Thursday, September 08, 2005

A "Sling and the Stone" Excerpt


I'm on the last few pages of Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes' excellent The Sling and the Stone, which I mentioned in Beacon No. 62. TSATS deals with "fourth-generation warfare" (4GW), which Hammes casts as a contest of wills between asymmetric opponents. The militarily weaker combatant's task is to grind down the stronger's will to continue the fight, persuading the stronger side that it will never prevail, or at least that the cost will be too high.

The key to 4GW is patience, as this excerpt from TSATS shows:

Of particular importance is understanding that [4GW] timelines are much longer. ... The Chinese Communists fought for twenty-eight years (1921-49). The Vietnamese Communists fought for thirty years (1945-75). The Sandinistas fought for eighteen years (1961-79). The Palestinians have been resisting Israeli occupation for twenty-nine years so far (1975-2004). ... Accordingly, when getting involved in a 4GW fight, we should be planning for a decades-long commitment. ...

Fourth-generation warfare opponents focus on the political aspects of the conflict. Because the ultimate objective is changing the minds of the enemy's political leadership, the intermediate objectives are all milestones in shifting the opinion of the various target audiences. The know that time is on their side. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, are not known for their patience. We are not a people who think in terms of struggles lasting decades. Fourth-generation-warfare enemies will not seek immediate objectives but a long-term shift in the political will of their enemies. They will accept numerous tactical and operational setbacks in pursuit of that goal. [pp. 221-221]

The weaker combatant (the Viet Cong, al-Qa'ida) will win, Hammes says, when it engages successfully in a war of ideas, using violence only strategically to punctuate its ideological message and avoiding stand-up fights whenever possible. This takes focus and patience at a level that Western governments, with their constantly rotating leadership and layered governmental structures, can rarely sustain.

Even patient, focused 4GW combatants are in danger of miscalculating how much violence to mix with their words. Until 2001 Al-Qa'ida was beginning to accomplish its strategic goal of wearing down American will to keep troops in the Middle East, combining its anti-U.S. message with a series of bombings and killings overseas that attracted only sporadic U.S. attention.

From the first Gulf War to 2001, Stateside policymakers began to consider evacuating U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region. The U.S. government and its citizens could be convinced that the cost of keeping troops on the distant Arabian Peninsula wasn't worth the toll in lives and treasure—but on 9/11 al-Qa'ida suddenly changed its message from "Leave Arabia" to "You are unsafe at home." From a 4GW perspective Al-Qa'ida erred, Hammes says, primarily in becoming the focus of a sustained worldwide campaign against itself.

1 comment:

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