The View From Olympus: Our Failing Strategy

“How many more years and trillions of dollars will we waste doing more of what does not work?”

An article in the November 21 New York Times revealed two aspects of our ongoing strategic failure in Fourth Generation war.  First, it quoted a new study by CSIS that found the number of Sunni 4GW fighters has grown, not shrunk, since we began the “war on terror” on 9/11:

Nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants are operating around the world today as on Sept. 11, 2001, despite nearly two decades of American-led campaigns to combat Al Qaeda and the Islamic state, a new independent study concludes.

That amounts to as many as 230,000 Salafi jihadist fighters in nearly 70 countries, according to the study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. . .

. . .the Islamic State remains the predominant threat, with as many as about 40,000 members globally this year, up from 30,200 in 2014, when the group’s fighters seized the northern third of Iraq.

Second, the Times turned to another study to look at what our current strategy has cost:

Last week, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs released its annual report, the Cost of War study, in which it calculated that the United States will have spent $5.9 trillion on activities related to the global counter terrorism campaign by October 2019.

So, the war of attrition waged largely from the air that is our chosen 4GW strategy has, in seventeen years, cost us almost $6 trillion (not billion) while multiplying our Islamic enemies fourfold.  Can we see this as anything other than strategic failure on a grand scale?

The failure was easy to predict.  If we consider strategy not only at the physical level but at Col. John Boyd’s mental and moral levels, a war of attrition in which we remain largely untouchable, high above the clouds, could only work to rally young men everywhere to join whomever we are fighting.  Of course the number of our enemies has grown; we have spent nearly $6 trillion recruiting them.  Every time an American drone hovers ahead, every time we launch an airstrike, every time we flaunt our wealth and power as we bomb people who are poor and weak, we recruit more 4GW enemies.  We nourish and feed the hydra, then wring our hands as it grows more heads.

What might we do instead?  What alternative strategies should we consider? The Times quotes the CSIS study on one alternative:

 “Perhaps the most important component of Western policy should be helping regimes that are facing terrorism improve governance and deal more effectively with economic, sectarian, and other grievances,” the 71-page study concluded.

That won’t work either.  Just as our military fights wars of attrition because that is all it knows how to do, so our foreign policy establishment remains trapped in the ruins of Wilsonianism, the wholly unrealistic belief that we can instruct other people on how to run their countries and cultures.  We can tell them, but they are not going to listen, in part for the good reason that we are likely to be wrong.  Our policy elites’ understanding of how other societies work is both shallow and warped by “Globalist” ideology.  Outside Washington, almost everybody has figured that out, so no one listens to them.

There is an alternative strategy I think might work, or at least work better than recruiting more enemies.  It has two components.  The first is tight border security, far tighter than anything President Trump is planning, tight enough to keep all varieties of 4GW fighters from entering (we will still face the home-grown variety, who in the long run will be more dangerous).  The second component is invisibility.  Since what we are doing now feeds hydra, stop it.  Stop all overt actions around the world.  Bring the troops, planes, drones, and ships home.  Disappear, and thus take away our enemies’ main recruiting tool.  No longer will Somalis or Yemenis or Libyans or Syrians live with the constant hum of American drones overhead, waiting for the Hellfire missile in the night. There may still be drones, but they will not be American drones.  They will have to fight someone else.

And that will be just what we want them to do.  It’s the old strategy of “use barbarians to fight barbarians.”  Sunni jihadis have a lot of enemies besides us: Shiites, Alawites, Hindus, other Sunnis, other tribes, etc. ad infinitum.  Removing our overt presence will remove a unifying factor and encourage them to fight each other.  Covertly, there will be ways for us to ramp up that fighting–and we should.  In some cases, we may even be able to make money doing it.  Have we no Sir Basil Zaharoff?

Chosen as a strategy, inaction can be a form of action, one with far less blowback that our current failing strategy has generated–and far less expensive.  How many more years and trillions will we waste doing more of what does not work?


Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

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