Friday, February 27, 2009

COIN Tourism

This article recommends that Iraq follow Colombia's example and, if I read it right, incorporate tourism into its COIN strategy. Not sure that the author is being real coherent (make no mistake, it could well be me, little bit whacked & sleep deprived), but I think he's saying that Iraq should identify its most marketable tourist destinations, focus security improvements there, and then use the resulting burgeoning tourist industry to pump in hard currency and solidify stabilization gains.
That doesn't sound quite right. Maybe it's better to use tourism as a metric of COIN success, but one has to be pretty careful; premature opening of a tourist site could have catastrophic negative consequences if the jihadis get a vote. I added my two-cents on Iraqi tourism earlier.
But to limit the use of the Colombian example to just tourism is selling short the lessons that can be gained from studying COIN in Colombia. In many ways, Colombia is the textbook case for counterinsurgency. The FARC is on the ropes, the ELN is almost a non-player anymore.
Alvaro Uribe is a truly heroic politician, much as that term has become an oxymoron most of the world over. His refusal to negotiate with or offer appeasement to the FARC has been one of the keys to victory. To demonstrate how far Colombia has come: on the day Uribe's predecessor, Pastrana, left office, the ELN mortared the Presidential residence, just because they could and to say "thanks for the memories, fuck you." Now, Colombia is being touted as a tourism hotspot.
Full Disclosure: I am pretty much a Colombophile, and love the place. I'd move the whole famn damily there lock, stock and barrel if the Army ever offered me the chance. Of course, that would entail introducing Mongo's Wife (US, Primary, 1 each) to Mongo's Colombian wife. It would probably be a little awkward at first, but I think we could all work through it. Right, honey? Honey?


Well, that's a little inconvenient. They make the system look a little smoother on CSI.


This article argues that EID and VBIED are not decisive, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. No, they're not, but they are a constant pain in the ass, and we're still losing great soldiers to the enemy because of them.
One thing this article doesn't cover is the IO component of the EID/VBIED phenomenon. The author talks about triggermen, but we also look for cameramen every time one goes off. The jihadis get a lot of mileage on their websites from footage of IED/VBIED operations against coalition forces. Whether the IO value outweighs the costs and losses incurred by the jihadis is up to someone else to determine.
Still, the article well conveys how complex the IED networks and cells are here, and how it's hard to roll up a network decisively, instead of just putting the grab on a couple of muttonheads that can be replaced in short order.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It's A Start

Good. Now start wrapping the bodies in pigskin, and we might get some traction.
That's IO.

Building a Life of Note

Supposedly, everyone gets 15 minutes of fame; a select few achieve notoriety for centuries, for good or ill. But who consciously goes out and builds a life of note, one that may only get a footnote in history, but of which one can look back and say, "Yeah, I did that."
Colonel David Smiley built such a life. You've got to admire the guy's dedication, passion, and patriotism and his willingness to accept inordinate personal risk in pursuit of doing that which he knew to be right. The guy has a whole closet full of "been there" T-shirts.
Of note, to me as an eternal foe and observer of bureaucracies, is the fact that while his obituary is rife with intrepid acts of derring-do, it's also salted with occasional fuck ups. In today's Army (or working with today's government), I think that any one of these would be a career ender. The SAS, of which Smiley was a member, declares that "who dares, wins." But it can also be said that "who dares, will every now and then biff." What is needed today is not, I think, men of steel like Smiley so much as organizations willing to employ them and underwrite their mistakes, knowing that no one is perfect and plans oft go awry.
Success is an obit that states: "Smiley's exploits led some to suggest that he was, along with several other candidates, a model for James Bond." I mean, how fucking cool is that?

h/t to Buddha, for passing me the obituary.

A Look at Lawrence

Young CPT Burke has posted a pretty good look at TE Lawrence through the lens of "what individual characteristics did Lawrence possess that made him so good that we should strive to replicate in today's counterinsurgents?" over at the Small Wars Journal.
I enjoyed Burke's article, and as usual will pick at it to tease out those few things that I disagree with IOT refine my own thinking. First up, Burke describes Lawrence's attributes as those required of the counterinsurgent, but Lawrence didn't fight a counterinsurgency; he spawned, fostered, and directed an insurgency. I'm not saying that those two different sides of the same coin (no pun intended) require different personal attributes and characteristics in order to succeed, but there should be a great deal of thought and analysis done before one concludes that this is, in fact, the case. One can look at Lawrence's success in occupying and pacifying Damascus as appropriate and declare that his actions prevented a reactionary insurgency by the denizens of Damascus, and that this provides the necessary creds to declare him a counterinsurgent. I would submit that the counterinsurgent needs to be a bit more stayed, methodical, and deliberate than the insurgent. Over- or under-reacting to the insurgent's provocations can both lead to disasterous results for the counterinsurgent. The insurgent, on the other hand, doesn't need to win so much as demonstrate that the established government is losing and incapable of winning. The insurgent can also put his more risky courses of action into the hands of fronts and splinter groups that will allow him to pursue his aims of delegitimizing the state without having to take responsibility for any operations or endeavors that go wrong. The counterinsurgent, necessarily tied to the state and its elements of power, will be tagged with any counterinsurgency failures--even those in which the narrative is false. I don't know if these differences mandate different personality types in the individuals responsible for formulation and execution of the respective campaigns. A quick and easy (and therefore flawed but adequate) analogy is that the insurgent is the Destroyer, the counterinsurgent is the Builder. The differences in effort and resources required of one over the other are intuitive. Does the personality of those executing the strategy need to also be so bifurcated?
Another theme of Burke's paper that needs to be parsed is his declaration that all Armies (Great War British Army, post-Cold War US Army) suffer bouts of anti-intellectualism. I don't think that this is quite accurate. I would posit that, at least in the case of the US Army, we've never been anti-intellectual--but we have been anti-academic, with some justification. I can imagine--and to an extent agree with--the CDR who looks at one of his young studs, and demures sending him to advanced academic study after looking at our institutions of higher learning, thinking to himself, what good comes of my turning over this stud to a bunch of long-haired, maggot infested, patchuli-smelling, dope smoking, Birckenstock-wearing, tree hugging, close minded examples of arrogance embodied? Anyone who thinks that Army officers can be egomaniacal, inflexible, and overconfident should rub elbows with the upper crust academics for a little while. I commented on the value of advanced learning for Army officers here, and I stick to that. Also, in my (long and storied) career in the military, the officer corps has always been manifestly eager to produce Rennaissance men, I guess what Burke calls pentathletes. And I think that this has been to the Army's detriment, because in typical Army fashion, the first thing we do is 'gin up a list of everything we think a Rennaissance man should know, have read, and have done, and then we steadfastly pursue ensuring that our officers get this checklist jammed down their throats, and we end up with guys that have wave-top knowledge of a lot of different subjects, many of which the guys have no passion for.
Were I to decide I needed in-depth analysis and assessment of a possible future geopolitical hotspot, and had to choose a military professional or an academic to go in, walk the ground, and render the product, I'd choose the military guy every time. In fact, I've spent a significant portion of my career getting sent to various far-flung shitholes to do just that, and have then had to come back, brief, and generate product for military, academic, and political audiences. As an aside, what I found was that I really like shitholes, with the glaring exception of Haiti.
Academic credentialing aside, Burke also seems to imply that we should seek out our military misfits IOT exploit their unique individuality and operational perspective. Lawrence, apparently, was a long-haired, slovenly dresser whose lack of regard for organizational standards of appearence (and his disdain for those who hewed to them) put him at odds with his chain of command. I'm a little torn commenting on this, since as an eternal foe of bureacracies, I'm loath to find myself defending bureacracies. But, maybe we've got it just right. Maybe if one wants to be different, one must be better, an exceptional performer whose exploits compensate for the lack of professional comportment. Also, truly brilliant operators are smart enough to evaluate their operational environment and modify their appearance so that aesthetics alone don't derail the mission. What I get from Burke's treatise is that Lawrence was smart enough to walk into a meeting with Sheiks and Mukhtars dressed in Arab robes, but he wasn't smart enough to look sharp when he reported to his commanding officer. Hmm. And I'm offering this criticism as a guy who is generally long haired and slovenly.
The military, as a bureaucracy and as a human organization, will be to some extent sloppy and inefficient when it polices itself, but police itself it must. For every TE Lawrence, Ord Wingate, orDavid Smiley, there are five thugs, three proponents of waste, fraud and abuse, two sexual perverts and a guy who resembles "Pyle" from Full Metal Jacket. Maybe miscreants, oddballs, and non-conformists need to be held at arms length until they establish beyond a reasonable doubt that they will do more good than harm. I think, more important than matriculating and empowering our TE Lawrences, is training and cultivating our Edmund Allenby's, leaders who can put the right guy in the right place and at the right time, and aim and constrain them so that their individuality and niche brilliance enhances organizational success.
I wonder how effective Lawrence would have been without Allenby there to empower him--and without the conventional forces that Allenby could use in tandem with Lawrence's desert raiders to effect a campaign of compound warfare, a fatal knot that defeated the Turks. I wouldn't mind seeing an analysis of the one-two combinations that Lawrence's unconventional and Allenby's conventional capabilities generated in the desert campaign. Of course, I'll have to wait for someone like Burke to write it, cause I'm long-haired, slovenly, and lazy.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quote of the Day

From Cormac McCarthy's "All the Pretty Horses":
...I was also rebellious and so I recognize it in others. Yet I think that I had no wish to break things. Or perhaps only those things that wished to break me. The names of the entities that have power to constrain us change with time. Convention and authority are replaced by infirmity.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

With the Fellas

Some days feel like a Soprano's family reunion.

Another Day at the Office, II

The Face of Evil

A sobering quartet of articles illustrate a point that is too often diluted by attempts at rationalization and explication instead of residing where it ought: in the visceral. Because we haven't been hit again since 9/11, we don't regard the War on Terror as an existential battle. And it's not--for us. But our Islamist opponents have dedicated themselves body, mind, and soul to our destruction.

It is a construct of our civilized, generally secular modernism that no one man can be judge, jury, and executioner. We also strive mightily to provide due process for the worst members of our society. But, the Islamists aren't from our society. Ralph Peters provides an interesting intellectual exercise: Let's suppose that each nation-state is a different planet. Instead of assuming a common humanity, let's regard these extraterrestrials totally objectively, and then decide on the best course of action on how to deal with them.

We are facing pure, unadulterated evil. This is hard to grasp, especially when the ideology of the evildoers ostensibly issues from the religion of peace. I think most of us born and bred in the secular, modern west have a hard time grasping the concept of evil. And, too, it's hard to stand up against evil in our modern times without sounding like someone indulging in self-righteous bigotry or xenophobia. Part of the problem is our lexicon. What's the opposite of evil? Good? Good vs. bad, we get. Good vs. evil? The problem with "good" is that good isn't perfect. So if we're generally good, but with the fundamental flaws that come with the human condition, aren't our enemies? Isn't it possible that we misunderstand their words? Don't they want to find a negotiated peace where we can celebrate the "goodness" we have in common while we all work together to fix our flaws? Plus, if we're not perfect, then who are we to judge? Aren't our enemies just like us, just forced into terrorism as a tactic because of their fundamental inability to peaceably reconcile their differences with us?

No. They are evil. They revel in it. They are not human beings as we understand the word. Despite all the atrocities we've seen spooled across the news, this is still a hard concept to grasp, because our opponents desires and motivations are so alien.

Judea Pearl's son Daniel was brutally, horrifically murdered. He has seen, to his dismay, our society "define deviancy down" when it comes to terrorism. And he warns that we fail to identify evil as what it is at our own physical and moral peril.