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Archive for September, 2014

We’re Back in the Iraq Business, Part IV

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Too many variables and topics to take them all on in this note. But I do want to address several, and introduce a couple of ideas I gleaned from others.

Assumptions

  • We, the US or any sort of “global coalition”, are not going to solve the problems…the sources of instability and threats…. in the Middle East and South Asia.
  • We’re not going to eliminate ISIS, any more than we will ever eliminate al Qaeda or any of the other terrorist organizations. Their basis is unhappiness expressed as religious extremism, and the world will never be an entirely happy place. ISIS, Al Qaeda and the others are complex adaptive systems.
  • ISIS certainly seems to display most of the attributes of complex adaptive system. It does not have unifying central control and is a mix of small groups and sub-groups of actors unified by a common purpose. These groups act independently, and in a highly unpredictable, self-organizing way.  Its lack of formal organization has not hampered its effectiveness and ability to defeat better-organized forces with superior equipment and training.  Even though they come from all over the globe to fight, the strength of their common will creates a bond that holds them together against a common enemy (even though they fight each other at times).

Aaron Bazin, “Defeating ISIS and Their Complex Way of War”, Small Wars Journal, September 15, 2014.

  • Better to engage them there than here.
  • The bad guys turn their anger toward the US and others who interfere and/or are of different beliefs because we are in their countries and because we are trying to impose our will and idea of how things should be. That’s a large part of the reason other countries we want in the fight with us are hesitant to get more involved…….they don’t want the escalations towards them that come with escalations by them (see Turkey), and they know the US will act.
  • I believe there will be at best tiny ground force provided from other countries.
  • There will not be an Iraqi military or security force. There will be a Sunni military and security forces for the Sunni regions of the country, and a Shiite military and security forces for the Shiite portions of the country. And then there is the Kurdish region.

Here’s a different view that may be helpful to the US’s thinking about what we really ought to want to accomplish and how we want to get to that outcome.

    • The conflicts are primarily Sunnis vs. Shia, populations against government, regions of an artificially-composed country against one another, etc., not population against government.
    • If I told you that the Middle East and South Asia will remain unstable and dangerous places where there always has been and likely always will be unrest and unpredictability, but there are potentially ways to use that instability to have the fighting and threats more focused on “between them” and thereby reduce the danger of attacks here in the US, would you be OK with that?
    • Additionally, the determination will have to be made early on if an ISIS first strategy means the primary objective is the actual elimination of that terrorist and insurgent organization or if it means that the severe degradation (attrition of personnel and materiel) of that organization is the primary objective. The reason for a potential second strategy variant is that a severely weakened ISIS: (a) might have some benefit as a counter-balance to other influences and forces in Syria and Iraq and (b) might have some benefit in order to continue to create a Sunni Islamist schism as an Al Qaeda competitor.”
    • Robert Bunker, “An Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) First Strategy”, Small Wars Journal, August 30, 2014
    • “Complex adaptive systems are self-organizing. As the system organizes, a hierarchy is established and leaders come to the forefront.  It seems counter-intuitive, but letting this happen helps stabilize the system. Much like in criminal organizations, overtime, three tiers of ISIS will eventually emerge: leaders, connectors, and workers. Capturing or killing the leadership throws the system back into disorganization, which actually causes the system to emerge stronger.  Eliminating all of the workers is also difficult as it takes a largest amount of resources and time.
    • The key here is to allow the system to stabilize and then eliminate the mid-tier connectors in a near simultaneous fashion.  Law enforcement commonly does this in racketeering and drug cases with a near simultaneous ‘round-up’ of all members of a criminal organization.  This weakens the system, and prevents it from operating effectively. Leaders find themselves unable to lead anything and workers find themselves without resources or guidance.  Unable to find a position of power, the international community would find ISIS leadership more amenable to accept their will and comply with international norms.  Once weakened, the international community must help provide a viable governance alternative and help build its legitimacy. The international community must have the follow-through to address the critical question of what’s next.”

            Aaron Bazin, “Defeating ISIS and Their Complex Way of War”, Small Wars Journal, September 15, 2014.

  • Get arms and ammunition out of the region. Do not send more in. There is a lifetime supply of both already there.
  • Covertly confuse, confound, disrupt and degrade those entities that appear to represent a threat to do harm here to the US.
  • If ISIS fights as a complex adaptive system, then the international community could apply knowledge of complex adaptive systems theory to defeat them.   Twice in its history, the United States has employed an “Anaconda” Strategy.  General Winfield Scott developed an “Anaconda” strategy to isolate and strangle the Confederate States (photo above).  More recently, General David Petraeus employed an “Anaconda Strategy versus Al-Qaeda Iraq” to isolate the adversary both physically and conceptually.  The international community should consider application of the “anaconda” metaphor to this new context.  One such approach could approach on three fronts: (1) establish boundaries to isolate and contain; (2) intervene on multiple fronts early and often; and, (3) conduct near simultaneous elimination of the connectors.

Aaron Bazin, “Defeating ISIS and Their Complex Way of War”, Small Wars Journal, September 15, 2014.

  • Look for ways to “level the playing field” between factions if we cannot effectively eliminate those we oppose and should not set our sights on solving the problems.
  • There’s a very important law enforcement and community services center aspect to the formula. Maybe the fact that we are sending active military into the Ebola region to help with containment will only draw bad guys….I would prefer to see this be a medical corps and civil services combination. But I do believe there is a peacekeeping role played by plopping down these operations and services centers in the midst of the poorest and most unstable areas
  • We’ve got to get much better at information operations. The bad guys are winning the messaging war, and that is helping with their recruitment. You don’t win the war with I/O, but you do confuse, confound, peel off the weak followers, turn some key sources of insight and intelligence, divide them, pit them against one another, etc.

Smart power, soft power…they have important roles in increasing the stability in and reducing the threats from these areas and regions.

Three other data points to keep in the back of your mind:

  • The first time a US or ally’s fighter jet gets shot down, or a special forced adviser wounded or killed, or a group of Syrian freedom fighters takes on the Syrian military, or those Turkish hostages start getting executed, all of the calculus goes out the window.
  • Al Qaeda is jealous. See their effort to hijack Pakistani naval ship.
  • Karzai is still in office in Afghanistan.

I may be wrong about some or all of this, and many of you have different and more informed views. Share them, and I’ll share them with our readers.  Send me a note at john@lsi-llc.com.

Thanks,

John

We’re Back In The Iraq Business, Part III

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Most of your questions, perspectives and push-backs on last week’s note were concentrated around three of my assertions:

  • Do not send more arms to our allies in the region.
  • We will not eradicate ISIS.
  • We will not be able to build an alliance of any consequence.

Let me add some more context to my case for each assertion.

  • Send more arms into the region. No. They end up in the wrong hands. Anyway, there are already plenty of arms and ammunition already in the region. All of the parties to the conflicts have done just fine in the arms and ammunition department, haven’t they. I would pay huge bounties for arms and ammunition turned into appropriate honest brokers and destroyed.
  • We must eradicate ISIS. That’s never going to happen. We can confound, confuse, degrade, peel off weaklings…..but we will have no more luck ridding the world of ISIS than we have or will with Al Qaeda. We can covertly make them wonder where the next attack will come from. We can use information operations to hamper recruiting. Remember the smart power theory, which has a soft power element…..permanent, large-scale community services operations designed to be one element of removing some of the causes of unrest and conflict….and a law enforcement, gang conflict component in our strategy, both over there and here in the US. These types of threats are generational problems that will be with us for decades.
  • The US will form a global alliance to combat these threats. No, we won’t be able to form a truly effective alliance with proportional involvement from a critical mass of nations. They know the US will go ahead, regardless, and take action that will escalate the threat. So, why should they get “personally involved” in the unpopular and expensive escalations that only serve to put their countries at greater risk of reprisals.

Let’s see what we learn at 9PM tonight.

I am eager to hear from all of you with your views and cases. Send me a note at john@lsi-llc.com, and I’ll share your perspectives with our readers.

Thanks,

John

We’re Back In The Iraq Business, Part II

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Syria-Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Libya, Central Africa…..on and on goes the list of turmoils.  Global whack-a-mole for the US, the way we are playing it now.

Here’s the facts as I see them, and then a recipe:

  • All of these turmoils are interconnected in various ways.
  • Confront them in one place and they pop up someplace else.
  • Any US, in fact any outsider, involvement in any single turmoil, on their turf, gets at least one of the parties mad at us.
  • The totality of all of this global turmoil involvement is draining our country’s money, warfighters, and overwhelming our country’s ability to inform, analyze, organize and prioritize our thinking about what to do and what not to do. If I am a bad guy, I am thrilled to see the US expending so much in so many places, and getting so frustrated and outwitted….and going broke in the process.
  • Our allies will not join the US in confronting or escalating most any of these situations. The UN and NATO will not act against the Russians in Ukraine. We are not going to get a meaningful coalition….by that I mean a minimum critical mass of the world’s most powerful economies acting as a team or in unison……… built for North Africa, the Middle East or South Asia. Our allies do not want the confrontations, escalations or the costs, and most still have bad dreams about their experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. They may have societal, trade and other economic concerns that would be threatened if they confront Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, etc.. Escalations breed…..well, more escalations.
  • Regional initiatives by those interested in stability have gone the other way…they have only expanded the sectarian conflicts over greater geographies, more countries, more parties, and more factors.
  • We will never stabilize these countries as they are delineated now. These nations are the artificial creations of uninformed foreigners, and if we were defining these nations today, I think we would all agree they would be configured very differently.
  • “Today about 10 to 15 percent of Muslims worldwide are Shia – they are the majority group in Iran and Iraq only-while most Muslims are Sunni…..Today, that religious division is again a political one as well: it’s a struggle for regional influence between Shia political powers, led by Iran, versus Sunni political powers, led by Saudi Arabia.”

Max Fisher, “40 Maps That Explain The World”, Vox, May 15, 2014.

 

    • “Such tensions between social classes, far more than those between sects, have sparked many recent Arab revolts; but sectarianism is then used to fan the flames. Islamists exploit class resentment to expand their base; governments stoke sectarian strife to justify their security apparatus.”

 

“Thethered By History”, The Economist, July 15, 2014, pp.20-22.

  • We will never eradicate these threats. Wiping out ISIL or al Qaeda is a pipedream. We can, however, reduce the number, size, severity of these threats. Several ideas are included below.

What’s to be done?  I think the answer has several parts, including but not limited to:

  • There is a new world reality that the US government and population is not dealing with. The new reality is a more dangerous world, where the US is not disproportionately powerful, a world filled with threats that our military might is ill-equipped to deal with, and a world that in many cases does not care for what they see as our interference and our desire to put our way of life on their way of life.
  • “Today, Americans are struggling to understand their role in the world. After seven decades as a superpower, there is still broad acceptance of the idea that the United States ought to be a world leader or even the “indispensable nation” that protects the prevailing liberal order. At the same time, there is growing fear of the costs of leadership, especially the possibility of war with dangerous adversaries such as Russia, China, or Iran…….The choice confronting Americans is whether to remain the kind of country that will act before its back is against the wall, or whether it will accept whatever kind of security environment emerges in the absence of American leadership. The advantage of being proactive is that the United States can respond to threats before they achieve maximum lethality. The disadvantage is that Americans will never know, even in hindsight, whether a war was truly necessary.”
  • “Americans want the benefits of order while remaining uneasy about the costs. This does not mean that the United States must respond with force every time that order is threatened. It may reconcile itself to Russia’s flagrant violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. It may reconcile itself to Beijing’s intimidation in the South China Sea, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the rise of a terrorist protostate within Syria and Iraq. What cannot be known is whether and when a crumbling order will bring the threat of violence directly to American shores.

David Adesnik, “Why America Fought”, The Weekly Standard, August 11,2014.

  • We are not able, even today, to think like “they” do. The religions, cultures, tribal ways, etc. are so different.
  • I believe we are well-advised to “engage” the problems and threats there, not here.
  • There will be terrorist attacks here, regardless of what we do.
  • We ought to do some security, policing, intelligence things here in the US to beef up our ability to discover potential terrorist activities earlier rather than later. Don’t know about you, but for me the loss of some privacy and freedom of movement is preferable to the loss of my life from a terrorist attack.
    • This is a law enforcement issue. The old saw that “if it doesn’t look right to the cop on the beat” was never more true and on point.
    • There is a certain percentage of the bad guys who were criminals before they joined the bad guys, are criminals now, and will be criminals forever. Find them, and put them in jail…..permenantly.
  • You do not send more US money, arms, ammunition, or military, into areas of turmoil and conflict. Bad things happen…..we get sucked into the conflict, and the arms, money and ammunition always ends up in the wrong hands.
  • What do you do when you have massive regional humanitarian disasters, including hunger, disease and lack of healthcare services, drought, displaced populations?
  • What do you do when you have family, tribal, religious, cultural, gang conflicts that are never going to be settled?
    • You plop a regional/city/refugee camp services facility right in the middle of it. This may include an international policing/peacekeeping force only, but not military. The mere presence of out-of-region military forces can have an effect on the level of conflict.
      • Some percentage of bad guys are doing that because it’s the only paying job available to them. Pay them to work in the services facility.
      • Paying people to turn in guns and ammo programs can work. I would pay for every tank, anti-aircraft missile, rifle, bomb, bullet and other item turned in and destroyed. I don’t care where you got it, I want it out of commission.
    • You put the UN, the Red Cross, the WHO, all of them in combinations, or someone of their ilk in that location for the long term, in a big way. They provide shelter, food, healthcare, education, jobs, etc. for all.  All the UN members are assessed fees and have professionals conscripted for this effort. It’s much cheaper than the alternatives.
    • The US and other countries like the UK, France, Germany, etc. covertly and clandestinely do the things that you do to keep the bad guys over there, off balance, focused on their own welfare vs. planning to get over here, disrupt their leadership and operations, peel off the weak believers, etc..
    • We’ve got to do a much better job with information operations…….the bad guys do so much better than we do them. There is a percentage of the bad guys, as well as a percentage of their recruits, that can be dissuaded if we are smart, thoughtful and timely with our messaging.

This is my view, and I share it in hopes that it will draw out your views and criticisms.  Please send me a note at john@lsi-llc.com, and I’ll share your perspectives with our readers.

Thanks,

John