Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Game of Thrones

My battle buddy Ranger over at RangerAgainstWar has a thoughtful and poignant post here which contains a long quote from a father whose anguished search for meaning in his son's death in Iraq has led him on a Diogenesian search for truth about wars and the rumors of wars in southwest Asia.Those of you who read this blog - and since I don't keep stats I have no idea if I am only standing on a deserted rock shouting inanities into the wind - know my conviction that the discussion of military and, even more, geopolitical strategies are the only discussions of real value to the citizens of a republic, which is what the United States still publicly contends to be. I took down the link to Abu Muquwama, for example, because of the endless technical and tactical onanism that goes on there. With apologies to Ranger, we cannot really influence whether or not the Air Force is going to procure F-22s or F-35s, or whether the USMC wants MRAPs or Humvees. What we can - and should - influence is whether our armed force is out beating the hustings for Muslim villagers in pursuit of a fading imperial dream of thrones and dominations. Whether we are spending our tax dollars on guns or butter, and, if guns, where those guns are used.Because the where dictates the how. If you're going to send your armies out to hunt and kill the internal enemies of foreign nations (i.e., "counterinsurgency") then you are tacitly accepting the very high probability that your soldiers will be mixed into the killing of women and children and innocent men, torture, "disappearances", the misery of the refugees and the suffering of the weak. Because that is what "counterinsurgency" often is, especially in places where the rule of law is weak and the veneer of civilization is thin. For example, I can't imagine a more loathesome gang of criminals than the "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam" (LTTE) that have tormented the unhappy isle of Sri Lanka for generations. If any group deserves the condemnation "Terrorist" so glibly tossed away by the Loyal Bushies it is the LTTE. And yet the bloody fight between Tamil separatists and Sinhalese majority is more than just mindless savagery; the Tamils had their own reasons to rebel, and they thought - much as our "Founding Fathers" thought - that those reasons were good ones.So what lept out of Ranger's post was the conclusion to the bereft father's piece:
"Equipment is not a strategy.
Tactics are not a strategy.
We have no strategy.
That in a nutshell is the problem."
This seems to be a Middle East policy theme that is echoed by the incoming Obamaites; "it's not the WAR that's in's the STRATEGY!" Which is a comforting thought, since if you're not in a hopeless war, just down a mistaken strategic cul-de-sac you can turn around or back out and drive on to Glorious Victoreeeeee!But the cynical old sergeant thought I had was, and is:

"If we HAD a strategy, what the fuck could it be?"

We're fighting ideas: the ideas that Islam is for Muslims, the idea that Western notions of education, equal justice under law, nationalism, separation of church and state are evil and wrong. The idea that there should be a Jewish state on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The idea that it's OK for Western and foreign powers to occupy and rule and state-build in Islamic states if the Westerners really, REALLY have the best interests of the Muslims living there in mind.

How do you invent a "strategy" that convinces hardcore Islamic fundamentalists that all the above are good things?

These people may be tribesmen living in the 10th Century but they're not fools. Building them dams, schools and madrassis - if you're building these things to "buy" their loyalty - will work about as well as you'd think it would. How well did the bridges, roads and schools the British built in the American colonies work to keep the colonists loyal to the British crown, back in the day?ISTM that the problem here isn't that we have no strategy, but that any "strategy" that is designed to further American political influence on the peoples, "states" and non-state actors in the Middle East and southwest Asia is designed to run up against the fact that their interests and our interests are not similar and, in many cases, are hostile. It's not that they hate our freedoms. Rather, they hate our official embrace of Zionist Israel, they hate our ignorance of and dismissal of their old ways, from arranged marriage to purdah to tribal heirarchy. Their ways may be bad ways, but they are their own. Imagine how you'd feel if some powerfully armed foreigner barged into your home and told you that you had to throw away all your "Rush" CDs and burn your DVD copy of "Runaway Bride"? If you had any spine at all you'd fight, even if you knew you had no hope of victory.

So the only way such a "strategy" can be successfully accomplished is by bloodyhanded conquest. In which many more young men, like the grieving father's son, will have to die. And while I'm willing to accept that there are arguments in favor of such a strategy, it is not one that appeals to me. My America is the one that rebelled against foreign rule, not the one that seeks to impose it.

I wish I had a more lighthearted and happy assessment, but I don't. War is all hell, as Bill Sherman said, and you cannot refine it.The only way to "win" this game of central Asian empires is not to play.

(h/t to Ranger; this post is an expansion of a comment there, and to George R. R. Martin, from whose monumental - and enjoyable, read it if you enjoy the "disheroic fantasy" genre - "Song of Fire and Ice" series I stole the title of the first volume to entitle this post, Ta.)


Charles Gittings said...

Well you can't have a strategy unless you first have some set of rational objectives. As it stands now, we don't have any -- all we have are delusions.

We can hope that the Obama administration will have fewer of those than their predecessors... it seems a mathematical certainty even -- when you're at zero the only way things can change is for the better.

However, they've already made one awful mistake (retaining Gates), and it's already fairly clear that we're still not going to be addressing the actual problems realistically. Less stupidity will be an improvement though.

FDChief said...

Charles: Not sure if there is a way to address the problems of the secular West versus the Islamic East realistically. Someone who wants to pick a fight with you over religion isn't going to listen to realist arguments or respond to violence with rationality. And, as you point out, until now the U.S. has been chasing the Bush/Cheney fantasy of Civilzing and Christianizing the heathen Ishmaelites.

I don't see the incoming Administration making much of a difference. Too much baggage, too many bad decisions alredy made.

Lisa said...

Thank you for this very thoughtful disquisition; I am sending the link to the father.

FDChief said...

Lisa: Ta.

Aviator47 said...


Alas, the difficult job of accepting that there may be an impossible mission! At times, I think that all too many think that for every problem, there is a successful "strategy" waiting in the wings.

To refine Charles' comment. to have a strategy, you have to have an achievable objective. Rationality is not necessarily required. To have a successful strategy, the means to that objective must be appropriate and available.

Applying the old saw, "For every pop, there is a lid", to all the problems of mankind is futile. Sometimes, we have to realize that it is imperative to sub optimize.


FDChief said...

Al: And I think it's especially hard for us in the U.S., where we;ve been brought up on the romantic notion that "everyone is special" and we can all "be all we can be" if we just try hard enough.

Look at the way we've gimmicked our tax and fiscal policy as if there was no possibility that we'd ever need government for a rainy day. Now our economy is piss-pouring on us and we can't understand how it happened.

Likewise, we roared into Asia with our bright new 9/11 anger only to find that Asia does anger - and revenge, hate, feud and betrayal - far longer, more savagely and deeper than we really enjoy. We went into the tiger cage to fight the tiger without really understanding how the tiger fights.

Now we know; you either kill the tiger, throw it enough meat to make it ignore you, or you leave it alone. There is no profit to be had, politically, economically or morally, from wrestling with the tiger.

rangeragainstwar said...

My cmts go back to your article on CDRS guidance and are addressed to Charles.

The operations order and mission statement are always based upon facts and assumptions concerning the upcoming tasking.The problem in the last 50 years is that facts are not objectively examined in the clarity of day and assumptions are treated as fact.

-We will be greeted with flowers.
-Iraqi oil profits will pay for the reconstruction.
-Democracy will win the day.
-These are but a sample.

We as classically trained soldiers must NEVER succumb to such pie in the sky planning.

My early writings discuss this trend in our leaderships thinking-or lack thereof.

FDChief said...

Jim: My low-level S-3 training emphasized that all operational planning needed to include, and in many cases focused on, the "enemy's most dangerous course of action". If you planned your concept of operations around your enemy being fool enough to act in your best interests you risked being taken the way the wild man took the farmer's wife: by surprise and from behind.

Not a good position to be in, so to speak, as we're finding out in Asia today.

sheerahkahn said...

The lesson I think we, as citizens, need to come to grips with is that we need to acknowledge that our government for all it’s faults, greatness, silliness, and overall inability to govern a janitorial crew much less the ship of state has failed us.
Let me repeat again.
Obama, for all the sunny sweet talk he’s been blowing up our collective asses, and this with the caveat that I believe he will be a different kind of President than the jack-ass we’ve been burdened with for the pass 8 years, be able to change our governments devolution into a…geez…not sure what to call it…imperial or tyrannical??
Certainly, I’m sure Obama will parade our “victories” through the media avenues, pronouncing glad tidings of happiness, and peace; but will he repeal the Patriot act?
Will he give FISA more teeth to prevent wanton wiretapping?
Will the Constitution mean something, or will it remain that “neato-mosquito document.”
What I want to know is how much our government has become the thing our forefathers have dreaded?
I finished watching John Adams…very interesting…and I think if he were here today would he be screaming to is “we need to flush these assholes down the Potomac before it’s too late!” And if he did, would anyone listen, or would we just silenty go shopping?

FDChief said...

Sheerah: Not sure if John "Alien and Sedition Acts" Adams would have been all that about defenestrating the Bushies. I think he would have been more upset about the visible decline in the quality of American officialdom. When you think of the people who sat in the seat defiled by Dubya's and Dick's asses - people like Monroe, Madison, Adams, Washington, Jefferson - during Adam's time you pretty much have to blush for America. Our "leadership" sure has fallen a looooong way from those days, eh?

rangeragainstwar said...

All my training and experience in life leads me to ignore phased operations and to stick to KISS.The PWOT does the opposite ,this is my disconnect with the entire shooting match.
Nothing can be won so how do you factor that into the planning cycle?

FDChief said...

Jim: Not sure that this even falls under the "beware of complex plans" caution. It's more like "don't want something stupid", like deciding you want to follow a reciple for bear that begins "After securing one bear..."

My problem with the PWOT is that there's SO much time and energy expended about how to cook the bear, but nobody seems to ask the simple question "Why are we hunting this bear, and is it a good idea in the first place?"