Friday, April 23, 2004

No More Groupement Mobile 100s

In 1954 a motorized infantry regiment consisting of 3 battalions of crack French soldiery, led by highly experienced officers and NCOs, equipped with light armor, artillery and an abundance of automatic weapons was virtually annihilated in the Vietnamese Central Highlands. The French column had been expecting an ambush. They had light spotter aircraft overhead. Air support was on call. Where action was expected, they dismounted infantry to scout ahead. Before undertaking the road march, the French had divided their weapons so that each battalion was a miniature combined arms unit, ready to fight in a perimeter. But it only made things worse. Groupement Mobile 100 was destroyed by the 803rd Vietminh regiment. It was one of the final blows in a disastrous campaign which cost the French more than 170,000 troops and the loss of their Indochinese possessions. This was the legacy of Vietnam.

Across the world in North Africa, the French faced another foe and met it with different methods. Unlike the Vietnamese, the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) fought in the Arab way. In place of conventional maneuver they used political warfare and terrorism, often directed against the Algerians themselves, inflicting a kind of self-mutilation that would stop only when their insistent demands were met. Indeed, large scale French intervention was prompted by the FLN massacre of 123 civilians at Philippeville. The French, for their part, responded by fighting an intelligence war, repeatedly striking at the leadership structures of the FLN. Amazingly, they broke the FLN and forced it to seek sanctuary in Tunisia and Morocco. But although it had won a military victory, the FLN continued to deny Algeria any degree of stability. Finally a Charles de Gaulle seeking the French presidency struck a deal and evacuated Algeria. French military losses exceeded 18,000. The FLN had killed 12,000 -- nearly as many of their own as French soldiers -- in internal purges. Nearly 80,000 noncombatants died and France fled.

A generation obsessed with Vietnam was blind to the fact that the Algerian war provided a far more powerful model of offensive action against the West than Indochina. It was always impossible for Giap to transport his coolies and NVA regiments overseas, but it was clearly feasible, indeed only a matter of time before the Arabs extended their operations overseas. And extend it they did. The methods of assassination, terrorism, intimidation and political warfare rapidly became internationalized, reaching Europe as early as 1972 during the Munich Olympics. It took easy root in the secret societies of the Middle East and spread outward from there. When radical Islamism found its confidence in Afghanistan and its money in Saudi Arabia, it found its weapon in terrorism: the Arab Way of War. From the very beginning the plan of campaign was never strictly military. It was always politico-military, tuned to the internal weaknesses of the Western enemy. The French had been understandably evicted from Indochina by being militarily beaten by the Vietnamese. But the French had been ousted from Algeria -- part of Metropolitan France -- despite beating the FLN; that was the lesson and legacy of Algeria.

Taken in this context Osama Bin Laden can be forgiven for believing that the defensive phase of Islam's war against the West has long ended. He considered it to be in its final offensive stages, so far advanced that a strike against New York City, the Pentagon and White House was perhaps overdue. Osama draws confidence from his belief that the new Arab Way of War has never been defeated, not in Algeria, Soviet Afghanistan nor in Somalia. The possible withdrawal of Honduras, the Dominican Republic and perhaps Thailand from Iraq truly shows the power of his methods. Most conventional military establishments are simply incapable of surviving on the terrorist battlefield, their armed men no better than civilians. But the withdrawals solve nothing. Radical Islamists know there is no reason in principle why they cannot follow retreating European forces to their home ground and rout them there, where they will if anything be more hamstrung, using the immense Islamic immigrant communities as their base. For the first time in 600 years, Western Europe stands before an Oriental enemy it cannot defeat on the battlefield. The commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, Lt. General John Vines contrasted the GWOT to Vietnam. This, he says, is a "national war for our survival as a nation". Europe knows this too but are subconsciously already beaten.

The sole obstacles to the wave of darkness are the Anglosphere -- and ironically for the Europeans -- Israel. The strongest proof against the irresistibility of terrorism is Israel, which is often dented, but never seriously hurt by Arab Way of warfare. Indeed, at each clash the terrorists whine at being unfairly worsted because the Israelis have shown themselves capable of dealing out punishment an order of magnitude greater than they suffer. Israel is particularly irksome because it diminishes the psychological aura the Islamists work so hard to achieve. How can terrorism plausibly defeat America if it cannot beat a handful of Jews? And America too, is a deadly enemy. Already militarily invincible and capable of immense adaptation, it has already solved the military problems the French faced in Vietnam. Never again can a regimental force be marshaled against an American unit, like NVA Regiment 803. Now America is facing the challenge of a modern Algeria, the prototypical terrorist war. Waging a covert war across the globe, America is likely to succeed, like the French, in destroying the terrorist leadership cadres. Terrorism remains confident that America will be politically defeated though even here doubt grows, because America is also groping for a model of political warfare to use against its enemies. But maybe Osama is right. The Democratic Party continues to conflate one challenge with the other; to see in Iraq another Vietnam; and to offer up in Kerry not a John Kennedy but another Charles de Gaulle.