime and supporting the “Syrian Free Army” against Assad—a proxy war directed at Russia and Shia aligned with Iran--the U.S. armed and funded elements that have morphed into ISIS. 

Another piece of the puzzle and a larger strategic problem is the failure of the American political class to grapple with cosmic shifts in the nature of warfare.  Changes in the technology of warfare are having a leveling effect, thereby democratizing warfare and empowering non-state actors like ISIS, al-Qaida, and Hezbollah.  William Lind has documented this transition to Fourth Generation Warfare since the 1980’s.  Just as the printing press undermined the dominion of the Catholic Church, new technologies and methods of warfare are slowly undermining the State’s monopoly on violence. 

As far back as 1989, Lind wrote about the potential for technology-driven Fourth Generation Warfare and presciently predicted the rise of groups like al-Qaida and ISIS.  Lind says that Fourth Generation Warfare has three primary components:
  • The loss of the state’s monopoly on war and on the first loyalty of its citizens and the rise of non-state entities that command people’s primary loyalty and that wage war. These entities may be gangs, religions, races and ethnic groups within races, localities, tribes, business enterprises, ideologies—the variety is almost limitless;
  • A return to a world of cultures, not merely states, in conflict; and
  • The manifestation of both developments—the decline of the state and the rise of alternate, often cultural, primary loyalties—not only “over there,” but in America itself.
One clear lesson of the American failure to pacify Iraq and Afghanistan is that though Islamic militants are still decidedly low-tech, weapons technology is now moving faster than the diplomatic and political resources to control it. That at most 30,000 relatively lightly armed Islamic warriors control large swaths of multiple countries in a strategically important part of the globe is evidence that the nature of warfare is changing, tilting the balance in favor of small, ideologically unified groups.   

What this means contra the comments of Senator Graham, is that the United States would be much better off pursuing a defensive rather than aggressive strategy in the “War on Terror.” In On War, Clausewitz argued for the superiority of defensive war. "So in order to state the relationship precisely, we must say that the defensive form of warfare is intrinsically stronger than the offensive. This is the point that we have been trying to make, for although it is implicit in the nature of the matter and experience has confirmed it again and again, it is at odds with prevalent opinion, which proves how ideas can be confused by superficial writers."

In short, any foreign policy strategy should seek to insulate America from sources of disorder. To quote Lind, "America’s grand strategy should seek to connect our country with as many centers and sources of order as possible, while isolating us from as many centers and sources of disorder as possible."

What the Iraq war accomplished was little more than the destruction of a state, which created a vacuum exploited by the purveyors of disorder. Such actions "as the war in Iraq," says Lind, "tend to isolate us from successful states and run counter to our interests."

So the key is some degree of military retrenchment, and creating rapid-hitting Special Forces that can strike quickly and lethally. But we also must separate ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and seal ourselves off to a greater degree from the sea of humanity now fleeing disorder. Lind says correctly that disorder will naturally produce hordes of refuges and immigrants. Nevertheless, "accepting refugees from centers of disorder imports disorder."

A corollary to reconsidering our interventionist foreign policy is taking moves domestically to secure the nation. In  Defeating Jihad, foreign policy analyst Serge Trifkovic argues persuasively that Islam is incompatible with Western mores, folkways, and institutions. Trifkovic endorses greater domestic spying on Muslims and supervision of Islamic Centers using a variation of the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950, denying security clearances to Muslims, and immigration policies that exclude all persons engaged in "Islamic activism."

Trifkovic's policy suggestions complement Lind's by separating the United States from growing global disorder by emphasizing defense rather than offense. "The victory," says Trifkovic, "will not come by conquering Mecca for Americans but by disengaging America from Mecca and by excluding Mecca from America. Eliminating the risk is impossible. Managing it wisely, resolutely, and permanently is something attainable."

Conservatives pondering the existential crisis the West faces should be looking to the likes of Lind and Trifkovic for answers. Though their analysis may be flawed around the edges, they avoid the foolish nihilism and moral relativism of the Left without succumbing to the mindless interventio


Blogger Bret L. McAtee said...

Excellent information for the entry level person on this subject. (Which I am.)

Hope you keep writing.

I like this quote the best,

"accepting refugees from centers of disorder imports disorder."

2:13 PM  

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