Mr. Bacevich’s Time Machine

[by Mr.Hengist]

Noocyte linked to this Op-Ed in the WaPo by Dr. Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University, and having read it I’ve decided it’s worth a good Fisking. Without further preamble, let’s have at it!

“The counterinsurgency campaign proposed in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s strategic assessment will prolong the war for an additional five or 10 years.”

McChrystal’s campaign will prosecute the war for an additional five or ten years. To say that it would prolong the war for that amount of time is to imply that it would lengthen the time the war will, or should be, prosecuted. Bacevich goes on to assert that his alternative of pursuing a Cold War strategy is better but he does not provide a timeframe he believes will be necessary to bring the war to a conclusion.

“Fortunately, there is an alternative to a global counterinsurgency campaign. Instead of fighting an endless hot war in a vain effort to eliminate the jihadist threat, the United States should wage a cold war to keep the threat at bay. Such a strategy worked before. It can work again.”

The Cold War lasted for forty-five years; there’s your new, improved timeframe. However, it would be inappropriate to compare the 5-10 year McCrystal plan to the Cold War, because the McChrystal strategy is theater-specific to his area of operations in the Middle East whereas the Cold war was an overarching global strategy.

Note further that the assertion that the Cold War strategy “can work again” is wholly unsupported by Bacevich throughout the piece. He does cite specific tactics and policies used during the Cold War as ones we should use in this war, but he does not actually compare and contrast the present war with the Cold War.

It strikes me as wholly implausible that the Cold War strategy will work against the Jihadists. For one thing, the Soviets were rational players who were afraid of being annihilated, and it kept them from acting in a suicidal manner. The most noteworthy element of the Jihadists is arguably their suicidal nature, so we can expect that the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine – the central core of Cold War strategy – will not be effective. Furthermore, since the Jihadists do not have a home country per se, and the despotic ruling classes of the countries from which they come are generally nominally or effectively anti-jihadist, any Western military strikes of whatever nature must be targeted and limited to the specific material and personnel assets of the Jihadists. By way of example, most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, but their monarchy and ruling class has a vested interest in destroying, containing, or, as is their preference, exporting the jihadi menace. After all, jihadists do not consider them to be the family Saud to be the rightful rulers of Arabia.

In contrast, we always knew where to hit the Red Menace.

I could go on, but having knocked out two central pillars of the Cold War strategy I see little point. These issues have been much discussed on the hawkish blogosphere since 2002; it’s a pity Bacevich seems ignorant of these problems but his advocacy of a return to Cold War strategy when dealing with Jihadists is undercut by his failure to address these shortcomings. I’m guessing that it’s because he can’t effectively address and mitigate these problems that he ignores them altogether.

“After years of exertions, $1 trillion expended and more than 5,000 American troops lost, U.S. forces have yet to win a decisive victory. The high-tech American way of war developed during the 1990s (once celebrated in phrases such as “shock and awe” and “speed kills”) stands thoroughly discredited.”

I suppose it’s fair enough to say that the U.S. hasn’t won a decisive victory in the GWOT. We can discard our successes in the wholesale slaughter of Jihadis in Afghanistan and Iraq in these past years of war, and the successes of our surgical strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere which have killed off more than a few Jihadist leaders and their minions. Nevertheless, Afghanistan is again in peril, and what might be called victory in Iraq is tenuous. Bear in mind, however, that Bacevichs’ criticism of the Bush GWOT Doctrine can as well be turned on the his advocacy of a Cold War strategy, which cost bazillions and lends itself to a state of détente rather than near- or medium-term victory in-theater. Moreover, the Cold War was punctuated by hot proxy wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan – also costly in blood and treasure. By comparison, the GWOT looks cheap, and while it’s too soon to tell how fast it will work, I can’t think of any strategy which would better guarantee a prolongation of this war than to shift our resources and efforts to a defensive posture as Bacevich advocates.

At any rate, I’d like to go on to address what he says about “Shock and Awe”, a doctrine that first entered the public lexicon, and first implemented, during the opening of the Iraq war. “Shock and Awe” is a phrase much misunderstood by Liberals, often deliberately so. Basically, it refers to the use of superior information (self-awareness and intelligence on the enemy) in conjunction with precision advanced weaponry. We know where our forces are, we know where the enemy is, and we can strike the enemy with precision, and our advantage is that our enemies cannot do the same. To appreciate the magnitude of this change in U.S. warfighting is beyond the scope of this blogpost, but suffice it to say that this doctrine is the culmination of decades of technological advancements across the board, and it stands in stark contrast to the way major engagement war has been waged throughout time – which is why, of course, it’s called “Shock and Awe”. It’s what enabled us to largely drive off and defeat Al Queda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002, and crush the Iraqi armed forces and government in 2003, both in a matter of weeks (and indeed, Speed Kills: the American advance on Baghdad was the biggest and fastest advance in American history).

To describe the application of “Shock and Awe” as having been “thoroughly discredited” is, itself, a thoroughly self-discrediting statement by Bacevich and it reeks of the partisan scorn typical of the Liberal Left. “Shock and Awe” is all about defeating the enemy in a major military confrontation on the battlefield, but it does not address the issues of keeping the peace during an insurgency. Thankfully, Bacevich does not make such an assertion, he only implies it.

“Changing the way they live — where “they” are the people of the Islamic world — qualifies as mission impossible. The Long War is a losing proposition; it will break the bank and break the force.”

That’s true, so long as Democrats are in charge. War or no war, they’ll break the bank by spending far beyond our means, and borrowing ghastly sums in order to continue to do so, while simultaneously debasing the American Dollar by creating ghastly sums out of thin air to cover the difference between what they can borrow and what they spend.

Further, while they throw horrifyingly gargantuan sums of money on domestic programs and entitlements, the one thing we can be sure they’ll do is is to weaken our military defenses, as they have already done by killing the F-22 program, the Future Warrior program, degrading the missile defense programs and, soon, reducing our nuclear arsenals. So, yes, I’d have to agree: under Democrat leadership, we may well be unable to fight a regional war, and it may very well break our force.

These aren’t problems with the GWOT. These are problems of the Democrats’ making.

“Devising a new course requires accurately identifying the problem, which is not “terrorism” and, despite Washington’s current obsession with the place, is certainly not Afghanistan. The essential problem is a dispute about God’s relationship to politics.
“The proposition that the two occupy separate spheres finds particular favor among the democracies of the liberal, developed West. The proposition that God permeates politics finds particular favor in the Islamic world.
“This conviction, which is almost entirely ignored in McChrystal’s report, defines the essence of the way they live in Iraq, Afghanistan and a host of other countries throughout the Middle East.
“At its root, this is an argument about what it means to be modern. Power, no matter how imaginatively or ruthlessly wielded, cannot provide a solution. The opposing positions are irreconcilable.”

There’s some truth to this, but only some. The West does not look kindly upon theocracies. It’s a Freedom thing. Theocracies are inherently repressive. Moreover, it’s the ambition of these Jihadis to spread their rule in the name of their god over the whole of the Earth. We have a problem with that too. Religion is imbued in the governments of many nations in the Middle East, including – and notably – that of Israel. We don’t have a problem with that, per se. We have a problem with the repression that generally accompanies the heavy infestation of religion into government, and the aggressive expansionism that so often accompanies non-representative regimes.

This is not, however, a disagreement over “what it means to be modern.” If there’s one thing of which we can be sure, it’s that Jihadis have no interest whatsoever in being modern.

“In confronting this conflict, the goal of U.S. national security strategy ought to be limited but specific: to insulate Americans from the fallout. Rather than setting out to clear, hold and build thousands of tiny, primitive villages scattered across the Afghan countryside, such a strategy should emphasize three principles: decapitate, contain and compete. An approach based on these principles cannot guarantee perpetual peace. But it is likely to be more effective, affordable and sustainable than a strategy based on open-ended war.”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to 9/10!

“Decapitation — targeting leaders for elimination — provides the means to suppress immediate threats to our safety. The violent jihadists who pose those threats are vicious but relatively few in number. They possess limited capabilities. Their aspirations of uniting the world’s Muslims into a new caliphate are akin to Sarah Palin’s or Dennis Kucinich’s presidential ambitions — unworthy of serious attention. They are rank fantasies.”

Killing Jihadist leadership is a very good thing, but it does nothing to stop the “self starters” – the ones who take it upon themselves to take action in this war and bring and woe to the kufir. By all means, we should continue to eliminate the Jihadist leadership wherever and whenever we can, but it’s not a solution, and it cannot entirely protect us from immediate threats to our security. Granted, Bacevich explicitly states that this Cold War redux strategy cannot “guarantee perpetual peace”, but that’s an irrationally high standard. What Bacevich is doing here is to grant that one small measure of the Bush Doctrine strategy has merit, but as we’ll see below, with one hand Bacevich grants, and with the other he lays the groundwork for taking it away.

It also does not address the Jihadists actions in other countries, particularly those of the Middle East and other Gap countries – which are, after all, their primary short-term targets. That’s the game plan, as described by the Jihadists themselves, most notably Osama bin Laden himself. First, the overthrow and conquest of a Middle Eastern Islamic country, followed by the re-establishment of the Caliphate, which will spread the rule of that Caliphate over the whole of the Middle East, and then on to rule over the rest of the world.

That’s the plan, anyway. Bacevich is correct: this is rank fantasy. For now. Twenty, fifty, or a hundred years from now might be a different story. To downplay that threat, given the nature of their ambitions and their proven capability, is also fantasy, and a foolish and dangerous fantasy at that. What Bacevich does not appear to understand is that the damage that will be done in their mad quest for world domination is reason enough to take them seriously enough to crush them rather than, as he appears to advocate, merely suppress or deflect them. Their intent, however ludicrous, poses an exceptionally potent danger, for even in failure they can hurt us greatly, as they already have. They may yet do worse, which is why we need to take this threat seriously and address it accordingly.

“Without effective leadership, the jihadists are nothing.”

Bacevich here demonstrates that he does not take this threat seriously. Again, these are the fantasies of the 9/10 thinker. Look, the world today is small and easily traversed. Trade and travel are global, ubiquitous, and very affordable. Distance is not nearly the deterrent to attack as once it was, and warfare, as we saw on 9/11 and similar instances both before and since, has become asymmetric. In late 2002, two guys, the Beltway shooters, put the D.C. area in a state of fear for many weeks as they killed a score of innocents. Two guys with no leadership and no external funding.

“Decapitation won’t eliminate the threat — Hamas and Hezbollah have survived the Israeli government’s targeted assassination campaign — but it can reduce it to manageable levels.”

Manageable until the hudna expires and the next war begins, which will be waged with better weapons and improved strategy. I don’t think the Israelis would describe their current situation one in which they have reduced the threat of Hamas or Hezbollah to a “manageable level.”

“A crucial caveat is that assassinations must be precise and accurate.”

… and the key to making profit on Wall Street is to buy low, and sell high.

“The incidental killing of noncombatants is immoral as well as politically counterproductive.”

… and, as I promised above, with this “crucial caveat” the other hand shall taketh away. Noncombatant casualties are inevitable in all wars, so Bacevich is effectively making an argument against all warmaking, even the targeted assassination component of his resurrected Cold War strategy, otherwise known as a component of the Bush GWOT Doctrine. Because it is inevitable that noncombatants will be killed in our warmaking we can see Bacevich has already provided himself, and his audience, with an out: after all, he said that leadership strikes were all well and good so long as they were accurate and precise. When the immoral and politically counterproductive noncombatant casualties of this strategy fail to be eliminated, Bacevich needs only to fall back on these caveats to withdraw support for targeted assassination and advocate that we cease and desist from this as well.

“The missiles launched from U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles in Pakistan have repeatedly demonstrated the wrong approach. The recent elimination of Saleh Ali Nabhan in Somalia — in a helicopter-borne raid by special operations forces — models the correct one.”

For a man like Bacevich, success is the correct approach. If, and inevitably, when, our Special Forces incur noncombatant casualties in the course of carrying out a strike, see prior crucial caveat for the excuses people like Bacevich will use to withdraw their support for this strategy. When you argue that noncombatant casualties are unacceptable and immoral, you’re arguing that war is unwageable.

It should further be noted that it’s this very attitude that puts noncombatants at risk. Our enemies have no such qualms and will routinely use noncombatants as human shields. Thus, they put noncombatants in harm’s way because people like Bacevich put such a high priority on protecting them. For the Jihadists facing American soldiers, there’s no better place to hide on the battlefield than behind the skirt of a local woman or her child. Were it not for our rules of engagement which prohibit endangering these innocents, the Jihadists would, inarguably, not do such things. So, thanks to you, Mr. Bacevich, and your intellectual fellow travelers: what ostensibly has been an effort to protect the innocent has had, here in reality, the foreseeable and inevitable result of putting more noncombatants at risk. Whether more have died as a result is a matter of speculation, but there’s a case to be made.

“Containment implies turning to the old Cold War playbook. When confronting the Soviet threat, the United States and its allies erected robust defenses, such as NATO, and cooperated in denying the communist bloc anything that could make Soviet computers faster, Soviet submarines quieter or Soviet missiles more accurate.
Containing the threat posed by jihad should follow a similar strategy. Robust defenses are key — not mechanized units patrolling the Iron Curtain, but well-funded government agencies securing borders, controlling access to airports and seaports, and ensuring the integrity of electronic networks that have become essential to our way of life.
“As during the Cold War, a strategy of containment should include comprehensive export controls and the monitoring of international financial transactions. Without money and access to weapons, the jihadist threat shrinks to insignificance: All that remains is hatred.”

The modus operandi of the Jihadist has been to procure local supplies to make weapons. It’s been that way for many years now. Moreover, I’m at a loss to fill in the blanks Bacevich leaves in terms of specifics. What countries would be subject to export controls, and how effective could they be in the age of global trade where massive commercial shipments traverse the world daily? What items would be prohibited? I’m tempted to speculate that such a list might include products known to be popular with our enemies such as cellphones and computers, but that would be effectively impossible, and as a matter of course I try never to fill in the holes in the arguments left by my political opposition. It’s one thing to apply lessons from the past to formulate similar, successful strategies as have been previously employed. What we’re seeing is that Bacevich, having recoiled from the messy business of war, is trying to persuade us that we should do that Cold War thing all over again – in every detail, sans the messy proxy warmaking stuff which he conveniently ignores – because, after all, we won that war, right?

“Finally, there is the matter of competition. Again, the Cold War offers an instructive analogy. During the long twilight struggle with the Soviets, competition centered on demonstrating scientific superiority (putting a man on the moon) and material superiority (providing cars, refrigerators and TVs for the masses). The West won.”

Jihadists do not compete. They wage war and conquer. They have nothing to offer the world in terms of prosperity or technology, and the world knows it – except, apparently, for Bacevich, who thinks that the rest of the world needs a demonstration to be convinced. After all, that’s how we tried to persuade the unaligned nations of the world not to enter the Soviet sphere of influence. As if the Jihadists have anything analogous to a sphere of influence.

Mr. Bacevich and I are clearly occupying different realities.

“Western political leaders declare with equal insistence that all must live in freedom, that term imbued with specific Western connotations.”

Well, no. We insist that they stop attacking us, our neighbors, our trading partners, their own people, and anyone else who disagrees with them. We offer the oppressed of the world the opportunity – not the guarantee – of freedom. That is to say, we’ve occasionally overthrown tyrannical regimes in order to give their subjugated victims the opportunity of freedom and self-determination and the prosperity that comes with open markets. We’re generous that way. Because we cannot free the whole world at once, the reality is that peaceful theocracies and monarchies and dictatorships are largely left alone by the West.

“The war we’re fighting can become plausible, sustainable and even morally defensible.
“It just has to go from hot to cold.”

And there you have it: In order to win this war we have to stop fighting it.

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3 responses to “Mr. Bacevich’s Time Machine

  1. Fisked and frisked and cooked into a bisque! Well-done, Mr. H!I find it amusing in the extreme that a denizen of the Left should go to such lengths to compare this War to the Cold War…you know, the one which was decried by the hard Left as those nassty Capitalists' steel rain on the Workers' Parade. The one in which there was so much irrational fear of Communism…Now we're being told that it should be the model for our new and improved assault on Radical Jihadism…of which there is a lot of irrational fear.Pretext of principles, indeed!

  2. By the by, I note the time-stamp on your entry: tailored for a deliberate statement, or one of those Cosmic Coin-kee-dinks which do so make the hair stand on end?

  3. I didn't think it would be fair to contrast the Left's opposition to the Cold War to Bacevich's advocacy of a return to it because, although Bacevich is obviously a delusional Liberal, I did not do the research which would determine whether he, personally, wrote in opposition to the Cold War while it was being waged. Nevertheless, while specifically excluding Bacevich for lack of evidence, your point is well taken in general – and thanks much for your compliments!As for the timestamp of 9:11PM? All of my blogposts are stamped 9:11PM. Call it a quirk, or a trademark. Think of it as a tribute to the memory of that day – I have no better explanation.

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