Monday, November 13, 2006

Why We Can't Win in Iraq and Why Israel Can't Defeat the Palestinians or Lebanese

I've realized over the last few years that Americans have some misguided notions of how war works these days and this is the cause of some of our bad decisions regarding war. The War Nerd has an excellent piece about asymmetric warfare which is applicable to Iraq as well as most of the conflicts in the world, including Israel's struggle with the Palestinians and its neighbors.

Too many Americans and right-wing Israelis are still under the impression that you can win asymmetric wars by killing your opponents. (I'm looking at you, Ezzie.) The reality is that they only need a "few hundred urban guerrillas" if they have civilian support. You'll never kill enough of the enemy that they can't muster a few hundred bloodthirsty young men. Asymmetric wars are un-winnable. We should have learned that in Vietnam. We could -- and did -- easily take out Saddam and his conventional military. We're just wasting our time, lives, treasure, and goodwill trying to defeat the insurgency.

His summary:

1. Most wars are asymmetrical / irregular.

2. In these wars, the guerrillas / irregulars / insurgents do NOT aim for military victory.

3. You can NOT defeat these groups by killing lots of their members.

In fact, they want you to do that.

4. Hi-tech weaponry is mostly useless in these wars.

5. "Hearts and Minds," meaning propaganda and morale, are more important than military superiority.

6. Most people are not rational, they are TRIBAL: "my gang yay, your gang boo!" It really is that simple. The rest is cosmetics.


Some excerpts:

[Old-fashioned] wars are rare, and going to get rarer. Because there's a much cheaper, easier way to make war. This way doesn't require any of the building blocks of conventional war: you don't need industry, aircraft, armor or massive armies. In fact, this kind of war can be played by any group of wackos that can round up a dozen or so bushwhackers. All you need is small arms and a grudge -- and those are the only two commodities most of the world has a surplus of...

Most of the "armies" in the world right now avoid battle and focus on killing civilians. This is the hardest thing for Americans to understand: armies that don't aim at victory and actually avoid battle...

[You cannot win by killing the enemy.] In this kind of war the enemy wants you to kill a lot of people. A lot of irregular warfare groups start their campaigns with a suicide raid, where they expect to be slaughtered...

[Lo-tech beats high-tech.] If we take Iraq 2003 as a familiar and painful example, you saw a classic outcome: our hi-tech beat their wanna-be hi-tech in the conventional battles. Then we started getting picked off by low-tech ambushes where the insurgents used homemade IEDs in combination with old, rugged Soviet weapons like the RPG-7 and Kalashnikov. After two years, those simple weapons are still effective -- and they're actually getting lower- and lower-tech...

Americans are pretty well anti-death, but lots of other tribes are in love with the idea of the martyrdom thing...

We have a problem with the Iraqi Sunnis. There are about seven million of them. All you need for an effective insurgency is a few hundred urban guerrillas (with a much bigger base of civilian supporters). So they're never going to run out of young men. And no overwhelming force short of neutron bombs will solve the problem...

[People don't care about democracy.] Look around the world and you'll see that people are divided into ethnic gangs, like the planet's one big San Quentin. All they want is for their gang to win. If they have any ideology beyond that, it's more of the God stuff, and you need Thorazine to cure that. Godfearing gangbangers, that's exactly what we ran into in Somalia, 1993. Half the population of Mogadishu turned on our guys who were trying to provide aid for the starving. They didn't want peace, democracy or any of that shit. They wanted their clan to win and the other clans to lose. And if stopping the aid convoys from getting food to those enemy clans was the only way to win, they were ready to make it happen, ready to die fighting our best troops backed by attack helicopters and APCs. We killed maybe a thousand of these "civilians" and lost 18 Rangers and Delta operators. And the Somalis made the anniversary of that fight a national holiday. It's worth giving a moment to let that sink in: these people fought to the death against overwhelmingly superior US forces, because they wanted their clan to win by starving rival clans to death.

Yes, Grasshopper, you must meditate on the fact that People are superstitious tribalists. Democracy comes about 37th, if that. Nobody wants to face that fact: we're tribal critters. We'll die for the tribe. More to the point, we'll kill for it. We don't care about democracy. And I'm not just talking here about people in tropical hellholes like Somalia, I mean your town, your street. Most Americans are just like me: old-school nationalists. We want America to be Roman, to kick ass. The rest is for Quakers.

26 comments:

CyberKitten said...

Well... I have to say that I agree with almost every single word of that....

The only way to 'win' against that kind of enemy (like we are facing in Iraq) is to kill everyone - which is hardly acceptable these days....

As it said in Wargames - The only way to win is not to fight.

Ezzie said...

Ah, but that's NOT what we believe. We believe you merely need to keep things calm enough while building up the civilian infrastructure. The stronger that gets, the less interested they'll be in supporting the terrorists. (The other option is destroying the civilian infrastructure to the point that nobody wants to support the terrorists. The former is what should be done in Iraq, the latter to Hamas, probably.)

Jewish Atheist said...

We believe you merely need to keep things calm enough while building up the civilian infrastructure. The stronger that gets, the less interested they'll be in supporting the terrorists.

How does that follow? The Sunnis want to dominate the country and to have Muslim rule, not to wait in line at the DMV.

The other option is destroying the civilian infrastructure to the point that nobody wants to support the terrorists.

How would that make people less likely to support terrorism? Are countries without civilian infrastructure more peaceful than those with it?

Please provide examples, if any exist, of your theory working in real life.

Ezzie said...

Sorry, slow day...

As to the latter point, the idea is that when a way of life is completely miserable, people aren't interested in it. See Sherman's March to Atlanta. :) (Read the speech, it's excellent.) It happens all the time on different levels: When people are getting punished for the negative actions of those they support, they will turn on those they are supporting for a better way of life.

You can easily look at elections in this country last week for a good example!

As to the former point... that's simply the way it is. The stronger a country's economy, the higher the quality of life, and the greater the freedoms, the more the people will want that to continue. Freedom is not to be underestimated. Look at the Palestinians in East Jerusalem - why were they so hateful of Arafat? Because the intifada cost them all their business, and they went from finally "making it" back to intense poverty.

People aren't too stupid. They know which side offers them more, whatever they may not like about the other.

Moreover, there are basic flaws in what this guy is saying throughout. He makes some valid points, and he makes others that are simply wrong. The best points he makes are the ones that undermine your point, or, more often, prove that liberal ideals (and the media) seriously hurt efforts to truly effect change.

[I know, none of that was clear. It's that kind of day.]

R10B said...

From the original post:
We'll die for the tribe. More to the point, we'll kill for it. We don't care about democracy.

In that democracy is a political system, I agree. People don't voluntarily sacrifice their lives for political systems.

In that democracy is a political system based, ostensibly, on allowing its citizens to live free, I disagree. People may indeed die for "the tribe" but they do so in order to gain or maintain their tribe's (and thus their own) freedom.

The core element is freedom, not tribalism.

cyberkitten:
As it said in Wargames - The only way to win is not to fight.

Hollywood has all the answers.

Jewish Atheist said...

r10b:

People were killing and dying for their tribes long before there was democracy... or freedom, really.

asher said...

The underlying fact is that those people are animals. You can't reason with them, you can't kill enough of them, you can't give them food or aid. They are animals pure and simple who are in love with death and can't be reasoned with. You can't negotiate with them. You can't offer them anything.

Agreed. Israel and those folks who refer to themselves as Palestinians (they are actually Arab Israelis who refuse to be citizens of Israel)can never get along.

We should have a standing army that never fights anywhere.

I don't know why they teach military tactics anymore in West Point. There's no such thing.

skcorefil said...

"The underlying fact is that those people are animals. You can't reason with them, you can't kill enough of them, you can't give them food or aid. They are animals pure and simple who are in love with death and can't be reasoned with. You can't negotiate with them. You can't offer them anything. "

The colonies were kinda like that in the revolutionary war.......

CyberKitten said...

asher said: The underlying fact is that those people are animals. You can't reason with them, you can't kill enough of them.

So... as they are unreasoning 'animals' (unlike us of course) we can do pretty much what we want with them. After all they've been dehumanised.. we can cluster bomb their children... we can gas them and starve them and none of it really matters... [sigh].

asher also said: Israel and those folks who refer to themselves as Palestinians (they are actually Arab Israelis who refuse to be citizens of Israel)can never get along.

Corret me if I'm wrong but wasn't the state of Isreal "created" in 1948 by the UN? Where did these "Isreali arabs" live before then? Palestine maybe?

asher said...

Cyber,

There was never a country called Palestine. It was an area that was later carved out by a mandate that the UN offered to the arabs and jews. The Jews accepted it and the arabs went to war. The UN later agreed on cease fire lines which were also never accepted by the arabs. I'm sorry, but if you live in an area that is a country you are either it's citizens or you are aliens. Apparently you've fallen by the propaganda. Please read up on the history of the reigion.

For a more educated arguement, why is there no history of the Palestinian "people" prior to 1967? In fact, the term "palestinian" doesn't appear in print until that date. And, if you want to name famous Palestinians two come to mind:
Sirhan Sirhan who killed Robert Kennedy and Yassir Arafat who bankrupted his country and won the Nobel peace prize.

CyberKitten said...

asher said: There was never a country called Palestine.

From a quick glance at the Palestine article on Wikipedia it appears that there has been a territory called Palestine on & off for many many years in the rough geographical area now occupied by Israel...

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Cyberkitten, you need a different perspective. JA, I hope you don't mind these two cut and pastes from my blog:

Land in the 20th and 21st Century doesn't work like land used to work, when all solid land wasn't claimed on this earth.

There is no such thing as Palestinian land, Muslim land, Arab land, Jewish land, Atheist land, Caucasian land, Christian land, etc.

Land is either owned and/or governed. That is it. That is how land works. Land is just dirt, plain and simple.

Yes, the Palestinian region has existed throughout recorded history. Yes, there is a such thing as Arabs who are/were indigenous to the region, as well as Christians and Jews, etc.

But demographics change everywhere. Immigration is not a form of stealing. You can only steal land if it is OWNED.

The percentages of Muslims in the West has climbed in recent years. Nobody is accusing Muslims of stealing Western lands though because they are not.

The region of Palestine was last governed by the British before Israel was created.
Arabs and their mindless supporters tend to forget that it was the Brits who came up with the White Paper which limited Jewish immigration into the British controlled land of Palestine.

The Arabs, with the exception of the very few who owned land in Israel, have absolutely no claim to Israel. In fact, they have no claim to the West Bank, but it is open to negotiations. Just as Israel was when the Jews were successfully lobbying for it.

Over 90% of the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza were born in the West Bank and Gaza, and have no property in Israel proper. Their grandfathers may have lived there, but so what? I used to live in Toronto, I don't anymore. In fact, in Toronto, the Kensington district used to have a Jewish majority until the late 50's. But the Jews moved to Northern Toronto. Nobody is making a claim that Kensington is Jewish land.

My house and property is not Jewish land. It wouldn't matter if everyone on my street were Jews. Land can be sold. And it can as easily be sold to anyone of any ethnicity.
************************************************************************
'Dearborn was founded as the first overnight stop on the stagecoach route linking Detroit to Chicago. Its streets are named for the German Catholics who have since given way to Polish and Italian Americans, whom Arab immigrants and their descendents, in turn, are replacing. Southfield Freeway separates the city’s Western and Eastern worlds, roughly demarcating three neighborhoods: Southend is now mostly populated by Yemenis; East Dearborn is a bustling Lebanese community of Arab restaurants, bakeries, and halal butchers; and West Dearborn’s residential streets remain populated by Italian and Polish ethnics.

The Muslim presence in metropolitan Detroit dates to the last decade of the 19th century, when men from the Lebanese Biqa Valley, working as peddlers and traders, followed a larger number of Lebanese Christian emigrees to the U.S. When Henry Ford began to offer generous five-dollar daily wages for workers at his Highland Park assembly line in 1913, Detroit became the predominant destination for Lebanese immigrants. Immigration accelerated when Lebanon’s economy fell apart in the wake of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse at the end of World War I. The restrictive National Origins Act of 1924 reduced Lebanese immigration to a trickle, but over the next twenty years, wives and dependent children, whom the Act still allowed to immigrate, gradually reunited with their husbands and fathers. In 1927, Ford shifted operations to the Rouge River plant in his native Dearborn, and a Muslim neighborhood soon followed.

By the close of World War II, the Dearborn population numbered about 200 families. Most subsequent immigrants–Palestinian, Lebanese, and Iraqi–arrived in Dearborn as political refugees, with only Yemenis coming to Dearborn in this period primarily for economic opportunity. Collectively, the communities in Dearborn represent the second largest concentration of both Arabs and Muslims outside the Middle East, behind only Paris.'

Isn't it special that Arabs/Muslims can set up in an American region and nobody accuses them (nor should they) of stealing land, like Jews were accused of doing in Palestine prior to the Partition.


Isn't it special that demographics can change over time in a Western city, and nobody is looking to push the Arabs/Muslims into Lake Michigan?

Where is the Western outrage? How come Dearborn isn't thinking about building a fence around it to protect itself from terrorists?

Why would it seem hysterical if the German Catholics, who built the city of Dearborn, demanded "their" land back?

For some reason, some readers aren't getting this post. So let me try to explain it a little better. Jews went to Palestine for a better life, just like the Arabs did when they migrated from Arabia to Dearborn. Many Jews came to escape anti-semitism, many came for religious reasons, many came because they didn't have many other options, and many came to espape Dhimmitudism, just like the Arabs of Dearborn did.
Palestine was relatively empty prior to Israel's birth. In the late 1800's, 500,000 people lived on land that now comfortably hold over 6 million. Nobody had to leave, nobody had their land stolen.
For those of you weak on history, at the time of the partition, Arabs owned 20% of the land and Jews owned 8%, the rest unowned. Palestine was governed by Britain. The land partioned off to be the Jewish state had 550,00 Jews and 450,000 Arabs. It was a Jewish majority in 1947 that came about the same way that Dearborn went for 0% Muslims to 40% today. Except, the United States exists now and isn't up for negotiations, so Dearborn can never be an Arab state, unless in the future, the US decides to allow them to have a separate state (Not impossible).

Get it yet?

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

JA, even if you are correct in your assmuption and logic that the war in Israel is unwinnable, the only choice Israel has to end the war would result in death to Jews and dhimmitude for the remaining ones.

Israel won't go for that, and either would I, so I guess perpetual fighting is the only acceptable answer, until the world becomes nothing but Atheists.

Jewish Atheist said...

BEAJ:

Israel has many options, but I do think low-level fighting is probably the only reasonable course of action for the forseeable future. It should avoid big military moves as much as possible as long as they are counterproductive. (One could argue, for example, that taking out Iran's nuclear capability might be worth the cost, although I'm not now making that argument.)

Israel should be spending a lot of time and effort on winning the hearts and minds, though. Every action, military or not, that they take which affects Palestinians should be weighed carefully w/r/t the effects it will have on the Palestinians' hearts and minds. Most of all, they must avoid the tit-for-tat strategy which does nothing but cause more support -- and new recruits -- for Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

Right-wingers don't like this whole hearts and minds business because it feels cowardly to them. They want to hit and hit hard. But when hitting hard is counter-productive, it's braver to stand up to your and others' impulses to fight fire with fire and try to put the fire out.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

You are kind of contradicting yourself. In your post you basically said that radical Islam has no interest in heart and mind business.

Building hospitals, leaving Gaza, etc, seem to have no effect on the Palestinian Arab population.

I'm all for common sense prevaling, and I would rather reason than fight.

Jewish Atheist said...

You are kind of contradicting yourself. In your post you basically said that radical Islam has no interest in heart and mind business.

I said no such thing.

Building hospitals, leaving Gaza, etc, seem to have no effect on the Palestinian Arab population.

Then Israel needs to try something else. Or maybe there is no way for them to win, I don't know. I'm not saying there is.

I'm all for common sense prevaling, and I would rather reason than fight.

I wish more people felt that way.

Half Sigma said...

Assymetric wars are unwinnable if you want to be the good guys.

The bad guys sometimes do win these wars. There was no civil war in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in charge.

The guys running Syria wiped out a whole town of the Muslim Brotherhood, killing something like 30,000. They are still in power.

Half Sigma said...

"Israel should be spending a lot of time and effort on winning the hearts and minds"

The ONLY way to do that is to take over the education of Palestinian children. Otherwise they are taught in Palestinian schools that Jews are evil. It's impossible to override the early programming of chidlren.

Without doing that, there's not point in even bothering to try to win over any hearts and minds of adults.

Stephen said...

I think the USA could have succeeded in Iraq if they had managed to stop the insurgency from coalescing in the first place. To do that, they would have had to take advantage of the tribalism you're referring to in the post.

I'm reading Woodward's "State of Denial" right now. He reports that Garner had made arrangements with former Baath party officials, to pay them a small sum of money to work for the Americans. Unfortunately (a) Garner was never able to deliver the money, because the Department of Defence wasn't backing him up; and (b) Bremer was brought in to replace him and immediately quashed the deal.

Do you know that Garner used to go into the market and hold lengthy dialogues with Iraqis every week, wearing no protective gear? They had polite discourse, in which the Iraqis groused about their problems and he outlined the progress the Americans had made in improving conditions that week. No insurgency existed, or Garner would be dead today — he was right there for the killing.

If Garner's strategy had been implemented, the Baathists would have felt that their tribe was being looked after, not being shouldered aside. The seeds of the insurgency came when Bremer declared flat out that he was the government of Iraq and the Americans were occupying the country. In other words, your tribe is out — so sad for you.

Ezzie said...

Right-wingers don't like this whole hearts and minds business because it feels cowardly to them. They want to hit and hit hard.

That's not true at all. We'd all prefer it that way. The problem is when it is either unlikely to work, or - even if a decent possibility - the delay while trying it will only make a future (inevitable) action that much more dangerous and costly. You want to nip things in the bud before they become huge problems, not keep trying to talk while things become too large to deal with.

Put it this way: At the point where most countries would have thought that taking out the Iraqi nuclear reactor was okay, it would have been way too late for Israel to try it. Meanwhile, that has turned out to be one of the most important - positive - military actions of the last 30 years, and resulted in minimal bloodshed vs. what could have been had it stayed up.

Jewish Atheist said...

Ezzie:

Taking out a nuclear reactor is a rare example of where a high-tech military strike is still practical. I specifically said above that that one could argue doing the same to Iran, if possible, would be worth it. If our goal in Iraq had been simply to kill or capture Saddam, it would have been much more pragmatic (although not necessarily smart.)

What I'm talking about in this post is asymmetrical warfare, where there is no easy, clear-cut objective that's achievable by military might alone. Killing Arafat would have been easy for Israel; ending the Intifada much harder.

CyberKitten said...

JA said: What I'm talking about in this post is asymmetrical warfare, where there is no easy, clear-cut objective that's achievable by military might alone.

I don't think that 'military solutions' exist any more. Once upon a time when industrial states fought other industrial states it was possible to settle our differences (rather stupidly in my opinion) on the battlefield. Now that the entire world is potentially the battlefield such 'solutions' are difficult, long & costly at best.

Killing people is easy. Impossing peace by force though.... now that's tough!

r10b said...

People were killing and dying for their tribes long before there was...freedom.

If you say so. I think freedom preceded tribalism (and even Man), but that's another topic.

Ezzie said...

But that's the point. It's not about "clear-cut" objectives, such as taking out the leader. No war ever has been.

You have to take as broad a look as possible - was invading Iraq a positive or negative, on a global scale with emphasis in the US and Iraq and the Middle East, for the long-term? The broader you get, the stronger the answer seems to be "Yes".

Jewish Atheist said...

But that's the point. It's not about "clear-cut" objectives, such as taking out the leader. No war ever has been.

World War II had clear-cut objectives. Stop the enemy by any means necessary. We massacred millions of civilians. Nowadays, we're not willing to do so in conflicts like the Iraq war. Therefore, it's not possible to win them.

You have to take as broad a look as possible - was invading Iraq a positive or negative, on a global scale with emphasis in the US and Iraq and the Middle East, for the long-term? The broader you get, the stronger the answer seems to be "Yes".

We simply disagree, Ezzie. I, and most Americans, think it was a negative.

Jack's Shack said...

World War II had clear-cut objectives. Stop the enemy by any means necessary. We massacred millions of civilians. Nowadays, we're not willing to do so in conflicts like the Iraq war. Therefore, it's not possible to win them.

Unfortunately this is probably what will have to happen to end the violence.

The question I consistently ask myself is there a way to win the hearts and minds of most of the populace so that you can really marginalize those who would still consider taking up arms.