Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Fourth Rail: In Response to a Question

The Fourth Rail: In Response to a Question

The data cited (numbers of attacks, etc.) is important, in that it gives us a sense of enemy capability. It does appear that, in certain ways, enemy capability to cause mayhem is improving.

This is, however, normal in any sort of warfare, insurgency or otherwise. It is to be expected that enemies will become more deadly as time passes. This is so much a baseline feature of warfighting that Carl von Clausewitz, perhaps the greatest military scientist of them all, stated that escalation was one of the two universal features of war.

This is not an essay on Clausewitz (though I have written such a piece in the past, for the interested). For our purposes, it is enough to say that time permits the enemy to develop specialized techniques for fighting your particular kind of training; and that, as the enemy loses more men and material, he becomes more committed to winning rather than wasting what he has lost. Also, as you and he become more committed to winning, the stakes rise such that committing more, or even all, becomes a rational proposition. At the start, a battle may be something you can win or lose at little cost; but if you fight it long enough, it becomes a battle you must win in order to remain in the war. The battle becomes a decisive one.

As a result, the enemy tends to commit even more of what he has left to victory. It is almost always the case, in any conflict, that destructiveness tends to increase with time.

It is a mistake, however, to read from that the lesson that the trend will continue forever. Eventually escalation will have tapped all reasonably available resources on one side, and at that point, that side will begin to collapse. Escalation, in other words, is a natural feature of warfare: but, although it continues until it breaks, it does eventually break.

The United States has not chosen to continue with escalation. Our own resources are vaster by far than those available to our enemy, but we have chosen to manage the conflict rather than undergo the social stresses necessary for serious escalation. The enemy, however, continues to escalate its attacks against us. There is every reason to believe they will continue to do so until they have tapped out their resources, and begin to fall apart.

That is the answer to question one: it is only to be expected that escalation will occur. It should be expected to continue to occur until we win. The fact that escalation exists does not prove anything about the success or failure of the mission in Iraq; for that, we must look elsewhere.

Which brings us to question two: where shall we look?

In spite of their continued escalation, the rate of coalition casualties is not increasing, but has rather peaked and dropped. The insurgent capabilities are now more frequently brought to bear against softer targets: Iraqi government structures, and civilians. The danger represented by this will be discussed in a moment, but for now, it should be noticed that the escalation by the enemy has not recently increased our losses. They are becoming more dangerous, but our fighters are relatively safer in the period since Jan. 30, than in the six months previous to that. This article, pointing to the same increases in capability that Chris cites, notes the increased focus of enemy attacks on civilian rather than US military targets: "'Terrorists always look for the weakest point,' said Dick Bridges, spokesman for the Pentagon's IED task force. 'We are no longer the weakest point.'"

The attacks against civilians increase the number of casualties, but their primary motivation is to destabilize Iraqi society, and particularly the civil structure that is still forming in Iraq. The aim of the terrorists is no longer first and foremost to kill Marines and soldiers, but now to disrupt Iraqi society in order to fracture it so badly that it cannot be held together. If they can cause the society to splinter into chaos, they will have won.

This points to an insight arrived at some years ago by military scientists, which is that warfare is entering a new phase -- what is called "Fourth Generation" warfare. For those of you who wish to do so, you can read this excellent primer on generational warfare theory from 1989, in the Marine Corps Gazette. For those who are comfortable with the topic, we'll proceed.

Each generational change has been marked by greater dispersion on the battlefield. The fourth generation battlefield is likely to include the whole of the enemy's society.... [F]ourth generation warfare seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between "civilian" and "military" may disappear.

To a very great degree that is what is happening not just in Iraq, but in the global war on terror. The entire society is the battlefield -- we are fighting in a battlespace that includes the whole of the Iraqi society. The enemy is engaging us there. On a macro scale, we are fighting in a battlespace that includes all of Muslim society, which we are trying to transform. Our enemy is engaging us there. There are promising signs throughout that society that freedom and democracy may be taking root. It is still in its birth pains, but there has been sign of success from Lebanon, from Malaysia, from Afghanistan, and yes -- from Iraq.

We are not fighting in a battlespace that includes our own society. The enemy has failed to engage us there effectively, since 9/11. The political sniping between Blue and Red, left and right, is not warfare. It is politics; and I think it is no nastier now than it was in the 1990s. As far as the GWOT goes, then, here is the important fact: we are fighting it entirely in the enemy's society. Our own society is not changed by the war; if anything, society is reverting to pre-9/11 mores. In the global war, then, I think we are winning -- and winning big.

Because we are fighting in the enemy's society, there are two possible outcomes: we lose the battle for that society, in which case we must try again at some other opportunity; or he loses, in which case he is destroyed. If we were fighting in our own society, the choices would be reversed. The campaign in Iraq must be seen as a battle in this wider war, and one that we have to fight and win for this reason: it keeps us fighting on the enemy's ground. The war can only be won when it is won at the level of a whole society. That means that, if we are to win, we must fight it in his society.

To return to Iraq proper, are we winning or losing there? Here again, it would be helpful to return to the piece I wrote on Clausewitz; "find" on "Culminating Point of Victory". It seems clear to me that the enemy's attacks on Iraq's civil society are more likely to turn Iraqi society against them than against us; that the "culminating point of victory" is one that our side could reach, but that is not available to them.

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