Michael: 4th Gen War, IraqI just finished reading Marine Colonel T. X. Hammes latest book on the evolution of modern warfare, The Sling and the Stone. Col. Hammes wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette which is essentially a summary of his book. It lays out the thesis more completely and cogently than I could hope to here.
In a nutshell, Hammes (along with many other eminent military theorists and professionals) proposes that war utilizing distributed networks of military, political, economic, and cultural power, driven by a broadly accepted ideological focus creates a much different kind of warfare which is capable of overcoming even superior arms and power. Such networks are empowered by new technologies, but certainly not dependent upon them, having been used successfully in armed struggle for at least the last 70 years.
4th Generation Warfare (4GW) forces are immune to decapitation and disruption of command and control, resistant to disruption of logistics (living largely off the land and indigenous populations), very resistant to intelligence gathering (making SIGINT and surveillance largely ineffective, and HUMINT much more difficult), and present little in the way of a strategic targeting profile (recall Rumsfeld’s infamous comment about Afghanistan lacking good bombing targets). Technological and social changes have made 4GW strategies come to maturity, to the point where 4GW forces now regularly overcome armed opposition organized around 2GW and 3GW strategies: like our own armed forces, which are the premier iteration of 3GW war-fighting.
There are four issues which Col. Hammes’ work brings up which I feel inspired to comment and expand upon for anyone who has interest in the topic of the emergent strategic environment of warfare in the present and near future. The result is too long for a single post, so I will be posting these reflections as a series over the coming week.
I) What does the maturation of 4GW means for American strategy in current conflicts? Specifically, what sort of enemy do we face in Iraq and what are our prospects for defeating them?
II) How does an understanding of 4GW inform our strategy in the struggle with Al Qaida and other future transnational terrorist insurgencies?
III) Whether 4GW is similar to 2GW in favoring defense over offense, and whether 5GW, as and when it evolves, will break open the 4GW strategic environment like the armored maneuver of 3GW did to the static defense biased battlefields of 2GW?
IV) What does the maturation of 4GW means for large-scale warfare with major nation-state powers? How should 4GW affect our military doctrine and our global strategy? Will the future of warfare make protection of civilian populations obsolete or impossible?
Part I: Iraq
America has only lost wars when facing opponents using 4GW strategies – Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia. And we have never won a 4GW engagement. We seldom lose battles, however; we only lose wars. Nothing can overcome our forces in a stand-up fight, but 4GW strategies still consistently manage to win wars against us. We do not lose these struggles because our armed forces are not superb and well equipped. We lose such struggles because the quality of our armed forces is largely irrelevant to the outcome of the war. 4GW strategy primarily targets the ability and desirability of continuing to fight in the minds of enemy decision-makers. But 4GW is not just propaganda, it brings to bear an entire suite of psychological, economic, political, and military assets to the task of breaking the will of the enemy and convincing key decision makers that the fight is not worth continuing. As such, 4GW strategies are most powerful in defense against a occupying or invading enemy, especially one in which the decision makers are politically accountable to a mass electorate. 4GW has proven a powerful strategy for populations resisting foreign incursion.
It is here that theory meets current events. 4GW strategy allows an asymmetric force to fight a vastly more powerful, well-equipped, 3GW-organized and wealthier occupying force. An enemy that uses 4GW strategy is exactly what we face in Iraq, now that the mechanized and heavy weapons units of the Iraqi national army have been disbanded or destroyed. There is evidence that Saddam planned a guerrilla resistance to any American invasion, but what we are seeing in Iraq goes far beyond those plans. The Iraqi people have formed 4GW networks have sprung up emergently and opportunistically in the vacuum left by the Baathist regime's demise.
Military engagement with the American forces is only part of the function of Iraq 4GW networks, and not even the most important part. They seek not only to wage war on American military personnel, but also to defeat American plans for Iraq’s future by destroying political support for the occupation by mobilizing political, ideological, economic and cultural forces to shape the future of Iraq. The many factions within Iraqi society are now looking beyond the immediate struggle with the American-led occupation to the struggle for dominance of Iraq. Their strategic visions do not terminate with an end to the American occupation. This is one reason why we have been so ineffectual: our strategic vision essentially ended with the end of “major combat” operations (i.e. the end of the 3GW engagement), whereas the enemy we now face in Iraq has a strategic vision that begins where ours ends.
To the extent that American war planners did plan for the post invasion period, they made an assumption to that Iraq would be a blank slate to be written upon anything the neo-con ideologues could dream up. In practice, nothing could have been further from the truth. The spontaneous 4GW networks of influence and command which have sprung up following the war, severely curtailed the execution of America's hothouse plans, flourishing in the think tanks of Washington, but unable to survive in the desert of the real.
The central truth of why the Iraqi insurgency is succeeding is the same reason American plans for the political future of Iraq have gone so badly awry. The planners of this war assumed that the only resistance to change would be the antiquated and ill-equipped 3WG forces arrayed against the initial invasion. Once that organization was swept aside, they envisioned nothing to prevent us from creating the Iraq the neo-cons wanted. They ignored the lessons of history and the emergence of 4GW strategies as an effective means of defeating superior 3GW forces.
The Bush Administration now points to the Iraqi constitution, the interim government, and the coming parliamentary elections as evidence of how far we have come. However, these are all improvisations; they were never part of their plan. These developments were all more or less imposed upon us by the 4GW political and cultural maneuvering of the mass of Iraqi people. The result will not be our choice, nor our tool; the result will be the creature of those Iraqi networks that have best been able to exploit 4GW strategies to control Iraq.
The Administration’s line regarding the termination of the occupation, that “we’ll stand down as the Iraqis stand up,” and that Iraqi’s have to stand up for their own security, is deeply absurd, though it seems reasonable enough on its face in its nearly moronic simplicity. The fact is that the 4GW networks which are now creating Iraq’s sovereign concept of security are likely to define it largely as security against us. Any forces that we train will likely never be loyal to any American approved authority or policy in Iraq, but rather to those 4GW networks that are able to successfully mobilize Iraq politically and culturally. We are training not our replacements, but our future rivals in Iraq.
There will be no independent Iraqi forces so long as we define independent as 'willing to follow U.S. commands'. If we really wanted independent military strength, the Kurdish and Shiite militias would serve adequately as counter-insurgency forces if properly equipped, trained, and led; but using these forces looks too much like taking sides in a civil war. Once again, 4GW strategy ties down Gulliver with a multitude of threads. The Iraqis are not sitting down on the job, we just can't find any Iraqis willing stand up and fight as our proxies. There is no solution to the problem of creating an independent Iraqi armed force as the Bush Administration has defined the problem. Even a reasonable simulacrum of a national force will be a Potemkin army that will come apart along 4GW network lines at the first crisis.
We are trying to create stable pro-Western Iraqi national government with a political process that strongly favors the very 4GW networks we vainly seek to control. In the end, any reasonably democratic process in Iraq works to the advantage of every party other than American interests; we do not have a vote in Iraqi elections, despite all our efforts to rectify that problem. The history of the 2nd Gulf War will clearly show how we bulled our way into a situation we didn’t understand, knocked out a brutal ruling minority, converting it into a violent and repressed minority, then empowered the majority to remake Iraq in their own image. The Shiites and the Kurds used their new freedom to create a base for Kurdish separatism, and a tyrannical Shiite theocracy aligned with, and strengthening the Iranian mullahs. It was all accomplished by 4GW strategy and tactics that we were essentially powerless to stop, because we failed to understand the root causes of our impotence in the face of such foes. Because we lacked an understanding of how 4GW strategy works, let alone how to fight such a foe. We threw away more than 2100 American lives, and counting, to shoot our national interest in the foot and make fools of ourselves on the world stage.
If you step into a dark closet and are suddenly pummeled by unseen opponents from every side, barely able to defend yourself and completely incapable of contending with your assailant, “stay the course” is hardly good advice. That is essentially what has happened to us in Iraq. Staying in that closet is not going accomplish anything except provide your assailant with an easy target. We need to get out of Iraq, use what influence we can from outside of Iraq, and assess how to retool our military doctrine to contend with and win in the 4GW strategic environment. We have never won a war against an opponent using 4GW strategies. Until we learn how to contend with such enemies, we need to stay out of the nation-building, regime-changing business lest we have more expensive and painful debacles like Vietnam and Iraq.