Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Second Conjecture Revisited

Steven den Beste discusses how the United States might respond to an terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), taking the Belmont Club's The Three Conjuctures as a starting point. Of the three, Steven finds he cannot agree with the second: that attaining WMDs will destroy Islam. Now a demurral by Steven Den Beste is nearly always ground to re-examine an argument. He points out an obvious error in terminology, which must be accepted.

Wretchard's second conjecture is that attaining WMDs will destroy Islam. This isn't really fully true. "Islam" already has nuclear weapons, in Pakistan, and "Islam" (actually, apostate Saddam in Arab Iraq) had chemical weapons.

But he understands the underlying sense of the argument, and after righting the terms, moves on.

Wretchard uses the term "Islam" during this part of his analysis to refer to the extremists; he's referring to the Jihadis, and possibly to hostile regimes which covertly support them. But his point in using "Islam" for this is to make clear that he thinks most of the world's Muslims run the risks he's describing, even if they're not militant. I agree that the majority of them are.

The debate seems to center around how the United States would respond to repeatable terrorist WMD attacks. The second conjecture argued, in Mr. Den Beste's accurate summation that:

if Islamic militants gained the ability to make several devastating attacks against us with nuclear weapons (albeit at a slow rate via smuggling) that if this then devolved into a "city-swapping" duel that there would be a strong incentive for us to end the war quickly by making a saturation strike against most of the Arab and Islamic world, since that would reduce our casualties in the long run.

He thinks this is improbable, and suggests that it is far more likely that following a WMD strike, the US would issue an ultimatum to any nation suspected of complicity, demanding full cooperation absent which they would be obliterated. But this merely inserts a comma before the word "obliteration" lurking at the end of the sentence. Mr. Den Beste's own reluctant conclusion sounds a lot like the second conjecture with pauses.

Would we actually obliterate the first nation which didn't fully cooperate? I don't think so; I think that we'd fire one warning shot ... But that would only happen one time, not once per nation. If anyone after that didn't get the message, I think we would do it, because we would have to.

That got me thinking why exactly "we would have to" -- framing the Second Conjecture in a alternative way -- and the results were surprising, and subtly different. For nearly 50 years it was established policy that if the United States was struck sufficiently forcefully by the USSR, they would be obliterated. If we let P be the population of the United States, an nuclear attack which would kill P/3, one third of the US population -- one hundred million people -- was considered sufficient to trigger a massive nuclear response. It meant that if we detected massive bomber formations and thousands of warheads inbound, not just the odd rogue airplane, that America was prepared to kill the last Russian baby in his crib in retaliation. That was straightforward.

Now, consider the series:

Sn = a1 + a2 + ... + an,    the nth partial sum

where each term in the summation represents a repeatable Al Qaeda attack with WMDs. It is obvious, by inspection, that for n sufficiently large, Sn > = P/3. That is to say, if an is a repeatable term --  if the Al Qaeda WMD attacks are repeatable -- a finite number of them would equal the effect of Soviet main strike, that is P/3. And, since we have already established that P/3 would be repaid by the total destruction of the USSR, down to the last babushka and baby, and since Sn > = P/3, then yes, we would have to obliterate the enemy if they kept attacking. The differences between Steven den Beste and the Belmont Club seem to be over whether it will happen sooner or later. (For those with morbid interests, the series converges. As n approaches infinity, Sn = P. That is to say, if Al Qaeda could continue attacking America indefinitely with an unlimited supply of WMDs, they would kill us all. But that is not an interesting result.)

What is interesting is why the series would not work for a nuclear armed Muslim nation like Pakistan. The answer, of course, is that a national enemy could not get past the first few terms in the series. If Pakistan attacked America as a nation, it would be obliterated after it launched the first strike, that is, n=1 and there would be no further terms in the series. Game over. The USSR was a superpower precisely because it could put thousands of warheads into the first term. But by using terrorist proxies, otherwise weak nations can transform themselves into virtual superpowers by creating the possibility of a deniable series of attacks. Returning to our notation, the fact that an Islamic nation has only two nuclear weapons,  a1 + a2,  is of no importance. What is vital is ensuring an and  n+1 is always possible. The real power of Islamic car bombs, shootings, knifings does not come from their individual destructiveness, but from idea that they are interminable, a series without end. Thus, a nobody like Kim Jong Il from a 10th rate, starving nation like North Korea can become a strategic threat on the order of the Soviet Union merely by threatening to supply weapons to this endless series of destruction.

To be continued.

Monday, November 24, 2003

People's War

The murder and mutilation of two US soldiers in Mosul, although no deadlier than any RPG or landmine attack of the past weeks, has by its brutality, reproduced an emotion that the Islamists thought was their sole birthright: it has made American's seethe. The task now is to harness this anger so that it causes maximum damage to the terrorists. Although the active fighting and planning must be left to the professionals -- nothing worse than amateurs getting in their way -- it seems high time for the denizens of the blogosphere to go beyond the keyboard and help get some back.

Despite the handicaps of holding down a day job, there are certain things that can be legally and helpfully done in spare time that will help the war effort. Here are some:

  1. Learn Arabic. There is a critical shortage of people who can monitor enemy media broadcasts, websites or publications. It will also broaden the information base of bloggers away from the product provided by the mainstream media;
  2. Became a mental warrior. Write plays, books, radio scripts for performance to get the message out. Compose songs, hold concerts, even if only in some community hall.
  3. Become politically active. Volunteer for the candidate of your choice. The political home front is the decisive arena of the War on Terror. They also serve who hand out pamphlets on a street corner.
  4. Get into the relief game, like the folks at Iraqi Schools. This complements and dovetails with the work done by the Armed Forces. And it works very well in conjunction with learning Arabic.
  5. If you have the aptitude, create a minor defense product, like a better sleeping bag or utility software. Make an honest buck and help the cause.
  6. Stay prepared on general principles. Train for a marathon; get some range time; learn land navigation. It can't hurt.

Learn to look at your civic club, church or neighborhood group in a new way. It is your battlefield, the only place you are likely to get some kind of payback for the two Americans whose throats were slit and skulls were pounded by Ba'athist goons. It is your field of honor. On it, fly your flag.

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
'To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?'

Sunday, November 23, 2003

A Diamond Bullet

Gerard Van der Leun of American Digest provides the correct phrase from Colonel Kurtz's speech in Apocalypse Now,  incorrectly cited by Belmont in Like a Silver Bullet: it's a "diamond bullet". Better yet, he provides the full text of the Marlon Brando (who played Kurtz) monologue which describes the kind of tender, caressing cruelty which burned within our Marxist foes nearly forty years ago. It was the twisted saintliness which built every gulag as a purificatory monastery and saw the journey to Year Zero as a kind of Pilgrim's Progress. They called it strength, and Kurtz agreed. But then, Kurtz was mad.

"back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile...A pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried... I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I I was shot...Like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead...And I thought: My God...the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they that could stand that these were not monsters...These were men...trained cadres...these men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love...but they had the strength...the do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral...and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling...without passion... without judgment...without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us. "

That spirit, the elusive spirit with many names, made another brief appearance in Saving Private Ryan, in the scene where the SS soldier whispers soothing, almost tender words into the ear of  Jewish soldier as he slowly plunges a dagger into his heart. Marx came closest to naming it when he said there was a "specter haunting Europe". Not its nightmares, but its dreams. And its name isn't Communism. It is Legion.

The New Committee for a Free World

This is an unserious post about a very serious subject. The American Digest understands that the battle for domestic public opinion is the decisive theater of operations in the War on Terror. It is trying to organize a nucleus of eminent thinkers -- called the New Committee for a Free World -- who can provide a rallying point for the ideas that must illuminate our journey into the perilous new century, looking ahead in the way that the pamphleteers of the War of Independence did more than two hundred years ago.

Let me say as an aside that the apocalyptic nature of the struggle -- call it good versus evil -- has been apparent to many in the Blogosphere. But being as terminally deficient in gravitas as myself, some bloggers have tended to frame the subject in juvenile but incisive terms. Dan Darling at Regnum Crucis has compared Osama Bin Laden to Magneto, who must wage war against the world of normal humans in order to make it congenial for mutants. Darling points out that Al Qaeda's blood-curdling, apocalyptic emanations from hidden caves resemble nothing so much as a "standard supervillain rant". Although the Belmont Club would not go so far, to preserve its false aspirations to respectability,  I had rather hoped for a more resounding name than 'the New Committee for a Free World', because it lacks the magnificence this larger than life struggle calls for. Darling's instinct is right. We need a name with the sonority of the "Justice League of America", "The Avengers" or at least "The Four Just Men". Perhaps nothing quite so Stan Lee-ish, but a name that will bear the freight of its task.

And it needs an oath, a pledge that will appeal to the heart, uplift the spirit and give us strength when we are too tired, weary and heartbroken to go further. It is said that when Chesty Puller's men walked into the relief lines after battling their way past ten times their number at the Chosin River, they pulled themselves erect, dusted off their dungarees and sang the Marine Corps Hymn, so that the Dogfaces might remember them laughing as they emerged from the jaws of death and before they marched into legend. We are their heirs must sing our own song.

"In brightest day, in blackest night,
no evil shall escape my sight!
Let those who worship evil's might,
beware my power.. Green Lantern's light!"

Friday, November 21, 2003

Like a Silver Bullet

Donald Sensing describes the same Muslim civil war discussed in Belmont Club's The Two Front War on Terror, saying "The Muslim Civil War is the most important struggle in the world today". The difference is that the Two Front War on Terror believes there are really two civil wars raging in parallel, one within Islam and another within the West.

Osama Bin Laden had reckoned that after defeating the "stronger superpower" -- Russia -- in Afghanistan, he was one short step from establishing a global Caliphate.  Instead Wahabism found itself in a two-front war on all five continents: the first against American military forces and the second over the very nature of Islam itself. From Malaysia to Riyadh, the echoes of the September 11 are ringing in every mosque, every Islamic forum and every private Muslim home calling each and every one to his separate flag. America too is at war both in the streets of Baghdad and with itself.

Both civil wars were in evidence within hours of each other. While several tens of thousands of British demonstrators were excoriating President Bush, Al Qaeda was busy delivering an object lesson of what happens to those who cooperate with the infidel. They could not have been better timed if they were coordinated. But though their methods varied, the goal was the same: to discourage any rankers from defecting to America, the first by demonstrating their political and electoral ability to tar and feather, and the second by making a bloody example of all those who dare raise a hand to defend themselves.

Osama Bin Laden reasoned that the Western political arena was the decisive battlefield in his campaign to bring the whole world under his brand of Islam and reinstate the Caliphate. To accomplish this, he would have to break the will of the Western ruling elite, which he calculated to be desperately weak. Al Qaeda's arms, though puny, would be increased by the force multiplier of the Western left and their media allies. He might kill only one American soldier for every hundred he lost; but the media would magnify that single death a million times. The American military might have as many battlefield force multipliers as they pleased, but Osama had the only amplifier that mattered. From a political point of view the death of one American would hurt more than the loss of any number of Al Qaeda cannon fodder. And that was as it should be: the aim of jihadi arms was not to actually defeat the kuffar armies on the battlefield: it was to break the kuffar's will to fight on the home front.

When the events following September 11 showed an unexpected willingness among Americans to fight, Osama cunningly observed that the liberal elements of the West were just as craven, or even more so, than he had contemptuously anticipated them to be. After destroying the United Nation's headquarters in Baghdad, it withdrew in haste over the border. A similar attack on UN personnel in Afghanistan produced the same precipitate flight. "We can no longer risk the lives of our expat staff: a dead aid worker can't help anyone", they bleated. Most gratifying of all, every Al Qaeda outrage, though openly avowed by their spokesmen, was instantly blamed upon the United States. The Western will might be broken easily after all. While America might be steadfast, the panic among its European and international allies was just under the surface. Al Qaeda did what desert raiders have always done when facing a militarily superior enemy. They attacked the baggage train.

And joyfully they slew. The Italian contingent in Iraq was bombed, leading to calls from their Communist Party of Italy for their immediate withdrawal. This knocked a ball into the side pocket by prompting Japan to announce that it was going to delay its deployment of peacekeepers. Faltering Muslims felt the lash too. Al Qaeda struck in quick succession at a Saudi expat residential area, a Turkish synagogue and a Kurdish tribal group. In each case, the message was the same: stand with America and die; waver in your sympathies and die. And in neat contradistinction the British "peace activists" added this coda too: fight America and gain celebrity on the BBC. Always on message: the contrast between being an honored Islamic "martyr" in death, or if you preferred, the existence of a hedonistic leftist media celebrity in life on the one hand, with the anonymous and thankless danger of being a coalition soldier on the other.

In Coppola's classic film, Apocalypse Now, the character Colonel Kurtz described how his A-Team had at first gone the rounds of mountain villages, inoculating the children against disease and providing medical treatment for the sick in an effort to win hearts and minds, only to find, upon their return that the Communists had lopped off the arms of each and every child who had received a vaccination. Kurtz was struck 'like a silver bullet' by the realization that the Communists weren't challenging his military capability to defeat them; they were challenging his will to win.

The will to resist evil is the most fragile commodity in the West. It is a flame burned so low that Al Qaeda thinks that one strong blast of wind will extinguish it forever. It flickers so feebly that one American Presidential election or a single battlefield catastrophe could set the stage for the embrace of a thousand years of darkness, the darkness that Europe has been longing for this past century. The 'peace demonstrators' in London last week suggested not so much Trafalgar Square in the heart of modern Europe as ancient Gadara.

When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed ... were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way ... And He was asking him, "What is your name?" ... "My name is Legion; for we are many." And they cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other...? Have You come here to torment us before the time?"  Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. The demons implored Him, saying, "Send us into the swine so that we may enter them." And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank ... and they were drowned in the sea.

The precipice has beckoned to four successive generations in the West; and now yet another master calls them sweetly to the dark.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Postscript to the Jihadi Air Defense

Reader BM asks whether the experience of Orde Wingate who fought Arab guerillas in Palestine seventy years ago still held any lessons for American forces today. Wingate was a British soldier who insubordinately organized Jewish armed groups at a time when official policy was to ignore Arab guerilla raids aimed at driving out their settlements. Wingate hated passive defense. His policy of preemptively striking at the guerillas is best illustrated by Wingate's exchange with a Jewish settler Zvi Brenna, who was rather proud of the fortifications he had erected. Wingate told Brenna:

'Somewhere in those hills are men who will one day come down and wipe you out.' Brenna replied: 'They will not overrun us so easily. We will be waiting for them when they come.' Wingate turned angrily upon him. `That is the trouble with the Jews. Always so calm and patient. Always waiting for disaster to come. You are a race of masochists crying: `Hurt me, hurt me! I cannot raise my hand against you until you have killed my brother and raped my sister and thrown my father and mother into the ditch.' The Jews of Palestine are in bad condition. So long as you all sit in your settlements and wait to fight and die, you will die before you have a chance to fight.' `What else can we do?' asked Brenna. `Why doesn't Hagana go out and fight?' `I don't know,' replied Brenna."

Whereupon, of course, Wingate organized a series of offensives in which Arab guerillas were hunted down by Jewish guerillas. It became the turn of the Arab headman to wonder when the Jews were coming. Leaving aside the question of Wingate's politics, the military question is whether US forces in Iraq can adopt some of his methods in their fight against the Jihadis. The first thing to remember when reviewing this historical campaign is that the Arabs were not defeated by the military methods of Wingate or Haganah alone. They were defeated by the combination of armed resistance and settlement, as nearly every Arab will point out. It was the lethal combination of effective counter-guerilla tactics and the emergence of an alternative Jewish society which ultimately displaced the guerilla base and sounded the death-knell for their cause.

In the context of the current American mission in Iraq, Wingate's operations correspond to CENTCOM's counter-jihadi efforts while the rebuilding of Iraqi democratic society and its economy corresponds to the settlement process. While Wingate could leave the state-building of Israel to the Jews and concentrate on destroying its enemies, America must assume both burdens in Iraq, until that country's civil society can take up the national development effort itself.

One historical insight largely bearing on military issues is that the Arab tradition of raiding, which is methodologically very similar to guerilla tactics, was deeply established in the indigenous culture in Wingate's day and probably from time immemorial. Observers who are surprised by the hit and run methods employed against US forces ought not to be. Even Iraqi bandits do this without prompting or apparent instruction. By contrast, US conventional forces began Operation Iraqi Freedom without even an established doctrine for urban warfare, let alone a counter-guerilla campaign plan, and many a pundit gloomily predicted that Americans would be slaughtered in a Grozny-like cataclysmic battle for Baghdad. But the Army successfully made things up as they went along, and this is apparently a feature, not a bug, of the American way of war.

Typically, the Army's dedicated counter-guerilla unit, the Special Forces, was not entirely available to take over the Wingate role. They are apparently focused on missions of 'national interest', leaving regular Army units with much of the task of interpolating the counter-guerilla meme into their traditional Stability and Support Operations (SASO) and Civil Affairs (CA) roles. Units like the 101st Airborne have apparently responded by running their own do-it-yourself special forces operations, constituting ex-Iraqi soldiers into "private security" companies (rent-a-Mike-Force?) and other things doubtless too hair-raising to state openly. This is far from a bad thing. Observers have been consistently impressed by the initiative of divisional commanders and raised a howl when their discretionary funds were momentarily reduced by the bean counters in the budget office. The funding was subsequently restored, probably in belated recognition that money, moneda, lucre and dinero in the hands of an agressive divisional commander is as lethal in counter-guerilla warfare as any round of ammunition.

The Field Artillery Joins the Fray

In the Jihadi Air Defense, the Belmont Club speculated that the Jihadis were using an air defense system anchored on pickets with hand-held radios or cellular phones. That would give them time to set up against an inbound flight of air assault troops, helicopter gunships or even fixed-wing attack aircraft if low enough. Most recent American casualties have involved rotary wing aircraft brought down or forced into an accident by anti-air missiles. The emphasis on air defense was underscored in a recent Al Qaeda interview with an Arab newspaper, in which five of the interviewees were brandishing MANPADs.

But the cycle of tactical adaptation goes on ceaselessly. Last night, the Jihadi air defense pickets were trumped by an unidentified "satellite guided missile" with a 500 pound warhead which slammed into an Islamist training camp in Northern Iraq. The missile was probably an Army ATACMS artillery round, one version of which is GPS-guided. The system has a 300-kilometer range and is semi-ballistic. That gives it several very scary tactical properties, the first of which is that the projectile arrives faster than the speed of sound from the edge of space. You will never hear it coming. MANPADs cannot even begin to track it. The second is that it has a relatively short time of flight. Unlike air missions, which must often be planned hours or days in advance and may arrive after the enemy has scattered or gone to ground, a Special Forces reconnaissance unit can hammer a Jihadi encampment with a literal bolt from the blue upon transmitting the target grid coordinates.

In many ways, the ATACMS functions like a very long range equivalent of the Israeli helicopter missile ambush tactic, which has been responsible for killing many Jihadi terrorists, often while riding in their cars. The Israelis have always struggled with concealing the approach of the attack helicopter from their targets and have typically camouflaged its onset by flying a number of other aircraft in the vicinity. The ATACMS, being faster than its own sound, arrives unannounced. One disadvantage of the missile is its great cost and inability to engage a moving target. In that respect, the Israeli helicopter missile ambush is superior. And while its time of flight is short, ATACMS is not instantaneous. That limits ATACMS to targets that have momentarily stopped, such an encampments or safe houses. If the US Army can develop a cheap 35 pound round (105 mm equivalent) with an equivalent range, Special Forces or Iraqi agents working for the coalition could plink jihadi security positions, pickets, sentries, or columns at rest with complete surprise.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

The Jihadi Air Defense

If the touchstone of the anti-American Left is Vietnam, the formative experiences of Al Qaeda were rooted in Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent, Somalia. It was here that they gained confidence in their ability to defeat a superpower foe. Neither began auspiciously for the jihadi. Kabul was taken in a textbook aerial assault by the Soviet Army. For years afterward, the Islamists were unable to make any headway against Soviet forces because the helicopters provided Russian commanders with an instant source of vertical envelopment.

After suffering thousands of casualties against a seemingly invincible Soviet foe, the jihadi began to develop a series of tactics designed to make the Soviet rotary-wing advantage an actual liability. The key was to achieving this was the US Stinger missile which inflicted heavy losses on Soviet transport and attack helicopters. It forced Soviet Frontal Aviation to fly at over 2,000 foot altitudes, which essentially blinded the ground columns and denied them aerial support. Then the jihadi took a page out of the North Vietnamese army playbook. They deliberately initiated contact with the intention of ambushing the relief force. In one violent engagement, the jihadi tricked the Soviets into landing 800 air assault troops into a kill zone, blocked out the airbridge with missiles and killed the Russians to a man. By forcing the Soviets to fight on terms of essential tactical equality, the jihadis eventually prevailed.

In Somalia, the Al Qaeda experimented to see whether the concepts they had developed in Afghanistan would work against the Americans. When the UN ordered Americans to hunt down General Aideed, Osama Bin Laden had a perfect opportunity to play against Rangers and Special Forces. He realized that if he could develop effective tactics against those elite forces, they would perform with even greater effect against regular Army units. The result was the infamous "Blackhawk Down" incident. From Mogadishu, the jihadi learned that US vertical assault tactics were vulnerable to mere RPGs if these were used to strike helos in the last, low level stages of their descent. Moreover, he discovered that Americans would cancel offensive operations immediately and concentrate on recovering the survivors of the first attack. They codified the notion of trapping the first fly and swatting whatever came to its rescue.

Although the cause of the crash of two UH-60 Blackhawks over Mosul has not yet been officially determined, it may have been caused or provoked by an RPG attack on helicopters responding to an attack on a US ground element. Even if the cause of the crash is subsequently determined to be accidental, the effect is certainly one that Al Qaeda training manual would have aimed for. The American adaptation has been partly technological and partly tactical. Army aviation -- which has been the primary target of the shootdowns -- is doctrinally committed to high-speed, low-level flying. That is their key pilot skill and bragging right. US rotary wing craft also have far better decoys, like flares, than the Soviets. But these advantages can be negated by a foe which pickets certain lines of approach, using an outpost of spotters with cell phones to give the missile shooters a few minutes of warning about the heading of inbound helicopters. And the tactical and technological adaptations vanish utterly when an air assault helicopter flares for its final approach and the enemy is firing unguided RPGs, which cannot be decoyed away.

The cycle of adaptation never ceases, and the US is working to deploy rotary wing UAVs and other robotic platforms to change the fundamental need to risk lives to obtain information. These UAVs will eventually be armed, too. But one tactic that will soon be viable with the availability of more Iraqi policemen and intelligence agents to coalition forces is the counter ambush against anti-air forces. The jihadi air defense men, pickets and lookouts are themselves vulnerable to being spotted by Iraqis on the ground. Keeping lookout on a hilltop copse, or trundling through a street in a car full of RPGs, these jihadis are vulnerable to destruction or capture in detail at the instance of a sharp-eyed coalition agent, disguised as an ordinary civilian. The coalition can pick off their spotters by the dozen. That fact alone would collapse the jihadi air defense and lead to a further penetration of the enemy's cells. During the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill often wondered why the Nazis never attacked the Chain Home radar sets which provided advance warning to the RAF of Luftwaffe raids. One historian writing about an unrepeated German attack on British radar said:

No German agent during the war learnt much about the British radar system. Had they done, German Intelligence would have discovered that the power and receiving rooms were extremely vulnerable to attack, and that the raid on Ventnor had been a devastating success. It is certain that had German intelligence discovered the full effect of their attack on Ventnor, more radar stations would have been increasingly bombed, with devastating consequences.

The Germans could have altered the course of the Battle of Britain with existing technology and tactics if they had analyzed the enemy's weakness correctly. They didn't and lost the war. The fight against the jihadi enemy will require creative thinking as much as it will need new and better equipment.

The Two Front War On Terror

When Heinz Guderian looked across the frontier at the French Army in 1940 he knew that it was far stronger than his own. The French knew it too and boasted, "We will win the war because we are stronger". Nearly every assessment of the strange collapse in the West, from the contemporaneous study of Marc Bloch to the recent work by Ernest May acknowledged that on paper, at least, the French Army was the mightier of the two combatants, all the more formidable because it sheltered behind nearly impregnable fortifications. But they had the wrong point of view. The Germans had no intention of fighting the French Army one soldier at a time. They had decided to send mobile forces around the massed divisions and sever the nervous system of their enemy, so that at the moment of defeat the vast knotted fists of the French army hung limp, intact and impotent from the decapitated torso of the Third Republic, the victim of Blitzkrieg.

Osama Bin Laden, pondering the far greater challenge of defeating the USA, embraced a grander conception. He believed that America's true center of gravity was it's will, and that will was terminally infirm. America was outwardly formidable, with ample means to defend itself, but not the resolution to wield it. Speaking to journalists in 1997 and 1998, Osama described his anticipated triumph the way a strong thief might regard the planned mugging of an old woman as a foregone conclusion. He told anyone who would listen that the America was a hollow, pitiful shell; an overripe fruit that he would pluck at leisure. 'To kill them', he seems to say, 'would be a great mercy'. The answer to defeating America was sheer effrontery. He would simply come and announce that they deserved to die; and they would trample each other in fear.

1998 Interview with John Miller of ABC News 1997 Interview with Peter Arnett

OSAMA BIN LADEN: "We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. We are ready for all occasions. We rely on Allah. ...

NATO, that America created, we know it spent $455 billion American dollars in improving weaponry to protect Europe and America from Russia, and they did not fire a single shot. ...

The youth ... headed for Somalia and prepared for a long battle, thinking that the Americans were like the Russians, but they were surprised ... at the low morale of the American soldiers and ... after a few blows ... left, dragging their corpses.

OSAMA BIN LADEN: "some Arab 'Mujahideen' who were in Afghanistan ... participated with their brothers in Somalia against the American occupation troops and killed large numbers of them. After a little resistance, The American troops left after achieving nothing ... after some resistance from powerless, poor, unarmed people whose only weapon is the belief in Allah The Almighty, ... we learned ... the low spiritual morale of the American fighters in comparison with the experience they had with the Russian fighters. The Americans ran away from those fighters who fought and killed them, while the latter were still there. If the U.S. still thinks and brags that it still has this kind of power even after all these successive defeats in Vietnam, Beirut, Aden, and Somalia, then let them go back to those who are awaiting its return."


So great was his belief in American weakness that Osama announced his intention to kill as many Americans as he pleased in advance, confident that no one would stop him.

1998 Interview with John Miller of ABC News 1997 Interview with Peter Arnett

JOHN MILLER:  Mr. bin Laden, you have issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims to kill Americans where they can, when they can. Is that directed at all Americans, just American military, just Americans in Saudi Arabia?

OSAMA BIN LADEN: We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they are all targets in this fatwa.

PETER ARNETT: "Mr. Bin Ladin, you've declared a jihad against the United States. Can you tell us why? And is the jihad directed against the US government or the United States' troops in Arabia? What about US civilians in Arabia or the people of the United States?"

OSAMA BIN LADEN: We declared jihad against the US government ... As for what you asked regarding the American people, they are not exonerated from responsibility, because they chose this government and voted for it despite their knowledge of its crimes in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and in other places ...


Then he killed them. Like Guderian 60 years before him, Osama Bin Laden had calculated the emptiness of the defenses to a nicety. His flying bombs penetrated American airspace as easily as the Wehrmacht's panzers crossed the 'impassable' Ardennes.  And the headlong impulse to fear, flight and panic, as he predicted, gripped his victim. The American Left frantically offered Osama Bin Laden anything to placate him  -- abjection, money -- anything but resistance. 'How was it our fault, why do you hate us, what do you want?', they asked. Osama's pitch-perfect reading of the cultural elite was confirmed by Gore Vidal's warning against any contemplated act of defiance. "With each action Bush ever more enrages the Muslims. And there are a billion of them. And sooner or later they will have a Saladin who will pull them together, and they will come after us. And it won’t be pretty." Better to hand over the wallet and hope the mugger will go away. What the liberals wanted, as Osama anticipated, was an excuse to deny an attack on America had ever happened so that they could run, run and run. Former Vice President Al Gore, who nearly outpolled George W. Bush in the 1990 Presidential elections, flatly refused to regard September 11 as an act of war, just a large-scale ordinary crime -- like a mugging -- to be ever so cautiously solved with subpoenas, apprehensions, trials and jail sentences, preferably within the framework of the United Nations. In a speech opposing the invasion of Iraq, he said:

"To begin with, I believe we should focus our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than predicted. Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another."

Osama had a capitulation which would have dwarfed the blitzkrieg 1940 at his fingertips but for the unanticipated emergence of a hitherto unsuspected segment of America -- the "red states" -- that would fight. Aeschylus famously said that "in war, truth is the first casualty"; but he was wrong. In war the first casualty is fantasy; and the second most copious product of combat, after suffering and death, is the painful and unflattering truth. The truth about the state of one's own courage, preparation, resolve and the enemy's corresponding qualities. If September 11 revealed a massive failure on the part of US intelligence to anticipate the Al Qaeda attack it simultaneously uncovered an even more catastrophic error in the Islamist assessment of their enemy's willingness to fight. Osama Bin Laden watched in shock as America went after him in Afghanistan. Islamic expert Bernard Lewis describes the tremor that ran through Al Qaeda's self confidence as the worm turned. 

PRINCETON ALUMNI WEEKLY: Did Osama bin Laden expect the U.S. to respond as it did to the attacks?

Bernard Lewis: No. Bin Laden’s very clear — from his various writings and broadcasts, it’s not so much hatred as contempt. The message that comes again and again from him and others is that Americans have gone soft. They are pampered. They can’t take casualties. Hit them and they will run. And then they use the same litany: Vietnam, Beirut, Somalia. The swift response to September 11 brought some reconsideration.

How had Bin Laden gotten it so wrong? He had not, insofar as what he saw. As as wealthy Saudi, he had read the American media, cultural elite and intelligensia with whom he was in contact perfectly, a reading which any Arab diplomatist on the Ivy-league and cocktail circuit would readily confirm. But he was ignorant of the America that lay beyond the circle of light, the frou-frou and clink of wine glasses; an America largely invisible but for those with eyes to see it. There is in my drawer a letter from my nephew's Sunday School, soliciting contributions to support a class field trip to "our Nation's capital" -- not Washington, or D.C., or the Beltway -- but a far more imperishable city of dreams that will live as long as 12 year olds can look up at the Flag -- "our Nation's capital". And there is in that cheap blue paper and provincial phrasing the hint of something that would hound Osama Bin Laden and those like him into hell itself, had he but the wit to know it was there.

Osama Bin Laden had reckoned that after defeating the "stronger superpower" -- Russia -- in Afghanistan, he was one short step from establishing a global Caliphate.  Instead Wahabism found itself in a two-front war on all five continents: the first against American military forces and the second over the very nature of Islam itself. From Malaysia to Riyadh, the echoes of the September 11 are ringing in every mosque, every Islamic forum and every private Muslim home calling each and every one to his separate flag. America too is at war both in the streets of Baghdad and with itself. And here all comparisons between Guderian and Osama Bin Laden cease. For the aftermath of September 11 showed that we are not in the end refighting the Second World War so much as a global Civil War; a war as much between brothers as enemies in which the stake is the fate of all mankind over the issue of slavery or freedom. We may look for a Lincoln as eagerly as the Al Qaeda await a Saladin. But in the end there is just us and uncertain destiny, as there was for men on Little Round Top who had never heard of Appomattox, where courage in doubt was the greatest kind of faith.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

"Clinging to the Enemy's Belt"

It was the North Vietnamese Army that first popularized the counterintuitive notion that there was greater safety in combat by getting closer to the enemy. For them, "clinging to the enemy's belt" meant getting so near to American lines that the US advantage in heavy weapons could not be fully exploited. The successful forecast of an attack on Saudi Arabia,  enabling Americans to dodge the danger, is an example of how the US is putting this principle into practice. The American ability to know more about a threat within Saudi Arabia than the Saudis themselves is impressive indeed. The partial American penetration of the terrorist attack on Saudi Arabia marks the second instance of an imperfect, yet still valid warning against a threat that could not be deflected. The first was Bali. CNN reported that "U.S. diplomatic and intelligence officials say they repeatedly told the Indonesian government of information suggesting terrorists were planning attacks against 'Western tourist sites' in the two weeks before the Bali bombings."  But regrettably, the information was not specific enough to forestall the particular attacks in either case.

The Al Qaeda operations probably did not come to the attention of intelligence fully described. In all likelihood, they had their genesis in tantalizing snippets and obscure references, emerging from the background until each was deemed worthy of a code name and assigned to a cell of analysts for further tracking, like a weather system growing into a monstrous cyclone. The picture was probably fragmentary and pieces were missing, but data, although time-lagged were coming in all the time, until the trackers knew within limits when and where it would make landfall. Not enough to save everyone, but enough to save some. How did America get to know so much? By getting close to the enemy.

Much US intelligence comes from enemy contact. Incidents like this raid by British Special Forces on the Al Qaeda in Northern Iraq probably resulted in enemy personnel and document captures -- sources of data. Such raids are not one-offs but part of standard operating procedure. The fascinating Third Infantry Division after-action report (page 76) reminds us that Special Operations Forces and "other government agencies" operate within the battlespace of American conventional forces, like infantry divisions,  pursuing "targets and missions of national interest". Whether within ground units or stealthily coming ashore from US naval vessels, operatives in contact with the enemy seize data, like the voluminous information taken from the Iraqi intelligence files, whose bulk has been compared to that of the East German Stasi dossiers.

Those who advocate "bringing the boys home" and withdrawing into the illusory safety of a fortress America might consider that in certain respects, the most dangerous place of all to be is out of contact with the enemy. From the perspective of Al Qaeda, and indeed any terrorist organization, the key object of maneuver is to open out the distance between themselves and possible contact. The Al Qaeda's obsessive search for sanctuary, whether in the deserts of Northern Africa, within the chaos of disintegrating societies or as guests of a dictatorship amounts to a quest for enabling space, without which there is no room to wind up, hatch plots, concoct weapons and train. If Al Qaeda aims to wage asymmetrical warfare by taking its enemies by surprise and breaking contact at will,  transposing this principle suggests that continuous contact is tantamount to turning the tables on them. Sad that.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

The Beginning of the End

Some of the largely unarticulated strategic questions about the War on Terror and the fighting in the Sunni Triangle in particular can be more readily answered in the light of recent developments.

  • What is the futility point of the Saddam loyalists in the Sunni Triangle and their Ba'athist allies in Syria?

It factually passed about a month ago, although the psychological reality of their ultimate defeat has not yet been absorbed. In that time frame, Iraq was accepted as a member of the Arab League, boycotted a meeting with Syria and sent a delegation to Turkey. All this at a time when the Iraqi Governing Council president, Jalal Talabani, was a Kurd. Within that approximate period, the French publicly acknowledged the reality of a new Iraqi government and tried to deal themselves into the picture.

In the south, the Shi'ite majority unmanacled from their Ba'athist overlords, are thriving. The Economist reports that:

For many Iraqis, living standards have already risen a lot. Boosted by government make-work programmes, day labourers are getting double their pre-war wages. A university dean's pay has gone up fourfold, a policeman's by a factor of ten. Before the war, Kifah Karim, a teacher at a Baghdad primary school, took home monthly pay equivalent to just $6. Her husband earned $13 as a factory overseer. Today, with a combined income of close to $450, they no longer rely on gifts of meat from Mrs Karim's brother, a butcher, to buttress a diet dominated by government food rations. They buy 2-3 kilos of meat a week, and have recently purchased a new fridge, a television, a TV satellite dish, a VCR and a CD player.

In the north, despite every terrorist effort, oil exports rose from 640,000 barrels per day in August to 1.2 million barrels per day in October, poised to pass two million soon. The idea that the Shi'ites and Kurds would suddenly hand back all their newfound political and economic power to a Tikriti dynasty is really a 21st century dream of a Sunni restoration; one that Saddam Shall Rise Again. The press, in comparing the terrorists to the World War 2 French Resistance, have really overlooked a far more appropriate comparison: Quantrill's Raiders, possibly in deference to their own liberal self-image.

By destroying infrastructure in the Baghdad area, retarding their own reconstruction and generally raising hell, the Sunnis are ironically assuring the permanence of the Kurdish and Shi'ite ascendancy in Iraq. They are resource poor, in the minority and worst of all, clueless. In hankering after lost glories, they are cutting themselves out of the loop, out of power and out of the future. But the psychological futility point will be reached only much later, almost imperceptibly, when the Sunnis are jolted into reality by a signal event, analogous to the capture of Aguinaldo, long after their army has lost the field. Then it will hit with a vengeance. The arrival of that moment is intertwined with another vexing question whose answer seems just that much clearer.

  • What is the center of gravity of the War on Terror?

The center of gravity of the War on Terror is the destruction of the totalitarian ideology that calls itself Islamism, which is to Islam as kryptonite is to krypton, Nazism to Germany, John Wayne Gacy to Pagliaccio, and Uncle Joe to Uncle Sam. Islamism and freedom will not fit on the same planet. And freedom will win. As President Bush put it:

"Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution."

And above all it requires toppling the regimes in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. It will be an extension of the current war against terrorists in Iraq, of which it is a part. In that campaign, as in the current fighting in Iraq, American losses will be shouted from the rooftops and it's triumphs concealed, because on a clandestine battlefield, no information is more important to the enemy than an accurate knowledge of the state of the cells around him. He can safely be allowed to know his triumphs for so long as he remains ignorant of his loss. And though the enemy dwells in darkness, still the night time is our friend.  Ten days after September 11 we knew that we could come this way. And we have.

"Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest."

Friday, November 07, 2003

The Hinge of Fate

President Bush has set the out the major strategic goals of the war in a policy address before the National Endowment for Democracy. They are to bring democracy to the Middle East and Northwest Asia, and by implication, overthrow or seriously reform every government in the region, including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Iran. That implication was not lost on the regimes, who immediately told Washington to mind its own business.

Both the political and military fronts continued to flicker with fire. The MEMRI newsticker is reporting that the Iraqi officials are accusing Syria of being the source of 'volunteers' on their way to help the Ba'athists in the Sunni triangle. A Kuwaiti newspaper has suggested that the survival of the regime in Damascus is no longer in anyone's interest -- meaning what? The Palestinian Authority has called on the Sunni Ba'athists to redouble their attacks on Americans. The United States has closed its embassy in Saudi Arabia, ostensibly in response to a terrorist threat. But no withdrawal of the actual mission has been announced. On the ground, a Blackhawk helicopter with six 101st Airborne soldiers went down in Tikrit for reasons yet undetermined. Although most news reporters have focused on US casualties, operations against terrorists remain blacked out and are reported only when allied casualties are involved. The pre-blackout rate of operation resulted in from 70-100 enemy detainees per day and must still be at that rate or greater.

Yet the US announced it would cut down troop numbers in Iraq a quarter by spring, from 135,000 to 100,000 as units are rotated in and out. The obvious implication is that the America is preparing to fight a protracted campaign, as players are swapped from the its bench. Phil Carter says this will place immense strains on the reserve force, from whom a large percentage of the replacement troops would come, but the US military is being rebuilt anyway, or must be, and the division of roles between the reserves and active duty troops change to reflect the end of the short war mission to one designed for prolonged combat. It is also a reflection of the growing role of Iraqi police and security forces in the day to day operations, whose significance will become evident later.

One of the unrecognized aspects of Iraqi operations is the role that it plays in the long term reshaping of both American and Islamic forces. Ed Weathers wrote that Jihadis probably consider Iraq a replacement for Afghanistan as a source of combat trained fighters. But the sword cuts both ways and more sharply against the Islamists. The American policy in World War 2 was to return fighter aces to the United States and employ them as instructors while the Japanese made their best pilots fight to extinction, taking their skills to the grave. The corresponding American learning curve will be immensely amplified in Iraq for several reasons. The first is the large size of American deployment. More than 130,000 Americans (not counting civilian contractors) are soaking up in-country knowledge, gaining key language skills, cultural context and operational skill in a way that cannot be duplicated by the enemy unless the Jihadis could somehow send a similar number to America to learn the strengths and weaknesses of US society. Second, the very light American operational losses mean that most of these experienced people, especially noncoms and officers, will retain this experience within the national defense community and amplify it as they rise in rank and influence. Thirdly, the leadership of the Department of Defense is committed to transforming the military. Neither should it be forgotten that a similar and proportional learning effect is being experienced by Coalition contingents ranging from the Poles to the Japanese. What can be said with near certainty is that the future commanders of the national forces of these countries is now serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. By comparison, the Jihadis do not have a single leadership, simply a network of alliances between rival terrorist groups, with no institutional way to diffuse lessons learned upward. Their heavy losses, especially among their elite, means that their hard-won experience is either rapidly encapsulated in a coffin or a Guantanamo Bay cell. Lastly, the Jihadis are compelled to adopt a split deployment, in which unit leadership must be split between sanctuaries in Syria, Saudi Arabia or Iran and operators in the field. Returning Jihadis from Iraq (if they return) may therefore be regarded as rivals to their sanctuary-based counterparts, instead of part of a single seasoned continuum as would be the case of a returning battalion from the 101st Airborne. Iraq is more likely to be the birthplace of Islamic factions which will turn upon each other rather than the graveyard of Americans.

These factors suggest that the Jihadis are very poorly positioned to fight a protracted war. But the coup de grace will emerge from two disparate directions. The first is the growing number of Iraqi security forces fighting under US command, a force that is presently defensive, but which will inevitably become offensive. The second is the burgeoning US economy and the hardening commitment of the American people to the war, as reflected by President George Bush's poll numbers and the recent election victories of the Republican Party. Together with an immensely expanded experience base, these two factors will have an effect as decisive as the American mass-production advantage in World War 2.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Updates to Traffic Analysis

Right On Cue

Update: CENTCOM announced two raids against suspected terrorists. One by the 82nd Airborne in Fallujah, in which two former Iraqi army generals suspected of being terrorist paymasters and organizers were arrested and a cache of ammunition seized. Another in Al Hadid, north of Baghdad, by Task Force Ironhorse, composed of elements of the First and Fourth Infantry divisions who raided the right place but a little too late. They found:

33 blocks of dangerous explosives, 98ft. of detonation cord, 20 blasting caps, and abundant volatile munitions used in improvised explosive devices (and) ... a terrain model of forward operating bases Warhorse and Scunion, found in the building, indicated that the raided location had been used for planning attacks against coalition forces.

While the groups appeared to be on different operational planes, both seem linked to the former regime of Saddam Hussein, rooted within the Sunni triangle. There is nothing to obviously connect them to Syrian, Saudi or Iranian influences.

A Peek Behind the Wall of Operational Security

This happened last Friday and gives an indication of the kind of activity going on behind the scenes. From the UK Mirror:

A SPECIAL forces soldier was shot dead and four injured in a top secret mission in Iraq. Special Boat Service Corporal Ian Plank, 31, was gunned down in a battle with al-Qaeda terrorists. Four SAS soldiers were also wounded by guerrillas linked to Osama bin Laden's terror network. Cpl Plank and his team attacked a rebel hideout in the desolate wastes in the north of Iraq on Friday night. Dozens of enemy fighters were killed in the attack but Cpl Plank and the others were hit as the guerrillas returned fire.

Unlike the incident related above, the targets of the raid were probably non-Iraqi Al Qaeda. From the context, one may guess that the Al Qaeda had been infiltrated from Syria. Moreover, the SBS must have attempted the infantry assault, as opposed to calling down an air strike on the terrorists, in the hopes of taking prisoners. Corporal Plank died in an attempt to know more -- about what the Left says there is nothing to know.



Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Traffic Analysis

Today  CENTCOM went six days without a single new press release. Not that it had many even before. The last was issued two days before the the tragic shootdown of a Chinook helicopter carrying 33 American soldiers over Fallujah -- and had to do with administrative matters. Not a single press release in October announced the start of a new operation or campaign against the terrorists. Even blogs based in Iraq have been notably short on detail on what, if any, riposte CENTCOM has in store for spate of terrorist attacks launched against a variety of targets during the Ramadan, except that they have ceased to post as frequently as they used to. While the US reacted to the North Vietnamese Tet offensive in 1968 in a lot of public announced detail --  the Marines moving to retake Hue City, the First Cavalary moving against NVA formations moving down from the North -- CENTCOM has successfully managed to obliterate nearly every detailed account of its recent intentions and doings, even before the Ramadan.

Yet there are tantalizing glimpses into the frenzied activity taking place unnoticed by media coverage. There was, for example, a foiled attempt to attack the Iraqi Central Bank which resulted in the capture of six Moroccans. There are fragmentary reports of skirmishes between terrorists and American troops swirling around Iraqi judges in Mosul and Kirkuk and Najaf. There are hints of the scope of the intelligence assets that have been analyzed by US agencies. There are even suggestions that the Army has developed a set of new tactics for use in Baghdad and its environs. And there's the fact that the Muslim holy days come to a close on November 25th, opening the window to a sustained period of action.

When a large organization like CENTCOM goes silent it often implies that something is up. During the run up to the operation in Afghanistan in the months following September 11, there was also a marked decline in the definiteness of news accounts, a smoothing out of detail which was almost disorienting to the observer of current affairs. If it is a given that America is at war with terrorists in Iraq; it is also safe to say that America has shown a recent tendency to conduct operations in discontinuous bursts, introducing a package of new strategies and tactics and even equipment fairly suddenly to achieve surprise and decisive results before the enemy can react and adapt to them. One of the lessons of Vietnam, after all, was never again to respond incrementally to enemy actions. And the sustained quiet despite recent terrorist attacks, instead of a volley of announced security makeshifts and public assurances is ominous indeed.

For maximum destructive effect, American forces usually aim to draw the enemy into a sack; lull them into a false sense of success so that they redouble their efforts and expose more of their forces before dropping the hammer. Right now the Ba'athists and the Jihadis have expended a large portion of the monetary and strategic resources in acquiring standoff weapons, preparing remotely detonated explosive devices, car-bombs and training the personnel to use them. This has replaced the RPG and rifle attacks of the early days. Clearly this new terrorist operational doctrine is supported by a corresponding network of supply, training, planning and control. In principle, this doctrine is nothing more than an extension of the feyadeen tactics that were applied to the rear of US forces advancing on Baghad. Although its first incarnation was defeated, the enemy and some of the mainstream press feel that it may succeed in its improved form. The more successful this doctrine appears to be, the greater will be their material and political investment in underpinning it, and the more catastrophic its loss.

The Belmont Club has no crystal ball into the future. But it is reasonable to infer that CENTCOM would like nothing better than to deliver a riposte which will not only inflict heavy losses on the enemy, but force them to find a new operational doctrine as well. While the enemy may eventually adapt and rediscover newer methods, the Taliban experience demonstrates it may take months or years to so. By then, it will forever be too late for the Ba'ath or the Jihadis to reverse the course of Iraqi reconstruction.