Idiot Colossus: The Philistinism of American Arms Part Two by Bill Buppert

Publisher’s Note: This is Part Two of what could potentially be a never-ending series elucidating and describing the incredible story of the richest and most technologically advanced fighting force in the history of mankind falling flat-footed and defeated at every turn. The cavalcade of calamities that is the military industrial complex has managed to deliver spectacular duds throughout its august existence to include the latest additions in broken naval vessels like the Zumwalt and the $2.1 billion fleet of Expeditionary Fast Transports, the continuing drama of the hideously expensive fighter platforms with no foreseeable foe in the F22 and F35 and the abortive and idiotic sinkhole of DCGS-A. It gives one pause to think that all the saber-rattling and military operations globally have achieved many advances in the overflowing coffers for the usual suspects while retarding if not endangering the safety of individual Americans by producing more enemies than can be maimed and killed at the point of the spear.

Part One can be found here.

Arthur C. Clarke warned us about such nonsense in 1951.

Plenty of other observers in the commentariat have handled reporting such things and opining credibly on the technology fixation that fails at every step.

I wish to concentrate on more of the ephemeral reasons that the projection of American power overseas has failed so decisively since the end of WWII. Clearly, the lack of full spectrum or unified land operations on a scale to match the totality of war more than 70 years ago has yet to happen despite the urgency with which the DoD attempts to paint these “threats”.

To recap: I also recommend a deeper treatment of Irregular War I did in a six part series with ProfCJ at the Dangerous History Podcast.

Several readers have asked me to expand on my post I made at WRSA on 5 January 2016 regarding the absolute inability for the US (and Western countries) to conduct savvy analysis and do any intellectual heavy lifting. My post that kindled the interest:

“Indeed, the SLAVFOR successes in urban areas in the Middle East, SE Asia and Yugoslavia are a sparkling testament to McNamara-like technocratic success. It’s one thing to identify all the components and quite another to operationalize a sustainable DIME strategy for success.

Please keep in mind that if these manuals taught the users to think through second and third order effects they would be dangerous to FREEFOR. There is zero analytical framework viable to them. It all ends the same: a panicked call for fire.

The Pentagram has proven itself intellectually incapable of such modest feats in the short and long term.”

Per mission command which has tremendous implications for insurgent activities, I highly recommend the work of Don Vandergriff.

So I’d like to concentrate this series on the irregular warfare aspect of the US global military enterprise since that comprises most of the portfolio the mandarins seem to be enjoining. The insipid enstupidation of the entire “arsenal of democracy” continues apace.

A number of readers have requested a more detailed elucidation of the antifragility concept and that will certainly be a future essay. I’ll put it in the stack. –BB

“The problem is that you cannot prove yourself against someone who is much weaker than yourself. They are in a lose/lose situation. If you are strong and fighting the weak, then if you kill your opponent then you are a scoundrel… if you let him kill you, then you are an idiot. So here is a dilemma which others have suffered before us, and for which as far as I can see there is simply no escape.”

― Martin van Creveld

We have to come to terms with the fight is and how the fights germinated in the first place. Most observers would soberly assess that much of the planet is rife with violence exaggerated by US and Western meddling and not reduced. So what is Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) and is it an accurate concept?

The generations of warfare are not necessarily either exclusive of one another or force-marched through a temporal demarcation. The use of “special operations” and the institution of the non-state soldier is not a recent phenomenon and has plagued all the great captains of history from Alexander to Napoleon to Grant to many variations that emerged in the two World Wars. One can even adduce sophisticated strategic cultures in resistance movements and non-state global players from the French Maquis in WWII to the variations of the al-Qaeda franchises around the globe. Peak Guerrilla from 1916 to 1922 in the West may have inaugurated the entire corpus of warfare and popularized among the military sophisticates in the West whether they welcomed it or not.

What may be even more useful but understated is the emergence of new strategic cultures in these non-state and 4GW actors on the entire spectrum of battlefield, martial and political.

Richard Schultz contemporizes it nicely here:

“In sum, an assessment of al-Qaeda’s strategic culture provides a deeper understanding of its evolution into a transnational movement, and helps to better discern its vision, worldview, strategies, and operating principles. Globalization and modern information technologies have facilitated al- Qaeda’s evolution. These new tools have also enhanced the capabilities and resilience of AQAM by enabling it to adapt to the ever-changing pressures of war, and through the aggregation of those adaptations, to continue to wage protracted warfare.”

“The construct of strategic studies has likewise been helpful in gaining insight into the new options for violent adaptation that AQAM has been discussing and utilizing since 9/11. In doing so, the debates that AQAM has engaged in over these core strategic topics, and their consequences for waging their global jihad have been examined here. This review has revealed how at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels al-Qaeda and its associates have engaged in a rich, sophisticated, and innovative dialogue that is directly relevant to how they carry out global jihad. As Hegghammer noted, materials of this kind are “strikingly similar to Western strategic studies.”

Schultz says nothing truly groundbreaking but there is a common Western confirmation bias that assumes the Clausewitzian framework is not only a Western motif but a monopoly with no variations practiced around the globe. The rest of the globe especially in the third world is too imaginatively impoverished to ascertain or leverage such strategic finesse and élan. The last ten years has seen the US and its coalition partners sink trillions of dollars in a country whose estimated GDP is 8-24 billion a year depending on the observer of which nearly half is foreign aid. The assumption going in was the fight in Afghanistan and the associated tendrils of AQ around the planet would be against a foe easily vanquished by the sole military hyper-power on Earth. And now the Western Frankenstein’s monster of IS or Dayeesh superseded even the expectations of AQ and is simply one of dozens of resistance contenders and organizations in the Middle East.

This is the future: regionalized non-state power combines that can leverage religious or economic power to influence through war, terrorism and subversion the larger and more modern nation-states and their course through history. The sooner the West realizes that strategic impoverishment and missteps are in the mirror and not in the face of the perceived enemies the sooner they will be able to capitalize on this knowledge to win and stop drawing stalemates. But the West will not because the US is uniquely intellectually tethered to linear transformation sets that simply leave their operations a shambles before they leave the starting gate.

AQ gets all the media attention for its leadership of terrorist elements but the Haqqani Network (HQN) is a more sophisticated localized and regional power-broker in the Afghan sphere. Absent the leadership element, most every insurgency with very few exceptions needs charismatic and effective leaders. HQN provides a regional exemplar for this. Not only has HQN contributed to the regional stability questions but appears to employ a global reach through a sophisticated network that facilitates and orchestrates both the auxiliary and military functions to contribute to a global jihad. The decades long existence of the HQN creates a rather impermeable cellular organizational structure that reaches deeply into both non-state functionalities and investment in government relationships in Pakistan and beyond.

HQN appears to be masterful at “bridging” factional gaps to apply fighting power where it is needed most and takes a rare hands-on interest in suicide bombing and other harassment in Kabul. Like so many emerging entities around the world, it is giving nationalist aspirations a back seat to non-state independence; this may be a harbinger of things to come. These tribal entities that straddle the Durand line are nation-state agnostic and will use whatever Machiavellian intrigue or means necessary to secure their goals and satisfy their strategic aims. I would suggest that HQN even employs a grand strategic framework to plan for future operations. The tribal and blood-centric subsidiary structures that comprise the disparate resistance organizations in Afghanistan/Pakistan and the global outreach programs for jihad are extremely resilient and resist Western penetration at every turn.

The singular focus on the Quetta Shura Taliban by the Coalition forces in Afghanistan have left the HQN networks relatively intact and increased its strength and influence by actively degrading the Taliban. Some observers nonetheless see the HQN having a tremendous regenerative power no matter how badly mauled by Western forces. Power loves a vacuum and the Coalition has behaved in the normal fashion of caring not for second and third order effects of pressures applied in certain regions of the Afghan theater.

“The Haqqani Network represents the most severe threat to U.S. national security interests and objectives in Afghanistan. The network’s practical and ideological partnerships with international terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and their affiliates will undoubtedly continue and likely even increase as U.S. and coalition forces begin to withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network’s growing geographical footprint in concerning because it will allow for the facilitation and sheltering of al- Qaeda and its affiliates on a much larger scale. The Haqqani Network’s cross-border linkages with the Pakistani tribal areas will allow for the maintenance and expansion of a robust facilitation pipeline between the two countries in order to allow for regional and international terrorists to reconstitute and re-energize after years of punishing attacks from U.S. and coalition forces on both sides of the border.”

Rassler and Brown are even more emphatic about the threat it poses to future Coalition activities in Afghanistan.

It simply gets worse because there is no evidence that the West shifts its priorities and changes strategic course no matter how fluid the resistance on the ground.

Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan the Haqqani network has been essential to the rise — and geographic spread — of the Taliban insurgency inside Afghanistan. The value of Haqqani network contributions to the Taliban has been acknowledged by senior Taliban leaders, such as Mullah Dadullah, who — before his death in 2007 — confirmed the Haqqanis important role: “There is no doubt that Shaykh Haqqani and his son lead the battles and draw up military plans.”131 The Haqqani network’s leadership of the Miranshah Shura, and its representation on the Rahbari Shura — the Taliban’s central coordinating body, highlights the organization’s value to the Taliban as a trusted partner with primacy in Southeastern Afghanistan.”

All of this assumes a continued US/Coalition presence in Afghanistan and the region which leads to observer effects and influences on the behavior of regional players to include the HQN. HQN will become stronger as the Western military and political influences start to wane.

HQN continues to yield a disproportionate influence in the region and by extension the world. In the end, HQN may grow to be a more potent threat to American and Western interests than al-Qaeda especially if the US continues to think that meddling in the internal affairs of Middle Eastern nations is the only way to secure its safety or wield its influence.

And Dayeesh promises to make things even more sporty in the region.

I would also suggest that the continued Western pursuit of large and ungainly central government over borders and fault lines authored by alien interlopers in ancient lands will simply continue the cascade of failures that is American foreign and military policy in the Middle East.

Could this sophisticated coupling of strategic acumen and non-state action be the future? Possibly, in concert with the realization that Heisenberg works in mysterious ways and the pursuit of stability may very well always carry iatrogenic effects.

Keep in mind that Western stability always includes enormous police states that micromanage every facet of human existence. A greater recipe for disaster could not be planned better.

So does the DoD even employ force applications that can address these?

What does “special” mean in terms of developing an unconventional force?

Robert Spulak has done some interesting work teasing out the complexities and verities of making special operations forces work and not work. Unfortunately, much of the work seems to be getting a war face on and breaking down doors and shooting people in the face. A monumental abuse of the original charter of the Army Special Forces community and its very expensive training and provisioning ideals. “SOF’s creativity is used to create friction for the enemy in ways conventional forces cannot, exploiting their human limitations, informational uncertainties, and nonlinearity.” Spulak assumes that three critical components are common to all successful Special Operations Forces (SOF) which are elite warriors, creativity and flexibility.  These demarcations from larger conventional organizations are dynamic necessities for the execution of their missions. Conventional formations are by their nature larger and more subject to narrower and more doctrinaire tasks at the tactical and operational level that enable them to either close with the enemy or employ “indirect approaches” and achieve broader and more defined missions.  The very size limitation of these formations truncates adaptability in time and space. The smaller sizes of SOF forces and longer training /rehearsal sequences prior to missions certainly helps but the centralized and Sovietized planning that haunts the Pentagon has certainly affected the uniformed worthies in USSOCOM.

Spulak describes the exploitation of friction to advantage, the use of “tension between threatening and avoiding destruction is managed” and the careful husbanding of resources and missions to limit risk to be among the most important mission profiles that give these smaller forces the advantages they demonstrate on the battlefield.  They exploit what the British sought in WWII according to Richard Schultz: “[A] stealthy, patient, indirect strategy…a strategy of superior wits and special means.” This may be one of the few times where British recommendations on conducting warfare should be heeded.

These organizations are by definition fragile and perishable if used for General Purpose Forces (GPF) operations to the exclusion of the special training and unconventional orientation that attracts applicants to these forces in the first place. I will treat this further on the issues of fragility and anti-fragility in a future essay in relation to military operations.

So just how effective has the absurdly expensive campaign in Afghanistan been?

Karzai will not survive 48 hours after the Americans wholly leave Afghanistan in 2020 or whenever it is pushed back to. The projection for GPF troop withdrawal in the coming years is relevant to regime survivability in the long term but the GPF vacuum will most likely be filled in by PMCs much like it has been in Iraq. The golden hour for any occupation to withdraw its forces are when the mass base is equally dismissive of both the occupiers and the nascent resistance organizations in the country. That time has passed and all the disparate and wide-ranging resistance movements can simply play for time while the traditionally short patience horizon of the Western powers starts to pressure withdrawal and final exit.

The pressure on the occupiers will start to ratchet up and suicide/homicide attacks in all their variations will start to exponentially increase. Complex attacks outside the Capital region of Kabul will increase as the traditional fighting season in Afghanistan is mere months away to include traditionally quiet areas in the northern reaches. Pakistan and Iran (and one can say Iraq) all have a vested interest in fomenting regional instability and increasing the fighting tempo as the Western withdrawal begins in earnest.

Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win and Cutting the Fuse provides an interesting insight on suicide terrorism:

“Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us… Suicide terrorism is not a supply-limited phenomenon where there are just a few hundred around the world willing to do it because they are religious fanatics. It is a demand-driven phenomenon.”

This demand will simply start to ratchet up in frequency and complexity as more forces are withdrawn and vulnerabilities of fixed bases and embassy assets remaining in country become more problematic for targeting.

It is sad to say but the Americans simply have not invested the effort the Soviets did in the year 1986-89 as they prepared to leave the country.

“Afghanistan has taught harsh lessons on the limits of power to a series of powerful nations. The Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, however, was not one of these lessons. As author Lester Grau stated, the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in a “coordinated, deliberate, professional manner . . . . The with­drawal was based on a coordinated diplomatic, economic, and military plan, permitting Soviet forces to withdraw in good order and the Afghan government to survive.” This adept orchestration of all the elements of national power did not occur until 1987 to 1989 when determined leadership, an effective military strategy, acceptance of outside interference following the withdrawal, and a definitive timeline converged.”

The US has met the definitive timeline for now but they may very well shift to the right. The USSR outstripped the US in all the other respects to include a refusal to recognize the preeminence of the regional hegemons and making peace with the prospect.

Afghanistan has managed to best every superpower that dared stepped foot on its soil and America will not be the exception. And American military malpractice across the spectrum and its strategic incoherence will continue apace.

Is there an effective means of conducting a cross-disciplinary means to combat these efforts?

First and foremost, the best way to fight these resistance and rebellion organizations is not to engage them in the first place and stop meddling.

H. Liddell Hart says it rather succinctly: “Guerrilla war is a kind of war waged by the few but dependent on the support of many.”

To riff off Santayana, if you don’t study history, it will come back to bite you.

If you don’t conduct a deep and thorough analysis of why resistance and rebellion has occurred in the event of launching COIN operations, you will fail in the long run. The current US COIN doctrine is heavily influenced by an amalgam of Galula and Kilcullen steeped in the latest fashionable conflict theories. In harness with the hailed but failed British model, it has been recipe for disaster. I cannot recommend Douglas Porch’s brilliant corrective to the COINdinista enough.

In Porch’s words, FM 3-24 offers a “vision of strategic imperialism appropriate for a neo-imperialist age in which the real sources of organized political violence are made to disappear in a puff of Western values and beneficent population-centrism” I think Porch is even a bit restrained in describing the width and breadth of barbarism that informs so much of contemporary Western COIN doctrine.

Like the British, the Americans started to employ SOF after WWII to conduct COIN operations in concert with conventional forces. The monstrous COIN campaign conducted by American GPF in the Philippines from 1898-1902 during the imperial American expansion into the Pacific to fill the Spanish colonial vacuum demonstrated that, like the campaigns to eradicate and neutralize American aboriginals, were not always a recipe for success.

When one looks at the experience of arming Kurds in the north before Saddam Hussein fell out of American disfavor as a privileged despot in the American sphere or the unintended consequences of creating a Taliban in Afghanistan that led to the harboring of a former “fixer”, bin Laden, in Soviet occupied Afghanistan before their rout, a disturbing pattern starts to emerge; the unintended consequences of surrogate forces loosing their Western tethers and creating mischief and mayhem, in American eyes.

There is a disturbing meme in all the literature that has yet to be resolved and may contain part of the answer that seems to be vexing the COINdinistas and their confreres in the politico-military community prosecuting all the active and nascent conflicts around the globe. The unquestioned conceit and assumption is that large and centralized governments are always better and that border disputes have no merits regardless of the Eurocentric drawing of lines on a map. The Pashtun no more identify them as Afghan than the Durand Line has any physicality to their perception in Northeastern Afghanistan. The ballistic petitions being sent by ethnic groups around the world is that the maps do not matter and their fealty to an imposed government has no power. The Western conceit buttressed by American policy is that the maps will not change and the tax jurisdictions will remain the same regardless of objection by far-reaching and distant homogenous populations.

It is critical to get our terms correct in the military lexicon to speak to these issues. By official doctrine, here are the definitions according to ADRP 1-02 Terms and Military Symbols:

Irregular forcesArmed individuals or groups who are not members of the regular armed forces, police, or other internal security forces. (JP 3-24)

Irregular warfareA violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population(s). Irregular warfare favors indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capacities, in order to erode an adversary’s power, influence, and will. Also called IW. (JP 1)

These conflicts number in the dozens at any time of the year since time immemorial. Most of these ongoing conflicts are in Asia and Africa ranging from the bizarre Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa to the savage body-stacking in the Indonesia-Papua conflict. Non-state soldiers and unrecognized states like Kashmir fill the ranks and some conflicts have both communist and Muslim components like the Philippines leading to strange alliances and political marriages. No clean demarcation between opposition forces one would find in a more conventional conflict between uniformed combatant armies. Since the end of WWII excepting the Israeli defeat by Hezbollah in 2006 and the ongoing conventional duels in the Kashmir between Pakistan and India, the IW paradigm has dominated conflicts pitting first world GPF and SOF against third-world adversaries since the Gulf War in 1991.

The lack of utility of GPF in prosecuting these conflicts has increasingly led to first-world armies relying disproportionately on SOF for the conduct of IW. While Army SF can be attached to US GPF, the tendency is to make them quite literally apart from them.

“In the Israeli case, however, the integration among SOF, regular units, and intelligence officials is much tighter with fewer firewalls separating the exchange of information and plans than in many U.S. operations.” Some of this is attributable to a smaller density nation with porous borders that constantly threaten to destabilize the nation-state and the tiny population to feed the maw of its armed forces. This “flattening” of the force structure also feeds a constant innovation loop that is always germinating new ways to do the martial business and sometimes with disastrous results like the “airpower centric” Lebanon campaign in 2006.

The American enterprise in COIN in Iraq and Afghanistan has borrowed heavily from this since the adoption of the formal COIN regime in doctrine has relied on a variety of COINdinistas and intellectual soothsayers to ground the doctrine in reality. Not always effectively. Thanks to John Nagl’s popular book, the Malayan Emergency has become the “hearts and minds” root document of the prosecution of COIN. Templer discovered that punitive and bloody strikes against guerrillas merely thickened the ranks of the insurgents so he adopted more introspective and surgical methods.

Thomas Henriksen has some interesting insights:

“Compared with British expenditures in Northern Ireland or American outlays in Afghanistan and Iraq, Malaya was counterinsurgency on the cheap because it focused on the politics of internal legitimacy and political independence rather than costly infrastructure development. WHAM was purchased at bargain-basement prices. And from a practitioners’ viewpoint, it was no less efficacious and, indeed, may have been even more sustainable and effective than more lavish COIN efforts that have come to characterize America’s intensive infrastructure-construction measures.”

Henrikson only briefly mentions what may have been the two largest factors in the UK’s success in Malaya: a 150-year-old cultural marriage through colonial holdings and a non-contiguous lifeline for guerrilla materiel. The use of concentration camps (originated by the British in the two Boer conflicts) certainly lengthened resistance instead of striking it.

Henrikson makes a thorough case that SOF is the military arm of choice but seems to overlook what I would suggest is a consistent flaw in the thinking and prognostications of most authors and observers in the contemporary COIN milieu: the construct of central governments to oversee and manage vast swaths of artificial map lines like the absurd country of Afghanistan. These fault lines are visible to everyone who pays attention planet-wide. The very starting point of a top-down bureaucratic and managerial entity to govern (and ultimately micromanage) myriads of tribal and clan differences simmers and percolates new conflicts. Universally, bureaucracies seek control and one-size-fits-all solutions that increase and not lessen population friction.

In the end, no other force but SOF can effectively fight the short-term goals in battling IW but in the long term, the continued utopian dream of forcing SOF to support tyrannical and grossly ineffective Sovietized Frankenstein monster creations will only serve to keep them employed for eternity. I am convinced the US has done considerable intellectual heavy lifting to better operationalize and leverage COIN but in the end, for a variety of reasons, fails in the enterprise. They tend to lose the forest for trees and are distracted by sparkling technological fixes to problems that never demand it with the attendant unintended consequences.

In some Allied circles, a wholesale transformation of forces is being studied:

“Even as the strategic context in which intervention might take place now appears to have changed, Britain’s armed forces have become more sophisti­cated in applying the techniques of COIN and stabilization at the tactical level.22 In this respect, part of the ambition has been to reconcile the need to engage local insurgents, but do so in a manner that does not unhinge the campaign by producing counterproductive moral, psychological, and collateral effects on the population. As a result, a key lesson that emerged from recent British operational experience is the acceptance that, in interventions intimately con­cerned with shaping local conditions and actors, understanding local context is critical.23 This is an issue of obvious importance when considering the conduct of operations among the people, such as the British campaign in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. But the challenges associated with adequate contex­tual understanding have equally impacted the outcomes and consequences of recent operations conducted in the form of military transformation.”

Yet it still leaves a huge gap in getting there from here in the more storied and able COIN forces in the British Army. Absent the fundamental understanding of the human terrain and what grievances and perceptions shaped the rebellion in the first place will always leave the COIN force deaf and dumb; and worse, ineffective.

In the end, one is baffled at the huge investment of hundreds of billions in these operations and the tendency to simply get it wrong, fail and leave a legacy of destruction and death that far exceeds the original.

Worst of all, it all comes home.

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