The View From Olympus: Curiouser and Curiouser

Alice, in the form of the American taxpayer, is wandering ever deeper into the Wonderland that is the Pentagon. An article from the October 15 Army Times is titled, “Hagel devises new mission for Army: Coastal defense force.” As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

The coastal artillery was the only branch of the U.S. Army that had any social cachet, so it is not surprising the Army might want to resurrect it. Considered only as an objet d’art, the coastal artillery has much to commend it. I would enjoy packing a picnic basket and going down to the shorre to watch the disappearing guns fire on passing tankers, and batteries of horse-drawn six pounders could put on a good show trying to pick off the occasional water skier. A cynic might make the argument that coastal artillery would be as relevant to our national security as any other component of the Army.

In the real world, the first question facing any proposal for “defense” is, what is it supposed to defend us against? Before an enemy could land in strength on our shores, it would have to defeat the U.S. Navy. Exactly who is in a position to do that is not clear. Neither Russia or China qualify. The Royal Navy just isn’t what it used to be. The French are dastardly enough to try anything, but how much threat is posed by landing the French Army is not clear. If it met our Army on the field of battle, the question would be, which is the better French Army? Do we fear a flotilla of a million sampans coming from China? A million dhows from the Persian gulf?

There is a serious side to Secretary Hagel’s startling proposal. How on earth could a seemingly sane Secretary of Defense suggest such a thing?

Years ago, my old colleague Paul Weyrich said to me of then-Senator Chuck Hagel, “He thinks about the Pentago the same way you do.” I am sure Paul was right at the time. Yet since the day Mr. Hagel became Secretary of Defense, he has served as a faithful spokesman for the Pentagon’s strategy. What is that strategy? As John Boyd put it, “Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”

This happens over and over. Even people who have been critical of the Pentagon, once they get an official position where they might be able to fix the place, turn their coats and become an advocate for it. It is easy to ascribe their new mindset to personal gain: if they play the game, they can count on being richly rewarded by defense industry when they leave office.

But something more subtle is also at work. It is difficult to be the only man in an organization who is critical of it. The loneliness of command becomes more lonely still. Not many people have the innere Führung to be able to stay that course. Add in the fact that the people in the uniformed military are mostly individually good people. You find yourself repeatedly upsetting and disappointing them. They cannot understand what you are doing, or why. After all, they accepted the rules of the game long ago. You are in the position of continually kicking a dog that only wants to be your friend.

And so we get the Secretary of Defense proposing the Army again serve as our coastal defense force. The Army, which will see only dollar signs, won’t tell the Secretary he’s nuts. The Navy could say to Secretary Hagel what the First Sea Lord said to the cabinet in London when Napoleon threatened to invade England: “I do not say the French cannot come; I say only that they cannot come by sea.” But it probably won’t, because the Navy does not take Secretaries of Defense seriously, nor civilian control of the military for that matter.

Somewhere in the Pentagon is a wall locker where Secretary Hagel, upon taking office, checked his brain, his backbone, and his balls. It is one of many lockers containing the same body parts from previous senior civilian defense appointees. Can we ever put someone in the Secretary’s position who refuses the operation? favicon

The View From Olympus: The Fall of Baghdad

ISIS is now in the process of taking Baghdad. Our pathetic excuse for military intelligence does not recognize that fact, because it does not understand how light cavalry operates. ISIS cannot take Baghdad by assault, so U.S. analysts think Baghdad cannot fall. It can, and at present it is on the way to doing so.

ISIS is encircling Baghdad with light, fast-moving forces just as American Indians, who were also irregular light cavalry, encircled a wagon train. The Indians shot in arrows. ISIS is shooting in mortar shells, rockets, and the poor man’s Predators, suicide bombers. ISIS’s object is to get the Shiite forces defending the city to come out into the open countryside, where light cavalry can and will cut them to ribbons. They do not have to come out very far; ISIS is now eight miles from the Baghdad airport.

Punishing Baghdad with bombardment may or may not get the Shiites to make that mistake. So I expect ISIS to undertake other operations to compel them to do so. A thrust at Karbala or even Najaf is likely. ISIS is already south of Baghdad. To those who think Najaf is too far, I would point out that irregular light cavalry warfare advances and retreats in vast sweeps. It is not about taking and holding ground. It is about destroying the enemy’s forces. The elements of the coalition that is ISIS that are holding ground and providing local government are Baathist. They know how to do those things. The Islamic puritans provide the light cavalry. Both are necessary to ISIS’s success: they are the cheng and the chi.

As ISIS encircles Baghdad, it will try to cut off the city’s supplies. Light cavalry cannot undertake a mortar siege, but they can raid supply lines. Shiite forces detailed to guard those lines will find themselves in the positions of the Turkish infantry facing Lawrence of Arabia’s light cavalry. You may recall that did not end well.

What about America’s overestimated air power? ISIS is countering that in a number of ways, some obvious, some quite creative. As I predicted, it has learned the standard countermeasures quickly: dispersion, camouflage, movement at night and in bad weather. I think it is also using the stuff we mistakenly think of as “combat power”: tanks, artillery pieces, APCs, etc. (we leave out maneuver and velocity) as decoys. ISIS may have come up with the best decoy of all, in the form of two or three jet fighters (or rumors thereof, which work almost as well). Every U.S. flyboy will fixate on them, hoping to be able to claim a kill. The cat will go for the catnip rather than the mouse.

I think ISIS may also be decoying us on the operational level with the siege of Kobani. That siege makes little sense except as a deception. As an operatioal Schwerpunkt, it is a dead end, although it works to paralyze the Turks on the mental level of war by pushing them into bed with the Kurds, whom they loath. That isn’t enough of a benefit to justify what even a small siege costs ISIS. But if, as I suspect, ISIS’s real operational and strategic Schwerpunkt is Baghdad, then the price ISIS is paying in Kobani is easily worth it. All last week air strikes intended for Iraq were often diverted to Kobani. Air defenses come in many varieties, not just missiles and guns.

When will Baghdad fall? Probably within a few months or not at all. Light cavalry cannot sustain a status quo. Its power is in its dynamism. If a situation stabilizes, it must alter its objective or fail. However, once the fall of Baghdad begins, it will culminate very fast. The tipoff we have reached that point will be when the Shiite infantry leaves Baghdad to engage ISIS in the open. It will be slaughtered, because with forces so intermixed, only our A-10s will be able to operate effectively. You know, that airplane the Air Force hates and wants to scrap.

If you are an American or other Christian in Baghdad when the infantry marches out to fight the cavalry on the plain, get on the next flight out. There won’t  be any more. favicon

Goddesses and Men at Harvard

When I was a student at Dartmouth, 1965-69, Harvard, like my alma mater, was all male. With virtually all other men’s colleges, it has since been forced by political correctness, aka cultural Marxism, to admit women (note that women colleges have not been compelled to admit men). That changes the culture of an institution in innumerable ways, many not to its benefit. When I was at Dartmouth, virtually no one locked their dorm room doors. Now, you need a code just to get into a dorm. If there is a threat, men can take care of themselves. Women can’t. So with women come endless demands for better security. Dartmouth’s police force, which in my day was a joke (when two campus cops in a cruiser tried to stop a multi-dorm snowball fight, the students carried them, in their car, up the steps of Baker library and left it there), is now omnipresent. Appropriately, its initials are SS.

The script of culturally Marxist feminism (an earlier feminism was pro-family) does not end with women’s admission into previously all-male institutions. Then come demands for parity, including in activities not natural to women; making women comfortable, which is to say creating the atmosphere of a boudoir; and finally privileging women over men in everything. Cultural Marxism’s goal is not equality. It is putting its victims groups, feminist women, blacks, gays, etc., above white men, non-feminist women, conservative blacks, Asians, and so on. The losers come out on top, while the producers are forced to the bottom. This is the Frankfurt School’s interpretation of Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of all values.”

At Harvard and elsewhere, the feminists’ current plot is to accuse virtually all men of rape, which in New-speak means any action a woman doesn’t like, even if she decides she didn’t like it long after the fact. The cultural Marxists use such bogus definitions to justify phony statistics like “one-third of the women on college campuses have been raped.” To protect women (who by their nature need infinite protection, which is to say the demand can never be satisfied), the college must establish star-chamber judicial processes whereby any male student accused of rape or any other sexual assault is presumed guilty. Just as with judicial proceedings in other totalitarian, ideological states, the accused is judged and sentenced before the trial begins.

This recently happened at Harvard. Amazingly, some professors have dared stand up for equal justice for men (which is very politically incorrect, since by definition all men are oppressors). The October 16 New York Times reported that

Dozens of Harvard Law School faculty members are asking the university to withdraw its new sexual misconduct policy, saying that it violates basic principles of fairness…

“Harvard has made the Title IX office (Federal anti-discrimination law) the charger, the prosecutor, the investigator, the adjudicator, and the appeals board…So at every stage, that office is deeply invested in the rightness of what they did at the prior state,” Professor (Janet) Halley (one of the signers) said…

The new policy, the professors said, is skewed against the accused, who have no assurance of adequate representation, or of a chance to confront witnesses or present a defense at an adversary hearing.

None of this is unique to Harvard. The same kinds of totalitarian “codes of sexual conduct,” coupled with judicial processes straight out of Stalin’s Moscow, are going  into place at colleges and universities across the country. The only surprise is that some faculty at Harvard (including at least one woman) objected.

The same elevation of women into goddesses who can do or say no wrong and degradation of men into helots has come or will come to every institution the feminists target. The process is already well underway in the military, where any NCO or officer who gives a woman an order she does not like risks a charge of sexual harassment, with a commissar-like system of authorities who lie outside the chain of command to back her up. With women now being forced upon the combat arms, God help the male tanker who, when the tank lurches, bumps up hard against a broad.

The culturally Marxist ideal is a society of empowered women and emasculated men. Any such society would be too soft, too weak, too sentimental to survive very long (as our treatment of Ebola illustrates). But the fact that the destruction of manhood means the destruction of Western society (or any society) is music to the cultural Marxists’ ears. That has been their objective from the beginning. Thanks, ladies, for giving them a helping hand. Just remember that when civilization vanishes, you end up getting dragged by your hair to the nearest cave. favicon

The View From Olympus: The Chinese Way

The Western way of doing things is by butting heads. From the phalanx to the joust to American football, men of the West have met challenges head on. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, as on the Somme in 1916, it doesn’t work. But it is built into our culture and is unlikely to change.

The Chinese way is different. Chinese prefer to take on problems indirectly, with maneuver and strategem. Watch a Shar Pei, a Chinese breed of dog, in a fight. It doesn’t go for the other dog’s throat. It goes for its hamstring. Indirection is as fundamental to Chinese culture as head-butting is to Western culture.

The BBC recently reported a typically indirect Chinese strategic move that is brilliant. China has been locked in conflict with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and, indirectly, the United States, over ownership of small islands in the South China Sea. The islands are not important of themselves. What is important is the claim they give to control over adjacent waters. To China, the conflict over the islands has been a strategic liability. It has now solved that problem. How? By building its own islands.

In a bulletin dated September 10, 2014, the BBC

report by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes said China was building new islands on five different reefs. He and his team documented Chinese work to dredge tonnes of rock and sand from the sea floor to pump into Johnson South reef in the Spratly islands, which are also claimed by Manila…The works appear to have been going on for months.

In typical Chinese fashion, Beijing has outmaneuvered its opponents. Who can possibly question Chinese ownership of islands China built? China can now allow the conflicts over existing islands to simmer down. Its claim over the waters it wants derives from indisputably Chinese islands.

As the Chinese government turns ever more toward traditional Chinese culture, we should expect more indirect approaches by China in matters where we have disputes. The move away from Marx and Mao to Sun Tzu and Confucius has been slowly gathering steam since Mao died. According to a story in the October 12 New York Times, “Leader Taps Into Chinese Classics in Seeking to Cement Power,” Xi Jinping has gone to forced draft. The Times writes,

In November (2013), Mr. Xi visited Qufu, Shandong Province, where Confucius was born, to “send a signal that we must vigorously promote China’s traditional culture”…

In May (2014), the overseas edition of the state-run newspaper People’s Daily published a selection of 76 of Mr. Xi’s quotes from Chinese ancients, most often Confucius or Mencius, but  also relatively obscure works that suggest a deeper knowledge of the classics…

“As China grows stronger, this force for restoring tradition will also grow stronger,” said Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing and author of “Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power.”

“Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power” well sums up where China is headed. Its corollary might be “Modern Western Thought, Modern Western Weakness.” As the West has adopted the ideology of cultural Marxism that has as its primary objective the destruction of traditional Western culture, it has devoured itself. Now, in most of the West, the will to live is almost gone (just look at the birth rates). China too became weak during Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” which sought to destroy traditional Chinese culture. Now, the return of that culture has brought China new strength. Perhaps there is a lesson there for the West.

Whether or not the West rallies and turns back from the road to Avernus, it will face a China that thinks and acts differently from the itself. In a contest between head-butters and maneuverists, the maneuverists usually win, absent a gross disparity of strength. If the West insists on destroying everything that has defined it for 3000 years, that might be good news. A world dominated by traditional Chinese culture would likely be a far better place than a world dominated by Islam, corporate greed, or unending disorder. favicon

The View From Olympus: Worse Than Lissa

In 1866, off the island of Lissa in the Adriatic, the Italian Navy suffered a humiliating defeat by the Austrian Navy. The Italian fleet was superior, especially in number of ironclads. But the Austrians attacked not in a parallel line, but in a three-vic formation, relying on the ram (at one point an Austrian wooden three-decker rammed an Italian ironclad!). The Italians fled in disorder after heavy losses.

Now, the Italian Navy is suffering a defeat worse than Lissa, worse because it is at the strategic, not just the tactical level. At the orders of the Italian government, the Navy is being forced to escort or carry thousands and thousands of African refugees, who are pouring across the Mediterranean at a rate of at least 500,000 a year to Italy. Navies are supposed to prevent invasions, not facilitate them. It is as if Don Juan de Austria, instead of defeating the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto, had escorted it to Italy so it could land a Turkish army.

On a number of levels, this is madness. Most of these immigrants will be nothing but burdens all their lives on Italy or any other European country where they are allowed to settle. They are coming from utterly dysfunctional cultures, which they will bring with them. If they are Muslims, they will not only fail to acculturate, they will refuse to do so.

All this has been true for some time. But there is something new: Ebola. It appears that in a few months, African cases of Ebola may number in the millions. Some Ebola carriers will join the migration north, which will swell further as people attempt to flee the disease. Italy has experienced the plague before. Does it really want to be Ebola’s land bridge into Europe?

The root of the problem is political correctness both in Rome and in Brussels. It dictates, in its usual womanish way, that we must welcome refugees regardless of what baggage they bring with them because they are “hurting.” Our  own future, even our own survival, must not be allowed to enter into the equation. The abandoned puppy must be welcomed into our home even it it has rabies.

A sane policy is not difficult to identify. The Italian Navy should be given a new mission: return all intercepted refugees (and it should try to intercept all of them) to North Africa. If the countries there say they will not accept them, the Italian Navy has a good amphibious capability. It simply picks an area of deserted beach, makes a landing, put the Africans ashore, and leaves. Italy is much stronger militarily than any North African state. The refugees are coming from North Africa. What is the objection, beyond a suicidal, mawkish “humanitarianism?” This is, after all, why countries have navies: to stop invaders and make them go home.

Regrettably, until the Italian people demand it by voting for anti-immigration parties, the lunacy will continue, because all the other parties are terrified of being denounced as politically incorrect. We see this same paralysis in all the governements of Europe except Switzerland (the Swiss remain a people rooted in reality). That is why, in each election, the anti-immigration parties grow stronger: some Europeans want the European peoples to continue to exist in their own homelands.

Meanwhile, so long as the usual cowards and imbeciles govern in Rome, the Italian Navy will continue to suffer a massive defeat that is not its fault (contrary to the popular wisdom, the Italian Navy performed well overall in World War II, despite a crippling shortage of fuel oil that meant its big ships could seldom go to sea). The politicians have turned once-noble Italy into Italia cagoia. favicon

The View From Olympus: Don’t Shop At This WAWA

Americans know WAWA as a convenience store, but to anyone familiar with West Africa it has another meaning: West Africa Wins Again. The phrase refers to the impossibility of getting anything to work right in that benighted region. I recall reading the story of a classic WAWA that began when a Western visitor returned to his hotel room to find the sink had fallen off the wall. The hotel’s engineer was called, and the Westerner suggested that when he fixed the sink, he put some props under it so it would not happen again. The engineer nodded, and the visitor went about his business. When he came again to his room, he found the sink duly propped up–in exactly the position he found it before, hanging at a crazy angle pointed toward the floor. West Africa Wins Again!

Now, with no understanding of West Africa, President Obama has decided to send about 3000 American military personnel to the region to fight the Ebola epidemic. To the folly of a war without troops against ISIS, we will add an exercise in futility against Ebola. The only result will be the mother of all WAWAs as our efforts have no effect on Monsieur Ebola’s progress while they expose thousands of American troops to a hideous disease. Brilliant.

The press continues to be full of stories illustrating the impossibility of the mission. When Liberia briefly established a quarantine in a neighborhood in its capital, the average bribe residents had to pay to go through the lines was $0.50. Someone I know who has done business in West Africa told me, “The best thing about the place is that the bribes are so cheap!” Local regulations required anyone flying out to do so on the national airline. Not wanting to commit suicide, he desired to leave on a European plane. For $100 he got the country’s Minister of Transportation to personally escort him on board.

The September 19 New York Times reported on the result in Guinea when a team of health workers went to a village to give the people accurate information about Ebola and how it spreads. The villagers stoned them to death.

The September 23 Times reported in a front-page story that the Sierra Leone Health Ministry had reported just ten deaths from Ebola in the capital of Freetown. But the Times quickly found that just in the last eight days 110 Ebola victims were buried in just one of the city’s cemeteries. The story quoted the World Health Organization as saying that the official numbers “vastly understate the magnitude of the outbreak.”

International health experts here had no explanation for the striking discrepancy between the government’s tally of the dead in the capital and the cemetery crew’s statistics. Several of them noted the general confusion surrounding official statistics here from the beginning, with one leading international health official saying: “We don’t know exactly what is going on.”

West Africa Wins Again!

The essence of WAWA is the impossibility of making anything work. Incompetence, ignorance, corruption, and every other impediment to function you can imagine–and many Westerners cannot–exist on a colossal scale. There are almost no exceptions. Should you find one, a local witch doctor will probably put a curse on it so that the locals run away. The world portrayed in Through the Looking Glass is a rational world compared to West Africa (and much of the rest of Africa as well). You had might as well try teaching calculus to camels as trying to make anything work in West Africa.

So into this mess we will now send American troops, who will have no authority, no power, just good intentions. The road to West Africa, like the road to that other place (to the degree they can be told apart), is paved with good intentions, and the corpses of those who had them. An earlier age knew the warning, “Beware, beware, the Bight of Benin, for few come out though many go in.”

Beyond futility, increasing our involvement runs an ever-greater risk of bringing Ebola here. The more cases there are, the more the virus has has opportunities to mutate. If a mutation creates a variety of Ebola that spreads through the air, not just direct contact, we will have gone from bubonic plague to pneumonic plague, which was worse. We have already established the dangerous precedent of bringing American Ebola victims here. Multiply their numbers, add the mutation, and presto!, we have a plague on American soil that could rival the Black Death in its effects.

Once again, America’s womanized culture cannot resist the argument of “Oh, the poor (fill in the blank).” Womanish sentiment overrules all reason, all facts, all prudence. It’s as if the country were governed by a basket of kittens.

In the unlikely event that anyone wants a realistic picture of Africa and the bottomlessness of its futility, there is a book on the subject: Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief. Set in East Africa, which generally works better than West Africa, it tells the story of what happens to Westerners’ good intentions on the black continent. The sacrificial troops on their way to fight Ebola might find it amusing; Waugh was a brilliantly funny satirist. Of course, no one in Washington will be interested in the warning the book conveys. That may be the biggest WAWA of all. favicon

The View From Olympus: D.O.A.

President Obama’s strategy for war with ISIS, announced last Wednesday, appears to be dead on arrival. The recognition of its immense gap between ends and means has been almost universal. So has the perception that many of its assumptions are baseless.

The plan has virtually no support within the U.S. military, which recognizes it is a pipe dream. The Army’s senior leadership, which sees that the strategy would ultimately result in another major land war, is cackling like MacBeth’s witches around their pot over the prospect of a bigger budget. Sorry, guys; the American people will not support another major land war on the far side of the world.

Part of the reason President Obama’s strategy is D.O.A. is the obvious fact that our air power has no effective force to work with on the ground, outside Kurdistan. The “moderate” Syrian opposition is a fantasy. An op ed in the September 16 New York Times by Ahmad Samih Khalidi, an academic now teaching at Oxford, notes that

The alleged moderates have never put together a convincing national program or offered a viable alternative to Mr. Assad. The truth is that there are no “armed moderates” (or “moderate terrorists”) in the Arab world–and precious few beyond. The genuine “moderates” won’t

take up arms, and those who do are not truly moderates. Within Iraq, given the recent collapse of the Iraqi Army, we would depend on Shiite militias to provide the ground forces. One of the better-trained of those militias, Kataib Hezbollah, said, according to a story on page 11 of the same New York Times, “We will not fight alongside the American troops under any kind of conditions whatsoever.” Its only contact with Americans would be “if we fight each other.”

So obvious are the unrealities in President Obama’s strategy that it has elicited laughter. The same Times story quotes Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Kamenei (remember, Iran is on our side against ISIS), as saying “he had ‘a hobby,’ which was ‘listening to Americans making statements on combating ISIS–it was really amusing.'” The Arab states’ guffaw came in the form of offering air power, which the U.S. military has in vast surplus. It is as if Dr. Johnson, told one day in the Literary Club that the city of Newcastle had asked him to stand on his head, replied “Why no, sir, I shall not refuse them. I shall offer them instead a shipment of coals!”

Not surprisingly, the Obama administration is backing away from its “strategy” as fast as it can. A front-page story in the Sept. 15 Times said, “In interviews and public statements, administration and military officials described a battle plan that would not accelerate in earnest until disparate groups of Iraqi forces, Kurds, and Syrian rebels stepped up to provide the fighting forces on the ground.” Since that is likely to happen soon after the return of the Twelfth Imam, it is a condition that effectively scuttles the whole thing, beyond some meaningless air strikes.

Encouragingly, some thoughtful voices are daring to ask in public whether ISIS is a threat to us at all. We may end up turning it into one, but at present, it is not. It is part of the ongoing, expanding Sunni-Shiite civil war, in which our only interest is in seeing both sides kill each other in the largest possible numbers. If President Obama feels compelled to “do something” about ISIS for political reasons, he could act as I suggested in an earlier column. A massive, suprise air strike on ISIS’s capital of Raqqa, intended to reduce the whole place to rubble in an hour, would be accepted by the American public as suitable retaliation for ISIS’s killing of two Americans. Obama might actually find himself popular again. favicon

A long footnote: In my last column, I noted that the Pentagon should be able to give the pesident the option of sending a small, competent, fast-moving ground force that could rout ISIS in a campaign of days, or, at most, weeks. In theory this force exists, in the form of three Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) battalions. The original concept behind the LAV (I know because I am one of the three people who, as a staffer to Senator Gary Hart, initiated the LAV program; the other two were a Senate Armed Services Committee staffer, Steve Dotson, and a Marine one-star named Al Gray) was to create one or more LAV regiments that could serve as Soviet-style Operations Maneuver Groups in third-world situations. Only once in the 25-plus years since have the LAV battalions been used this way, when they were grouped for an operational advance on Tikrit immediately after the fall of Baghdad. We should not go in on the ground against ISIS, but should the president decide to do so, that would be the way to do it. It would require a commander who knows operational art from pachinko, of which we have very few. But one who could easily do it is Marine four-star General John Kelly. By putting a four-star in charge, the Pentagon would ensure the LAV operational maneuver group got support when it needed it. Pitting regular light cavalry against irregular light cavalry in a campaign of rapid maneuver, the regulars should easily come out on top, if only because their skill at techniques should be much higher. Of course, if the president were to ask the Pentagon for this option, it would immediately say it is impossible, because a success by a small, fast force using maneuver warfare would not justify larger budgets and force structures. At senior levels, the budget war is the only war that matters.

The View From Olympus: Another Strategic Failure

On Wednesday, President Obama outlined his strategy for dealing with ISIS. It is a strategy set up for failure, because the means are insufficient to the desired ends.

President Obama has set the goal as destroying ISIS. The phrase he used in his speech to the nation was “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Secretary of State John Kerry had already announced this objective. According to the September 8 New York Times, Kerry said, “We have the ability to destroy ISIL (ISIS). It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years. But we’re determined it has to happen.” The same day’s Times reported on its front page,

The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a phased campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that may take three years to eventually destroy the terrorist army . . .

“What I want people to understand,“ Mr. Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum” of the militants, “we are going to systematically degrade their capabilities; we’re going to shrink the territory that they control; and, ultimately, we’re going to defeat them,” he added.

Those are maximalist objectives. But the means President Obama announced are not sufficient to attain them, absent a great deal of good fortune. This is not because the president is “weak.” It is because the U.S. military is a one-trick pony. That one trick is to bomb. As President Johnson said in frustration during the Vietnam War, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, that’s all my generals know how to do.“

To see how inadequate the means are for the announced strategic ends, it is helpful to evaluate the President’s plans on John Boyd’s three levels of war: the physical, the mental, and the moral.

Physically, the president’s strategy relies on air power. The reasons air power alone will fail, as it always has, are many. The enemy quickly finds ways to conceal and protect himself from air attack. It’s harder in desert country, but by no means impossible. Irregular light cavalry forces such as ISIS are difficult to distinguish from civilians from the air, and they will quickly intermingle their columns with traveling civilians so the air strikes kill women and kids. They will lose any specialized military equipment, but they don’t depend on that.

For an air campaign to be effective, it must act in cooperation with competent ground forces. In Kurdistan, those exist. They do not exist elsewhere in Iraq, as the disintegration of the Iraqi army demonstrated. Shiite militias will fight, but are usually poorly trained and bring moral baggage, as noted below. There could be an effective ground force working with our air power in Syria, in the form of the Syrian Arny of President Bashar al Assad and its highly competent ally, Hezbollah, but President Obama has ruled that out for ideological reasons. The “moderate Syrian opposition” he wants to rely on consists of twelve men living outside Syria in luxury hotels. It is a chimera.

If our military were competent, it could offer the president the option of a small–2500 to 25,000-man–“Afrika Korps” that could employ maneuver warfare on the ground, cooperating with American air power, to serve as the chi force to the Iraqi Army’s and militias’ cheng force, much as Rommel did for the Italians in North Africa. But the Pentagon can’t do that. The generals would quickly tell the President they would need at least 250,000 men to go in on the ground. Otherwise, the only option is bombing. So we’ll bomb.

We will supposedly create effective allies on the ground through American training. Has anyone else noticed that all the armies we train lose, starting with South Vietnam? We train them in obsolete Second Generation war, war dependent on vast firepower and logistics they do not and cannot have. We trained the Iraqi Army that just broke and ran. So the prescription is more of the same? Again, it is all the U.S. military knows how to do.

On Boyd’s mental level, a continuous air war above ISIS, similar to that which Israel has waged in Gaza, even during times of relative peace, will be wearing to ISIS and the civilians in areas it controls. ISIS will suffer attrition. But because it is just one problem that requires adaptation, not a cascade of ever-greater problems, it will not pull ISIS apart. Once you’ve seen the one-trick pony’s one trick, you don’t care much about seeing it a second time, or a five hundredth.

It is on the moral level, Boyd’s most powerful level of war, that President Obama’s strategy is the weakest. The September 11 New York Times quoted one American “security official” saying, “We cannot be seen as the Shiite air force,” but in Iraq that is what we will be. On the ground, we will be acting in support of an overwhelmingly Shiite Iraqi Army (what’s left of it) and Shiite militia. That will drive Iraqi Sunnis toward ISIS.

By attacking ISIS, a force with few air defenses, from the air, we will fall once again into the doomed role of Goliath endlessly stomping David. That will strengthen ISIS‘s moral appeal and serve as a highly effective recruiting tool for them.

In the region where it operates, ISIS’s moral strength is already great and growing. Contrary to what President Obama said Wednesday night, ISIS represents true Islam, pure Islam, Islam as it poured out of the Arabian deserts to overwhelm Christian North Africa and the Christian Levant in the 7th century. That gives it tremendous moral appeal to Arab Muslims, especially if they are young men with nothing to do, which is the one product Arab societies overproduce. As air attack has its usual effect of pushing those under bombardment closer together while giving them a burning desire for revenge against enemies they cannot reach, ISIS’s power at the moral level of war will grow by leaps and bounds. Again, that is power at the most decisive level of war–against which all we can pose is some attrition.

So failure is as guaranteed as anything in war can be. When President Obama’s strategy fails, the war party in Washington will howl that America’s “credibility” is at stake. President Obama or his successor will be subjected to great pressure, not to acknowledge failure and get out, but to escalate. That will mean, once again, sending hundreds of thousands of American troops to fight another war in the Middle East–and suffer another defeat, because we do not know how to fight Fourth Generation war. favicon

The View From Olympus: The Next Move

President Obama’s reluctance to just “do something” about ISIS is correct. He should be applauded, not criticized, for saying we do not yet have a strategy to deal with ISIS. It is not a simple problem. I suggested a strategy in a previous column, but if we adopt it, no one will notice. It is covert and takes time to work.

However, ISIS’s execution of another American may put irresistible pressure on the president. If so, there is something he can do that would have an effect. It would not be decisive, but it would create a problem for ISIS.

ISIS has wisely adopted the Hezbollah model for 4GW organizations.It not only fights, it also provides the people under its control (if they are strict Sunnis) good government. Taxes are lowered, officials don’t require bribes to do something, crime is suppressed, and people get services the state should provide but long ago ceased to do so. The obvious goal is to build legitimacy, the coin of the realm in Fourth Generation war.

The U.S. could drive a wedge between ISIS and the people to whom it is trying to appeal. We should announce that we will “severely punish” ISIS for its murder of American citizens, and warn all civilians to leave all town and cities under ISIS’s control. Then, we pick a town or small city, not too large, not too small, and flatten it. Not just “precision” strikes from an F-18 or two; we hit it with every B-52 and B-1 that can fly. Most of the bombs will just be making the rubble bounce.

Then, we announce that we may (or by implication may not) give other places the same treatment. If the civilians flee, ISIS loses its logistics base and it has shown it cannot protect them. If ISIS forces people to stay, then we do hit some more places and lots of civilians die. Either way, ISIS loses legitimacy. Its bonds with the population are damaged if not shattered.

Such an operation–we might call it Templar Express–requires stronger nerves than the Washington Establishment possesses. It relfects the reality that in this situation, if you are going to do anything, it has to seem big. Strategically, it isn’t. It will not destroy ISIS.

The usual hand-wringers will howl if we flatten a place full of civilians, but the Hama rule applies. It has to be over fast. You cannot keep up  a campaign like this very long.

As the FMFM 1A, Fourth Generation War (K.u.K Austro-Hungarian Marine Corps) argues, for a state to prevail in 4GW, it must either take a slow, patient, careful approach in which it may suffer more casualties than it inflicts, or it must get very violent very fast–and get it over quickly. That is the Hama model. Regrettably, the leadership of almost all states tries to split the difference, because that is what politicians normally do. But that guarantees that the state loses.

In the event that we do not split the difference here–most probably because Obama has the courage to continue to do nothing until we can identify a strategy with some promise of success–the president would do well to remember in future teapot crises two bits of advice. The first is from President Nixon, who was far and away our best president on foreign policy in the 20th century: It can be useful to be thought just a little bit mad. The other advice comes from a fellow who had some prominence mid-century: if you are going to act in a crisis, your action should be “Eiskalt und Blitzschnell“–icy cold and lightning fast. And don’t ever, ever split the difference. favicon

The View From Olympus: The Origins of Our Distress

In an earlier column I referenced Thomas Friedman’s interview with President Obama, published in the August 9 New York Times. The interview is worth revisiting, because it yields important clues to the origins of our failures and distress.

Before I criticize the president, let me make two points. First, in the interview President Obama demonstrates a far more realistic view of the world than that of his childish predecessor, George W. Bush. Second, the errors in President Obama’s world view are shared by virtually the whole Washington Establishment. The most prominent and damaging disconnect from reality, hubris, is worse among Republicans, where howlers for endless war everywhere such as Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham are still taken seriously by some.

That said, the magnitude of the Establishment’s hubris shines through President Obama’s statements. Nowhere is it more clear than in his statements about Libya, where our intervention against Qaddafi destroyed the Libyan state and created another petri dish for Fourth Generation forces–exactly as I predicted at the time. Friedman quotes Obama saying,

I’ll give you an example of a lesson I had to learn that still has ramifications|to this day. And that is our participation in the coalition that overthrew Qaddafi in Libya. I absolutely believe that was the right thing to do (emphasis added) …when everybody is feeling good and holding up posters saying, “Thank you, America.” At that moment there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies that didn’t have any civic traditions.

Friedman summarizes what was presumably more discussion of Libya by writing,

Intervening in Libya to prevent a massacre was the right thing to do, Obama argued, but doing it without sufficient follow-up on the ground to manage Libya’s transition to more democratic politics is probably his biggest foreign policy regret.

What on earth leads the Establishment to think America can go into a country with a radically different and largely dysfunctional culture, about which it knows virtually nothing, and “manage its transition to more democratic politics,” much less “rebuild societies that didn’t have any civic traditions?” Who do the Establishment think they are? Merlin? The Archangel Michael? The degree of hubris is astonishing. The United States, or any foreign power, has no more ability to do those things than we do of commanding the tide to recede.

More, what President Obama proclaims is a “lesson he had to learn” shows that the Establishment cannot learn. The obvious lesson from Libya is that if you overthrow a tyranny, what you get in most of the world is anarchy. But he does not draw that lesson, concluding instead that we must somehow do more to turn these flea-bitten fly-blown third-world hellholes into Switzerland. Here we see the rigid limits the Establishment has set to learning from experience. The lesson cannot be that its ideology of “democratic capitalism” is at odds with reality, despite its repeated failures. Anyone who dares draw that lesson immediately ceases to be a member of the Establishment. Instead, the ideology must be preached all the more stridently, and dissenters banished ever-farther from the seat of power.

The sin of hubris runs through much of the remainder of the interview. Speaking of the Sunnis in the Middle East, President Obama says, “Unless we can give them a formula that speaks to the aspirations of that population . . .” Who are we to think we can give the locals “formulas” to solve problems that go back more than a millenium? Of the Iraqis, he says, “We can help them and partner with them every step of the way . . .” After a decade of showing we don’t know down from up in Iraqi society, how are we supposed to “help them and partner with them” instead of just making everything worse, as we have already done in spades? Again and again, we see the same point proven: the Establishment cannot learn.

Two other sources of our distress shine through the president’s remarks, both, like hubris, common throughout the Establishment. Discussing ISIS, he told Friedman,

the question for us has to be not simply how we counteract them militarily but how we are going to speak to a Sunni majority in that area … that, right now, is detached from the global economy.

Besides the fact that the Pentagon hasn’t a clue how to deal with ISIS militarily, because all it knows how to do is drop bombs, the assumption shining through here is that the Sunni-Shiite civil war could be settled if only its participants were involved in the “global economy.” The Establishment cannot grasp that religion, race, and nationalism are far more powerful motivators than is economics. Globalism, with its hollowing out of the state, is in fact paving the way for more primal war, fought for age-old reasons by entities that are not states.

And in his discussion of the dangers of political maximalism, concerning which he is both prudent and correct: the president said, “And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.” That is true. The more diverse the country, the more difficult and dangerous its politics, the more likely it is to splinter in civil war. Yet President Obama, like all the Establishment, is a fervent believer in more “diversity” — which in the coded language of cultural Marxism means diversity of everything except thought. The President wants more immigration, more emphasis on cultural divisions already present within this country, more rubbing raw every difference of race, sex, and class. Why cannot he, and the rest of the Establishment, perceive that “diversity” is likely to be the undoing of America, that we need, if the country is to survive, what it used to have, one common people and culture?

The answer: again, is the willful blindness demanded by ideology. Of all the poisons unleashed by the French Revolution, ideology remains the most deadly.