Martin van Creveld advises Trump to not repeat Obama’s errors & invade Syria

Summary: Martin van Creveld warns Trump against taking his generals’ advice and invading Syria, repeating Obama’s mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. History show that his odds of success are low.

Lessons learned

Are You Listening, President Trump?

By Martin van Creveld.
From his website, 16 March 2017.

Re-posted with his generous permission.

Fifty-six years ago, President Kennedy entered office eager to show how weak his predecessor, Eisenhower, had been and how brave and decisive he himself was. He sent his troops to Vietnam, and the rest is history.

Two months ago, President Trump entered office eager to do the same in respect to his predecessor, President Obama. To do so, he has hit on the brilliant idea of sending more American troops to Syria. In response, President Assad of Syria has told him that such troops, deployed without his permission, would not be welcome. Also that, over the last seventy years or so, almost every time Western, specifically American, troops went into the so-called developing world they failed to achieve their objectives. In quite a few cases the outcome was to open the gates of hell, as the Koran put itAs the following, extremely partial, list of their failures shows, Assad is right.

1944-1948. A few hundred active “terrorists” hound the British out of Palestine, leading to the establishment of the State of Israel.

1946-1954. French troops are defeated in Indochina, leading to Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian independence.

1948-1960. British troops fail to hold Malaya and end up by withdrawing from the country. Thanks to a masterpiece of propaganda, the Brits make most of the world believe that they had actually won the war. But this does not prevent Malaysia from becoming independent state. {See details here.} Read more

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Stratfor remembers Ireland’s Easter Rebellion, 100 year ago

Summary:  A century ago the Irish Rising shook the British Empire, already weakened in the midst of WWI. Here Stratfor looks at this pivotal event, with echoes still heard today.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

Stratfor

Remembering the Irish Easter Rising a Century On

Stratfor, 24 April 2016

A century ago in Dublin, the spark of a revolution that would end with Irish independence from London was lit. Curious bystanders listened to an impassioned speech by erstwhile schoolteacher, lawyer, poet and political activist Patrick Henry Pearse from the steps of the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) declaring Ireland’s emancipation from English rule. Most people nodded in agreement, then went about their business, unaware that what was about to transpire that Easter Monday would shape the future of the nation.

Pearse was a logical choice to make the proclamation of independence, having previously given a rousing graveside speech at the funeral of Fenian supremo and Irish Republican Brotherhood leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. Pearse’s words expressed the discontent felt by many in Ireland at the time, effectively galvanizing public support for a militant struggle.

“They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”

The “purchased half” referred to the Irish unionists in the north, who harbored equally strong feelings about freedom and coexistence. Yet in the south, the republican movement had the fervor, the opportunity and the means to take drastic action, at a time when the British Parliament was distracted by World War I.

The Proclamation of the Republic on April 24, 1916, was the starting pistol for a six-day uprising, which began later that day when around 1,200 irregulars from the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers took up arms in protest of centuries of unyielding British governance. In practical military terms, the action was a tactical disaster.

Planning deficiencies and poor organization combined with a shortage of manpower and weaponry hamstrung the revolutionaries. Even a British military distracted and depleted by global conflict soon overmatched the Irish fighters. Dublin paid the price: Good portions of the capital were blasted into rubble. Of the 485 or so who died in the uprising, around half were civilians, and a quarter were British soldiers. It was a tolerable loss from London’s perspective, given the requirement to rapidly crush any domestic unrest in its colonies. But the heavy-handed approach that secured victory for the British ultimately became a rallying cry that contributed to the partition of Ireland.

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14 years of assassinations: Stratfor describes the result

Summary: Slowly America’s geopolitical leaders see the futility of the assassination programs which are one of the three tools we rely on to win the Long War that began with 9/11 and President Bush’s imperial surge which followed (bombing and local militia are the other two, also failures). In this article Stratfor describes the meger results achieved by 14 years of assassinations. Perhaps soon they’ll see the Darwinian Ratchet.

Stratfor

The Lives of Jihadist Leaders Drop in Value

By Scott Stewart of Stratfor, 6 August 2015

Much has been written since the July 30 confirmation that the Taliban’s longtime leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, died two years ago. Most of the discussion has focused on the future of the Taliban movement, the impact of his death on the al Qaeda core — which had pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar as Amir al-Mu’minin, or “commander of the faithful,” — and of course, the Islamic State’s efforts to take advantage of Mullah Omar’s death.

Certainly, the announcement has caused existing rifts among the various factions of the Taliban to become more pronounced. But these divisions have always existed, and the Taliban have long been anything but a cohesive, unified organization. The announcement also became fodder for a massive Twitter campaign by the Islamic State “Twitteratti,” who are seeking to exploit the intentional deception of the Taliban cadres who sought to hide Mullah Omar’s death. The Islamic State had publicly challenged the Taliban to publish proof of life for Mullah Omar, suggesting that word of the Talban leader’s death had leaked. This likely forced the Taliban to admit that he was dead.

Islamic State gloating aside, I personally doubt we will witness the same scale of defections from the al Qaeda orbit of the jihadist universe that we did after the declaration of the caliphate last year. This is because the battle lines in the al Qaeda vs. Islamic State fight for the heart of the global jihad have become well established, and much of the shine has worn off the Islamic State’s claim to be an inexorable force.

From my perspective, the more interesting aspect of the announcement of Mullah Omar’s demise is that he had been dead since April 2013, but nobody really missed him. Concealing someone’s death for one “Weekend at Bernie’s” is one thing, but maintaining such a ruse for two years is quite another.

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A powerful new article shows why we lose so many wars: FAILure to learn

Summary:  Slowly America begins to come to grips with its defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, as experts provide simple easy explanations. Here we look at the 3rd such major article, a demonstration that the main lesson of our defeats is that we refuse to learn from them. Eyes tightly closed we stumble onto a rough road to the future.   {2nd of 2 wars.}

The Right Way to Lose a War
Available at Amazon.

 

 “Why Has America Stopped Winning Wars?

by Dominic Tierney
(Assoc Prof of political science, Swarthmore)
Excerpt from his new book

“Since 1945, the United States has experienced little except military stalemate and loss — precisely because it’s a superpower in a more peaceful world.”

Prof Tierney vividly demonstrates one reason America keeps losing: our US-centric view of the world. It’s all about us. As with health care and other public policy issues, we have little interest in the experience of other nations — and so draw stunningly bad conclusions on our little history.

Why does the United States struggle in war? How can it resolve a failing conflict? Can America return to victory? Today, these are critical questions because we live in an age of unwinnable conflicts, where decisive triumph has proved to be a pipe dream.

We can’t win, so obviously nobody can win. This displays an amazing blindness to history. The post-WWII era of anti-colonial wars ended in 1992 (i.e., Afghanistan vs. the USSR) with a series of decisive wins by local peoples over foreign armies. It’s been an age of victory parades, not unwinnable conflicts.

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Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.

Summary: As the western nations begin a new round of interventions against insurgencies in the Middle East, let’s look at the record of such conflicts since WWII. They teach a simple lesson that if widely recognized could change our future. The leaders of our national defense institutions do not want to see it, so we probably will not either. Failure to learn is among the most worst of our weaknesses, able to offset the power of even a great nation. This essay was cross-posted at Martin van Creveld’s website.

Fake Churchill about success
Among the dumbest advice ever. Churchill didn’t say it.

Our wars since WWII

The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla — fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours. He follows folk-ways of tribal warfare that are mediated by traditional cultural norms, values, and perceptual lenses; he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

— David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (2011).

Most of the West’s wars since WWII have been fight insurgencies in foreign lands. Although an ancient form of conflict, the odds shifted when Mao brought non-trinitarian (aka 4th generation) warfare to maturity. Not until the late 1950’s did many realize that war had evolved again.

It took more decades more for the West to understand what they faced. Only after the failure of our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq did the essential aspect of this new era become known, as described in Chapter 6.2 of Martin van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War (2006)…

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Is victory impossible in modern wars? Or just not possible for us?

Summary: Slowly America begins to absorb lessons from our fails in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet as with Vietnam we prefer not to see too deeply. Mark Kukis at aeon gives us another incisive analysis of modern war that misses the mark, and so sets us up for the next failed war.  {2nd of 2 wars.}

The Arch of the Victory in Genoa
The Arch of the Victory in Genoa

Recommended reading: “The myth of victory” by Mark Kukis at aeon

“War isn’t like it used to be. Victory is more elusive & a strong military doesn’t count as much.”

Mark Kukis knows this subject well, having covered our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the major media and author of Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009, and covered the Afghan and Iraq wars for Time, The New Republic and Salon. This fall he and Andrew Bacevich will work on an open online course, “War for the Greater Middle East”.

I agree in spirit with this brilliant article. But his analysis repeats the mistakes of the previous military reform movement that burned brightly but was proven ineffectual by our wars after 9/11. In that sense it’s similar to the also excellent article by James Fallows in January’s The Atlantic, as I described in this post, and later here. They are complex, academic in nature, unfocused, and obscure the important lessons. They’re guaranteed to have little effect.

Refusal to learn

Kukis begins, as those advocating reform usually do, by stating the problem: America’s refusal to recognize the changed nature of modern war (aka 4th generation war, non-trinitarian war).

How could the Taliban have bested the United States? A more uneven military contest is scarcely imaginable when you consider the state of the two factions on the eve of 9/11. Before the US invasion, the Taliban had an army of roughly 30,000. Taliban forces hardly qualified as a real army, though. They operated more like a decentralised militia scattered around a mountainous country, with few roads and no communications of any kind. They had no officers. A rotating crew of regional commanders oversaw garrisons around the country. Most fighters went unpaid except for the occasional handout from a commander before they went on leave.

In the US, meanwhile, armories bristled with sophisticated weaponry and equipment. {Etc, — we have lots of stuff, more and better stuff than anyone, anywhere, anytime.}

After this strong start he draws a quite fallacious conclusion, based on a strawman assumption.

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Why a decade of assassinations hasn’t helped America.

Summary: During the past decade we have deployed our most skilled warriors and most advanced technology in an assassination program with few precedents in history. Result: the Middle East in flames and our foes resurgent. I and others predicted this, the natural result of putting the force of evolution to work for our foes. It’s called the Darwinian Ratchet. It’s many seen many times by military and academic experts, but we prefer not to understand. And so we don’t. Victory remains impossible until we overcome this self-imposed weakness.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Charles Darwin
Not someone you want working for your foes.

I’ve killed them by the tens of thousands, scoured their countryside at will, pried their allies away, and humiliated them day after day. I have burned their crops and looted their wealth. I’ve sent a whole generation of their generals into the afterworld … Have I changed nothing? They are stronger now than before. They are more than before. They fight more sensibly than before. They win when they used to lose.

— Hannibal, in David Anthony Durham’s novel Pride of Carthage (2005)

The great mystery of our post-9/11 wars is our FAILure to learn, not just from history but also from our own experience. Tuesday’s post discussed our blindness to the consistent failure by foreign armies fighting insurgents since WWII. Yesterday Andrew Cockburn raised an equally important problem: “The Mystique of High-Value Targeting: Why Obama’s Hopes of Decapitating the Islamic State Won’t Work.” He discusses its failure in our wars and the DEA’s 1992 “Kingpin Strategy”.

The explanation, so the analysts concluded, was that dead leaders were invariably and immediately replaced, and almost always by someone (often a relative ready for revenge) younger, more aggressive, and eager to prove himself. The same held true on a wider scale. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Iraqi al Qaeda leader widely cited as the source of all our troubles in Iraq, was duly targeted and killed in 2006, only to be succeeded by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who turned out to be an even more deadly opponent. He too was duly killed, and instead we got Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who created the Islamic State, now lord of six million people and an area the size of Great Britain.

This effect was the subject of my first posts about the Iraq War (Sept 2003 and Oct 2003) and has been a major theme since. An insurgency brings into play a “Darwinian ratchet,” in which our efforts in effect empower the insurgency.  Not just spurring recruitment (as many saw), but forcing improvement in their leadership and methods.  It’s one of the fundamental dynamics of our post-9/11 wars.

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