Category Archives: America’s Long War

Our longest war, fought for uncertain goals — with no visible end.

What’s in a terrorist’s name? A step to understanding the Islamic State.

Summary: The fires expand over the Middle East, driven by centuries of relative decline and corrupt rule, stoked by our interventions. We struggle to understand this phenomenon, cutting through the lies and misinformation fed us. Today guest author Hal Kempfer takes us to the logical starting point: what to call this movement.

“Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever has not kindness has not faith.”
— Attributed to Mohammad.

Islamic sky

What’s in a terrorist name? Perhaps some meaning.

By Hal Kempfer (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired)

There is an active debate on terminology regarding the type of terrorists we see involving or inspired by groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. (aka the Islamic State of Iraq & Greater Syria, or ISIL, where they refer to the “Levant” vice “Greater Syria”). ISIS is a former Al Qaeda (AQ) affiliate that has almost eclipsed AQ.

The White House does not like the term “Radical Islam” in describing this threat. However, it is descriptive since it implies from whence their beliefs came. However, it also misses what makes them significantly different from mainstream believers of the Islamic faith.

When Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, most of them school kids, we didn’t call that “Radical Christianity,” nor did we do so in describing the events near Waco, Texas in 1993 or when Larry McQuilliams attacked the Mexican Consulate, Police Headquarters and federal courthouse in Austin, Texas, around Thanksgiving of last year. Further, when Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. attacked the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Assisted Living Facility in Overland Park, Kansas, in April of 2014, we didn’t call it “Radical Paganism,” even though his motivational beliefs were the same as the Nazi pagan cult of WWII.

So there does seem to be a semantic inconsistency.

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Our escalation shows the key US military strategy: FAILure to learn.

Summary:  The year is only 7 weeks old and we’ve already taken several steps accelerating phase two of our mad Post-9/11 Wars. Our primary method is FAILure to Learn, repeating the tactics that didn’t work during the past 14 years. This will not end well for us. (2nd of 2 posts today}

US foreign policy

A bad idea. Please hit the PAUSE button on our wars.

US forces have begun fighting along side the Iraq army (Apache attack helicopters supporting the Iraq army). Special Operations forces have increased their tempo of operations in Afghanistan. We’ve dispatched a brigade of 4,000 to Iraq, with a vague explanation of its mission (more are warming up in the US to go). Obama’s submitted to Congress a vague Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (AUMF, to fight the wars already under way).

This makes no sense. We conducted our first wave of wars — Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen — in direct violation of the two lessons of post-WWII history. Both are quite obvious.

  1. Foreigners (especially foreign infidels) almost never defeat local insurgents. Their presence undermines the legitimacy of the host government and arouses opposition in proportional to their activity (i.e., the more we do, the more they hate us).
  2. Large numbers of troops are needed to have even a small chance of winning (large numbers as a ratio to the local population opposing us). Details here.

Having proven our incompetence at 4GW, now we escalate to outright madness by repeating the same failed methods but on a smaller (and hence less likely to work) scale. It’s a FAILure to learn, a weakness no amount of power can counterbalance. Not at WWI levels (doubling down with failed tactics), but still inexcusable.

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America takes another step away from liberty: the Holy Land Foundation trial.

Summary:  As we trek away from the Second Republic (founded on the Constitution) towards an unknown fate, we should look at the milestones to see how far we’ve come. Trials serve this purpose well, traditional focal points for growing government power and the erosion of liberty. Today a UK barrister looks across the Atlantic at a particularly egregious miscarriage of justice. We don’t care, comfortable in our certainty that such abuses will not happen to us, just to the colored and designated enemies of the State. As the Occupy protesters learned, that applies only so long as we remain supine. RICO, SWAT, asset seizures, use of COIN tactics — all were exceptional in America until they became routine.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

In my mind it figures as the classic example of the demonstration trial — those attributes which set the show trial off from ordinary trials seem to me to have been most sharply delineated in this instance. In subsequent years there would be trials more significant historically … But not one of them was to approach the Ramzin show for scientifically inflated sensationalism and for the transparency of its make-believe.

… All the gadgets of ballyhoo were used to bring the fears and angers of a nation to a boil and several dozen representatives of the world press were  on hand to report the hysteria for other nations. The exaggerated frights and enthusiasms evoked …

And it is as a spectacle that unavoidably I must think of the trial. I find it hard to discuss it seriously as a judicial procedure. The guilt of the accused had been fixed and accepted as beyond doubt in advance; the object of the trial was simply to demonstrate that guilt as effectively as as possible, for purposes not even remotely related to justice in the legal sense.

— From Assignment in Utopia by UPI reporter Eugene Lyons (1937) — First use of “show trial”.

Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development

Low-Hanging Fruit: the show trial of the Holy Land Foundation.

By Francis FitzGibbon
London Review of Books, 22 January 2015 issue.
Posted with the permission of the author and the LRB.

Introduction

Zakat, the Quranic obligation on Muslims to give alms for the relief of poverty, is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Holy Land Foundation (HLF), founded in 1988 by American citizens of Palestinian heritage, raised money for distribution by zakat charitable committees in Gaza and the West Bank. Most of it went to buy food, clothes and education for children. Between 1992 and 2001 the foundation raised at least $56 million.

On 3 December 2001 the US Treasury Department decreed that the HLF was a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ (SDGT), and the next day, without informing the foundation of this decision, the FBI closed down its offices. Five staff members and the HLF itself were charged in 2004 with a variety of terrorism offences, on the basis that the money the organisation raised was ultimately going to fund Hamas.

The first trial, in 2007, resulted in a hung jury. The defendants were convicted in a retrial the next year. The leaders of the HLF, Shukri Abu Baker and Ghassan Elashi, are serving 65-year sentences and will die in jail. Three others were given prison sentences of 15 or 20 years. They lost their appeals, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, despite patent failings and abuses in the legal process. The 9/11 attacks precipitated much hasty and panicked action by the US authorities: hence the Patriot Act and the other instruments of at best dubious legality that the Bush administration used to advance the war on terror.

But as a tale of legal chicanery by a government, of moral panic and of complicity on the part of the judiciary, what happened to the HLF is hard to beat.

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Jihadists will prosper using the methods of America’s entrepreneurs.

Summary: How might the various jihadest organizations evolve during the next decade? They might follow the same path as emerging industries in capitalist economies, driven by the same forces of competition to to grow and innovate so that the best grow far larger than anyone imagined possible at their beginnings. We cannot imagine the details, but the general dynamics are easily understood. If so, the future holds many strange and perhaps terrible things. Our current policies, built on arrogance and ignorance — and above all on a refusal to learn from experience — might end badly for us.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

This is a follow-up to Business 101 tells us what to expect next from jihadists: goods news for them, bad for us. The structure of the jihadist “industry” resembles that of other early stage industries entering their periods of rapid growth and innovation. Such as the automobile industry in the 1920’s, before the massive consolidation that took it from thousands of small companies to dozens of giants (Canada went from hundreds to zero), and the cutting edge sectors of the software industry during its many revolutions.

Jihad flag

This is a heavily paraphrased excerpt from Risk and Reward — Venture Capital and the Making of America’s Great Industries by Thomas M. Doerflinger and Jack Rivkin (1987). This passage discusses the automobile industry. I have substituted the jihadist “industry” and changed some of the text. However, the reasoning remains the same. Note that the quotes and numbers are real, from the author’s description of the early auto industry.

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An industry takes off

The jihadist industry resembles the classic high-tech industries (e.g., semiconductors, biotechnology). A few thousand dollars are all that is needed to start an insurgent group, and if it scored some early success more people and funds roll in. The flip side is that the industry is incredibly volatile, with fast-growing groups sprouting up and then shriveling like so many mushrooms.

As in the case of automobiles and computers, those outside the jihadist community are slow to appreciate its tremendous potential because they did not anticipate how rapidly it would improve in effectiveness. This is actually typical of both revolutionary industries and movements.

Growth

To be sure the jihadist industry has grown more slowly than its French counterpart. It took only 5 years for France to get from the calling of the Estate-General in 1788 to Robespierre’s Reign of Terror in 1793. The jihadist industry followed a more typical trajectory, from “criminals … who are willing to be guns for hire” (per David Petraeus, 9 November 2003) into a serious threat to the region’s regimes in only 11 years. The central reason for this superior performance is that as in the early days of automobiles and computers, no single company monopolized the jihadists. From the beginning it was a competitive free-for-all. They had a second and equally important advantage: local entrepreneurs run the groups, people who had faith in their revolution. The elites of the region, even their supporters, are rational, skeptical, and often wrong — and remain safely on the periphery where they could do little damage.

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Business 101 tells us what to expect next from jihadists: goods news for them, bad for us.

Summary:  Years of assassinating jihadists have improved the breed and boosted their popularity. Business 101 tells us what to expect: new entrants arise to exploit this opportunity. Their competition will accelerate evolution of better business practices, making the winners even more dangerous foes. There is one powerful group fueling this process, people we can persuade to stop. (1st of 2 posts today about jihadists.)

Jihadi Competition

Jihadi Competition After al Qaeda Hegemony“, Clint Watts, Foreign Policy Research Institute, February 2014.

Our geopolitical experts, a mixture of experts and frauds, are agog over the competition between al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and befuddled by the proliferation of jihadist groups (it took most of them years to get over the idea that al Qaeda was like SPECTRE (or THRUSH or COBRA). Guesses and fantasies about our foes fly along the info highway.

The above graphic from the FPRI report tells the story. It’s the general form of graphic familiar to those who know business history. It has the outline of the world automobile industry in the 1920’s, a period of intense competition, rapid growth, and broad evolution — of product, manufacturing, finance and distribution — before the massive consolidation that took it from thousands of small companies to dozens of giants (Canada went from hundreds to zero). It’s the general form of cutting edge sectors of the software industry during its many revolutions.

As these groups grow beyond their local bases they increasingly compete amongst themselves for talent, ownership of brands and ideas, market share, and sources of financial support. Their beliefs are rooted in the 6th century, but their methods are those of the 21st. The best jihadists will win.

How we drive the evolution of the jihadists

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France volunteers itself as a front line in the clash of civilizations.

Summary: France has become a front, perhaps even ground zero, in the clash of civilizations. For a brilliant analysis see “France Under the Influence” by Diana Johnstone, Counterpunch, 20 January 2015. A few excerpts follow, with comments expanding on them. I recommend reading her article in full. {2nd of 2 posts today}

Basis for a successful Grand Strategy

Basis for a successful Grand Strategy.

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Contents

  1. Context for the conflict
  2. History strikes back
  3. A banquet of consequences
  4. We fight for Human Rights!
  5. About the author
  6. For More Information

Excerpts and commentary on “France Under the Influence
by Diana Johnstone, Counterpunch, 20 January 2015.

(1) Context for the conflict

The Charlie Hebdo terrorist assassinations struck France at a moment when it has an unpopular government and a weak President, when factories are closing and jobs are being lost, when French economic policy is determined by Germany via the European Union and its foreign policy is determined by the United States via NATO. … the country feels buffeted by winds of conflict it cannot resist.

European governments face domestic unrest from the ugly combination of rising inequality and slow growth — against the backdrop of the souring of the great post-WWII unification project. People’s fear about a challenge from Islam provides them with both an opportunity to distract the public and a difficult issue to manage. Islam provides a tangible outlet for fears about existential threats to their culture as it gets hammered on one side by social changes from modernity, and on the other by immigrants bringing foreign ways.  America too faces similar social tensions.

(2) History strikes back

{T}he so-called “Islamic State”, as well as “al Qaeda in Yemen” and associated fanatic Islamic groups are working hard to recruit fighters out of the Muslim communities in France and other European countries. Some 1,400 jihadists have traveled to Syria from France to join the Holy War. They are lured by the heroic prospect of helping to “build the Caliphate”, a sort of Israel for Muslims, a holy land restored.

Israel was the West’s great nation-building project of the 2oth century, an opportunity to philanthropically ship away a disliked minority by providing legitimacy and support to the Zionist terrorists and insurgents in Palestine. The kibbutz were the dream. The result: a theocratic imperialist State slowly absorbing Jerusalem and the West Bank, inflicting slow genocide on Gaza.

Now comes the blowback. Successful models get copied. The Islamic State has adapted the formula, amping it up for the 21st century (perhaps as Hitler amped up a mad version of Nietzsche’s thought).

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We’re goading our enemies to attack America. Eventually we’ll succeed, and they will.

Summary: Our national security agencies have put us on course for a dark future, albeit one that greatly benefits them. We feel exceptional in our ability to kill people in far-away lands, yet fear the inevitable reprisals on the “Homeland”. Like similarly mad events a century ago in Europe, afterwards nobody will recall why we thought this was rational. Today let’s look at some evidence, trying to do so with the eyes of a future generation.

At almost the same time {Spring 1965} Phil Geyelin, a White House correspondent who knew Southeast Asia well, found himself troubled by the same kind of doubts about the direction of American policy and turned to William Bundy {Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs}. Did we really know where we were headed? he asked. Did we really know what we would do if the bombing failed, if he other side decided to match our escalation with its own?

Bundy reassured him; he said he had never been so confident about any undertaking before. Vietnam was no Bay of Pigs, he emphasized; he had never seen anything so thoroughly staffed, so well planned. It reeked of expertise and professionalism, it all gave one a great sense of confidence.

— From The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam (1972).

New CIA Logo

New CIA Logo.

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More than a decade of studies in Pakistan by organizations such as Pew Research and the New American Foundation show that our drone assassins make people distrust, dislike, and often hate us. Scores of leaked intelligence agency documents and statements by experts report that they’re among the most effective recruitment tools of jihadist insurgents.

Even more obviously, we’ve fought jihadists for 13 years using such tools — spec ops kidnapping and executions, invasion and occupation of their lands, support for their corrupt and tyrannical rulers, and bombings bombings bombings. The result: a region set on fire, with the fire spreading to new lands (a welcome opportunity for DoD to expand Africom).

We have run this course before, obvious to anyone who has read The Pentagon Papers (or its excellent derivative The Best and the Brightest). Mindlessly brutal strategies, endlessly repeated and even expanded despite their failure, until catastrophic final defeat. This time we target a region and a major religion, not just the backwater of North Vietnam. We are exceptional in our FAILure to learn and drive to self-destruction.

Unlike during the Vietnam War, today we have heroes attempting to warn us: whistleblowers and leakers. Like so many heroes in history, they’re unappreciated by us (as bearers of bad news) and attacked by the government (especially by Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize-wearing leader of the “most transparent administration ever“). So far we have ignored their warnings.

What comes next? How long can we send flying robots to kill, with the inevitable “collateral damage” — blowing women and children into red mist — before people get angry enough to come over here to administer tit-for-tat? How many headlines like today’s: “U.S. airstrike in Syria may have killed 50 civilians“? Do we see this retaliation in our future, perhaps explaining our high level of fear?

We probably would respond intemperately to such an attack, perhaps with destruction of a Middle Eastern city — mass murder of people who had as little role in the attack on us as did the people in Iraq and Afghanistan on 9/11. Then we would have fulfilled bin Laden’s dream, starting a full-scale clash of civilizations between us and them. That’s a future our national security agencies lead us to.

The CIA fast-tracks us to disaster.

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