Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Anatomy of Terror 2: A New Kind of War


It's hard to believe, but President George W. Bush's war on terror has lasted longer than either World War II or the Civil War. No wonder this country is losing interest in pursuing it to a final outcome.

The twin campaigns we are now conducting in Afghanistan and Iraq have deep roots. They actually began more than a quarter century ago as an outgrowth of the Cold War. Ironically, Al-Quaida owes its existence to an improbable foster parent: Jimmy Carter, a Baptist Sunday school teacher and the nation's first born-again Christian president.

On July 3, 1979, President Carter signed the first secret directive authorizing covert assistance to the opponents of the pro-Soviet Afghan regime in Kabul. The underlying idea was to draw the Russians into a trap in Afghanistan. The Soviets took the bait and invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The day they officially crossed the Afghan border, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's security adviser, crowed to Carter, "We now have the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War." How do we know this? The circumstances leading up to al-Quaida's birth were detailed in a largely overlooked 1998 interview with Brzezinski printed in Le Nouvel Observateur, a French weekly.

The CIA supplied money and arms generously, and facilitated the infiltration of foreign Mujahedeen fighters into Afghanistan. A Saudi from a wealthy family, Osama bin Laden--he was then "our" Osama bin Laden--played a major role in this operation. It would truly be supreme irony if the weapons supplied by the CIA a quarter-century earlier were bringing down our helicopters in Afghanistan today. "For almost ten years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government," Brzezinski stressed, "a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire."

We sowed the wind in Afghanistan and inevitably reaped the whirlwind. Some experts believe that Osama bin Laden's ultimate aim is to cause the U.S. to implode as the Soviet Union did. One reason for the length of this latest conflict may be the lack of a clearly identified enemy and a plainly stated objective. How will we know when we have won?

Our Growing Tendency to Intervene
Recent American history is marked by repeated incidents of impromptu military intervention abroad. In 1999, a blue-ribbon U.S. panel appointed to formulate future security policy, found that since the end of the Cold War ten years earlier, "the United States has embarked upon nearly four dozen military interventions . . . as opposed to only 16 during the entire period of the Cold War." The Cold War started in 1947 and ended more than four decades later in 1989 with the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Bill Clinton became the first post-Cold War president and his administration was marked by a succession of military interventions, many of them for peacekeeping. Our attitude since the collapse of the Soviet Union is embodied in Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's famous question to Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It embodies the mood of the moment during the crises of Bosnia and Kosovo: "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about," she asked, "if we can't use it."

George W. Bush exhibited that same attitude when he attacked Iraq on March 20, 2003, to remove Saddam Hussein and destroy his supposed weapons of mass destruction. It was to have been a quick, surgical, preemptive strike. We were assured the only significant postwar problem would be how to dispose of the mountains of flowers with which our conquering troops would be pelted. We were promised no expensive Woodrow Wilsonian nation-building would be undertaken.

Some 130,000 American troops are still slogging it out in Iraq more than three years later, trying valiantly to bring order out of chaos, with no end in sight. A smaller force is fighting in Afghanistan, the graveyard of invaders over the centuries, to keep a puppet government from being overthrown by marauding warlords. Unfortunately, as in Vietnam, in Iraq we repeated the most flagrant error a nation can commit: We underestimated the enemy's strength, determination and capacity to prevail, and overestimated our own. If there is one immutable law that has operated during our long, bitter and costly campaign in Iraq, it is Murphy's Law. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, largely because of our failure to have learned from history.

What Went Wrong?
The military campaign in Iraq was brilliantly planned and executed, although American forces moved north so quickly supply lines became stretched thin. Then, to put it bluntly, we made an unforgivable mess of the postwar occupation of the country. Iraqi resistance is now a full-blown insurgency. Here's what we did wrong:

* We failed to declare war in traditional fashion. Doing so would have enabled us to negotiate a formal surrender of Iraqi troop units. Instead we allowed tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers to melt into the countryside with their weapons and their skills.

* We failed to anticipate the postwar insurgency by sending in an attack force large enough to saturate the country and impose order in the postwar period, thus discouraging resistance and reducing the number of casualties. By trimming their occupation forces, the British made the same mistake in the early 1920s, with the same result.

* Incredibly, we failed to guard the dozens of by-passed ammunition dumps from which today's terrorists stole their seemingly limitless stocks of weapons, ammunition and explosives.

* We failed to recognize the importance of infrastructure and the need to safeguard oil pipe lines and the electrical grid from sabotage and looting.

* We failed to protect government offices, police stations and hospitals from being looted. As a result of our indifference, everything from furniture and files to pencil sharpeners were stolen, making it impossible for Iraqis to provide basic administrative, police and health services.

* We failed to act to prevent terrorist safe havens from developing in urban centers like Sunni Fallujah and Shiite Najaf, complicating the inevitable job of rooting them out.

* We failed to prevent the infiltration of foreign fighters through Iraq's porous borders with Syria, Jordan and Iran. As a result, Iraq has become a hands-on training camp and laboratory for terrorists.

* When the time came to rebuild, instead of choosing local contractors who would have given work to Iraqi youths and unemployed now easily recruited into terrorist ranks, we contracted with giant firms like Halliburton.

For years to come, military staffs will study the lessons of the Iraq war and occupation. Our lack of postwar planning will surely be cited as a classic military faux pas. In this amateur military historian's view, not only did planners fail to anticipate the postwar insurgency, causing troops to sustain unnecessary casualties, the Pentagon damaged the military and weakened morale by committing these errors:

* First and foremost, the Pentagon failed to supply adequate body armor and to armor all vehicles to protect the troops. No one was held responsible for this serious oversight.

* The Pentagon failed to establish equivalent rotation plans for the Army and Marines.

* Soldiers rotating home from Iraq were required to return to duty there much too quickly.

* Many Army units in Iraq were required to extend tours of duty beyond the promised one year abroad.

* The Pentagon placed too much reliance on undertrained and poorly equipped Army National Guard and Reserve components.

* The Pentagon's dependence on such units, which made up about half the original force in Iraq, put severe strains on their home communities.

Who's to Blame?
President Harry S. Truman had a small plaque on his desk in the oval office that read, "The buck stops here"--and he meant it. Not so in the Pentagon, where the most accomplished buck-passers are at the top. Chief among them is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Consider what he said at a gripe session with the troops at Camp Buehring in Kuwait Dec. 8, 2004. Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee Army National Guard complained to the Secretary of Defense about the lack of armored vehicles and the necessity of digging through military scrap heaps for pieces of rusted metal to armor them and pieces of bulletproof glass for windshields.

The answer he received was classic Rumsfeld: "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." A peculiar remark, considering that the Army we went to war with was the Army designed by Donald Rumsfeld over the objections of his Army Chief of Staff.

The Defense Secretary added that the Army was pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that could be accomplished at the moment. "General Schoomaker [Army Chief of Staff] and the leadership of the Army and certainly General Whitcomb [Coalition Forces commander in Kuwait] are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable for it to have, but they're working on it at a good clip." In Rumsfeld's view, the Army was responsible. And Rumsfeld? He's just a guy who happens to hang out in the same building they work in.

A week earlier, when asked about troop levels for the occupation, his evasive answer to reporters demonstrated the usual Rumsfeld fast footwork and buck-passing, "The big debate about the number of troops is one of those things that's really out of my control," he said. "The number of troops we had for the invasion was the number of troops that General Franks and General Abizaid wanted." The record shows that Franks had estimated that 250,000 troops would be needed. He was assured that any shortfall would be made up by international troops--troops that never materialized.

When challenged recently, the Secretary of Defense even tried to deny the concept of responsibility, grudgingly saying, "Everyone likes to assign responsibility to the top person, and I guess that's fine." It's better than fine; it's where the buck should stop in every organization. According to conservative columnist William S. Lind, "Rumsfeld treats people like crap. Working for him is like working for Leona Helmsley, except that Leona is less self-centered. Unless you are one of his sycophants, equipped with a good set of knee pads and plenty of lip balm, you can expect to be booted down the stairs."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki discovered what happens to an officer who disagrees with the Secretary of Defense. Appointed by Bill Clinton in 1999, he did not see eye to eye with the Defense Secretary on plans for transforming the Army or new high-tech weapons systems. Rumsfeld reacted vindictively toward Gen. Shinseki by leaking to the Washington Post the name of his successor, Gen. John M. Keane, 14 months before Shinseki's term was up. Usually such announcements are made at the last minute; Rumsfeld's action turned Gen. Shinseki into a lame duck. Shinseki stayed until the end of his term.

Defying protocol and tradition, Rumsfeld ungraciously failed to attend Gen. Shinseki's departure ceremony. Claiming health reasons, his replacement, Gen. Keane also put in for retirement. Rumsfeld had to cajole a friend, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, to come out of retirement to take the post of Chief of Staff of the Army.

In planning for the Iraq War, based on his experience in the Balkans and the Army's doctrine, Gen. Shinseki knew that there was a critical period right after a regime fell when the potential for disorder was great. He advocated going into Iraq with a force much larger than what was needed to conquer Iraq's army and make our military's presence intimidating. This made good sense. A RAND Corporation study of previous occupations in Germany, Northern Ireland and the Balkans had recommended a ratio of 20 soldiers per 1,000 civilians. With a population of 25 million, such a force for the occupation of Iraq could be as high as 500,000. Gen. Shinseki lost that bureaucratic battle, but events proved him to be right on the money.

Secretary Rumsfeld is big on reform, but his idea of reform is just to add more high-tech weapons. The more a system costs, the more complex it is, the better he likes it. An example is the so-called the Future Combat System, a combination of electronically controlled robots, tanks and drones. That this Buck Rogers system is totally unsuited for urban guerrilla warfare, has been overlooked. In the meantime, truly needed reforms to meet future threats are dismissed out of hand.

In his love affair with technology, Rumsfeld seems to have forgotten that 19 terrorist s armed with nothing more than box cutters destroyed the World Trade Center or that two terrorists with a bomb in an inflatable rubber boat crippled the destroyer Cole, capable of intercepting sophisticated missiles. The paradox is that the Defense Secretary puts the Army at the very end of the line for money and weapons, yet the administration insists on getting the country into wars that only the Army can fight. In situations like the occupation of Iraq, the Navy is irrelevant and the Air Force almost so. Marine Corps doctrine is based on getting in and getting out quickly, not patrolling an occupied country.

No master prognosticator, before the invasion of Iraq the Secretary of Defense told troops, "It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." In June of 2005, he noted, "Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, ten, twelve years." Despite the administration's rosily optimistic statements, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld later admitted that security in Iraq is no better today than the day Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled. When challenged by Sen. Ted Kennedy [D-Mass.] about his dismal record, the Defense Secretary's only defense was that he had twice offered his resignation to the President.

Another candidate for blame is former academic Paul Wolfowitz. As Deputy Secretary of Defense, this ardent neoconservative was the principal architect of our Iraq policy. Shortly before the 2003 attack on Iraq that was to have been welcomed with waving American flags and garlands of flowers, he appeared before a House subcommittee. Mr. Wolfowitz pointed out that containment of Saddam Hussein in the twelve years since the earlier Gulf War that evicted Iraqi troops from Kuwait had cost "slightly over $30 billion." He added, "I can't imagine anyone wanting to spend another $30 billion to be there for another twelve years." By April of 2006, Congress had approved more than $300 billion for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more on the way and no end in sight. How many bridges, schools or hospitals would that sum have bought here at home?

Before the attack on Iraq, responding to a question from Sen. Carl Levin [D-Mich.] of the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Shinseki estimated that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers is probably the figure that would be required" to provide security in postwar Iraq. "Way too high," was what Paul Wolfowitz later called this number in an unusual public rebuke of a serving general by a political appointee. He also insisted that resistance would be low because "Iraq's ethnic groups do not have the same history of conflict as places like the Balkans." For being so wrong about every aspect of the Iraq campaign, he was rewarded with the presidency of the World Bank.

Fighting the Wrong War
It has been said that the United States always prepares for the last war instead of the next war. In Iraq, we made the same mistake. We are now fighting what military think tanks call a fourth generation war with an army intended to fight a third generation war, yet one that is using tactics intended for a second generation war.

Four generations of war? You may protest that you haven't heard anything about this from TV pundits. And the print media do not seem aware of the new thinking in military doctrine. Not to worry; neither does the administration or the Pentagon evince much interest.

The concept of fourth generation warfare was first enunciated by a mixed group of officers from the Army and Marines, including former Marine and conservative columnist William S. Lind. Their innovative article appeared in the October 1989 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette with the title, "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation." Revised and updated in an article in the same publication five years later, their a revolutionary theory traces "generational" changes in warfare through the centuries. The concept was fleshed out for the general public in a 2004 book, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century, by Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes, a senior fellow at the National Defense University.

First generation warfare began in 1648 at the Treaty of Westphalia that closed the Thirty Years' War and continued until the American Civil War. Prior wars had been fought by families, tribes, cultures, religions, cities, even business enterprises. The Grimaldi family, which has ruled Monaco since 1297, began by renting out war galleys. A monopoly of the nation-state, first generation warfare was waged by troops in lines and columns--until highly accurate rifled shoulder weapons and the machine gun made its tempting targets of massed lines and columns of soldiers obsolete.

Second generation warfare was developed by the French Army during World War I and emphasized massed firepower, mostly artillery. Its goal was attrition through carefully synchronized artillery barrages. Infantry, "the queen of battles," spearheaded by tanks, would then occupy the territorial objective. Warfare became a veritable "shoving contest" in which opposing forces attempt to hold or advance a battle line. Second generation warfare remained America's way of warfare, as we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq, with planes and guided missiles replacing artillery as the source of firepower.

Third generation warfare also had its origins before the First World War in Germany's Schlieffen Plan, which called for attacking France by invading Belgium and the Netherlands in a giant sickle-like movement. German forces would descend to the west of Paris, encircling and capturing the French Army. Before he died in 1913, von Schlieffen was asked what Germany should do if the plan failed. His practical answer was, "Sue for peace." The Schlieffen Plan, modified by von Moltke, was a giant gamble that almost succeeded, but it took four years for a beaten and exhausted Germany to finally surrender.

Count von Schlieffen's tactic was refined in World War II as Germany's "Blitzkrieg"-- "maneuver warfare," in military parlance. Not based on firepower or attrition of troops, it depended on speed, surprise and disorientation of the enemy. Gen. Heinz Guderian, who created Germany's first panzer division in the 1930s, often reminded his troops that their mission was speed: "We are not a killing machine." Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, a second generation engagement, failed. It allowed al-Quaida to get away because we were unable to fight battles of encirclement characteristic of third generation warfare.

Fourth generation warfare, also called "asymmetric warfare" by military thinkers, marks the end of the nation/state's monopoly on war and a return to conflict between cultures or religions. Basically, it involves fighting a different war than the opponent envisions. Afghanistan and Iraq have become fourth generation wars whose ultimate objective is to convince the enemy--and particularly the enemy's civilian population at home--that continuing the war will be too costly. An example of this strategy was the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War. Although it was actually a disaster for North Vietnam, unsettling TV images of black-garbed Viet Cong infiltrators inside the walls of the American Embassy compound convinced the home front that continuation of the war was useless.

Another strategy central to fourth generation warfare is to emphasize the power of weakness. Palestinans employed this to their advantage in the first intifada by portraying themselves as the victims of the vastly more powerful Israeli military. Instead of using modern weaponry, the Palestinians resorted to throwing stones, even using primitive slings to launch them. Taking advantage of the ever-present TV cameras, they transformed Israel from a brave little nation hemmed in by hostile Arab neighbors into a cruel and oppressive state that sanctioned the killing of children. The unbalanced situation was summed up in an Israeli joke of that period. Question: Why does Israel need its own spy satellites? Answer: So it can see a 12-year-old Palestinian boy picking up a stone.

In the second intifada, however, the Palestinians mistakenly abandoned their hard-won image of weakness and switched to violence. The horrors wrought by radical elements in the Palestinian resistance changed the roles of each side. The Palestinians' suicide-bombing campaign removed all restraints and gave Israel complete freedom of action.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but one reason our problems in Iraq continue to worsen is that we foolishly demolished the apparatus of the nation/state, creating an opportunity for fourth generation forces to flourish. Once a state has been destroyed, it is not easy to recreate it--as we are painfully discovering.

Fourth generation wars are never short wars. Mao Zedong's Chinese Communists fought for 28 years; Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese Communists for 30 years; the Sandinistas for 18 years. Palestinians have been resisting Israeli occupation for 39 years, but some Arabs insist the fight has actually been waged since 1948. Off and on, the Chechens have fought the Russians since the 19th century--most recently for the past dozen bloody years. Al-Quaida has been trying to impose its fundamentalist vision on the Islamic and Western worlds since the early 1980s.

Modern insurgencies are the only type of battles that have defeated the United States--witness Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. To win fourth generation wars, in addition to identifying the enemy and fielding properly trained forces, a nation must have the will to persist to victory, however long it takes.

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