Sunday, May 28, 2006

Requirements for the Long War: you weren't so attached to all that "dissent" stuff, were you?

The Bush administration's strategic perspective, to the extent it extends beyond conquering the Middle East and justifying big-bucks military projects like Star Wars, envisions the "global war on terrorism" (GWOT) as being the Long War.  A Long War that can justify huge military budgets, perpetual war and the maintenance of an increasingly lawless national security state at home for the indefinite future.

The US Army War College journal Parameters features a couple of article in its Summer 2006 editorial that present views of the Long War that fit into the broad administration ideology of the momen.

In The Long Small War: Indigenous Forces for Counterinsurgency, Lt. Col. Robert Cassidy presents a summary of lessons from various counterinsurgency wars that the military has looked to for lessons on how to fight wars like that in Iraq.  Lt. Gen. David Barno (ret.) looks at Challenges in Fighting a Global Insurgency.

Cassidy's article presents a fairly conventional review of four conflicts: the American war in the Philippines of a century ago, the French war in Indochina, the French war in Algeria and America's Vietnam War.  I don't doubt that each of them has lessons to teach on both the politics and military requirements of counterinsurgency.  But it's also worth remembering the outcomes of each of them.  The US crushed the Filipino resistance after hard fighting at a huge cost in life to the natives to whom we were carrying out our divine mission to civilize them.  France lost in Indochina and left.  France lost in Algeria and left.  The United States lost in Vietnam and left.  That picture doesn't look too promising for Bush's Long War.

Barno's article defines the Long War as "global counterinsurgency", as its title suggests.  His article is especially notable for the way he describes the management of information as part of the Long War.  Before getting too attached to the notion of the Long War as global counterinsurgency, it's worth remembering that for the neoconservatives, the military conquest of the Middle East is only a prelude to an indefinite struggle with China for world supremacy.

If it means having an endless series of war like the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, then a lot of people might wonder just how advantageous this whole World Supremacy gig really is.  So far, it hasn't even brought us cheaper gas.

Barno frames his concept of the Long War this way:

The strategic nature of war has changed, and our military and government are striving to adapt to fight and win in this new environment. Today we are engaged in a global counterinsurgency, an unprecedented challenge which requires a level of original strategic thought and depth of understanding perhaps comparable only to that of the Cold War. Our ongoing political-military actions to achieve success in Iraq and Afghanistan are simply subordinate efforts of this larger, complex world war.  (my emphasis)

And he defines his global counterinsurgency this way:

We as a military are at risk of failing to understand the nature of the war we are fighting - a war which has been characterized [by Gen. John P. Abizaid] as “a war of intelligence and a war of perceptions.”

Now, on the face of it, this could count as a recognition that political strategy has to drive military strategy.  But virtually no one denies that at a theoretical level.  The way he develops the notion is something that should send up red flags for his readers.

Barno relies on the concept of Fourth Generation warfare, a conceptual framework that theoretically would allow the US to maximize its effectiveness against both conventional and guerrilla enemies, including terrorists.  But the descriptions of Fourth Generation warfare that are commonly put forth are so broad as to allow a wide range of approaches to fit their definitions.  It's not clear to what extent advocates like Barno are actually suggesting something new.

He uses two pyramid diagrams to make a point that seems to come down to the idea that The Terrorists get more benefit from media coverage than the US military, with Al Jazeera being the bogeyman in his example.  And he uses this as the pivot point to redefine the primacy of politics as essentially management of propaganda:

Unfortunately, winning more tactical-level battles in  a era of Fourth Generation Warfare does not lead inevitably to winning the war. In point of fact, with more and more responsibility for the operational and strategic levels of war shifting to joint organizations - a byproduct of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act - the military services have become more tactical in their focus, charged to “organize, train, and equip” rather than to “fight and win.” Service jargon is replete with references to “warfighting,” but rarely speaks of the vastly more important “war-winning.” The decisive strategic responsibility of “winning our wars” has been largely shifted away from the services toward others in the “joint world” with far shallower institutional, intellectual, and resource foundations.  (my emphasis in bold)

And, since the way to the disaster in Iraq was paved with bad Second World War analogies, we get to see this one in Barno's, which could be a Republican Party talking point straight off FOX News:

The line remains a fine one for commanders. In an environment where the enemy leverages global media to get out a recurrent message of hopelessness and despair, of carnage and fear, how do military leaders counter the overwhelming impression that all the victories are on the enemy’s side? How do we overcome the perception that every bombing or ambush resulting in American casualties signifies that we are “losing”? As some pundits have noted, if Americans at home had been able to watch the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy in real time on CNN from the first wave at Omaha beach, there would have been little hope in the public mind that the Third Reich would surrender just 11 months later! Some Americans might have clamored for a negotiated settlement. But no one in the global audience in 1944 viewed Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan as the “moral equivalents” of the Allies, nor did any news organization in the West report on World War II as though it was a neutral observer at a sporting event. The Allies against the Axis was not a game show where the outcomes were unimportant to the average citizen, and the news media did not report on it as though they were neutral about the results.

Yeah, and if 2006's technology of nuclear weapons and ICBMs had been available to both sides in 1944, we would be writing discussions like this by carving them on stone tablets.

This example,though, lets us peek behind the curtain for the grand strategic rhetoric about Global Counterinsurgency.  It's kind of hard to miss the snarky suggestion that The Media today treat democracy and violent Islamic extremism as "moral equivalents".  It takes John Birch Society levels of paranoia to imagine that.

But it also reflects the conventional lessons of the Vietnam War that the officer corps developed over the years since then.  In blaming "the media" for the loss of Will on the part of the public and Congress to continue fighting the Lost Cause in Vietnam, many have convinced themselves (apparently including Barno) that bad news coverage, and in particular the news coverage of the Tet Offensive in 1968, was the main military problem in that war.

Ironically, this has led to a kind of information management on the part of the military that actually repeated the loss of credibility by military spokespersons during the Vietnam War.  They constantly present upbeat assessment, constantly declare victory after victory, and put a positive spin on anything that happens.  So, to take a current example, the Marine massacre at Haditha was initially reported officially as the result of combat.  Now we learn that a group of Marines went renegade and deliberately executed a couple of dozen civilian noncombatants.

If this were an isolated case, that in itself wouldn't undermine public confidence in their information.  But after three years of cheery pep talks and upbeat reports from military spokesman, people can see that the insurgency in Iraq is growing, and now there's a civil war going on at the same time.  So only someone whose brain was pickled in OxyContin could fail to wonder what the disconnect is.

That's what is known as a "credibility gap".

Just how clueless Barno appears to be about this is shown here:

The public affairs component of this strategy deserves some discussion. In late 2004, General Richard Myers, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, published a directive message explicitly separating public affairs from information operations in the US military, and he articulated some very powerful reasons why this separation should be so.18 US public affairs officers around the world cheered, but many commanders cringed. The work of winning a “war of ideas” was not made any easier for deployed commanders, but Myers’ point was a valid one - the recognition that we waged 21st-century warfare in the “spin zone” of both international media and domestic politics could not permit or excuse an environment where facts might be changed or reporters manipulated to deliberately create false perceptions.

Oh, no, Gen. Myers wouldn't think of creating even the appearance of such a thing!  This would be the same Gen. Myers that I like to quote at the start of posts on the Iraq War saying, ""

Referring to our recent adventures in the Middle East and Asia, Barno writes:

Our US information operations doctrine was designed for a different era and in many ways simply did not fit the war we were fighting. It doctrinally bundled together “apples, oranges, pianos, Volkswagens, and skyscrapers” into one package - psychological operations, operational security, military deception, offensive and defensive computer network operations, and electronic warfare.  This official collection of disparate conceptual entities did little to assist us in our struggle to understand and operate in a war that was ultimately about winning hearts and minds, and about keeping our side resolutely in the fight.

The enemy instinctively seemed to understand how to exploit the media (international and local), tribal customs and beliefs, rumors and cultural predispositions toward mystery and conspiracy, and a host of other subtle but effective communications. Al Qaeda and the Taliban targeted their messages to influence both decision  and ordinary people - in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in the Gulf region, in Europe, in the United States, and across a global audience. A blatant lie or obviously false claim by the Taliban would resonate throughout the cultural system of Afghanistan down to every valley and village, and it would be next to impossible to subsequently counter such falsehoods with facts. In a tribal society, rumors count, emotions carry huge weight, the extreme seems plausible, and “facts” reported outside the trusted confines of family, village, and tribe are subject to great skepticism. This “local” phenomenon carried weight throughout the region and is arguably the norm across much of the Islamic world. (my emphasis)

But any idea that this situation  rumors in the tribal networks can be overcome with better information management by the military, i.e., more clever propaganda and more secrecy, is largely wishful thinking.  In practice, it leads to seeding false news stories that wind up in American papers (like the Iranian "yellow star" story) and concealing information from the American public.  Which can work in the short term.  But in the long run, it makes a chronic credibility gap.

And, to a large extent, in practice manipulating public opinion at home is the point of the approach Barno recommends.  Even the only point.  As he says in the passage just quoted, the Long War is ultimately about "keeping our side resolutely in the fight".  Toward the end of the article, he gets more explicit about the fact that the "hearts and minds" that are the object of Long War information war are those of American voters:

Finally, a growing phenomenon subtly capitalized on by our terrorist enemies is the instant politicization of distant battlefield events (especially reverses) in the American political process here at home. There are surely disturbing echoes of the bitter political contentiousness of Vietnam in today’s party-centric debates over the nature and strategy of this war, but that debate also reflects a healthy symptom of politics in a free society. That said, it is unfortunate that in an era of continuous electoral politics, somehow successful activities in this war - from battles won to elections held to civil affairs projects completed - seem to be scored as “wins” for the present Administration, while tactical setbacks, bombings, heavy casualties, or local political reverses are construed as “losses,” and seem to somehow be twisted to add to the political capital of the opposition party. Although largely unintentional, this perverse situation is flat-out wrong, and it does a disservice to our fighting men and women in harm’s way. Wars should always supercede “politics as usual,” especially in an age of Fourth Generation Warfare with the enemy deliberately targeting decisionmakers on the home front as part of its premeditated strategy. There was a time in American politics, especially in time of war, when politics stopped at the water’s edge and our friends and enemies alike saw a unified, bipartisanapproach to  policy from American elected leaders. In the current “long war,” fought out 24/7 under the bright lights of continuous talk shows, and where resolve, staying power, and American and allied unity are the very principles that the enemy is  desperately trying to undermine, that once respected bipartisan principle in our foreign policy needs to be recaptured.  (my emphasis)

Keep in mind that our infallible generals having been positioning themselves since early 2005 if not earlier to claim that nothing that went wrong in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars is the fault of the military.  And ultimately Republican conservatives will want to make their way to a stab-in-the-back version of the Iraq War in particular in which The Media (which the Bircher types will none-too-subtly suggest is Jewish-controlled), traitorous Liberals and cowardly Democrats in Congress like John Kerry and Jack Murtha undercut our infallible generals who won brilliant victory after brilliant victory.

It's kind of hard for Republicans to do that right now, since it's a Republican President's war that has been supported down the line just as he asked by a Republican Congress.  But part of the way they will try to get there is by the kind of argument Barno makes in the passage just quoted.

He presents a highbrow version of the argument.  Parameters is not the Sean Hannity show.  But all the pieces of the stab-in-the-back position are there.  He says the Democrats are instantly politicizing everything about the war.  Is that how things are happening in OxyContin Land?  Because that's certainly not what's happening in this universe.  The Democrats as a group have been notable for their timidity in criticizing even the most obvious problems about the war.

He connects his reference to "today's party-centric debates" over foreign policy to the perceived stab-in-the-back in the Vietnam War.  Again, what universe is it in which things are happening that way?  The partisan part is true today in the sense that most of the criticism of the Iraq War is coming from Democrats.    But during the Vietnam War, both support and criticism of the Vietnam War were bipartisan.  Democratic Senator William Fulbright was one of the fiercest critics of the war under Johnson, joined by people like Bobby Kennedy and George McGovern.  During the Nixon administration, Republican Senators like Mark Hasfield and Jacob Javits, along with House members like Pete McCloskey, were outspoken critics of Nixon's policies.

And so far, nothing like the restrictions that Congress mandated on Nixon over that war, such as the ban of US troops in Cambodia after a certain date, have been imposed by the Republican Congress.  As long as Congress totally supports the President on the war right down to his torture policy, which it has (the McCain Levin bill notwithstanding), how can there be a stab in the back?

Besides, Bush and Rummy are constantly telling us that they are giving the generals anything and everything they request to fight the war.  Where's the civilian stab in the back there?  They're lying, of course, but it does make it harder for Republicans to make the argument in real time.  Not that it stops people like Barno from trying.

Criticism of the war makes the war critics accomplices of The Enemy, he tells us.  It immediately endangers the lives of our soldiers.  Which effectively defines anything and everything that might affect public "resolve, staying power, and American and allied unity" as an immediately military concern and a real-time threat to the lives of US soldiers on the battlefield.  It's an argument for criminalizing dissent.

One last observation on that paragraph.  Though he's arguing explicitly that any domestic criticism of Bush's war policies by Democrats aids The Enemy, he does something you often see from authoritarian Republicans.  He tosses in, practically as a sneer, "that debate also reflects a healthy symptom of politics in a free society".  And then follows it immediately by, "That said, it is unfortunate ... "

No, Gauleiter Borno, it is not "symptom" of something healthy in the "politics of a free society".  It's democracy.  It's how the American system of government and the American Constitution works.  You know that favorite slogan of jingo Republicans, "Love it or leave it"? Maybe you should check out Kazakhstan.  That might be a more congenial political environment for you.

In light of this, the statement of his that I quoted above, "The decisive strategic responsibility of “winning our wars” has been largely shifted away from the services toward others in the “joint world” with far shallower institutional, intellectual, and resource foundations", takes on a somewhat more ominous cast.

Barno's article does have some worthwhile observations on the difficulties the US encounters in fighting societies in which clan loyalties and the related elaborate honor code are the main basis of social organization, which is the case in Afghanistan and much of Iraq.

But with all the generosity in the world, it's hard to look at his concluding arguments in the context of his article as anything but arguments for authoritarian government in the US:

As a military charged with fighting this new type of war, a global insurgency, we must better grasp ownership of the fight. In some sense, as society’s trustee in the conduct of our nation’s wars, we must accept the full range of war, tactical to strategic level. After all, winning wars - and preventing them - are the only reasons our military exists. If we as a nation or a member of a coalition are ultimately defeated by our enemies, the reasons for that defeat - whether military, political, or economic - will be far less important than the result.

And he argues all-but-explicitly that is the role of the military in the current situation to actively support the Republican Party:

The military’s role in addressing this asymmetrical “war of wills” is hyper-sensitive. This predicament is a very real problem inherent in 21st-century warfare, and the military needs to understand and support the civilian leadership in defending this flank. Bipartisan recognition and defense of this Achilles’ heel is also necessary to deprive our enemies of its effect. America’s military contribution needs to evolve toward designing a war-winning series of campaigns and, perhaps even more important, helping our civilian leadership to craft the broad political-military grand strategy necessary to succeed against a dangerous and resourceful enemy in this “long war.” We as a military must fully understand, accept, and take ownership of “war-winning” as well as “war-fighting” if we are to fulfill our role in defending the society we are pledged to serve. If this conflict is truly a “long war” against violent global extremism, against an ideology of hate and destruction as dangerous as fascism in the 1930s and communism in the 1950s, then we as a military have to take on the institutional and intellectual challenges to fight and to win this very different war against a determined and dangerous enemy.

This sounds very much like the strategy pursued in Fallujah, where the city was largely emptied and a large part of it wrecked completely in order to save it from the insurgents.  Barno argues that to win by discarding outdated concepts, like freedom to criticize the government's military policies.  Or partisan opposition.  In his argument, those are frivolous luxuries that we should dispense with for the duration of the Long War.  Destroy democracy in order to save it.

The fact that this article made it past the editors of Parameters - which is a scholarly journal, even though it's published by a part of the US Army - is an indication how far the Republican Party and the Christian Right have pushed the parameters (ouch!) of respectable discourse in the direction of authoritarianism.

But they'll want us to still have elections, I'm sure, just like in Iraq.  As Shakira puts it in her song "Timor":

It's alright, it's alright
Just as long as we can vote
We live in a democracy
And that's what we promote
Isn't it, isn't it

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