THE 4GW FESTIVAL OF FABIUS MAXIMUS
” To summarize, we seek to radically change the cultures and political systems for much of the world, to halt foreign revolts and civil wars of which we do not approve, to bring global peace and prosperity, to make friends (even with those states whose rise we seek to restrain), and to “transform” our so far unreformable national security apparatus. Those who thought President Bush was kidding about these learned better in the months following our invasion of Iraq.”
– Fabius Maximus
For some time now, an author whose nom de guerre is “Fabius Maximus”, after the ancient Roman general of the Punic wars, has been a regular and at times, prolific, contributor to the Boydian and 4GW school oriented Defense & the National Interest. Fabius, who comments here at Zenpundit on occasion, also set off one of the most popular, if heated and controversial, threads at The Small Wars Council, catching the attention of noted COIN strategist Col. David Kilcullen. Kilcullen’s theories later became a subject of frequent critique from Fabius in his DNI articles.
While I had hoped to meet Fabius in person at Boyd 2007, he did not attend and I am not privy to his identity or professional background. Fabius’ arguments must rise or fall entirely on their own merit and he has been content to engage his critics on this basis at the SWC and elsewhere. Clearly he is a member of the 4GW school and is an admirer of Col. John Boyd, William Lind, Dr. Martin van Creveld and Dr. Chet Richards but has not shrunk from advancing his own ideas or original criticisms.
Recently, Fabius completed his tenth article in a series on America’s Long War for DNI and, as Fabius has entertained and enraged members of the community of “reform” defense intellectuals and COIN practitioners, it is timely for us to take stock of his strategic argument:
The Long War Series – from DNI’s Fabius Maximus Archive
Part X – One step beyond Lind: what is America’s geopolitical strategy?
Part IX – 4GW at work in a community near you,
Part VIII – How to accurately forecast trends of the Iraq War,
Part VII – Kilcullen explains all you need to know about the Iraq War,
Part VI – The bad news is that Lind’s good news is wrong,
Part V – The Iraq War as a warning for America,
Part IV – Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq,
Part III – Stories or statistics? Read and compare to find the truth!
Part II – News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!
Part I – America takes another step towards the “Long War,”
I have read the roughly 20,000 words offered here previously and I re-read them for this post. I have also read most of the authors of the original works that Fabius Maximus cites in his series. Therefore, I feel qualified to offer a few observations in regard to the strategic paradigm that this body of work represents and the assumptions, clearly stated as well as implicit, upon which it is built.
Many of the specific analytical criticisms of American policy and performance in Iraq and Afghanistan made by Fabius are incisive, some are rather questionable and a few are brilliant. I encourage you to read his efforts for yourself rather than simply accepting my word for it. What interests me most though, given the scope of the series, are his premises. As I discern them, they are:
That 4GW is the environment in which we find ourselves conducting operations – and doing so quite poorly at that with a military predisposed toward 2GW offensives. Or irrelevantly on the strategic level where we happen to be executing COIN well on the tactical level.
We cannot significantly affect the internal dynamics of alien societies that we understand poorly or not at all, regardless of the carrots or sticks used. We are marginal factors at best.
American war policy is being constructed on the false analogy of the Cold War model.
Al Qaida is more phantom than menace.
War is the wrong conceptual metaphor and the wrong operational-bureaucratic response to the conflict in which we find ourselves.
Our response, which serves bureaucratic and factional interests at homes, undermines our global strategic position and wastes our economic strength.
A better grand strategy for America is nonintervention and reducing friction with the rest of the world. Or failing that, at least bolstering states, any states, rather than collapsing them into failure with military attack or other pressures ( Lind’s “Centers of Order vs. Centers of Disorder”)
If George Kennan argued for “Containment” of Soviet Communism in his “X” article the best descriptor of the grand strategy of Fabius Maximus might be ” Conservancy” – dialing down our kinetic response to terrorism to the surgical level and recognizing this contest as more ideological conflict than war and, in general, recognizing our limitations in attempting to become masters of the universe. Many readers would associate this paradigm with the Left but I believe that to be incorrect. Instead, reflecting a deeply paleoconservative reading of history and American traditions in foreign policy that historian Walter A. McDougal called “Promised Land” and others “city on a hill” and ” isolationism”.
The virtues of “conservancy” as I interpret Fabius is that it minimizes both costs and future commitments for the United States, leaving us better able to afford to deal with strategic threats to vital national interests, when unanticipated threats arise, as they surely will. It would serve as a reality check on statesmen to pursue fewer, more coherent, simpler, more easily realizable and markedly cheaper objectives, which will have far higher probability of success ( as opposed to say, attacking Iran while engaged in Iraq. Or perhaps invading Russia in winter or fighting a land war in Asia. Some folks around PACOM with a few years ago with uber-journalist Robert Kaplan’s ear, thought an unprovoked war with China was a splendid idea). When forced to intervene, our footprint will be light; more like British frontier agents of old or the 55 advisers in El Salvador in the 1980’s than the invasion of Iraq. As a nation, our foreign policy would stay on the good side of the diminishing returns curve.
The drawbacks include, in my view: being flatly incorrect about al Qaida’s potential to initiate attacks on the operational or strategic level specifically, and about the threat of radical Islamist-Mahdist movements in general, when coupled with increasing capacities to leverage against complex systems ( see John Robb’s Brave New War); underestimating the geopolitical ripple effect of the U.S. shifting to a conservancy posture, upending the global security arrangements upon which the calculations of statesmen currently depend. The unanticipated consequences of the latter are large. Within two to three levels of unfolding decision-tree possibilities, any potential response by the U.S. is simply swamped. We benefit by the status quo. Changing our position imposes costs.
I invite Fabius Maximus to respond as he likes and I will publish his remarks here, unedited. Readers are invited to offer their own critique in the comments section.