Food for Thought: Fourth Generation Warfare &
the Relation of Military Strategy to Grand Strategy (II) 

August 28, 1998

Comment: #171

Discussion Thread:  # 170


[1] Email from Reserve Colonel (Attached)

[2]Jane Perlez, "A Moderate Thinks U.S. Shot Itself In The Foot," New York Times, August 25, 1998 (Attached)

[3] AP Wire Report, "Pakistan Proposes New Islamic Laws," August 28, 1998 (Attached)

In Comment #170, I described how the execution of the Schlieffen Plan by Germany in World War I illustrates the danger of strategic designs taking precedence over the considerations of a sensible grand strategy.

The three references to this commentary suggest (but do not prove) HOW the strategy of attacking Osama bin Ladin's terrorist network by launching missiles at targets in technically neutral countries (the Sudan and Afghanistan), and by violating the national border of at least one other neutral country (Pakistan), COULD also have counterproductive grand strategic effects.

References #1 is a direct response to #170. The author is a reserve colonel with extensive experience in the Middle East, fluent in Arabic, and a self-taught scholar of Islamic culture and politics, as well the theories of conflict developed by the American strategist Colonel John Boyd. He relates his comments to Ms. Constable's discussion of Pakistan [Ref. 1 to #170]. He concludes his analysis by pointing out how the grand strategic effects of our strikes on Afghanistan and Somalia might actually weaken the support of our sympathizers in the Arab world.

Reference #2 cites a particular example of what the colonel was talking about. It describes how our actions enraged an influential Islamic moderate in the Sudan. While this man opposes religious fanaticism and terrorism in general, and bin Ladin in particular, he is worried that our attack actually strengthened bin Ladin by turning a "fanatic nut" into a transnational Islamic hero.

Reference #3, an AP wire report, illustrates how grand strategic effects have a way of winding up enmeshed in peripherally related or even unrelated political trends. In this case, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif just introduced a constitutional amendment to replace Pakistan's legal system with one based on the Koran. In notes that it should be easy for Sharif to acquire the two-thirds majority required to pass the amendment.

It is important to understand that Pakistan has been moving slowly in the direction of becoming religious-based state for some time, in part in reaction to the rampant corruption in the current political system. Nevertheless, this amendment represents a major acceleration, at a time when our actions have enraged many in the Islamic world. This is not an auspicious development, particularly if, as has been widely reported, some of the Afghan camps we attacked were training Pakistanis to fight in Kashmir. To make matters worse, Pakistan just exploded some atomic bombs.

Think about the evolutionary implications of a scenario driven by a progressive radicalization of a nuclear armed Pakistan: How would it shape the grand-strategic power relations in the Middle East and South Asia? In particular, how might the United States change its grand strategy, if Israel (an ally of the United States who probably has nuclear weapons) feels compelled to offset the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Pakistan (nominally an ally of the United States) by allying itself with a nuclear armed India (who has fought three wars with Pakistan over Kashmir)? If we continued to support Israel by tilting toward India, how would that be received by our allies in the Middle East or the consumers of middle-eastern oil in Japan and Europe.

In the Pentagon, we would call this kind of grand strategic evolution a chocolate mess. Oh, by the way, what was that nut's name? Osama's 'bin Laughing?

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Reference 1:

It is refreshing to see John's ideas again, particularly from someone who actually read and tried to understand what he wrote. Far too many people are quoting him without reading what he said. Commentary #170 is a very interesting analysis (yours as well as Ms. Constable's). However ...

You might point out that the strategic actions that drain away an adversary's resolve and attract the uncommitted to our cause are somewhat culturally dependant. As Ms. Constable notes, Pakistan is a strange place, with a religious rationale for its existence (the name means "Land of the Pure"), strong tribal bonds (esp. in the NW Frontier Province and Baluchistan), but with the capability to effectively operate modern fighter aircraft and develop nuclear weapons. Also, it is a classic Third World country, with a small, fantastically rich "greedy elite" (to use Boyd's phrase) and a huge sea of people who are barely getting by. Political Islam has generally done well under these circumstances. So I think we need to be clear on which part of Pakistan (if any) that we are trying to attract.

Oddly enough, Islam is not anti-capitalist. Just the opposite. The Prophet Mohammad was a businessman himself, "Arab traders" are the stuff of legend, and the streets of any Muslim country teem with people hawking everything that can be sold. The Quran commands the observance of contracts and the sanctity of private property (remember the penalty for theft?). Islam dislikes debt, because of its one-sided nature (the debtor has to pay, regardless) and favors equity, where risk and reward is borne by both sides. However, the Saudis I know feel that if the debtor is sophisticated enough to understand the risks, and enters into the debt agreement freely, then enforceability of contracts takes precedence.

Finally, my impression is that most Saudis (and probably most educated Muslims, who by definition are not among the vast hoard of the barely surviving, since education is expensive) are not too upset by the fact of our strike. We claim that the guy hit our embassies, so we hit back. Fair enough. Certainly hitting back is a concept within their cultural tradition.

However, I don't see that we're doing a great job of explaining why we think Osama bin Ladin was behind it, and why the sites and people we hit had anything to do with him, personally. This is allows our adversaries to portray us as doing the expedient thing, hitting the first targets available and not worrying about civilian casualties (which may indeed be analogous to the Huns of WWI), while we went to great lengths to minimize our own.

Our friends and adversaries alike may view this type of military strategy as one where our favored modus operandi in the future will be to lurk off their coasts, and whenever we see something we don't like, or we need to take our people's minds off US domestic politics, we hurl a few missiles in their adversaries direction. Very few inhabitants of these countries, even those who oppose "terrorism" as the vast majority do (or the uncommitted), can see that as very attractive, or in Boyd's words, feel empathetic toward our success. It forces them to back, or at least be silent about, regimes and groups they would otherwise oppose

How long would we put up with similar behavior on the part of the Russians?

Reference 2:

New York Times, August 25, 1998

A Moderate Thinks U.S. Shot Itself In The Foot

By Jane Perlez


KHARTOUM, Sudan -- A normally serene scholar of Islam named Abdulrahman Abuzayd, who believes passionately in the wisdom of his religion and its values, is furious at the United States.

He is no friend of the National Islamic Front's government in Sudan. Indeed, two years ago, it burned his office at the university he led and forced him to step down.


But sending cruise missiles, he says, is no way to deal with extremists -- and no way to deal with a government that may or may not have allowed a factory to make a compound of a nerve gas.

"As a Sudanese I'm mad," said Abuzayd, as he sat on his veranda, which looks over the urban landscape of low-slung, khaki-colored homes, a sun-bleached dusty road and an occasional wandering goat. "OK, we have problems with this regime. But we solve them ourselves. Now the Americans have come and given it a big shot in the arm."


"By its strikes in Afghanistan and here, America did not eliminate terrorism," Abuzayd said. "This is not terrorism -- this is a resurging Muslim world. You don't deal with it with cruise missiles, you discuss it. You don't rub the entire Muslim world's nose in the dirt and make it kneel."


Reference 3:

Pakistan Proposes New Islamic Laws

August 28, 1998

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) --


Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif introduced a constitutional amendment Friday to scrap the country's legal system and replace it with one based on the Muslim holy book, the Koran.


Sharif promised that the new laws will protect the rights of women and minorities in Pakistan, where 95 percent of the country's 140 million people are Muslims.


 On the books since the late 1970s are laws governing rape, which requires four male witnesses. The same law also provides the death penalty by stoning for having sex outside of marriage. In the early 1990s Pakistan passed the Islamic law governing the death penalty which allows the family members of a victim to decide whether the murderer can go free or be executed.


Sharif assured minority religious groups they would be allowed to practice their religion freely and that women's rights would be protected. He said that education under Islam is guaranteed for both men and women. His emphasis on education for women appeared to be an attempt to make it clear that Pakistan's version of Islamic law is not the same as neighboring Afghanistan, where the Taliban religious army has imposed a harsh brand of Islamic law on its people.