The solution to jihad: kill and contain our foes. Give war another chance!

Summary: Today we have an article from the dark side of America’s soul (with deep roots in our history) enticing us into evil. War erodes our strength, and after 13 years of the War on Terror our defenses against evil are quite thin. Voices like this, although seldom so vivid, probably will dominate debate among the presidential candidates of both parties during the next two years.

“Kill them all; let God sort them out.”
— Loose translation of phrase attributed to Papal legate Arnaud Amalric before the Massacre at Béziers, in France at the start of the Albigensian Crusade.

At an early intergovernmental meeting {1962} on the importance of psychological warfare, one of {General} Harkins’ key staffmen, Brigadier General Gerald Kelleher, quickly dismissed that theory. His job, he said, was to kill Vietcong.  But the French, responded a political officer named Donald Pike, had killed a lot of Vietcong and they had not won. “Didn’t kill enough Vietcong,” answered Kelleher.

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

I urge you to read the article discussed here, and contemplate the future of America. At 3400 words, it’s too complex for an accurate summary beyond “kill kill kill”. The author hits all the usual tropes of US bloodlust. General Sherman. NAZIs. Good (us) and evil (them). Amnesia about history. But bad wars corrupt the soul, and the US has fought three bad wars since Korea The evidence mounts that we are in a perilous state. I’ve included only a few comments, as the text sings a song familiar to anyone who know of humanity’s blood-soaked history.

Two notes to remember as you read.

  1. This article advocates doing what Bin Laden hoped we do. This is why 9/11 was the most effective single military operation in the history of the world.
  2. Despite what the author claims, the record of foreign armies fighting local insurgents is one of almost uniform failure (see details here).

Crusade vs Jihad

War is Cruelty, and You Cannot Refine It

“A Thought Experiment on the Hegelian dialectic towards ‘Total’ Strategy Development”
By Jeremy Kotkin (Major, US Army) at Medium,7 September 2014

Major Kotkin opens with sound analysis. This excerpt just sets the stage for the main body.

Let’s talk counterinsurgency and ISIS. Not the “population-centric” fantasy of hearts and minds made popular by FM 3–24, David Petraeus, and liberal American idealism, but real counterinsurgency. Now that a cohesive group of psychotics and organized criminals have thrown the Middle East yet again into a cauldron of seething and violent cultural atavism, what should the world, and the U.S. specifically, do about it? … What do we do about the endemic issue of which ISIS is yet simply another symptom?

The body of the article reads like pre-WW1 literature looking forward to the Great War. It’s a chain of dubious assumptions from the danger posed by ISIS to the effectiveness of war. Major Kotkin starts with a “Thesis”.

… We’ll keep fighting this cancer {ISIS} with one hand tied behind our back. Yet cancer requires a wholesale attack. Even “targeted” anti-cancer therapies try to root out the cancer from the starting place – the genetic source. We have never attempted and will probably not attempt to do this. … We’re afraid of global public opinion. Yet the way we’ve been handling our Global War on Terrorism has been a failure. Something new is needed. Something systemic and something complete.

… What follows is a thought experiment on a different course of action and a different strategy. … What follows is a game-changer and as distasteful as it may initially seem, it represents a course of action, albeit extreme, to deal with an extreme and lasting problem.

… Beyond all the handwringing at State and Defense about what is too little or too much, or messaging, or narratives, or soft power, or population-centric strategies that focus on the human element, the answer always was right in front of us.

Then he gives an “Antithesis”, filled with talk about war and total war — but artfully vague about operational details.

.

Bleeding eye
“Bleeding Eye” by C. Bayraktaroglu

If Islamic extremism is a cancer that will not otherwise die on its own … we must eradicate it where we can and contain it where we cannot.

… The key term of {the Axis powers’} surrender was ‘unconditional.’ War would be waged, ideas would be killed, any hopes or fantasies of continuing to fight would be crushed. This was accomplished through wholesale, industrial violence. … We know total war works. We also know the limited war actuated by the Global War on Terrorism and the Authorization for Use of Military Force is an unqualified failure beyond any tactical measure.

… If we are to address ISIS militarily, which was the original question posed here, we must address it wholly, unconditionally, and unreservedly. That is the choice we must make. … We did not ask for this war but this region of the world obviously has decided to visit it upon us and our allies.As General William Tecumseh Sherman stated in his letter to the civic leaders of Atlanta before he burned it to the ground in 1864:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our Country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to Secure Peace. …The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone…”

For us, our nation, our children, and the future prosperity of the rest of the modern world, this cancer must be stamped out.

He repeatedly refers to Islamic fundamentalism as a cancer, but notes that we’ve helped spread it. In fact there’s little evidence of its attractiveness except in lands destabilized by the US and Israel. Biological metaphors like “cancer” are useful propaganda but provide no useful insight.

He concludes with an coyly written “Synthesis” involving what sounds like ethnic cleansing against Arab Americans, and war with some or all of our allies of the Gulf States.

We cannot continue to look at treating the symptoms and not the causes. … the long term risk to our global economic prosperity is threatened by the continuing … embodiment of radical Islamism … enabled by Islamic monarchies and theocracies whose interests are inimical to our own. We can continue to muddle through dealing with this threat or we can take it head on. If we are to address this we must address it systemically. Like a cancer.

… Yet a two-pronged and long-term strategic approach can work. First, “the gloves are off” military operations to utterly destroy the concept of jihad and Islamic conquest in the places we can reach and, secondly, thoroughly contain the cancer in the places we cannot reach.

… if we choose to take the longer view, then ‘go big or go home.’ Unconditional surrender and containment. We know that works quite well.

This shows astonishing amnesia of history. War works, sometimes — as it did in WW2. But such wars are rare. More often they prove futile and destructive. From the Peloponnese War through the 30 Years War to WWI. Don’t listen the sirens of war as they confidently sing of victory through war.

{Update: see Major Kotkin’s reply in the comments.}

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

— Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

Islam = terror

For More Information

The picture “Bleeding Eye” by C. Bayraktaroglu is posted with the artist’s generous permission.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Grand Strategy, especially The Myth of Grand Strategy.

Posts about bin Laden

  1. ImportantWas 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?, 11 June 2008
  2. Bin Laden wins by using the “Tactics of Mistake” against America, 6 February 2011
  3. A brief note about the death of bin Laden, 2 May 2011
  4. About the strategic significance of bin Laden’s execution, and the road not taken, 5 May 2011

Posts about AQ remain relevant today

  1. ImportantLessons Learned from the American Expedition to Iraq, 29 December 2005 — Is al Qaeda like Cobra, SPECTRE, and THRUSH?
  2. The enigma of Al Qaeda. Even in death, these unanswered questions remain important, 15 September 2008
  3. “Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman, 31 January 2009
  4. Can we defeat our almost imaginary enemies?, 10 December 2009
  5. “The Almanac of Al Qaeda” – about our foe, 16 June 2010
  6. Today’s news about the Af-Pak War, about al Qaeda’s strength, 1 July 2010
  7. Does al Qaeda still exist?, 31 March 2011
  8. A look at al Qaeda, the long war — and us, 7 August 2013

Posts about our Islamic foes

  1. ImportantAre islamic extremists like the anarchists?, 14 December 2009
  2. RAND explains How Terrorist Groups End, and gives Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida, 15 January 2010
  3. Stratfor’s strategic analysis – “Jihadism in 2010: The Threat Continues”, 17 March 2010
  4. Stratfor: “Jihadism: The Grassroots Paradox”, 21 March 2010
  5. Stratfor: Setting the Record Straight on Grassroots Jihadism, 1 May 2010
  6. Hard (and disturbing) information about schools in Pakistan – the madāris , 1 May 2011
  7. Important: We are the attackers in the Clash of Civilizations. We’re winning., 23 September 2013

.

.

15 thoughts on “The solution to jihad: kill and contain our foes. Give war another chance!

  1. Well, you did a good job of parsing all the parts from it I specifically said were unacceptable by today’s standards. What I was doing with the ‘antithesis’ section was more or less building a strawman to get to the better strategy if we decide to take on ISIS (which I still think we *should not* because it doesn’t represent a threat to our interests). What truly focusing on the problem should look like however is a coordinated, cooperative, and focused approach by us and our allies using all the instruments of national power to contain and marginalize where the ideology comes from, where it’s funded from, and where it’s exported from. If you want to focus largely on one section of the essay then do so but don’t conflate it to be *the* conclusion or the policy recommendation.

    This isn’t calling for anything retaliatory or indiscriminate on par with Dresden or our Search and Destroy missions in South Vietnam (‘we had to burn the village to save it’). That’s ridiculous. If the military option (hopefully only as a precursor to a larger containment strategy) is chosen, it should be targeted. On a larger scale than our current concepts of COIN kinetics, but not indiscriminate destruction bordering on any ‘genocide’ of people like you’re intoning. The intent (of the antithesis, I remind you) is looking to wipe a specific ideology out, not a people.

    It will take more of a concerted effort than we’ve made so far to kill off Wahhabism coming from a few particular places in the Middle East. And again, if we can politically be honest enough to define that as the real problem at hand, not its symptoms. Until our foreign policy gets serious about it we can continue to deal with its symptoms and play our favorite counter-terrorism carnival game, whack-a-mole. Bombs on targets will be a good start at some certain level but concerted and cooperative foreign policy is the long term key. Muslims are obviously not the problem. Islam is not the problem. Monarchists in the Middle East who export and fund violence to satisfy their political/sectarian dominance fantasies are our problem. That we need to deal with better than we have been and that’s going to take a new foreign policy unencumbered by counterproductive alliances and relationships.

    1. Major

      Thank you for your reply.

      As for the representativeness of these excepts, that’s why I recommended at the start that people read your article in full. Each person will determine that for themselves. Also, for that reason I included longer excerpts than usual.

      I believe your conclusion is quite clear. Especially this:

      “First, “the gloves are off” military operations to utterly destroy the concept of jihad and Islamic conquest in the places we can reach …”

      That conclusion seems logical (given your analysis) and consistent with the rest of your article. I don’t see how that message is negated by inserting a few notes that such actions are not likely to be taken. Advice is advice, no matter how unreceptive the audience.

      I don’t know how much force your plan would require, or for how long, or in how many nations. But my guesses are “lots”, “very long”, and “many”. So I hope you are correct that the advice of hawks, like yourself, is unlikely to be taken. At least not on the scale you propose.

      Rather than debate if these excerpts are representative, I’d rather discuss more substantive issues. Such as how you believe we should use force to achieve the broad objectives you recommend. Your article gives no clues. Also, why do you believe such interventions would have more success than the almost uniform failure of foreign interventions against local insurgencies?

      I do agree that our current tactics are failing. Their failure was predicted before 9-11 by Martin van Creveld (e.g., in his 1991 book Transformation of War), and afterwards by those writing about 4GW (including, in a small way, me). Although our reasons differ.

  2. And I agree: “Despite what the author claims, the record of foreign armies fighting local insurgents is one of almost uniform failure” (I didn’t claim differently). That’s why we shouldn’t get involved in the first place – not our insurgents, not our interests. We have a poor record as third-party counterinsurgents because we cannot control the political ineptitude of the host nation that gave rise to the insurgency in the first place. Unless insurgency hobbles one of our true allies (UK, Canada, etc) or vital interests, ‘not my circus, not my monkeys.’

    1. Major Kotkin,

      (1) Your article, and comments, raise many interesting points. Most of all, your call for force — what seems like large-scale long-term force — is quite vague. Can you give examples of what you recommend?

      (2) “I didn’t claim differently.”

      I was referring to this:

      “How have successful counterinsurgencies been accomplished in the past? Certainly not Afghanistan or Iraq. There are examples out there. We just choose not to look at them.”

      (3) “We have a poor record as third-party counterinsurgents because we cannot control the political ineptitude of the host nation that gave rise to the insurgency in the first place.”

      The problem is deeper than that. Since Mao brought 4GW to maturity everybody has a poor record as foreigners fighting local insurgents. As Martin van Creveld describes in Chapter 6.2 of The Changing Face of War (2006):

      What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

      Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

  3. A few words on the article of Major Kotkin:

    one theme that may be workable without using undue force is the idea of disengagement. Public and/or informal. However, the main target would be the western populace.

    Its not strictly neccessary to talk to the varIous islamic societies and their leadership. Begin a process of disentaglement. No student-exchanges, no new grand trade-deals (beyond oil), no further attempts at inter-faith dialogue, no development aid, no nothing. Simply winding down any contact with islamic societies. One could even make nice speeches and phrases about cultural breathing room, respect for internal affairs, etc. In short, take away the benefits of contact and increase the hurdles to be taken for access (e.g. blanket denial for visas, “sudden” banking problems)

    The second prong would be a cultural offensive. Again, the primary target is the western populace (including already present muslim immigrats). Treat it maybe like an infectious disease information campaign. Describe in brutal honesty and neutrality the reality of a 7th century islamic society. Describe the effects of sharia law in the same matter-of-fact tone. These info-campaigns write themselves, no need for inflammatory rhetoric.

    The main goal is a clear message of “let them cook in their own stew”

    As a useful counter we could also focus our attention on increasing contact and cooperation with non-islamic nations.

    To top it off, use our industrial and monetary resources to attain at least some degree of hydro-carbon independence.

    1. I like (and liked) your response.
      We bring forth truth and bold visuals to highlight the ignorance and intolerance in the lack of peace religion that is Islam.
      Either that or we nuke ’em til they glow then we can shoot ’em in the dark.
      They merge or we have to purge.
      The question is “is there such an entity as moderate Islamists”?

      Note: You just have to keep the liberal left from queering the process.

  4. FM, thanks for the feedback. That’s what this essay was intended to do – to get people to think about our current policy and what the larger issues are aside from temporary and non-existentially threatening terrorist groups. Force as a solution in and of itself is not recommended. I’ve always said (at least through my FB page so I realize not everyone will understand my larger context) that ISIS itself represents an issue of which we should take absolutely zero military action. They are not a threat to us or our interests. They might be a threat to the Saudi monarchy and other Gulf theocracies but that’s not our problem.

    However, *if* a fundamental shift in the understanding of geopolitics should occur within the White House, Senate, and State Department (unlikely) and we can begin to reassess our foreign policy that coddles these states who are antithetical to our American/Western interests, then a full-court press is necessary; a coordinated policy not seen in American strategy since WWII or the Cold War. And yes, there were military aspects to the Cold War even though it was ‘cold’ designed to hem in the Soviet ideological threat to our system. The military aspect wasn’t the primary one but it was there. And it was coordinated with our ideological allies. So is a “gloves are off” military solution what I’m calling for? No. That’s only a minor part of the whole. Terrorists will continue to ‘squirt out’ from the Wahhabi nest and therefore there will always be people who need killing and that should be more unconstrained that what we’ve been fighting the GWOT with. But again, that’s only the tactical sideshow to the larger strategy. To date we have no larger strategy.

    Successful counterinsurgencies, although unpalatable today, exist in the historiography of COIN. The French razzias, the American Indian Wars, The Philippine Insurrection, the real lessons learned about Malaya, not the population-centric bunk that FM 3-24 would have us believe, etc. The list goes on. And before you hone in on extrapolating that I’m saying we should ethnically cleanse the Middle East like the way we committed genocide against the Native Americans (which I’m not saying), their simply are other lessons of COIN that should build our left and right limits than the narrowness we’ve artificially created with current doctrine. Again, I’m not saying those examples are useful as a template but a source of lessons learned. And again, these military lessons should only be employed *if* they are part of a larger strategy of containment and, like MMK pointed out, “disentanglement.”

    I agree that foreigners fighting insurgents has a bigger pool of failure than success but I’m only concerned about our history. We *we* fight insurgents, our insurgents, we win. When we fight someone else’s insurgents, and someone else who is more often than not corrupt, illegitimately ruling, malfeasant, and inept, we lose. It’s as simple as that and this should be the only metric that matters as we craft our strategy. Other nations’ insurgencies are not our concern….unless it happens to us (I’m still keeping my eye on the Tea Party ;) ) or one of our *very* close allies.

    1. These are brilliant comments, better than most articles on our wars. I’ll post them, to get wider audience.

      No time now for reply, just one quick point. War evolves — I repeat, there are no successful counter insurgencies by foreign armies (I.e., taking the lead, as we did in Vietnam, Iraq, & Afghanistan) against insurgents since Mao brought 4GW to maturity.

      Not for lack of trying. That is the essential point which the US military establishment refuses to see. Repeated failure is the price we pay for that.

  5. “Successful counterinsurgencies, although unpalatable today, exist in the historiography of COIN. The French razzias, the American Indian Wars, The Philippine Insurrection, the real lessons learned about Malaya, […]”

    Indeed, one could add the German actions against the Namas and Hereros in Southwest Africa, and against the Maji-Maji in Tanganyika — both at the same during the early 20th century — the Franco-Spanish action against the Berbers in the 1920s, or the little-known French counter-insurgency in Cameroon during the 1950s-1960s.

    They share a common trait with the examples given by J. Kotkin: all of them consisted of destroying villages, slaughtering “hostiles” — with weapons such as mustard gaz or napalm if need be, deliberately starving the population, and deporting survivors to concentration camps. In other words: genocide. Indeed, the official term used by the French for their counter-insurgency in 19th century Algeria was “extermination” (outcome of those razzias: 30% population drop), while the “Vernichtungsbefehl” (order of annihilation) summarized the German plan in Southwest Africa (outcome: 50% population drop for the Namas, 70% for the Hereros). The archives that could throw a light on how many Bassa and Bamileke died are still closed, and French veterans from the Cameroon operations refuse to bear witness more than 50 years after the fact (understandably, since genocide has no statutes of limitation).

    So what exactly are the “other lessons” J. Kotkin wants to draw from “unpalatable” but successful counter-insurgencies carried out by foreign powers against large-scale rebellions? That genocide works and that we should re-acquire the taste for it?

    1. Guest,

      You touch on 2 elements of CI.

      (1) As Martin van Creveld says, local governments win at CI by massive use of force (e.g., the Hama solution in Syria, CI using artillary) — or little use of force (e.g., the Brits in Northern Ireland). The in-between levels tend to fail.

      (2) Since Mao brought 4GW to maturity, almost (all?) attempts fail at CI by foreign armies against local insurgents. You mention a French CI in the 1950s in Cameroon — they lost that colony in 1960.

    2. On (1): We agree, and my point was to question the lessons that J.Kotkin was alluding to regarding “unpalatable but successful counterinsurgency” — all the examples he mentioned just point out the requirement to proceed in genocidal fashion.

      On (2): The Malayan emergency lasted from 1948 to 1960. The counterinsurgency was a bloody affair, with large scale deportations and concentration camps, and other “unpalatable” methods. It is still considered to have been a success, despite the fact that the UK lost the colony in 1957, because the British could ensure that it was granted to a party that was more acceptable to them than the communist ethnic Chinese.

      The situation in Cameroon was comparable: the intensive insurrection lasted from 1955 to 1966, and while independence was granted in 1960, the counter-insurgency is considered to have been a success, since independence was granted to the more accommodating Peuls instead of the Bassa and Bamileke of the communist-leaning UPC. Actually, the French military remained in the country several years after independence to carry out the counter-insurgency with the new government — strengthening the methods they had applied elsewhere (deportations, destruction of villages, torture, extra-judiciary executions, etc).

      I believe these two cases actually strengthen your argument, but also raise further questions regarding what exactly J.Kotkin is suggesting Western countries should do in terms of counter-insurgency beyond a “kill them all” approach.

  6. Major Kotkin tells us that “We’ll keep fighting this cancer {ISIS} with one hand tied behind our back. Yet cancer requires a wholesale attack” and “Terrorists will continue to ‘squirt out’ from the Wahhabi nest and therefore there will always be people who need killing and that should be more unconstrained that what we’ve been fighting the GWOT with.”

    Dehumanizing the people you’re fighting into “cancer” and insects that “`squirt out’ from the Wahhabi nest” seems an extraordinarily ill-advised way of characterizing an opposing fighting force. The so-called “cancer” and “insects” managed to fight American forces to a standstill in Iraq and are decisively winning against every resource America can bring to bear in Afghanistan. This is not the characteristic of mindless cancers or insectile vermin; it’s more typical of highly committed extremely adaptable and intelligent enemy soldiers.

    It might prove useful to consider that “terrorists” do not just “squirt out of some Wahhabi nest” in a process of seemingly divine asexual reproduction. The terrorists with whom American soldiers are engaged are created by American drone bombings of wedding parties in Pakistan and U.S. Army bulldozing of villages in Afghanistan. If America wants fewer terrorists to fight, it should consider an alternative to “putting fire on target” (the mindless 2GW U.S. military solution to anything and everything) and instead just walk away. Stop drone bombings in Pakistan. Pull out of afghanistan.

    If Americans stop murdering innocent women and children in some of the world’s poorest countries, it seems possible that their fathers or brothers or sisters or sons will stop strapping bombs to themselves and detonating them in U.S. army bases.

    Major Kotkin’s claim that “[When] *we* fight insurgents, our insurgents, we win. When we fight someone else’s insurgents, and someone else who is more often than not corrupt, illegitimately ruling, malfeasant, and inept, we lose” seems based on some peculiar historical revisionism. Arguably the antiwar demonstrators were insurgents, and when America fought them, it lost conclusively. The antiwar demonstrators carried the day and convinced America to leave Vietnam — and a good thing, too. More recently, the DOD has classified non-violent protests as “low level terrorism” and despite that classification, it seems as though the Iraq antiwar protesters (which our own government classifies as insurgent) also won. America also abandoned its endless unwinnable war in Iraq.

    In Ferguson, MO, the insurgents do not appear to have been defeated. The result of the Ferguson MO protests appears to have forced a national conversation on the militarization of the police, and it seems (with the Obama administration’s decision to order a study on whether to continue supplying military weapons to U.S. police) that the goals of the Ferguson insurgency are also being accomplished. Bluntly, the militarized police in Ferguson MO lost that engagement too.

    So it’s by no means clear that “[When] *we* fight insurgents, our insurgents, we win.” The results are at best mixed. The North won the civil war and defeated the insurgents; the Nixon administration decisively lost against the antiwar Vietnam protestors, and the Bush administration decisively lost against the antiwar Iraq protestors.

    The U.S. response to the Filipino insurrection involved systematic waterboarding of suspected insurectos by U.S. troops in 1901, in some cases children as young as ten. I wonder if Major Kotkin intends to advocate waterboarding as a tactic of war, inasmuch as this is one of the war crimes for which Japanese officers were tried, convicted, and hanged in 1945?

  7. “… We’ll keep fighting this cancer {ISIS} with one hand tied behind our back. Yet cancer requires a wholesale attack. Even “targeted” anti-cancer therapies try to root out the cancer from the starting place – the genetic source. We have never attempted and will probably not attempt to do this. … We’re afraid of global public opinion. Yet the way we’ve been handling our Global War on Terrorism has been a failure. Something new is needed. Something systemic and something complete.”

    Or you could just attack the strategy of cancer or sociopaths…

Leave a Reply to guest Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.