September 6, 2006
Everything Old Is New Again
Gen. John Abizaid is Commander-in-Chief of United States Central Command -- thus in charge of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, plus military actions from the Horn of Africa across the Middle East to Central Asia, from Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. But he is something else: a driven reformer, in the true sense of trying to deconstruct and reconstruct American strategy in the war on jihadi terrorism.
Before assuming his current post heading CENTCOM, he was first offered command of the entire Army; he repeatedly turned down an appointment to be Chief of Staff of the Army, the position now occupied by his boss, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker. The WSJ article is not clear why, but I think I understand:
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Gen. Abizaid held top positions in the Pentagon, where he forged a close relationship with the often prickly Mr. Rumsfeld. In the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war, Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, leaned hard on Gen. Abizaid to take on the Army Chief of Staff post, the top job in the Army. Mr. Rumsfeld wanted him to shake up the service, which the secretary thought was too complacent and out of step with his vision to transform the military.
Gen Abizaid repeatedly turned it down, telling colleagues that if he didn't get the Central Command position he would likely retire to California. "Abizaid disagreed with the technology-focused view of warfare that had taken hold in the Pentagon," says one friend who talked with him about the job. In the summer of 2003, he accepted the job as the head of Central Command.
His friend only hints at what I think was going through Abizaid's mind. According to this article, the general has a very unconventional view of how to win the GWOT, which he wanted to implement service-wide; and I am sure that is why Secretary Rumsfeld tapped him for the job.
But like Gulliver in Lilliput, the land of the tiny people, Army Chiefs tend to wake up one day to find they've been tied down by a thousand snares of conventional thinking: they cannot offend this general, they cannot countermand that assistant secretary.
Senator Stickuphisbutt threatens to cut off funding unless they buy three hundred advanced attack helicopters from GruMart, based in his home state. Rep. Swivelspread of the House Armed Services Committee pointedly notes that generals who don't purchase the Big Giant Cannon That Can Shoot a Shell Halfway Around the Earth may not get that new division they need so desperately.
The only way to resist such a force for the status quo is to have an agenda that consists of techniques already proven in the actual crucible of the outside world. That way, you can look a congressman in the eyes and say "it would be a real shame if the American people found out how Congress is preventing the military from doing what has been proven to work."
And you can bark at your subordinate generals and colonels, "do this; it works." Nothing succeeds like success.
So Abizaid has trundled off to the lower postion at CENTCOM, because he doesn't want to become another service chief who spends four years in the top job "growing in office"... meaning that the only change he institutes is to change himself to better fit the status quo. He wants to arrive with proof in hand, the better to implement the sort of reform that the president and especially Secretary Rumsfeld promote -- and that America truly needs.
(It is a calculated risk; if a Democrat is elected president in 2008, the next Chief of Staff of the Army will probably be a Shinseki clone; see above, "growing in office.")
All right, enough with the recap. What exactly is Abizaid's new approach to fighting jihadi terrorism? If you noticed the title, then you're probably already ahead of me: having read the WSJ article (that's what this post is about, in case the exciting intro drove it from your minds!) Assuming they accurately described his strategy... then I think what he has done is reinvent the British Empire -- updated to 2006 and Americanized. We circle around, we circle around...
In the fall of 2002, the U.S. military set up a task force here on the Horn of Africa to kill any al Qaeda fighters seeking refuge in the region. The base was crawling with elite special-operations teams, and an unmanned Predator plane armed with Hellfire missiles sat ready on the runway.
Today, the base houses 1,800 troops whose mission is to build health clinics, wells and schools in areas where Islamic extremists are active. The idea is to ease some of the suffering that leaves the locals susceptible to the radicals' message, thus bolstering local governments, which will run the new facilities and get credit for the improvements.
I know this won't sit well with a lot of you. Too many of us -- yeah, I admit a tendency in this direction -- look at the paragraph above and think, "holy moley, it's midnight basketball for terrorists!"
Be prepared for a shock: "midnight basketball" actually works.
Hard-nosed criminologists -- the same ones who agree with John R. Lott that widespread gun ownership and concealed-carry permits reduce crime -- also agree on this one. A huge percentage of gang violence (not all, of course) is spur of the moment... high-energy teens and twenties, possibly on an amphetamine-like drug such as meth or crack, but maybe just cranked up by their own raging hormones, enter a store. They start horsing around, jostling each other. Then it gets a little more serious -- and suddenly, Stone Cold pulls a gun, shoves it in the proprietor's face, and says "gimmie everything you got, mofo!"
Often, they never intended a robbery when they entered. That's why they had no plan, made no attempt not to be seen on the security camera, and had no escape route planned out. Maybe they panic and shoot everyone; or maybe they just like killing people. But they never planned anything -- because planning involves time-binding... and these morons live in a universe that's thirty minutes wide: anything more than fifteen minutes in the future or longer than fifteen minutes ago... doesn't exist.
Sure, some gang crime is well planned; so is some terrorism (a tiny percentage). Mostly banging is just the natural result of kids with no moral compass whatsoever colliding with a universe where violence is easier than work.
And most terrorism is what Daniel Pipes calls "sudden jihad syndrome," though I think he far underestimates how common it is.
Moslems who feel alienated, drifting through life, cut off from the rest of humanity -- whether in the land of the infidels or an Islamic country -- suddenly pick up a weapon and launch an attack against... someone. Doesn't matter who: for a few brief moments, they feel part of something bigger than themselves (like the gang kids in the liquor store).
Then they start suffering the consequences of their "decision," which was never reasoned through in the first place. But it's too late: they've become hunted men, and they have nowhere else to go but straight to the only group of people who will embrace them, the jihadists.
Midnight basketball works to quell (not end) gang violence because it gives them something transcendent (sports), something to burn that excess energy, something to do with their friends -- at their favorite time of night -- that doesn't involve killing and being killed. It fills the same need that banging fills. And for a similar reason, John Abizaid's strategy may well work to quell (not end) terrorism: because it makes the societies in which potential jihadis live more functional.
Building things gives them work to do that tires them out physically and fills the need nearly all humans have to be part of something communal. And while they're doing that, they're not out shooting anyone.
It also gives them a stake in their own society: every time they pass the well or the school, they can think, "I helped build that." Few people enjoy seeing something they built destroyed; so perhaps they'll even argue some more disaffected friend out of blowing it up next week.
It shocks us how quick some Moslems are to kill their neighbors and blow up buildings in their own cities. The reason is clear: they don't feel like those are their neighbors, and it's certainly not their city. They're aliens in their own lands, as in others:
Of man's bedevilment and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
-- A.E. Housman, the Laws of God
Abizaid, more than anyone here, understands that often, you just have to kill the son of a bachelor and worry about what caused his madness later. But later must come eventually, unless we want to play an endless videogame where an infinite number of jihadis pop up and shoot at us forever. So he tries to ground them in their own countries:
But his view of the region is increasingly shaped by the inability of all that firepower to prevail against a violent strain of Islam seeking to expand its foothold. "The best way to contain al Qaeda is to increase the capacity of the regional powers to deal with it themselves," he says....
In Lebanon, Gen. Abizaid says, he saw firsthand how Hezbollah used guerrilla violence, political activity and social aid to grow over the course of decades. "We Western-educated people tend to view war as first you fight then you talk," he says. "Here you are always talking and fighting." The general's counter strategy -- particularly in the Horn of Africa -- in some ways mimics Hezbollah's hybrid approach to war.
Implementing the "long war strategy," however, has proved fiendishly difficult for troops in the Horn of Africa. The idea is to send small teams into some of the world's most troubled lands to train local forces, gather information and build clinics and schools that extend the local government's influence. The military has long dispatched humanitarian aid, civil affairs teams and military trainers to places like Indonesia, the Philippines and North Africa to provide relief and bolster allies. But the Horn of Africa task force marks the first time that a large military command has been established solely to address the root causes of terrorism in a region.
"This is the most complex thing I have done in my military career," says Rear Adm. Richard Hunt, the commander of the mission.
If this sounds familiar -- exporting modernity -- it's because this is eerily similar to the approach that the British Empire took to pacifying the lands they conquered. They believed in the idea of an "occupation force" that comprised not just soldiers, but civil servants: engineers to build dams and modern buildings, agricultualists to teach modern farming techniques, lawyers to set up Westminster-style legal systems, doctors of modern medicine, and of course teachers to bring "the natives" into the modern world.
These civil servants arrived with every intention of staying for years, decades, maybe even their entire lives. Their children were raised in India, South Africa, the East Indies and thought of those countries as "home;" England was a far-away land that they were forced to visit every once in a while, or even attend school there, so that they wouldn't "go native." (Which of course they did anyway, every chance they got.)
It worked sometimes and failed sometimes; often, it was just a cover for horrific exploitation. But very frequently, even when the Brits were kicked out, the "natives" kept many of the cultural improvements the British had crammed down their throats; India is a good example of this.
Britain wanted an empire, so occupation forces made perfect sense to them. America has never been "imperialist" in that sense, and certainly not in the sense of Spain, France, or Belgium; so the idea of occupation forces is foreign to our thinking. But that is exactly what Gen. Abizaid is trying to inculcate in the American mind: the idea that you cannot rule a country for long; so your best bet is to change the country so that it can rule itself in a way that's conducive to our own cultural standards and national interests.
The Brits did it high-handedly, because they truly believed that Englishmen were genetically superior to all those Hottentots and Fuzzy Wuzzies and Baboos. They believed that natives could never come up to their level, so why bother trying? Just teach them what they need to be good servants, make sure they get it (by force, if necessary)... and then live off the labor of others.
That's not what Abizaid is doing, of course; but it's the same principle at core: he wants to move the "natives" of Moslem lands into twenty-first century modernity, so they'll think just enough like Westerners not to worship death and killing. Then we leave and let them handle their own affairs.
It's not a new idea; but it's a very new and very American riff on an old idea. Everything old is new again.
I have no idea if Gen. Abizaid will succeed; I'm not even sure it's the best strategy. But at least, damn it, he's thinking about a permanent solution, instead of just playing a game of Whack-a-Mole that you can't win, can't draw, and can't even quit.
For some reason, people are allergic to the phrase "root causes." Probably because it's been used so often by lefties as code for "it's all America's fault." But there must be something, somewhere that causes people in one area to be relatively peaceful (such as the United States and Europe), and causes people in another area to be savage, barbaric, violent, unthinking, and filled with a creepy religious fervor that takes the form of wanting to kill anyone who won't convert.
It's not something in the water; and it's not some genetic defect in "Moslems," because Moslems come in all different races. Besides, it's not all Moslems, even in the ummah: look at the lads at Iraq the Model, and most of their readers. They didn't come from another planet; they grew up in Iraq, under Saddam Hussein.
That "something" must be a series of beliefs and attitudes... and beliefs can be changed.
Don't let yourself be driven from possible solutions by liberals who co-opt the language and twist it to use as a weapon against the rest of us. (Take back the lexicon! You have nothing to lose but your clichés.) If we truly could find root causes for some-but-not-all terrorism, we could at least reduce it. Every potential jihadi who opts against it is one fewer person trying to kill us.
So let's all hope that Abizaid is onto something here... and if so, that he is allowed to finish what he started. And of course, let's not stop fighting back whenever we can: the two approaches are not mutually exclusive.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 6, 2006, at the time of 5:17 AM
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The following hissed in response by: Texas Jack
Actually, the General may have picked up some of that as a wee young Lt in the sixties / early seventies, in a nasty place called Viet Nam. My crazy brother (I will NOT get started on him; I'd match your longest post!) was SF during the very early part of that, and also in Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, etc, etc. His primary job was teacher. Sure, most of the time he taught small arms and demolitions, but others on the same team taught sanitation, and helped dig wells, and build schools, and all the other stuff that a dozen or so very highly trained men can teach. Often he helped teach the military of the host country. In Thailand for example, he taught the Royal Thai Rangers how to operate as Special Forces. On Taiwan, his team helped train young officers for the Free Chinese Army. In the Philipines (sp?) his team taught their army how to do what was then called "civic action", the same stuff we are talking about now. That would have been about '59 or '60, just before his first trip to Viet Nam, where, for a change, he wasn't training soldiers, but civilians, in self defense and self help.
I have always been proud of how well the American Soldier can fight, but even more proud of how willing we are, and have been, to offer a helping hand to those who need it. The General is continuing a fine tradition.
The following hissed in response by: Big D
I always thought it fascinating to compare the fates of various former colonies with the policies of said colonial rulers. Some of the outcomes appear to have been geographic or native culture based, but others...
The French tried to, well, make their colonies physically part of France. Inseparable and indistinguishable. This seems to have largely failed, with the host country rejecting the French culture like a deadly microbe.
The Spanish and Portuguese took the other route, basically training the locals to be slaves and peasants to the ruling Spanish. No attempt to implant any Spanish culture, other than what was absolutely necessary to make the locals work (language and religion). Therefore when the Spanish left there was no one to run anythings and the whole mess more or less came crashing down.
The British took the middling route. Train the local for exploitation, sure. But also install various cultural implements to make things easier to handle. They developed a more adaptable system, leaving much of the local culture intact.
So what if you take the British model and remove the more exploitative elements? An interesting question for the next 50 years.
The following hissed in response by: Terrye
I remember reading some time ago that Abizaid has a degree in Middle Eastern studies and is a fluent Arabic speaker. His grandparents were Lebanese, I think. So he might know from personal experience that the people of the region are not predestined to be Jihadis because of his own background.
I think he is onto something. My Dad told me many years ago that it was baseball that won over the Japanese. So maybe midnight basketball is not such a far fetched notion.
The above hissed in response by: Terrye at September 6, 2006 10:31 AM
The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz
It's not something in the water; and it's not some genetic defect in "Moslems," because Moslems come in all different races. ... That "something" must be a series of beliefs and attitudes... and beliefs can be changed.
Yes, it is Islam. La Belle Coulter proposed a solution.
The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith
I excerpted and linked at Old War Dogs >> Bill's Bites
The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith at September 7, 2006 12:46 AM
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
If you believe that, then you've already lost. "Victory" to you means all Moslems either convert to some other religion... or die.
However, I don't think you actually believe what you wrote; I suspect you are just trying to shock. I'm not shocked; this is very old nonsense.
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at September 7, 2006 4:55 AM
The following hissed in response by: popconfirm
I felt a certain bit of irony reading that WSJ article. Robert Kaplan's "Imperial Grunts" covered the same subject well, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the Abizaid approach.
The following hissed in response by: Papa Ray
I'm all for trying new things (or old made new things) but...
From what our returning Troops are saying about the Iraqis, we don't have enough troops trained in this type activity or enough time (years, years and then more years) to accomplish much.
First off, the education level of the average Iraqi (all the educated ones have left or have been murdered) is about what one of our 5th or 6th grade slum disadvantaged kids has here in this Grand Republic. Most of their education is from the Qur'an and their Iman's (teachers of faith).
Second, they (the returning troops) say that unless there is something in it for them personally (or their family or tribe [same thing])
they are not really interested but will lie and pretend that they are (after all we are infidels).
Like all of the stolen and wasted money we have put in there to get local contractors to do the needed work, that never got done. That is the real reason outside contractors and workers came in and did most of the work. Even then if they hire locals, they figure out a way to not work and still get paid.
Playing basketball, learning a foreign language, learning how to fight like Americans, playing soccer, fighting tribes they hate, having a pocket full of money on payday are mostly the reasons that the Iraqi Army and other Iraqi security forces are now working with us.
But behind our backs, those same forces (in unbelievable numbers) are commiting murders, killing their tribes enemies, blowing up convoys, spending their money on liquor, drugs, weapons, whores and generally acting like the people that they really are. (the troops have some very interesting and sometimes even funny stories about how young men with a pocket full of money for the first time in their lives act and do.)
Which is to say, they are not what we thought that they were or hoped they were. We are just now finding out the truth and finding out how to handle them. But they consider it all part of the game, and they know how to decieve and are proud of it.
Of course most of the "terps" are a different story. They are generally a little better educated, speak some english, like being paid VERY well, and are brave to the point of foolishness sometime. Many, Many are murdered every month because they are found out by the wrong people. Some are true Iraqi patriots.
But..say our troops, the biggest problem in Iraq is the POLICE, both the local and the national. They are corrupt almost to the man, and those that are not, will never let on or say anything, because they value their lives and the lives of their families. But one thing we didn't understand is what we call corrupt, they call normal accepted practices.
I don't pass on all this lightly. I know it busts a lot of bubbles. But the truth is the truth. I wouldn't have believed it a couple of years ago, but returning (and some that are still there) troops have much the same story. It's worse is some areas, better in others, but overall, it is going to take generations to change the Iraqis into a civilized population that understand that they must go against all of the centuries of ingrained corruption and tribal hatred that infests and corrupts their country today.
Yes, there are exceptions to all of this, but not enough, not near enough. ITM is one example, but those guys have a lot of higher educaton that the average Iraqi doesn't have and never will.
Where does it start, this understanding, this changing? With the children of course, but to protect the children after they start learning and growing, there must be a presence right there overseeing them. "Overseeing" as in teaching and protecting and nurturing, because there will be forces that will fight this "education" and "changing".
Are we going to stay and do that? Who is? not our Warriors, but what kind of force, a hybrid force, part Special Ops, part Civil Affairs, part Peace Corp.? An "International" force?
Iraq is just one of our first battles, how we handle it will impact the rest of what we have to do over the next 50 or so years. The Afghan has to be included also, but there, we have to try and pull those people out of the very distant past..like the 10th century. Troops returning from there can not even describe it to modern Americans, it makes the way our American Indians lived look good. Don't be decieved by the couple of developed cities. The Afghans didn't do much of the development all by themselves, and without the money the poppy brings in, those cities wouldn't even be there.
That's my comment on the situation the General (and his replacements) has facing him. Without [very, very] long term support from the American Congress and people, he has as much chance of doing any real lasting good, as I have of winning the next lottery.
The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz
I suspect you are just trying to shock. I'm not shocked; this is very old nonsense.
Moi, shock? Mais non.
I do not know, and I suspect that nobody else knows, if the Muslim ummah can produce a version of itself that does not believe in violent jihad, and is willing to share the planet with folks who worship other gods. Or if they are really just a death cult.
A Democrat victory in November and in 2008, a US withdrawal from Iraq, and Iranian bomb and we are headed for a real catastrophe. Say, a million dead Americans and 250 million dead Muslims. Coulter will look like Gandhi.
History is not over. The future lies ahead and no one knows what is as it lies in contingency and chance.
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