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By the Eternal

Friday, January 9th, 2015

[recalled by Lynn C. Rees]

January 8, 1815, 200 years ago today, the British Empire was sentenced to oblivion.

As Andrew Jackson killed the infernal Bank of the United States, a frustrated Congressman, opposed to Jackson, jotted down his thoughts. The first jot was draft of a resolution of impeachment against Jackson, throwing him under the BUS. The second jot characterized an incident from Jackson’s youth as a politically expedient fiction.

The paper, left accidentally on the floor of the House, fell into the hands of the editor of the Globe, who described it to General Jackson. On this occasion the General was betrayed, by his ungovernable wrath, into the use of language that had seldom fallen from his lips since the death of his wife. “The d—ed, infernal scoundrel!” roared the President. “Put your finger here, Mr. Blair,” he added, pointing to the long dent in his head…

Mr. Blair found that the wound had been far more serious than was supposed. He could lay a whole finger in the scar.

Jackson earned the wound at age thirteen.

The activity and zeal of the Waxhaw whigs coming to the ears of Lord Rawdon, whom Cornwallis had left in command, he dispatched a small body of dragoons to aid the tories of that infected neighborhood. The Waxhaw people hearing of the approach of this hostile force, resolved upon resisting it in open fight and named the Waxhaw meeting house as the rendezvous. Forty whigs assembled on the appointed day, mounted and armed; and among them were Robert and Andrew Jackson. In the grove about the old church, these forty were waiting for the arrival—hourly expected—of another company of whigs from a neighboring settlement. The British officer in command of the dragoons, apprised of the rendezvous by a tory of the neighborhood, determined to surprise the patriot party before the two companies had united. Before coming in sight of the church, he placed a body of tories, wearing the dress of the country, far in advance of his soldiers, and so marched upon the devoted band. The Waxhaw party saw a company of armed men approaching, but concluding them to be their expected friends, made no preparations for defense. Too late the error was discovered. Eleven of the forty were taken prisoners, and the rest sought safety in flight, fiercely pursued by the dragoons. The brothers…took refuge in a thicket, in which they passed a hungry and anxious night.

The next morning the pangs of hunger compelled them to leave their safe retreat and go in quest of food. The nearest house was that of [their cousin, United States Army] Lieutenant [Thomas] Crawford. Leaving their horses and arms in the thicket, the lads crept toward the house, which they reached in safety. Meanwhile, a tory traitor of the neighborhood had scented out their lurking place, found their horses and weapons, and set a party of dragoons upon their track. Before the family had a suspicion of danger, the house was surrounded, the doors were secured, and the boys were prisoners.

A scene ensued which left an impression upon the mind of one of the boys which time never effaced…the dragoons, brutalized by this mean partisan warfare, began to destroy with wild riot and noise the contents of the house. Crockery, glass, and furniture were dashed to pieces; beds emptied; the clothing of the family torn to rags…While this destruction was going on, the officer in command of the party ordered Andrew to clean his high jackboots, which were well splashed and crusted with mud. The boy replied, not angrily, though with a certain firmness and decision, in something like these words:

“Sir. I am a prisoner of war, and claim to be treated as such.”

The officer glared at him like a wild beast, and aimed a desperate blow at the boy’s head with his sword. Andrew broke the force of the blow with his left hand, and thus received two wounds—one deep gash on his head, and another on his hand, the marks of both of which he carried to his grave. The officer, after achieving this gallant feat, turned to Robert Jackson, and ordered him to clean the boots. Robert also refused. The valiant Briton struck the young man so violent a sword-blow upon the head as to prostrate and disable him

Jackson’s oldest brother Hugh had died a year earlier while fighting in the Battle of Stono Ferry. After their capture, Jackson and his older brother Robert caught smallpox. Their mother got them released but Robert died after only a few days. Jackson’s mother volunteered to nurse captured American soldiers imprisoned by the British in prison ships. She died of the cholera and was buried in an unmarked grave. At age 14, Jackson was an orphan.

Jackson was a champion hater. He was good at hating and he knew it. He was remorseless in what he chose to hate. When revelations of past transgressions drove his beloved wife to her death (as Jackson saw it), he swore, “May God Almighty forgive her murderers. I never can.” He mourned at the end of his presidency that, he’d “been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun.” But he would forgive who he would forgive. Senator Thomas Hart “”I never quarrel, sir, but I do fight, sir, and when I fight, sir, a funeral follows, sir.” Benton (D-MO), who’d seriously wounded Jackson in an 1813 street brawl, later became a close political ally. Hart summed up Jackson’s bright side: “Yes, sir, I knew him, sir; General Jackson was a very great man, sir. I shot him, sir. Afterward he was of great use to me, sir, in my battle with the United States Bank.” Equally, Hart summed up the fate of those who Jackson chose to hate: “When Andrew Jackson starts talking about hanging, men begin looking for ropes.”

Understand this: Jackson hated the British. Hated. When he received word that the British had landed before New Orleans 34 years later, whatever else happened, Jackson’s thirsting heart must have leapt in his chest (carefully, for there was a bullet lodged next to it).

Vengeance was his. He would repay. “By the Eternal!”, Jackson thundered, “They shall not sleep on our soil.”

New Orleans was the gateway of the North American continent. 15 years before, the importance of the City Under the Sea drove even President Thomas Jefferson, whose hatred of Britain, though carefully veiled behind multiple layers of hypocrisy, challenged even Jackson’s, to write to his minister to France:

There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants. France placing herself in that door assumes to us the attitude of defiance. Spain might have retained it quietly for years. Her pacific dispositions, her feeble state, would induce her to increase our facilities there, so that her possession of the place would be hardly felt by us, and it would not perhaps be very long before some circumstance might arise which might make the cession of it to us the price of something of more worth to her. Not so can it ever be in the hands of France. The impetuosity of her temper, the energy and restlessness of her character, placed in a point of eternal friction with us, and our character, which though quiet, and loving peace and the pursuit of wealth, is high-minded, despising wealth in competition with insult or injury, enterprising and energetic as any nation on earth, these circumstances render it impossible that France and the U.S. can continue long friends when they meet in so irritable a position. They as well as we must be blind if they do not see this; and we must be very improvident if we do not begin to make arrangements on that hypothesis. The day that France takes possession of N[ew] Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low water mark. It seals the union of two nations who in conjunction can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation. We must turn all our attentions to a maritime force, for which our resources place us on very high grounds: and having formed and cemented together a power which may render reinforcement of her settlements here impossible to France, make the first cannon, which shall be fired in Europe the signal for tearing up any settlement she may have made, and for holding the two continents of America in sequestration for the common purposes of the united British and American nations.

Circumstances and mosquitoes soon made Buonaparte’s designs for the Americas an unaffordable luxury. The sale of Louisiana to the United States the following year spared Jefferson from having to resort to something as distasteful as a British-American alliance. Yet that nation of shopkeepers had a heart always filled with avarice for shiny things that belonged to others. John Bull cast his covetous eyes on New Orleans and decided to take it. Britain wanted to deny freedom access to sea.

As Buonaparte had been blown apart in 1814, Britain decided to double down on the pesky Americans and their contemptible little war to win the freedom of the seas by holding Canada and its trees, vital to keep Britain’s navy afloat, hostage. So it was that Edward Pakenham, brother-in-law of noted British general Arthur Wellesley, found himself at the head of a British army, many of them veterans of Britain’s war against Buonaparte in Portugal and Spain, facing an American fortification five miles south of New Orleans.

Opposing them was the fury of Andrew Jackson and a core part of America’s future ethos. Though the British outnumbered the Americans numerically, Jackson’s rage and destiny outnumbered the British spiritually. Here, in its primeval form, was one of the storied American tropes: Slobs vs Snobs:

They are well groomed, clean, stylishly dressed, and treat those around as inferior, be it at a Renaissance court or a slum. They are scruffy, dirty, dressed entirely from the used clothes discount pile, and act like boorish rabble.

They will usually be in close proximity, at least in the same neighborhood, city, or space sector. And of course they fight. The scale of the conflict can be any size, be it a clique vs. clique social power struggle in a school, a street brawl between rival gangs, or two species or even Planet of Hats at war. When cranked Up to Eleven, it can cross into armed revolution, or either Kill the Poor or Eat the Rich.

Beyond the superficial dichotomy this conflict is one of lifestyle and worldview. The Snobs are epicurean, refined, and educatedbut classist and vain, while Slobs are honest, revelrous and dionysianbut violent and dangerous. As a narrative device, Slobs Versus Snobs is notable in that it rarely presents both sides equally. More often than not, the Slobs are presented in a far more sympathetic light than the Snobs.On the Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty, Snobs would be shiny and Slobs would be gritty.

Jackson’s Vengeance Posse was the original Ragtag Bunch of Misfits:

This mission is important. The fate of the battle, nay, the war, nay, the entire world rests on the outcome. Who has the capability to stick it out, to give the good guys the victory they desperately need? This calls for a special team. The group of experienced, highly skilled, professional, team-oriented experts? Not them. The assorted group of ex-con lowlife inexperienced jerk–es who are trying to off their commander when they aren’t going at each other? Yeah, them.

Jackson’s force of 4,732 was made up of “968 US Army regulars, 58 US Marines, 106 seamen, 1,060 Louisiana Militia and volunteers (including 462 free people of color), 1,352 Tennessee Militia, 986 Kentucky Militia, 150 Mississippi Militia, and 52 Choctaw warriors”.

And pirates. Real pirates. Real pirates led by a real pirate. Pirates of the Caribbean (or, at least, Barataria Bay).

Preparation is un-American. Jackson’s force was thrown together at the last millisecond. It was made up of frontiersmen, pirates, civilians, and random passersby. Some were Anglos, some were French, some were black, some were Indians. Somehow they were going to hold off a veteran army led by veteran officers (or their relatives). It should have been a walkover. Instead, the Americans were treated to a parade of military ineptitude that rivals the comical defeat of a “legion” of the Galactic Empire’s “best troops” by a Wookie and some spear-wielding teddy bears on the Moon of Endor 4 years after the Battle of Yavin.

Jackson himself might have described the American fortifications thus:

It is impossible to conceive a situation more eligible for defence than the one they had chosen and the skill which they manifested in their breastwork was really astonishing. It extended across the point in such a direction as that a force approaching would be exposed to a double fire, while they lay entirely safe behind it. It would have been impossible to have raked it with cannon to any advantage even if we had had possession of one extremity.

Jackson did once describe an enemy fortification thus. But it was the Red Sticks’ fort at Horsehoe Bend he was describing and the British were on their way to being the stooge in another Andrew Jackson special: uncertain and tense beginning of a battle followed by walkover and then massacre of the enemy. The Red Sticks started well but eventually Jackson’s forces, attacking instead of defending a line, overwhelmed the Red Sticks. The Red Sticks lost 857 killed and 206 wounded out of a force of about 1,000 warriors. For the British, it wouldn’t quite be Flanders Fields but the shade of Passchendaele overshadowed the battlefield. Prophecy soaked the mud and bogs of the Dead Marshes of Louisiana.

The British attempted a frontal assault on the American fortifications. Scaling ladders were misplaced. Fascines were left behind. Men got stuck crossing canals or bogged down in the swampy ground. Formations became confused. Veteran soldiers milled around like clueless n00bs. American regulars joined with the pirates to man the artillery and pour grapeshot into confused masses of redcoats. British officers, from Pakenham down, were shot and killed by American grapeshot and marksmen as they tried to bring order out of black comedy. While other men stood behind the breastwork and loaded their rifles, American riflemen would aim, fire, and hand the empty rifle behind them in exchange for a loaded rifle, achieving rapid fire. The few British solders who made it on top of the American breastworks were killed easily.

Wikipedia summarizes what Jackson and his ragtag bunch of misfits saw as the smoke cleared and the British limped away:

At the end of the day, the British had 2,042 casualties: 291 killed (including Generals Pakenham and Gibbs), 1,267 wounded (including General Keane) and 484 captured or missing. The Americans had 71 casualties: 13 dead; 39 wounded, and 19 missing.

As Jackson surveyed the battlefield, even his 13 year old self might have been satisfied with driving the English back into the sea with their forked tongues and their tails between their legs. As James Parton, an early biographer of Jackson wrote later:

Those who were intimately acquainted with Andrew Jackson, and they alone, can know something of the feelings of the youth while the events of this morning were transpiring; what paroxysms of contemptuous rage shook his slender frame when he saw his cousin’s wife insulted, her house profaned, his brother gashed, himself as powerless to avenge as to protect. “I’ll warrant Andy thought of it at New Orleans.“, said an aged relative of all the parties to me in an old farm house not far from the scene of [that] morning’s dastardly work.

And Poodle Nation learned, forever as it turned out, to never fight the plucky underdog. Underdogs never lose. Especially with the pirates of Andrew Jackson at the guns.

American Caesar — a reread after 30 years

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur 188-1964, by William Manchester

Often on weekends my wife allows me to tag along as she takes in area estate sales. She’s interested in vintage furniture, and I hope for a decent collection of books. A sale we visited a couple months ago had very few books, but of those few was a hardback copy of American Caesar. I purchased the copy for $1 and mentioned to my wife, “I’ll get to this again someday…” as I’d first read Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur in the early 1980’s while stationed on my first submarine. “Someday” started on the car ride home (she was driving), and I must admit: American Caesar was even better thirty years later. Manchester is a masterful biographer, and equal to the task of such a larger-than-life subject.

MacArthur still evokes passion among admirers and detractors. One take-away from the second reading was just how well-read MacArthur and his father were. When MacArthur the elder died, he left over 4,000 books in his library—both seemed to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of history and warfare. Highly recommended.

PS: I visited the MacArthur Memorial, in Norfolk, Virginia, recently while in town for business and would recommend as well.

Octavian Manea Interviews General David Petraeus

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

[by Mark Safranski a.k.a. “zen“]

Octavian Manea has had an excellent series of COIN  interviews at SWJ and this is one of the more important ones:

Reflections on the “Counterinsurgency Decade”: Small Wars Journal Interview with General David H. Petraeus

SWJ: In his recent op-ed published in the New York Times, “The Pipe Dream of Easy War”, General H.R. McMaster warned against the fantasy of “a new era of war”, and especially about the dangers in the blind faith in the transformative effects that technology promises to have on war. He argued that over the past counterinsurgency (COIN) decade we relearned a few lessons that we really should keep in mind as we head into the future: “American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments”. His warning reminds me of an article you wrote in 1986 with General John Galvin about “uncomfortable wars”. You warned to take into consideration “the societal dimension of warfare”. To what extent do you see that prophecy still holding true post Iraq and post Afghanistan?

General Petraeus: I think the essence of the article back in 1986 with General Galvin was frankly the importance of the human terrain in each particular situation, and the importance of understanding the terrain, having a very nuanced, detailed feel for the context of each situation, not just nationally, but sub-nationally and literally all the way down to each valley and each village. That kind of knowledge was achieved in Iraq and helped us enormously during the Surge. We had a greater understanding there, earlier than we did in Afghanistan, just because we had so many more forces on the ground, 165,000 American military alone at the height of the surge. In Afghanistan at the height of our deployment, we had 100,000 US troopers and about 50,000 coalitional forces, and we maintained that level for a relatively brief period of time. As I noted on a number of occasions, we never really got the inputs close to right in Afghanistan until late 2010.

So, noting the importance of human terrain, I believe, is a fundamental aspect of crafting a counterinsurgency campaign. In fact, it was the biggest of the big ideas when we launched the Surge in Iraq, and we knew that since the human terrain was the decisive terrain, we would had to secure it as our principal focus – and to do so by living with the people, locating forward operating bases/joint security stations in the neighborhoods and villages, and specifically right on the sectarian fault-lines across which the heaviest fighting was ongoing in the capital. We ultimately established 77 additional locations just in the Baghdad area of operations alone, and many dozens more elsewhere throughout the country. There were other big ideas to be sure:  e.g., that you can’t kill or capture your way out of an industrial strength insurgency, such as we faced, therefore you need to reconcile with as many of the insurgents as was possible, seeking to maximize the number of the reconcilables; correspondingly, we also needed to intensify our campaign of targeted operations against the irreconcilables. But I think, fundamentally, it comes back to this issue, that it is all about people, counterinsurgency operations are wars in, among, and, in essence, for the people. And the first task of any counterinsurgency campaign has to be to secure those people.

Read the rest here.

Is 4GW Dead?: Point-Counterpoint and Commentary

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

4GW theory has always attracted overenthusiasts and  raging haters ever since the concept emerged way back in 1989, so debates about the merit of 4GW are nothing new; in fact, the arguments became so routine that they had largely gone sterile years ago.  After T.X. Hammes published his excellent  The Sling and the Stone and John Robb  went to the next level with Brave New War , it seemed that  little new was left to be said. In the late 2000’s, intellectual energies shifted to arguing the nuances and flaws of Pop-centric COINwhich proved in time to be even more bitter than those about 4GW.

Generations of War Theory Visualized by Chet Richards

What is different recently is that the person taking the affirmative on the question “Is 4GW dead?” was Dr. Chet Richards, who for years ran the premier but now defunct 4GW site, D-N-I.net, now archived here by the Project on Government Oversight.  Richards is no Clausewitzian true-believer or Big Army MBA with stars, but a former collaborator with John Boyd and a leading thinker of the 4GW school who had written several books with that strategic theme.

Therefore, not a critic to be dismissed lightly. Here’s Chet:

Is 4GW Dead? 

….The first thing to note is that 4GW is an evolution from 3GW, which they equate to maneuver warfare and the blitzkrieg as defined in MCDP 1 and Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict. These are styles of warfare conducted by state armies against other state armies, although the paper does invoke the notion of transnational terrorists near the end.

At some point in the late 1990s, the theory bifurcated. Bill Lind and Martin van Creveld began to emphasize the decline of the state and focus on transnational guerrilla organizations like al-Qa’ida. Tom Barnett called this the “road warrior” model. T. X. Hammes, on the other hand, characterized 4GW as “evolved insurgency” and envisioned the techniques described in the paragraphs above as also useful for state-vs-state conflicts.

….The 9/11 attacks, by a transnational guerrilla movement, seemed to confirm 4GW in both of its forms. In the last few years, however, everything has gone quiet. Transnational insurgencies, “global guerrillas” as John Robb terms them, have not become a significant factor in geopolitics. “Continuing irritation” might best describe them, whose primary function seems to be upholding national security budgets in frightened western democracies. The state system has not noticeably weakened. So it might be fair at this point to conclude that although 4GW was a legitimate theory, well supported by logic and data, the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it proposed.

A prominent critic of 4GW, Antulio J. Echevarria, may have been correct:

What we are really seeing in the war on terror, and the campaign in Iraq and elsewhere, is that the increased “dispersion and democratization of technology, information, and finance” brought about by globalization has given terrorist groups greater mobility and access worldwide. At this point, globalization seems to aid the nonstate actor more than the state, but states still play a central role in the support or defeat of terrorist groups or insurgencies.

Why? I’ll offer this hypothesis, that the primary reason warfare did not evolve a fourth generation is that it didn’t live long enough. The opening of Sir Rupert Smith’s 2005 treatise, The Utility of Force, states the case….

Chet’s post spurred a sharp rebuttal from William Lind, “the Father of Fourth Generation Warfare”:

4GW is Alive and Well 

So “the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it (4GW) proposed”? How do you say that in Syriac?

The basic error in Chet Richards’ piece of April 19, “Is 4GW dead?” is confusing the external and internal worlds. Internally, in the U.S. military and the larger defense and foreign policy establishment, 4GW is dead, as is maneuver warfare and increasingly any connection to the external world. The foreign policy types can only perceive a world of states, in which their job is to promote the Wilsonian nee Jacobin, follies of “democracy” and “universal human rights.” They are in fact, 4GW’s allies, in that their demand for “democracy” undermines states, opening the door for more 4GW.

In most of the world, democracy is not an option. The only real options are tyranny or anarchy, and when you work against tyranny, you are working for anarchy. The ghost of bin Laden sends his heartfelt thanks.

Third Generation doctrine has been abandoned, de facto, if not de jure, by the one service that embraced it, the U.S. Marine Corps. The others never gave it a glance. The U.S. military remains and will remain second generation until it disappears from sheer irrelevance coupled with high cost. That is coming much sooner than any of them think.

….In many of these cases, including Egypt and Pakistan, the only element strong enough to hold the state together is the army. But the “democracy” crowd in Washington immediately threatens aid cut-offs, sanctions, etc., if the army acts. Again, the children now running America’s foreign policy are 4GW’s best allies.

Fourth generation war includes far more than just Islamic “terrorism,” and we see it gaining strength in areas far from the Middle East. Gangs have grown so powerful in Mexico, right on our border, that I predict the state will soon have to make deals with them, as the PRI has done in the past. Invasion by immigrants who do not acculturate is a powerful form of 4GW, more powerful than any terrorism, and that is occurring on a north-south basis (except Australia) literally around the world. Remember, most of the barbarians did not invade the Roman Empire to destroy it. They just wanted to move in. In fact, most were invited in. Sound familiar?

What should concern us most is precisely the disconnect between the internal and external worlds. Externally, 4GW is flourishing, while internally, in the US government and military, it does not exist. This is the kind of chasm into which empires can disappear….

Fabius Maximus – who is a both a pseudonymous blogger and a group blog, also responded:

Update about one of the seldom-discussed trends shaping our world: 4GW 

One of the interesting aspects of recent history is the coincidence of

  1. the collapse of discussion about 4GW in US military and geopolitical circles,
  2. victories by insurgents using 4GW methods over foreign armies in Iraq and Afghanistan, &
  3. most important, the perhaps history-making victory by Bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

The second point is important to us, but the usual outcome since WW2 (after which 4GW became the dominate form of military conflict; see section C below).  The third point is the big one. Based on the available information, one of Bin Laden’s goals was to destabilize the US political regime. Massive increase in military spending (using borrowed funds). The bill of rights being shredded (note yesterday’s House vote to tear another strip from the 4th amendment). Our Courts holding show trials of terrorists — recruited, financed, supported by our security services. Torture and concentration camps.

….We — the Second American Republic — have engaged in a war with nationalistic, Islamic forces using 4GW.  So far we are losing.  For various reasons we are unable to even perceive the nature of the threat. In DoD the hot dot is again procurement of high-tech weapons — new ships, the F-35, the hypersonic cruise missile, etc.  All useless in the wars we’ve fought for the past 50 years, and probably in those of the next 50 years….. 

A few comments.

4GW has been heavily criticized – and accurately so – for making selective use of history, for unsupported maximal claims, for an excessively and ahistorically linear argument and for shifting or vaguely defined terms. Presented rigidly, it is relatively easy for critics to poke holes in it simply by playing “gotcha” (some of the criticism of 4GW did not get beyond ad hominem level garbage, but more intellectually serious detractors made very effective critiques of 4GW’s flaws).

That said, there were a number of useful elements or insights in the body of 4GW writings that retain their utility and I think are worth recalling:

  • Whatever one thinks of 4GW as a whole, the school drew attention to the threat of non-state irregular warfare, failed states and the decline of state vs. state warfare and did so long before it was Pentagon conventional wisdom or trendy Beltway talking head spiels on Sunday morning news programs.
  • While the state is not in decline everywhere in an absolute sense, it sure is failing in some places and has utterly collapsed elsewhere. Failed, failing and hollowed out states are nexus points for geopolitical problems and feature corruption, black globalization, insurgency, tribalism, terrorism, transnational criminal organizations and zones of humanitarian crisis. Whether we call these situations “irregular”, “hybrid”, “decentralized and polycentric”, “LIC”, “4GW” or everyone’s favorite, “complex” matters less than using force to achieve political aims becomes increasingly difficult as the interested parties and observers multiply. Some of the advice offered by the 4GW school regarding “the moral level of war”, de-escalation and the perils of fighting the weak in such a conflict environment are all to the good for reducing friction.
  • The emphasis of the 4GW school on the perspective of the irregular fighter and their motivations not always fitting neatly within state-centric realpolitik, Galula-ish “Maoist Model” insurgency, Clausewitzian best strategic practice or the Western intellectual tradition, were likewise ahead of their time and contrary to S.O.P. Even today, the effort to see the world through the eyes of our enemies is at best, anemic. Red teams are feared more than they are loved. Or utilized.
  • The bitter criticism the 4GW school lodged of the American political elite being allergic to strategic thinking and ignorant of strategy in general was apt; that American strategy since the end of the Cold War has been exceedingly inept in thought and execution is one of the few points on which the most rabid 4GW advocate and diehard Clausewitzian can find themselves in full agreement.

The lessons of 4GW will still be relevant wherever men fight in the rubble of broken societies, atomized communities and failed states.

Octavian Manea interviews MIT’s Roger D. Peterson

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Another installment of Octavian Manea’s excellent COIN interview series at SWJ. This one focuses on social science and varieties of insurgency:

Breaking Down “Hearts and Minds”: The Power of Individual Causal Mechanisms in an Insurgency 

….OM: In your research you pointed out to a spectrum of conceivable individual roles in an insurgency. What is the methodology behind this typology?

RDP: This methodology comes from my 2001 book (Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe) which focused on Lithuanian resistance to Soviets in the 1940’s. Insurgency is a complex phenomenon, especially in how violent organization and networks are created and sustained, and the methodology of that book involved breaking down this complexity into component parts and then building back up into a coherent whole. At the base of this process is the way individuals position themselves relative to the dramatic and violent events of insurgency. Most people may wish to remain neutral and just take care of their families but events push significant numbers of individuals into roles of unarmed support of insurgents, or local armed position of a militia, membership in a mobile non-local organization, or equivalent positions in support of the government.  Furthermore, individuals may move back and forth along this spectrum of roles. If one is skeptical of broad and vague theories at a high level of aggregation, as I am, then you need to get down and observe dynamics at a basic level. Observing movement along this spectrum of roles is one way to do that. 

…..Is it FM 3-24 and the whole contemporary Western COIN discourse too narrow, too much focused on rational, cost/benefit models of decision-making? Is it too restrictive when making this inventory of driving motivations or causal mechanisms?

RDP: I think there is a tendency in the Western academic analysis to focus on rational theories. Those theories are straightforward.  But they also might be too straightforward, too simple.  In Iraq, the coalition did not plan on the emotion of resentment stemming from a status reversal affecting Sunni calculations in the beginning stages of the conflict. We did not understand the revenge norms that exist in some of the places. We did not fully understand the social norms that helped to produce the tribal militias in Anbar province.  We did not understand the psychological mechanisms underlying the Sunni view of the new world they were living in. 

The last part is a curious lacuna.

The incompetence of the planning for the occupation of Iraq has been amply recorded – the high level disdain of General Tommy Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld for what befell the day after victory, the keeping of professional Arabists at arms length in preference for Beltway contractors and college kids with AEI connections, the haplessness of Jay Garner and the political obtuseness of Paul Bremer ad so on. This is not what I mean about lacuna.

I mean something more fundamental, in terms of understanding human nature as the root of political behavior and therefore political violence. We are all familiar with the Clausewitzian trinity (or should be) but less attention is paid to the motivational factors that make men decide to stand, fight and die or stand aside. Thucydides also had a trinity that did not attempt to capture the nature of war but rather explain why wars happened and it seems to me to be of particular use for evaluating the decision in small wars to pick up a gun or not, to side with the government or join the rebellion:

“Surely, Lacedaemonians, neither by the patriotism that we displayed at that crisis, nor by the wisdom of our counsels, do we merit our extreme unpopularity with the Hellenes, not at least unpopularity for our empire. That empire we acquired by no violent means, but because you were unwilling to prosecute to its conclusion the war against the barbarian, and because the allies attached themselves to us and spontaneously asked us to assume the command. And the nature of the case first compelled us to advance our empire to its present height; fear being our principal motive, though honour and interest afterwards came in. And at last, when almost all hated us, when some had already revolted and had been subdued, when you had ceased to be the friends that you once were, and had become objects of suspicion and dislike, it appeared no longer safe to give up our empire; especially as all who left us would fall to you. And no one can quarrel with a people for making, in matters of tremendous risk, the best provision that it can for its interest. 

Fear, honor and interest are ever present in “calculation” both by men and by the political communities they compose and the factions that threaten to tear them apart. All the more so in a defeated and broken country divided by ethnicity and sect where all parties were uneasily eyeing the conqueror. No special knowledge of Arab culture should have been required to anticipate that Iraqi men, if made desperate by uncertainty and circumstance, might have at least seen it in their interest to achieve some measure of security with the gun and to enact policies of carrots and sticks a priori to discourage that, before the insurgency gained critical mass.

Awareness of the universality of the Thucydidean trinity would not have in itself guaranteed success in Iraq but knowing it is a rudimentary minimum of political competence upon which you can at least build.


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