Keeping score: how well did 4GW theory predict events in Iraq?

Summary:  Part I explained why the war might end in 2009.  Part II described what Iraq might look like after the new President negotiates a “master settlement” with Iran and the major Iraq factions)  This post compares this scenario with some of the forecasts by 4GW analysts, and asks why the mis-match.

A negotiated settlement along the lines described in the previous two posts — giving everybody something they need, nobody getting everything they want — matches neither the dreams of the neocons nor the worst fears of many 4GW analysts.  Consider Martin van Creveld’s two articles about the Iraq War.

Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did  (2004) — Conclusion:

That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids.

Costly Withdrawal Is the Price To Be Paid for a Foolish War“, The Forward  (25 November 2005) — Excerpt:

Clearly, then, the thing to do is to forget about face-saving and conduct a classic withdrawal.

Handing over their bases or demolishing them if necessary, American forces will have to fall back on Baghdad. From Baghdad they will have to make their way to the southern port city of Basra, and from there back to Kuwait, where the whole misguided adventure began. When Prime Minister Ehud Barak pulled Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, the military was able to carry out the operation in a single night without incurring any casualties. That, however, is not how things will happen in Iraq.

Not only are American forces perhaps 30 times larger, but so is the country they have to traverse. A withdrawal probably will require several months and incur a sizable number of casualties. As the pullout proceeds, Iraq almost certainly will sink into an all-out civil war from which it will take the country a long time to emerge – if, indeed, it can do so at all. All this is inevitable …

For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president’s men. If convicted, they’ll have plenty of time to mull over their sins.

William Lind has been at times equally bleak about our chances.  Excerpt from “”Work For The Grossgeneralstab“, On War #67 (12 May 2004):

The disastrous course of America’s war in Iraq has created a new task for the Great General Staff, in the form of more contingency planning. America needs to make sure it has a plan in the file for a fighting withdrawal from Iraq.

It is still possible the end may not come this way. We may still manage a shaky hand-off to a U.N.-designated Iraqi government, and that government might last long enough for us to withdraw with some shreds of dignity. George W. might awake some morning a new man, announce he was swindled, sack the neo-cons and bring in someone like Marine Corps General Tony Zinni, who opposed the war all along, to handle our disengagement. The Archangel Michael might appear over Mecca and convert all the Mohammedans to Christianity.

But the growing probability is that we will be driven out of Iraq by a general uprising, an intifada in which every American will be the target of every Iraqi and our boys (and, in America’s Neo-Model Army, girls) will have to fight their way out in a scene like that which faced Gordon in the Sudan. It is not a pleasant prospect. It means thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of American and “coalition” casualties, many times more Iraqi casualties, and one of history’s more memorable defeats, right up there with Syracuse, Waterloo and Stalingrad. The after-shocks will be severe, as regimes tumble from Pakistan through the Persian Gulf and Egypt to Britain and America itself. You can look forward to seeing the Dow at 3000, if not 300.

Facing such a contingency, we can have only one priority: the lives of our troops. Their chances of making it out alive will be far greater if we have done some planning beforehand. Our great vulnerability is that our lines of supply, communication and retreat are long, and they almost all run through hostile territory. Most lead through southern Iraq to Kuwait, and that is not likely to be a comfortable way out. North through the Kurds to Turkey may be the best bet, although as Xenophon can attest, retreating with a beaten army through Kurd country is no picnic. West lies Syria, no friend, and Jordan, which may itself be convulsed.

Me, too.  In my November 2005 “Forecasts” I warned…

After the Athenians realized they were defeated at Syracuse and had to run, they lingered to discuss the details. This confidence – that they had ample time — was unwarranted. Their enemies blockaded the harbor. All that remained was death in battle or capture, followed by slow death in the quarries.

We have made mistakes in Iraq on every level: strategic, tactical, and operational.  Fortunately, we still have an opportunity to exit with minimal losses. I recommend that we take it. Let’s not copy the optimistic arrogance of the Athenians at Syracuse.

Keeping score and lessons learned

The major 4GW experts were largely correct about the Iraq War in terms of its costs and benefits to the Coalition states who waged it.  The costs in money and blood are far greater than initially forecasts, the benefits few or none. 

However, although the war continues, and we can only speculate as how and when it ends, the extreme forecasts now seem unlikely.  Unless something happens to radically change the situation, such as US strike at training camps in Iran or a massive terrorist strike in Iraq or Iran that destabilizes the situation.  This aspect of their forecasts were inaccurate (again, depending on future events).  Why?

My guess is that 4GW theory has reached a dead end, and needs to be re-considered on a fundamental level.  See the posts listed below, which take a first cut a discovering where 4GW theory lost its way — and which way leads to continued progress.

More forecasts for the Iraq War

My summary of the situation written in December 2005 still looks accurate.  Events since it was written make the last half look more likely than the first half.

We might not have yet entered the endgame for the Iraq Expedition. The range of hopes and fears remains too wide. With luck, our nightmares will prove as unlikely as our dreams.

… Perhaps our withdrawal columns will be attacked. But perhaps our withdrawal takes place amidst celebrating crowds, the first holiday of the New Iraq. Joy at our humiliation and expulsion might be all that the peoples of Iraq now have in common.

… As for the certainty of civil war in Iraq — these people have lived together for millennia. They know the consequences of civil war as well as any on this blood-soaked earth.

This is the historic point at which history might be made.  Not our invasion of Iraq, a land that has seen many invasions. Nor the elections; the Middle East has seen many elections which change nothing.  Iraq’s many peoples have a brief window in which to peacefully strike a deal. Perhaps the new Iraq will not appear to the world as a great nation, but only a sound foundation for their future – one build on negotiations, not spilled blood.

We can only hope. As Lawrence of Arabia said, “Nothing is written.”

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Go here to see an archive of my posts about the Iraq War.

Posts about a new direction in 4GW theory

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. How to get the study of 4GW in gear
  3. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
  4. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
  5. Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
  6. 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
  7. 4GW: A solution of the second kind – Shawn Brimley has provided an example of a solution of the second kind with “A Grand Strategy of Sustainment”.  It is good, but we need to move on; solutions of the second kind do us little good.
  8. 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Don Vandergriff is one of the very few today implementing solutions of the third kind.

7 thoughts on “Keeping score: how well did 4GW theory predict events in Iraq?

  1. I expect one scenario the most; a withdrawal comparable to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The difference is that the militias fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, while the Iraqi militias mostly seem to wait for the foreigner withdrawal to preserve strength for the following civil war.

    This gives the initiative to the foreigners, and with repeated tactical and operational results also a feeling of success. But is it possible to undermine/crush the opposing militias and strengthen the militias who support the state? What would it mean for the post-war time that the state is dependent on faction’s militias?

    And above all this is the Damokles sword of questionable war benefits but visible war costs. The foreigners are losing the patience contest (many foreign nations alreaady withdrew), and do so probably for very good reasons.

    Maybe the U.S. government should change course and look at an acceptable exit instead of how to achieve victory. An acceptable exit might be an autonomous Kudish north and warring Sunni/Shia south with a Shia-dominated, but Western-friendly government. That civil war might boil up and cool down in less than a year. The economic assets and political attention now need to be focused on achieving economic sustainability on a high wealth level (a.k.a. to fix domestic problems).
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The search of an “acceptable exit” is, of course, the point of this series. Part I described why the next President might negotiate a “master settlement” with Iran and key parties in Iraq. Part II described what Iraq might look like after such a settlement. This part describes how 4GW analysts did not consdier such a moderate outcome likely.

    This “prediction” is a follow-up to my forecasts in March and November of last year, about the fragmenting of Iraq into three parts.

    As for the “the following civil war”, I have said in all of these that Americans treat this guess as a fact. The fragmenting of Iraq is a step away from civil war, not towards it. Large scale violence is possible afterwards, but not certain. Lebanon shows that factions in the ME can negotiate a peace.

  2. Large scale violence is possible afterwards, but not certain.

    How about something like what is going on in Mexico right now?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Or what is going on in Lebanon, a relatively peaceful tranfer of power. These examples tell us little, except that many things are possible.

  3. I consider a civil war after the foreign presence (notwithstanding that the present conflict can be considered as a civil war) as quite inevitable.
    The state will not be officially split up due to external status quo interests.
    That will promote a fight for power in Iraq, and I doubt that this fight will be civil.
    It might be short and not bloodier than the presently ongoing ops, though.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: To use the word “inevitable” in these kinds of forecasts seems a bit much, imo. Nobody, even area experts, have much success predicting events over any interesting timeframe.

    An awareness of our limitations, giving probabilities, openness to alternative scenarios — these should be agree-upon requirements when discussion geopolitical events (again, imo).

  4. I have been guilty of the overly doom-laden 4GW viewpoint myself, so I will hazard an improvised critique of 4GW.

    Two frequent themes in 4GW analysis is the decline of the state and the uselessness of modern armies against nonconventional forces who fight by targeting the adversary’s moral cohesion/will. 4GW 2.0 (global guerrillas theory and super-empowered individual theory) goes even further by making guerrillas into super-empowered figures with a powerful capacity for systems disruption.

    These are useful theories that are reflected in real-life events. But they alone are insufficient to explain those events.

    The decline of the state is over-exaggerated in much 4GW analysis, and one might also wish to consider whether it is not a decline but (as Philip Bobbitt would argue) a transformation (albeit one with certain negative effects). If we are in fact, an era where the state is continuing to evolve (rather than decline), we may have to visualize a different kind of 4GW that allows a stronger role for state power (see Frank Hoffman’s “Hybrid Wars” for an example of this) Even if states are in decline, they still have powerful roles to play in the international system, and this role is not often acknowledged.

    Non-state power is also over-exaggerated and discussed without much reference to regional and local politics and historical realities. I myself bear blame for over-exaggerating the strategic coherency of AQ actions, when Marc Sageman’s latest study (“Leaderless Jihad”) amply proves otherwise. It seems that discussion of irregular warfare through a 4GW context has grown increasingly abstract and static, paralleling the purely technical discussions of warfare that Boyd so rightly derided.
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    Fabius Maxius replies: All excellent points! I esp agree the decline fo the state is often exaggerated. Even in developed nations, the process — if it does happen — will probably take many generations.

  5. These are superficial criticisms ultimately (maybe I will write an article with a more in-depth analysis), but I think that the way to reconsider 4GW lies not only in a reconsideration of present realities but future ones. In other words, the way that we imagine the future has always influenced how we visualize the present.

    If 4GW has an analogue in science fiction, it is “Mad Max”-a post-apocalyptic world of warring tribes and marauding criminals battling amidst the crumbling infrastructure of the modern industrial state. We may want to consider whether “Ghost in the Shell,” “Blade Runner,” “Snow Crash,” or “Neuromancer” (all broadly belonging to the cyberpunk genre) may better reflect the kind of future-as-present that we envision.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I would tweak your observation a bit to say that too much 4gw literature is science fiction, letting the authors’ imaginations run wild. I look forward to your article on this.

  6. I agree with A.E. 4GW-theorists have a lot of good points and insights. Thats why I like, read and listen to people like van Creveld and Lind. But they frequently overstate their case and make claims that doesn’t really make any sense. Like the collapse of all states. Anyway they still have a lot of valuable insights and there were more accurate in predicting what would happen in Iraq than many other pundits. Just for that reason I would love to see William Lind as the new American national security adviser. It will never happen, but it would certainly serve the interests of the United States.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I would except Martin van Creveld from your charge. Any examples of where he has overstated his case?

  7. Dear Maximus
    At the end of the book ”The transformation of warfare”. An excellent book, but at the end he predicts the death of states and how every country in the world would be engulfed by 4GW (he doesn’t call it that, so that’s my expression). This is a viewpoint I hear from time to time from other 4GW-experts, but I have still not heard of a single case of a strong state that has collapsed because of 4GW. Only countries like Somalia or Afghanistan that never really were states in the beginning. Perhaps it will happen, but it is far more likely that for example a devastating terrorist attack on the United States would empower the government even more with dictatorial powers. In other words strengthen the state.

    To be honest 4GW-litterature sometimes reminds me of the predictions of aerial warfare in the years between the world wars. Based on the experience from WW1 many predicted that aerial attacks would massive devastation and the collapse of society. People would panic, kill each other and flee. What happened? Both the Germans and the Brits kept soldiering on while the bombs feel. Only when it came to nuclear weapons did air attack cause a capitulation, but not even then did it cause the Japanese society to break down. On the contrary: The emperor remained in power and people accepted living under American occupation. 4GW-experts have to take that human factor into account. They have a lot of valuable points and insights, but they seem to misunderstand how societies and even nation-states work. Societies seems to collapse if they were weak or only existed on paper in the first place. .

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