How to accurately forecast trends of the Iraq War

Part VIII of a series about America’s new Long War

By Fabius Maximus

October 15, 2007

The word that one hears again and again here, but is so rare in the domestic political debate, is “complex.” The war is changing at least every six months, and every area of the country — even every neighborhood in Baghdad — has a different dynamic

Rich Lowry, “The Lonely War," National Review Online, 9 October 2007

Two of the most common adjectives used to describe the Iraq War are “unique” and “complex”, which imply that it is difficult to analyze and forecast. Is this true?

I’m often asked how “experts” (a label Boyd despised) in fourth generation war (4GW) are able to forecast so accurately the course of this war. The answer is simple. This is a typical fourth generation war (4GW) of the post-WWII “locals vs. foreign occupiers” type (the other “type” is civil war, with neither side led by foreigners). The Iraq War is unique, just as every war is unique. So is every person unique. We use stereotypes to evaluate people because they usually work. They work because our similarities are often more important than our differences. So it with wars.

You too can accurately forecast the Iraq War. Familiarity with the theory and history of 4GWs allows one to see what is happening in Iraq using only public sources of information – and see its general trends.

The second {most likely} broad possibility is that we take Baghdad, replace Saddam with an American-approved pro-consul, then watch Iraq turn into a vast West Bank as non-state elements take effective control outside the capital city. This is what has happened in Afghanistan, and in Iraq too we would quickly find that our state armed forces do not know how to fight non-state opponents in Fourth Generation war.

William Lind, “No Exit”, 26 March 2003

A few experts go beyond forecasting events to the more difficult question of “why” these things are happening. Such insights are valuable, helping us learn from our experiences.

As an officer who has served for eighteen years in the military… I now realize that the army’s problems are not the result of venality, lack of integrity, or lack of intelligence on the part of senior officers.  The problems are virtually all systemic in nature , a complex mix of traditions, conditioned response, and institutional reactions to the contemporary world. … Is the army evolving into a force to fight in the 21st century?  The answer is no.  Why?

Donald Vandergriff, The Path to Victory (2002)

Anyone can do it using this simple three step program

I cannot speak for the A-team, people such as Lind, Chet Richards, John Robb, and Vandergriff. However there is an easy method by which anyone can forecast the broad outlines and end of the Iraq War.

  1. Carefully read Martin van Creveld’s book The Transformation of War (1991).

  2. Each week read the Sunday newspaper, or one of the major weekly magazines.

  3. Determine what page of the book we are on.

Van Creveld accurately explained in 1991 what has happened so far in Iraq. His work differs from that of most other experts because its focus is not on us but on the motives and methods of our 4GW opponents. This might account for its superior predictive power.

Transformation of War is only 227 pages long and so clear that the reader needs no prior knowledge of military history in order to understand it.

Implications for America in an era in which 4GW is the dominant form of war

What does it mean that so many experts accurately predicted our troubles in Iraq? Reversing the question, why have we made so many errors despite so many warnings by experts over the past 20+ years?

The predictability of our actions is one of the most damming indictments of America’s inability to learn and of our poor fitness to wage a long war. This is something to ponder as we rush to expand the Long War.

Folly, thou conquers, and I must yield!
Against stupidity the very gods
They contend in vain. Exalted reason,
Resplendent daughter of the head divine,
Wise foundress of the system of the world,
Guide of the stars, who art thou then if thou,
Bound to the tail of folly's uncurbed steed,
Must, vainly shrieking with the drunken crowd,
Eyes open, plunge down headlong in the abyss.
Accursed, who strives after noble ends,
And with deliberate wisdom forms his plans!
To the fool-king belongs the world.

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans), Act III, Scene vi (as translated by Anna Swanwick) (1801)


Are the things reported here good or bad? Please consult a priest or philosopher for answers to such questions. This author only discusses what was, what is, and what might be.

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Who was Fabius Maximus?

Fabius Maximus was the Roman leader who saved Rome from Hannibal by recognizing its weakness and therefore the need to conserve its strength. He turned from the easy path of macho “boldness” to the long, difficult task of rebuilding Rome’s power and greatness. His life holds profound lessons for 21st Century America.

Qualifications of the Author?

Read the past articles by Fabius Maximus. A work of intellectual analysis stands on its own logic, supported by the author’s track record.