Monday, July 31, 2006

imho 4GW Fourth Generation Warfare


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My take:

I've been mulling the Middle East these days just like everybody else. I don't want to believe that it's an insoluble blood feud, but that's how it definitely appears. Don't you want to believe that there's a peaceful happy solution for every nasty nexus of human conflict?

I meandered to this "4GW" topic after seieng this mysterious new phrase in a Phil Windley post quotin somebody named Tom Barnett. So I Googled it and found a two-year-old definition by a certain John Robb. Now I'm bloggin my impromptu thoughts on it. Just because. Trying to distract my mind from a tech article that I'm committed to write but am just not ready yet to start composing.

First off, I don't buy Robb/Windley/Barnett's notion that so-caled 4GW (fourth-generation warfare) is anything new. Let's go straight to Robb's definition: "Fourth generation--ad hoc warriors and moral conflict." That, of course, defines guerrilla warfare and the associated ideological assault on established power. And those dual techniques have been used for a long time in many conflicts, such as our own American Revolutionary War (ad-hoc warriors: the scraggly amateur-citizen-army-militias that Gen. Washington tried to assemble into a semblance of a professional fighting force; moral conflict: the Declaration of Independence that Mr. Jefferson et al. proclaimed at the same time to justify their right to take up arms to sunder the bond from Great Britain). And plenty of communist revolutoins of the 20th century were assembled from ad-hoc fighters who were schooled to proselytize the moral/ideological cause known as Marxism.

Second, I found the following statement from Barnett (quoted approvingly by Windley) to be chauvinistic and naive: "There is a profound reason why we're rich and powerful and connected and the enemy is none of those things. Terrorism is a strategy of the weak, and it earns them only what the powerful decide they no longer want...[T]here are no lasting 4GW victories. Yes, sometimes conflicts are won, but what is really achieved? Look at Cuba or Nicaragua or Palestine--or best yet--Vietnam or China? All these 4GW 'victors' got was amazing bloody disconnectedness, and--when they got smart--then they came back crawling to the system, the nets, the rules, the 'decadence.'"

All of this is just a rehash of the time-honored nonsense that our enemies are "bums," "losers," and "cowards" if they don't use whatever fighting tactics we would prefer they use (so that we can easily defend against them). so, if I understand correctly, Barnett et al. are arguing that terrorists (i.e., guerrilla warriors) are losers, that they're now and forever disconnected from each other, and that further acts of terrorism simply contribute to their ongoing estrangement and eventual doom.

Oddly, as examples of disconnected losers, they cite Cuba, Vietnam, and China (the current governments of which took power in part through the effectiveness of their guerrilla tactics). It's bizarre to single out those particular countries, considering the strength and stability of each of their governments (whether or not you agree with their forms of government, you have to admit that they are holding power and connecting internally quite effectively).

If terrorism is a strategy of the weak, and, for example, you classify the 1968 Tet Offensive as terrorism, and you note the historical truth that the Tet Offensive broke the American public's will to continue backing the South Vietnamese against the stronger-willed northerners, then doesn't that undermine your argument against the ultimate effectiveness of terrorism? When exactly did we the "powerful" (USA and South Vietnam) decide that "weak" North Vietnam's terrorism had "earn[ed] them only what [we had] decide[d] [we] no longer want[ed]: i.e., unchallenged dominion over the entire northern and southern regions of Vietnam?

Terrorism, clearly, is not necessarily just a strategy of the ineffectual, forever-disconnected weakling. It has often been a recruiting and morale-building (hence, connection-building) strategy under which weaklings demonstrate their boldness, resourcefulness, and determination to their kindred and to their enemies. The terrorists have their networks, and we, their targets, have ours. They'll keep on attacking our nets both to weaken them and to recruit/build/strengthen their own. We, the established powers, have more transparently public networks, so we make easier targets than the terrorists and their invisible nets.

We're talking death and destruction here, let's not kid ourselves. So I'm profoundly uncomfortable with the bloodlust implicit in the following statement of Barnett's, which Windley once again quotes approvingly: "Our nets are our strengths. They will attack and we will grow more resilient. Bush was right: Bring it on. Speed the killing. Flush the losers. Extend the nets. Be resilient."

At worst, that's outright insanity--a prescription for Armageddon and mutually assured destruction. At best, it's chest-beating naive hyper-optimism of the whack-a-mole variety. What do you do if the "losers" are everywhere, attacking a civilian society in which they're intimately embedded? You don't quell an insurgency by daring the insurgents to rip apart the everyday fabric of people's normal lives. That produces pure mortal terror of the most destructive variety, of the sort that the Israelis and Iraqis are facing every day now. A hellish existence where every car or truck that passes on the street might be carrying the bomb that ends it all.

Robb has an interesting comment about how a "4GW" conflict can be "won": "Victory in 4GW warfar is won in the moral sphere. The aim of 4GW is to destroy the moral bonds that allow the organic whole to exist--cohesion."

Cohesion. Cohesive bonds. Cohesive bonds in the organic moral sphere. Excuse e for getting all mushy on you, but that sounds like religion, or, if that's too sensitive a word (given that much of the Middle East nastiness is motivated by dueling notions of whose take on religion is superior), let's just say "spirituality" in general or, getting super-wimpy, ""compassion" and "tolerance." In the immortal words of Nick Lowe, "what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?"

But that's still religion, when you come right down to it. Unfortunately, in the broader scheme of human relations, religion hasn't always been the cohesive force its promoters want you to believe. It's often an abrasive, sometimes a corrosive, occasionally a toxic, inflammatory, and explosive reagent in a chronically charged environment.

Yeah, I go to church and put money in the collection basket, but I'm not expecting any real return on my investment. I pray too, but I'm not expecting the almighty to hit the "reply" button.

There must be another type of soul force we haven't tried yet.