… or “What if bin Laden were smart, like Dr. No or Ernest Blofeld?”
- Al Qaeda has not yet defeated us, to some extent because they are dumb as rocks.
- That is good, because so are we.
- Unfortunately, #1 could change at any time.
For those of you who are not James Bond fans, Dr. No and Ernest Blofeld are evil master-minds. Dr. No operated a secret base under an island in the Caribbean. Ernst Stavro Blofeld was the founder and chief executive of SPECTRE, the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion – a secret global evil conspiracy.
What should be one of our greatest fears …
What if bin Laden and the insurgent leaders in Iraq were as smart as these classic villains? What would they do next? They would consult the literature about modern warfare, the works of Martin van Creveld and others. Perhaps from these they could learn how to defeat America.
They would seek a Grand Strategy, what the late American strategist Col. John Boyd (USAF) said should focus one’s actions – political, economic, and military – so as to:
- Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.
- Weaken your opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
- Strengthen your allies’ relationships to us.
- Attract the uncommitted to your cause.
- End conflicts on favorable terms, without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.
Patterns of Conflict, Chart 139
Then they would distil this into a handbook, perhaps with 28 steps or articles. It might look something like this…
Article #1: know your enemy
“Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.”
“Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency“, David Kilcullen, Military Review, May-June 2006
This sets a high standard for “them” to be the world expert about us.” In WWII the leaders of neither the Japanese Empire nor the Third Reich came close to this mark, and so suffered catastrophic defeat. Al Qaeda has an advantage both of them lacked: thousands of people from the Middle East have studied and worked in America during the past fifty years. The combination of deep familiarity plus some cognitive and emotional distance might give them perspectives on America that Americans’ lack.
Fortunately al Qaeda has proven unable to conduct effected Information Operations and Public Diplomacy (IO and PD in the jargon of the counterinsurgency consiglieri). Perhaps even less effectively than our efforts in Iraq.
If al Qaeda can tap this knowledge, how might they apply it? Bin Laden might start with Boyd’s second point: Weaken “our” opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
He might easily wage info-warfare against us, seeking to fracture us, weaken our will to fight, and destroy our reputation in the eyes of our allies. It’s a small world today, tightly linked by the many news media. For example, al Qaeda could publicize and even exaggerate the damage done to Iraq’s infrastructure, the resulting suffering of its people, and – most of all – the direct and indirect deaths of Iraq’s people since the invasion. As Juan Cole reports on his blog Informed Comment, the Middle Eastern media are filled with such stories – but al Qaeda has not attempted to convey these stories to receptive elements of American society.
Bin Laden might strike at the confidence of the American people in its military institutions and at the cohesion of our Armed Forces. Could he have written anything more damaging than these articles?
Many female soldiers say they are sexually assaulted by their male comrades and can’t trust the military to protect them. “The knife wasn’t for the Iraqis,” says one woman. “It was for the guys on my own side.”
“The private war of women soldiers“, by Helen Benedict, Salon, 7 March 2007
I went to see Swift last July as I was immersed in a series of interviews with women who’d gone to Iraq and come home with PTSD. I was trying to understand how being a woman fit into both the war and the psychological consequences of war. The story I heard over and over, the dominant narrative really, followed similar lines to Swift’s: allegations of sexual trauma, often denied or dismissed by superiors; ensuing demotions or court-martials; and lingering questions about what actually occurred.
“The Women’s War“, New York Times Magazine, 18 March 2007
It’s been three decades since women were admitted to West Point with a promise of equality for the sexes. But the nation’s oldest service academy is marching into history as a misogynistic boy’s club where sexual impropriety is endemic, some victims and advocates say. One West Point official who has worked with sexual assault victims for more than a decade said the climate is so hostile that, on average, 10 female cadets leave or are forced out of West Point every year after being raped, assaulted or abused.
“West Point’s sexual dysfunction“, Times Herald-Record, 29 April 2007
Consider the publication of these articles – and the ones to follow – as a tactical strike at the cohesion of our forces (alienating a key component group), at their reputation in the eyes of America’s citizens. In this sense their truth or falsity is irrelevant. All that matters are the consequences. This could open another front in the war – or perhaps more accurately – another domestic front in the war.
If bin Laden had unleashed these articles, he would be a happy man today. If bin Laden was smart enough to exploit the internal divisions in our society, America would be in serious trouble. Fortunately for us, he is not that smart. Unfortunately, we are dumb enough so that he need not be so smart.
Our own worst enemy
The sharpest sword will rust when plunged into salt water.
— Attributed to Lao Tse
There are a thousand ways bin Laden could attack our ability to wage war in Iraq. The Vietnam War was lost at home as well as on the battlefield, as our enemies attacked our heart as well as our fists. Inflicting such damage appears to be beyond al Qaeda’s capabilities, but our civilian and military leaders have proved able to do so without their help.
If you haven’t heard the news, I’m afraid your Army is broken, a victim of too many missions for too few soldiers for too long.
— “Is the Army headed for collapse?“, Major General Robert H. Scales (ret.), Washington Times, 30 March 2007 — Scales is a former commander of the Army War College.
The U.S. Army broke in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War and the end of the draft. … the crumbling occurred over time, becoming apparent only decades later. Today’s Army is stretched past its breaking point by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The sounds of its collapse may be faint enough for policymakers in Washington to ignore, but they are there.
— “Broken Arrow: How the U.S. Army broke in Iraq“, by Phillip Carter, Slate, 30 March 2007 — Carter was a Captain in the US Army, with 9 years of active and reserve service – including 2005-06 with the 101st Airborne in Iraq.
Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army’s top young officers.
“West Point grads exit service at high rate“, Boston Globe, 11 April 2007
The above examples illustrate simple ways that al Qaeda could attack us. The next article describes even more effective and insidious techniques.
Article 2: Diagnose the problem
Good advice, a subject for another day.
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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – studies & reports
- About the Iraq War – Goals and Benchmarks
Some posts about Fourth Generation Warfare:
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- How to get the study of 4GW in gear
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
- Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
- 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
- 4GW: A solution of the second kind
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Don Vandergriff is one of the very few today implementing solutions of the third kind.