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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“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
— Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935).

Flying Terminator
The new Voice of America.

The War on Terror runs on reports like this from the CIA. They eerily echo the confidently cold-blooded reports that ran the Vietnam War, proving that we have learned nothing.

“Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool”
CIA, 7 July 2009, released by WikiLeaks.

A CIA review of high-value targeting (HVT) programs worldwide suggests that HVT operations can play a useful role when they are part of a broader counterinsurgency strategy. HVT operations are most likely to contribute to successful counterinsurgency outcomes when governments decide on a desired strategic outcome before beginning HVT operations, analyze potential effects and shaping factors, and simultaneously employ other military and nonmilitary counterinsurgency instruments.

  • Potential positive strategic effects of HVT operations include eroding insurgent effectiveness, weakening insurgent will, reducing the level of insurgent support, fragmenting or splitting the insurgent group, altering insurgent strategy or organization in ways that favor the government, and strengthening government morale and support.
  • Potential negative effects of HVT operations include increasing the level of insurgent support, causing a government to neglect other aspects of its counterinsurgency strategy, altering insurgent strategy or organization in ways that favor the insurgents, strengthening an armed group’s bond with the population, radicalizing an insurgent group’s remaining leaders, creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and escalating or deescalating a conflict in ways that favor the insurgents.
  • The insurgent group factors that shape the impact of HVT operations include the degree of leadership centralization, succession planning and bench strength, level of visibility, life cycle stage, strength of cause and popular support, and existence of sanctuary.
  • Several government factors, including the duration and intensity of HVT operations and the choice of HVT method, also affect the outcome of HVT operations.

We studied as cases Afghanistan (2001-present), Algeria (1954-62), Colombia (2002-present), Iraq (2004-present), Israel (1972 to mid-1990s, mid-1990s to present), Peru (1980-99), Northern Ireland (1969-98), and Sri Lanka (1983-May 2009). We drew additional examples from Chechnya, Libya, Pakistan, and Thailand.

The CIA’s analysts make the common but elementary mistake of conflating anti-insurgent activities by home governments (often effective) with those of foreigners (almost never effective). It’s important not to see this, as it destroys the core assumption of our foreign wars. Our national security experts keep their eyes closed, ignoring both warnings in the literature as well as the evidence of their failure since 9/11.

  1. Lies, damned lies and counterinsurgency“, Robert W. Chamberlain (Captain, US Army), Armed Forces Journal, May 200.
  2. War by Other Means – Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency“, David Gompert and John Gordon et al  (2008).   In Appendix A Martin C. Libicki examined  “Eighty-Nine Insurgencies: Outcomes and Endings”, showing the different success rates of locals vs foreigners when fighting insurgencies.
  3. “The Perils of Third-Party Counterinsurgency Campaigns”, Doctoral dissertation by Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard, 17 June 2010 (available through Proquest).

Almost no foreign armies have defeated local insurgencies since Mao brought 4GW to maturity after WWII, as Martin van Creveld explains 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.

Conclusions.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson

Red witch - abstract image
One future for America.

Our national security apparatus has gained much from arousing our fears since 9/11: massive increases in funding and power, with little scrutiny. They’ll do nothing to stop the gravy train, keeping us on this ride to Hell. If this has a violent ending, future generations might consider it an appropriate fate for a people so fearful and gullible. So easily led.

For More Information.

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About the utility of assassination:

  1. “Filling the skies with Assassins” by Tom Engelhardt, 12 April 2009.
  2. The march of technology brings “The Forty-Year Drone War”, 26 January 2010.
  3. James Bond is not just our hero, but the model for our geopolitical strategy, on the FM website, 18 May 2010.
  4. America plays the Apollo Option: killing from the sky, Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired), 26 August 2010.
  5. Killing the leaders of our enemy. Is this the fast track to victory – or disaster?, 25 October 2010
  6. Killing Machines: Promises and Limits, 17 February 2011.
  7. The Psychology of Killer Drones – action against our foes; reaction affecting us, 28 September 2011.
  8. Obama + assassination + drones = a dark future for America, 1 August 2013.

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

  1. TO cut a long story short , this article is – by far – the best i have read in the last few days , and here is the awkward question , why on earth the majority of people especially in the western countries do not think likewise ? .

    1. That’s a powerful question. We can only guess why, as Americans participate — again — in an obviously mad war. I suspect we trust our leaders, although we know we should not (and tell polls that we don’t). It’s the easy course, since resisting our leaders requires work and involves risks.

    2. Let’s look back in search of answers to your question. One of the great guides to the origins of the Vietnam War is The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. Two questions show our FAILure to learn from the long expensive horrific experience.

      Excerpt #1:

      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 he 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.

      Excerpt #2:

      In late 1964 Wally Greene {Commandant of the Marine Corps} was going around the the various service schools, Army and Marine Corps, and talked to the officers, giving a very militant lecture, saying that we should go in there and get the job done, use everything we had. This was the job to do and we ought to do it. It was all very upbeat and at the end he would turn to his audience and ask who was with him, and there would be a roar. A show of hand, he would say, let’s have a show of hands of those who want to go. Lots of hands up. And those who don’t want to go? Always fewer hands. Always, it turned out, the hands of men who had served there recently as advisers.

  2. We once had a framework for discussing violence by non-state players. Flawed elements… certainly, but in and of itself the concept of fourth generation warfare was a lens of context, a vehicle for discussion

    Because many historians, intellectuals and military were uncomfortable with the underpinning in regard to history and because of the counter insurgency (COIN) debates, the term fell out of favor. Indeed to use it today is to draw immediate snark.

    And yet,IMHO, it is the only term in our lexicon of irregular warfare, counter terrorism, hybrid warfare…whatever, that truly describes in an umbrella contest what the world is currently experiencing in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and most certainly France. It is a context that incorporates existence of guerrillas, insurgents, terrorists in some overarching perspective. It incorporates the fact that the disenfranchised can strike violently without the formality of either state or direct linkage to an organization such as Al Qaeda, or ISIS.

    Some of our smartest. best educated and experienced threw the baby out with the wash. Damn near every comment on the news today can be linked back to those early 4GW dialogues.

    1. I agree on all points. What you describe is part of the great forgetting at the start of the WOT of all we learned about 4GW. Even the 4GW literature itself, which started with such great promise, became forgotten.

      GI Wilson recommended starting a series about 4GW on the anniversary of the publication of “Into the Fourth Generation” in the Marine Corps Gazette. I will be publishing his brilliant contribution this week, but the chapters so far have received little interest. We have turned the war over to DoD, and pretend that it will end well.

      Here are the articles so far. Please pass them onto anyone you believe might find them of interest.

      1. Chuck Spinney asks why we choose to lose at 4GW, 23 September 2014
      2. William Lind: thoughts about 4GW, why we lose, and how we can win in the future, 21 November 2014
      3. “SAS kill up to 8 jihadis each day, as allies prepare to wipe IS off the map.” Bold words we’ve heard before., 24 November 2014
      4. What is a fourth generation war, the wars of the 21st century? Who fights them, and why?, 25 November 2014
      5. The battle that mattered most to America: the Pentagon vs. Military Reformers. It’s over., 8 December 2014
  3. Mao was not exactly 4gw. He wanted control of the state, to have an UN ambassador, Olympic ping pong team, etc. 4GW is more like Hezbollah or Mexican drug cartels, they don’t care about overtly controlling the nation state.

    1. DAs,

      4gw is a set of tactics, nothing more. It can be used by criminals for profit, by jihadists or radical Christians to alter their society, or insurgents to gain control of or build a state. Hence some top experts, such as Chet Richards, say that it should not be considered “war”, as that is only one of its applications (I agree).

      The essence of our War on Terror, it’s fundamental error, is mistaking tactics for goals.

  4. So
    Are we to understand that all of this War stuff is the result of self serving and self preserving Military types?
    Or fools?
    Or both who rely on a disengaged Citizenry?

    That ” simple”?

    1. Breton,

      Other reasons for running a WOT, Xmas every day for the right people…

      NEWS! Clickbait to fill the space between the ads. Career success for journalists by acting as stenographers and megaphones for officials of the deep state.

      Profits for defense contractors providing not just equipment but also services (some estimates as high as half of Intel analysts are private sector servants writing what they’Re told to write. Always give the client what they want!

      Politicians riding our fears to re-election. It’s the easy path, supported by journalists and paid for by contractors.

      There are others with their muzzles in the trough, but this gives a feel for the game.

    1. Fredx,

      We did respond quickly and effectively to 9-11 — through our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, working with our allies. They identified much of the AQ apparatus, disrupted much of its financial and communications capability, and set its leaders running to the hills in the far corners of the world. That destroyed it. If Constitutional authority was needed, we had it under Article I, section 8 of the Constitution: response to violation of the “law of nations”.

      Our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan contributed little or nothing to that. In fact they set the fires now raging in the Middle East and spreading elsewhere, fought by nationalist insurgents fighting under the AQ brand name.

      We had a choice after 9-11 and after the capturing bin Laden (a low priority operation until Obama needed a high profile win). At both times we chose poorly. See the details in About the strategic significance of bin Laden’s execution, and the road not taken.

  5. If you read some online message boards and comment sections (even maintream ones such as Yahoo), you might come to the conclusion there is a significant portion of the American population who are apparently incapable of comprehending any difference between the members of ISIS who behead Western captives on Youtube, and the approximately 1.6 billion worldwide Muslims.
    These same comment sections contain a fewer (but still significant) number of posters advocating everything up to mass genocide of every member of the religion, a full quarter of the world’s population, as a means of protecting our nation and it’s interests from future terrorist attacks.

    I could see these views were clear and abundant even before the recent attack in Paris, but since then it has only gotten worse.

    It’s really disgusting to me to read these things, and all I can hope is that ananymous internet posts are not representative of general public opinion.

    1. Todd,

      I understand all too well. I shut down the comments on the FM website twice, horrified and depressed at what I read. The longest shut-down followed the excited enthusiasm of so many readers for torture. It was if I held auditions for the US Gestapo. I learned that the government would have no difficulty recruiting.

  6. It is understandable that many people don’t understand the situation. Just as the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon became detached from the Lebanese state sometime in the 1980’s ( I am hazy on the chronology here ), so large areas of Iraq and Syria have detached or have been abandoned by an organized state. To survive, the population has drifted to supporting armed NGOs . Defeat ISIS – another group , another faction fills in the vacuum.
    The problem is not the ‘terrorists’ ; as in the Beqaa, the problem is the failure of a nation state – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq – to defend the interests of its citizens. These states are kleptocracies . Consequently it makes sense for the locals to join one militia or another , as opposed to the venal yet ineffectual nominal government.
    The large ‘stateless’ areas in what was once Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria speak volumes about the lack of legitimacy of these ‘nations’.

    1. John,

      “so large areas of Iraq and Syria have detached or have been abandoned by an organized state. To survive, the population has drifted to supporting armed NGOs. … the problem is the failure of a nation state – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq – to defend the interests of its citizens. ”

      I don’t believe that accurately reflects what’s happening in either Iraq or Syria. Insurgents actively detached areas from control of the central government.

      Why the insurgency? For the same reason we have insurgencies around the world. Colonial era borders don’t match boundaries of ethnic groups. Similar problems in Europe were resolved by a century of war, ending with the unpleasantness following the break-up of Yugoslavia.

      Multi-ethnic States can work — the A-H Empire lasted a thousand years (evolving in form). But it is not easy. Saying the government’s are bad is often true, but often irrelevant.

  7. Retaliatory attacks are arguably a feature, not a bug, of perpetual warfare.

    1984 reads almost like a blueprint for the War on Terror. The proles are given just enough to survive – the super state’s economy is focused on endless warfare overseas, which also serves to keep the proles fearful. Nukes aren’t used because that would upset the balance of power.

    The money spent on the F-35 alone could have ended poverty in America and provided healthcare for all.

    1. Joe,

      That’s something I have long pondered — is the WOT best seen as a dance between two willing partners, both of who benefit.

      The jihadists and western governments are the 2 sides. Note the speed with which government’s use the Paris incident to demand — or just take — new powers.

  8. Oh, as many esteemed commentators have said, the US military and its foreign policy elites are ‘non learning systems’.

    Noting that the biggest reason why the US was so successful in smashing AQ after 9/11 was the tremendous help they got from all around the world with Russia and Iran being major examples, plus Syria, et al (fat lot of good it did them though). Iranian help was massive, they alone rounded up so many AQ people as they moved out of Afghanistan it was not funny…again fat lot of good it did them.

    So, a fundamental principle was betrayed….make allies from those with common interest. Both Russia and Iran had huge common interest with the US in suppressing Sunni Wahabbi extremism.

    But the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, plus their use of such extremists as a tool (IS being a classic example) killed that.

    Nothing new here, let’s go back in time to Vietnam, from Moshe Dyan no less:

    “From France he went to Britain in order to see Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery of Alamein. Montgomery at that time was in the midst of writing his History of Warfare; Dayan, who had met him once before when he was studying at Camberley Staff College in 1951, noted how “relaxed and alert” the old man looked. Montgomery’s ideas concerning Vietnam were very clear-cut. The Americans’ most important problem in running the War was that they did not have an unambiguous objective. He himself had tried to get an answer on that subject from no less a person than former vice president Richard Nixon. In response he had been treated to a twenty-minute lecture; at the end of which he remained as much in the dark as he had been at the beginning.

    To Montgomery, an exceptionally systematic commander who always planned his moves very carefully, that was the essence of the problem. Not having a clear overall policy, the Americans were permitting the field commanders to call the shots. They did what they knew best, screaming for more and more troops, locking up entire populations in what where euphemistically called “strategic hamlets,” and bombing and shelling without giving a thought to what, if anything, they were achieving. At the end of their talk Montgomery told Dayan to tell the Americans, in his name, that they were “insane.” ”

    That is the key point:
    Now Monty has been in the front line in COIN in both Ireland and Palestine. He learned from Ireland and after some Muslim (basically) ‘gangs’ had been defeated he called on the Foreign Office to send out good policemen who could work within and with the communities to create order and peace stating, quite clearly (as he always did), the limits of what the military could do in such situations.

    Military forces simply cannot do COIN, if they did they would no longer be military forces. It is like trying to make a Rottweiler a sheep or a protection dog….

    They can do a small part of COIN, under good leadership, very, very tight control and a good plan, but the major work has to be done by others. As soon as the military becomes involved, worse they are in charge ..then you have lost.

    Now, for example, Bill Lind’s ideas about the US military in Iraq at the beginning were good, about them billeting with the locals and living with and protecting them. But it is impossible, a lovely dream but zero chance of reality.

    The very definition of military forces is the capacity to bring violence and death at the command of the State against whom the State chooses. That is it. and it is not going to change, because, in the end, every State wants its military to protect it from internal or external threats. The ultimate ‘hammer’. You change the military to protecting and siding with the population and that is very, very dangerous and that no State wants or will allow.

    Now doing that overseas would set a very bad precedent, what happens if the military then sides with the US population when they are ordered to protect the State from them?.

    So the military mastering COIN …zero chance, oxymoron. To master it requires a whole array of people and skills that you can bring to bear. From the nurses and doctors, to the teachers to the (real) local policemen, to the fairly honest local politicians, to the real local leaders who understand what is going on, to the jobs and money you put in ordinary (not the oligarchs) hands.

    Monty knew that (and his time as the head of the British German area, the largest area with the largest German population no less, after WW2 was masterful in its execution) why does everyone else not?

    Because they don’t want to.

    1. LISA , do you think that one day in the near future , the American people will find a wise man with exactly the same view to elect him , as a president ?

    2. Lisa,

      “with Russia and Iran being major examples, plus Syria, et al (fat lot of good it did them though). Iranian help was massive, they alone rounded up so many AQ people as they moved out of Afghanistan”

      Do you have some citations to support this?

      My guess was that covert help from the Saudi Princes was the decisive factor. AQ’s attacks on them were logical — the Saudi realm was central in their thinking — but proved very unwise, as the Saudi’s had the contacts and resources to strike back hard. Just a guess, however.

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