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"Grim" who writes the blog BlackFive and occasionally writes at Winds of Change takes on the no-doubt thankless job of laying out a strategy for the "Long War," the current term-of-art for an imagined clash of civilizations between us and Islamic terrorists.

Grim lays out the modest and reasonable goals of his strategy:

* Terrorist groups are smaller and less dangerous

* Rogue states have more rather than less to fear

* Genocide and ethnic cleansing are rarer

* The enforcement of human rights is more certain.
Now, I want to note that the post in question is quite long and I'm a lousy editor, so read the original, don't assume that my explanation is complete.

Grim advances six fundamental ideas

1) Information War.
Rather, what they [Al Qaeda] are doing is attempting to use "information warfare" as their chief weapon. The actions they take are not taken to achieve a goal, for example, the destruction of the World Trade Center or the killing of some civilians in Baghdad. They are taken to send a convincing message: America can be hurt, and what can be hurt can be destroyed; our enemies will be destroyed, woman and child as well as soldier and policeman.
Essentially the idea is that the bad guys (to use the technical term) want to rattle us, convince us they're winning even when they're not and thus cause us to despair, to throw up our hands and cry "enough, we're heading for the showers."

Defeating the enemy requires breaking its myths. But its myths can be made anywhere, in any village, in any house. We can break their hold on Fallujah, and when they become rooted in a place, we must break their hold on it. But is there a way to keep them from rooting in the first place?
I can answer that question. Yes, there is a way to keep the bad guys from creating myths: by winning. There is no myth out there that Japan won World War 2. You know why? Because they didn't.

The surest way to win the "information war" and forestall damaging enemy propaganda is by winning. There's a "myth" that we lost in Vietnam. Know why? Because we lost in Vietnam. There's no myth that we got our asses kicked by Mexico in 1846. Why? California, that's why.

This point about information war is predicated on the notion that somehow we aren't losing in Iraq but merely seeming to lose in Iraq. Why would a rational human being draw that odd conclusion when even Mr. Bush has admitted we're not exactly winning? Because to admit otherwise is to admit that for the last 3 plus years, while war supporters assured us everything was hunky dory in Iraq, it was actually a fucking mess.

In other words, "Information War" is predicated on Neo-con rationalization that they must have been right, and not disastrously wrong.

2) Diasaggregation.

This brings us to Disaggregation. This is not a new military concept, in spite of having a new name: we used to call it "Divide and Conquer." The main difference is that, now, we have no interest in conquest. We do, however, need to concentrate on dividing the terrorists from local insurgents.

Fine. No arguments in theory. But in the particular case of Iraq it's a bit hard to see how we could disaggregate the country any more than it is. The Anbar province Sunni tribes are very definitely not aggregated with the Mahdi Army.

Yes, we should stop pretending that every nutbag with a Koran is Al Qaeda. Of course that is precisely the opposite of what the strident fearmongers (and yes, I include our president and vice president) have been shrieking. But absolutely, to the extent we can push wedges between various sub-orders of looney-tunes, it's a good idea.

3) Consequences.

Any successful Coalition policy must couple a strategy of Disaggregation with a strategy of destroying the enemy, and especially -- because it depends upon them -- its myths. When we can, we must avoid letting them take root in a Fallujah, or uproot them by turning the population against them.

When we can't, their every stronghold must fall. While we are trying to disaggregate by focusing local attention on local concerns, we must also attack the internationalists. The terrorists and the sponsor regimes do have to be put on the defensive. Bush was entirely right about that part.
Um. Destroy the enemy? Obliterate their strongholds? If we are able to accomplish total destruction of our enemy's every stronghold wouldn't that kind of be "game over?"

Yes, killing the enemy is definitely useful. Some might say it's kind of the point of war.

I call this the "Bull in a China Shop Rule," to contrast with Colin Powell's "Pottery Barn Rule." The "Pottery Barn Rule" held that were responsible for fixing Iraq, having "broken" it. While I think that is correct morally, Iran and Syria have done quite a bit to make sure it stays broken. They are operating on the theory that they will be able to manage the chaos that results when we leave, and carve out client states for themselves where Iraq is now.

This makes them, and now us, responsible for what follows. We must make clear that they will not enjoy our departure. If we go, we will not allow them to dominate the area. Syria has fielded assassins against Lebanon; I would say their own leadership has thereby opened themselves to the same tool. Iran has deployed bombs and funded and trained opposition figures in Iraq -- we can do that also. Indeed, if we decide, we have better ways of deploying bombs than cars.
Do what we say or we'll blow up your shit. Yep. That's war, all right.

4) Genocide.

Say what?

America would like to say, "We would never stand by and permit a genocide against the Sunnis; we would never permit ethnic cleansing on our watch." But we all know that the truth is different. The truth is that we shall say, "We do not need to be caught between parties in a civil war," and go.

The Sunnis should be told that directly. They know the truth already, but there is great power in speaking the truth. It is time for them to choose to be our allies in all things, or to be left to their own strength. They must decide now. Saying this directly and honestly means admitting to ourselves that we are about to stand by and watch a genocide. Yet it may be the only chance to avoid that genocide.
So, let's walk this through. We go to the Sunni insurgents and say, "Look, guys, if we leave the Shiites are going to go all Dachau on your asses. So lay down your arms, kick Al Qaeda out, and make peace with the Shiite government we've installed. You know, the guys who will go all Dachau on you if we leave. Which we'll do if you make peace with the Shiites. Hmmm."

Grim's idea is that we admit that we don't really care very much if genocide occurs -- certainly not enough to do anything about it -- and this declaration will convince the Sunnis to trust us and play nice with the Shiites.


5) A Human Right.
And here we veer into weird.
We must first admit that we -- again, the West, international society -- have no intention of actually, militarily stopping genocide. Yet we disapprove of it, strongly. So, knowing we will not use the means at our hand because of a lack of our will, we give the means to stop it to those who will not lack the will -- the people who would otherwise be slaughtered.

This is a traditional part of Special Forces' work in unconventional war. You find local allies, train them, equip them. The modern terrorist -- the global insurgent -- seeks the soft areas of worldwide civilization. Therefore, we need worldwide allies. It is important that they be distributed down to the level of villages and neighborhoods, because that is the nature of the war.
Yep, that's the problem with this crazy world of ours: not enough people toting AK-47's. An automatic weapon for every untrained peasant in every naation threatened by terrorists. The whole world an armed camp! Yay! After all, this is what has kept Sweden safe.

6) Strategic Changes.
Here Grim discusses changes in the command structure about which I know diddly.

My conclusion: I've said it before, I'll say it again. War, any war, is about power. You bring more power to bear than the other guy does and you win. It's mathematical in its simplicity. Grim wants it to be about "will" and cleverness. It's not. It's a gun and a trigger and some guy's brains going airborne.

But power does come in various forms. Okay, mostly it involves blowing up someone's country and shooting all the bad guys, but there is some validity to propaganda war and the use of soft power: culture, economic productivity, etc...

We won WW2 because we brought the power. We lost Vietnam because we didn't. We won the Cold War because we brought a different sort of power: we were right about the human race and the Communists were wrong. Turns out -- as we said daily for about 40 years -- that people will work harder for a second car than they will for a daily beet ration. 40 years of setting greed and luxury against "from each according to his means. . ." and the Communists fell down in a big heap.

Sometimes we win because the other guy just falls down dead and we don't. As Grim points out, it's not like Al Qaeda has a lot to sell. Once you get past the mandatory beards, the fact that you can dress your wife in a pup tent and thus convince people she's actually hot, and the whole "get laid if you blow yourself up" things, the Islamic extremists don't exactly have a vision of paradise on earth. Call me a simplistic Western chauvinist who just doesn't get blah, blah, blah but I think in the end Hollywood and Silicon Valley beat exploding vests for Allah.

I don't think Al Qaeda is ten feet tall. They've killed 3,000 Americans in 5 years. They're evil sons of bitches but they are not the Third Reich and they are not the Soviet Union. There is no chance at all that 20 years from now the Beardmasters of Baghdad will be walking down Fifth Avenue slapping burkhas on lingerie models. Zero chance.

So here's my strategy for dealing with Al Qaeda:

1) As much as I hate the cringe response, we tighten defensive measures.
2) We intensify the war from 30,000 feet with drones and jets, attacking terrorist targets wherever they present themselves.
3) We get serious about intel. We are the single most multicultural nation on earth and the CIA doesn't have Arabic or Farsi speakers? The fuck?
4) Nations that sponsor terrorism will be destroyed. Not "liberated," but destroyed.
5) A serious effort to get off the oil teat. Without oil, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq are just Fiji, Congo and Myanmar.
6) We borrow a page from the Israelis: they're all guilty. Any attack using weapons of mass destruction on an American target will be charged against every likely culprit. Was that an Iranian bomb or a Pakistani bomb? Guess what? We don't care. A nuke goes off anywhere in the US and we hit every likely culprit from Pakistan to North Korea to Iran with an overwhelming response. You want to be a crazy nation in the nuclear club? The price of admission is this: someone, anyone, uses nukes against the Americans and you all die.
7) We outlast them. Like we did the Communists. We're right, they're wrong. We're the future, they're a twitching corpse. We continue being what we've been, and they continue being what they are, and 20 years from now we'll still be the world's only superpower, and they'll be just what they are today: a few dangerous loonies.

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  1. Blogger Grim Says:

    I'll try to respond briefly, since I've already written quite a bit on the subject.

    I. Information War

    It's true that no one argues that we lost WWII, whereas one can argue about whether or not we're winning in Iraq. The difference, of course, is that WWII is over, whereas Iraq is still in play. One could argue all over the field as to whether we were winning WWII or not in, say, 1942.

    The point about information war is that there is a battlefield other than the physical one. It used to be that an army took the high ground because it wanted the high ground; that was the best place for artillery. Now, the Taliban burns a farmhouse not because the farmhouse was in their way, but to make a point.

    We have to be clear on the fact that our perceptions of their power are a primary target. Tokyo Rose was a similar attempt, to ensure that American servicemen believed they were losing. That's information war, and I think Kilcullen is right to say that it is the main goal of al Qaeda et al.

    II: Disaggregation

    I think we agree here, more or less.

    III: Consequences

    Killing the enemy isn't the point of war. Breaking their will is the point of war. It was not necessary to kill the Japanese to defeat them; it was necessary to break their will. More on this.

    IV: Genocide

    I think that telling the Sunnis the truth is the only route to preventing a genocide that is otherwise quite likely. Insofar as we do care about genocide, it's our only hope of stopping it.

    Will that make them "trust" us? No, but nothing focuses the mind like an impending hanging, as I've been reading often of late. It might focus their minds.

    V: A Human Right

    What has kept Sweden safe is geography. What has kept Switzerland safe is geography, plus rifles.

    I know many people are convinced that rifles are the enemy, but the fact is that Rwanda would have been less tragic if there were more rifles and fewer machetes. The machete is the vehicle of the strong; the rifle can be fielded by anyone. The machete is the vehicle of the mob; the rifle can stop a mob.

    We ought to train these 'untrained peasants' who are in danger. That makes them free men, in a way they are not otherwise. I see nothing wrong with that, and much that's right.

    VI: Strategic Changes

    Nothing to say here.


    Wars are, in fact, about power -- but will is the chief form of power that matters. This is not an idle opinion of mine, but resides in the opening lines of United States Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication #1, "Warfighting." It is the considered judgment, in other words, of the men who have done the most and the hardest fighting these last decades and most of the last century.

    I don't agree with your assessment of why we lost in Vietnam. We did indeed bring power: Linebacker II was highly successful. The South Vietnamese, with our small assistance and air/naval gunnery support, routed the North Vietnamese in 1972.

    We lost in Vietnam because we lost the will to continue with even that limited support. Congress cut off the funding.

    I do think we have a line on the future, and that al Qaeda has nothing to sell. What we're looking for is a way to distribute the clash of wills and minimize its impact on world civilization. Disaggregation is the road there.

  2. Blogger AMac Says:

    M. Takahallus,

    Enjoyed reading your take on Grim's essay. However, I think you misunderstood his point #4 re: Genocide. Perhaps a re-read would help (or maybe his comment above clarified).

  3. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    First off I'll say what I forgot to say in my post: thanks for putting some time in on this, God knows no one in the White House is bothering.

    Our key disagreement is on the importance of will vs. power in more concrete forms.

    The Japanese didn't suffer a failure of will. They suffered imminent annihilation. As they saw it they had two choices: suicide or surrender. We created that choice by the brutal application of force. Remember, they didn't just surrender on Tarawa or Iwo Jima or Okinawa, they were rooted out and hunted down and killed. Same in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Had Japan chosen to keep fighting they would have lost just the same. No amount of Japanese "will" would have changed the outcome except by making it bloodier. After all, though we were just about out of fissile materials we'd have made more. And in the meantime we had no shortage of bombers and incendiaries. We didn't bluff them: the gun to their heads was very real and our trigger finger was very itchy. It's not a "failure of will" to surrender when the other guy has a gun to your head.

    The myth that we had somehow won the Vietnam war only to lose it because of protesters, press and pansies is revisionist bullshit. We spent 10 years winning every battle. It didn't matter, because from the start we made the political decision not to invade the North. We made the decission to calibrate our power not to apply it with necessary ruthlessness. We didn't bring the power -- not to where it needed to go.

    If you grant an opponent sanctuary, you lose. It's tantamount to telling the Confederates we'd let them use Virginia as a safe haven, or promising the Germans we'd stay out of Bavaria and Prussia. It's why we'll eventually lose Afghanistan unless the Pakistanis have a change of heart. You can't beat the locals with one hand tied behind your back: they live there. They know sooner or later you'll leave. The only way to change that equation is by denying the locals their local status.

  4. Blogger Grim Says:

    I agree that the Pakistan problem is the great puzzle for Afghanistan, and that al Qaeda has done itself a great service by tying itself into that problem. Leaving a sanctuary for your enemy is generally a terrible idea, I'll be happy to agree.

    I don't agree with your reading on Vietnam. I do think that the history shows that, had we continued to provide only air and naval gunnery support, South Vietnam would have survived as an independent state after 1972. It was only because we totally withdrew all support from them that they were unable to resist the North's 1974 invasion. What did we expect? The North had Soviet and Chinese support; and the South was going to survive without even air support? Yet the '72 invasion appears to me to show that the ARVN was up to the task of defending the nation subsequently, if it had been supported in those ways.

    As for Japan, it's interesting that there were factions in the Japanese military that wanted to carry out a last-ditch defense of the nation. The Emperor decided to surrender. It was a personal decision of his, because he did not wish to see the country ravaged -- and also, I gather, because he wanted to surrender to the Americans, and not to the Soviets who had begun operations against Japan just prior to the surrender.

  5. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    I think the revisionist Vietnam narrative doesn't hold up.

    We now say it was necessary for the South to have US air and naval support, but the North was managing without Soviet airmen or sailors. Why? Why was the South, with a larger economy than the North, still so dependant on active US assistance?

    What does this tell us? That the North, using ground forces alone, with minimal air support was able to roll up the South which had the inherent advantages of fighting on the defensive, a larger economic base, and if memory serves, a larger population, as well as its own air and naval forces.

    The revisionist theory rests on the notion that the North would not continue adapting as it had done since the Japanese occupation. After 10 years the South couldn't survive without American handholding? And that's our fault?

  6. Blogger Dave Schuler Says:

    I doubt we'll do any of the first six things in your list, MT. That's what makes it a long war.

    Consider only your item 4. Under your rubric we would have destroyed the following countries:


    as a start. I'm not certain what “destroyed” means. If it really means destroyed, that means we'll have killed something upwards of 150 million people. If it means regime change, that's how we got into the fix we're in in Iraq: once we've brought the civil government down we incur certain responsibilites. If we just walk away, it's a war crime.

  7. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:


    That list of mine was a toss-off -- I'd already gone so long in that post I didn't want to go into further detail.

    What I mean by number 4 is that we return to the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force. Go to war, or don't, but don't go halfway to war. I'm certainly not suggesting genocide. I'm suggesting that when we confront a terrorist sponsor state, and if we deem the situation sufficiently serious -- a big if -- we sink navies, obliterate airfields, close ports, impose no-fly zones, and in general inflict unacceptable damage to military and economic assets. Destroy the government and its assets, not the people. I should have been clearer on that.

    I disagree that we necessarily incur reponsibilities from destroying a government. I think a government determined to damage us opens itself up to major punishment. I'm very sorry for the innocent people who would suffer, but there's nothing fundamentally morally different in this from cold war doctrine which called for us to respond to a Soviet attack by launching counterforce attacks as well as targeting economic assets but did not require us to occupy and rehabilitate (assuming such a thing were possible) the nations we'd attacked. I doubt we ever seriously contemplated occupying the USSR.

    American doctrine would have allowed us to respond to a Soviet missile strike on a single US city with a massive response. We'd have had the option to strike any and all military targets, as well as ports, airfields, weapons plants, etc... How is that morally different from a massive response against a nation-state that sponsors say a terrorist WMD attack in the US?

    My point is that we need a tool we can use to deter nation states from sponsoring terrorists. We can't set the bar so high we can never counterattack. If we conclude that we can only topple a government under circumstances where we can then occupy and rehabilitate the targeted nation, we tie our hands too tightly.

  8. Blogger Dave Schuler Says:

    It's what the Geneva Conventions say (or, at least, the way they've been interpreted). Role of occupying power is coextensive with having de facto control. When you're the only authority available (having obliterated the prior regime from 30,000 feet), you're the occupying power. If we're going to abrogate the Conventions, I think we should do so formally.

  9. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    I won't pretend to be familiar with the Geneva convention in any detail.

    However, we have on numerous occasions taken potshots at irritating foreign governments. To take one example: our attempted decapitation of the Libyan government. Had we managed to kill Qadafi and not just his daughter in that raid, would we have had to follow up with an occupation?

    Even in circumstances where we truly obliterate a government, there would remain indigenous groups who would have a superior claim to governance. To decide we had to occupy because we had knocked down a previous government would be to say that because we had killed government "A" we had an obligation to also kill proto-government "B."

    Of course we'd send in NGO's where possible. But we haave to maintain the right to retaliate aagainst fforeign governments without necessarily agreeing to run their country in the aftermath.

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