On War #100
January 21, 2005

Coming Unglued

By William S. Lind

[The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Lind, writing in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the opinions or policy positions of the Free Congress Foundation, its officers, board or employees, or those of Kettle Creek Corporation.

As I pondered what theme would be appropriate for this 100th On War, one of Colonel John Boyd’s favorite phrases popped into my mind: “coming unglued.” As the column’s primary purpose is to view events through the prism of Fourth Generation war, and 4GW is both a sign and a further cause of many things “coming unglued,” the phrase seemed apt.

Nowhere is it more so than with regard to America’s grand folly in Iraq, where our invasion destroyed a state and created in its place a vast new breeding ground for Fourth Generation forces. In an interview with The Associated Press in December, 2004, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator, Gijs de Vries, said, “There are some who have gone to Iraq (from Europe), as indeed there have been youngsters from outside Europe, from Arab countries, who have gone there to receive military training.” We invaded Afghanistan to eliminate terrorist training camps, then created new terrorist training camps by invading Iraq.

On the ground in Iraq, America’s war is coming unglued. Most of the soldiers and Marines I’ve talked to who have recently returned say the situation is much worse than American newspapers report. Evidence of that came last December, as the U.S. moved to shift its resupply efforts from ground to air. Why? Because the Iraqi resistance controls so many of the roads, including the road from Baghdad’s Green Zone to the airport. “They have had a growing understanding that where they can affect us is in the logistics flow,” said Central Command’s Lt. Gen. Lance Smith. “They have gotten more effective in using IEDs. The enemy is very smart and thinking. It is a thinking enemy. So he changes his tactics and he becomes more effective.”

Do we do the same? Increasingly, it seems not. An article on another of my favorite subjects, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, noted that, “In retrospect, the railroad succeeded largely by making bad decisions and then making corrections.” In Iraq, America has made bad decisions and then not made corrections. That too, Boyd argued, is a mark of coming unglued: paralysis.

The Army, especially the Army Reserve and National Guard, are coming unglued under the stress of deployments that go far beyond what they were led to expect. The general in charge of the Army Reserve recently said that the Reserve is “rapidly degenerating into a ‘broken’ force.” Within 48 hours, the Pentagon responded – by leaking plans to increase the length and frequency of Reserve deployments. That is another Boydian sign of coming unglued: actions directly at variance with facts.

Back in Washington, the neo-con gang of adventurers who pushed us into this war is starting to come unglued. Leading neo-cons now nip at Mr. Rumsfeld’s ankles. Conservative ranks abound with rumors, with more hope than evidence behind them, that once Iraq holds its elections, the White House will declare victory and pull out. One senses political careers at risk, with players setting themselves up to say, “Who, me? I didn’t want this war.”

If we cannot say Afghanistan is coming unglued, that is only because it was never glued to begin with. Panglossian accounts of “springtime for Karzai” notwithstanding, American-occupied Afghanistan is now the world’s premier narco-state. We can, of course, take on the poppy cultivators and opium traffickers, but if we do we will find ourselves facing a wider war and losing all the sooner.

Most significantly, if we look at the larger world, we see ever more states coming unglued, which is the root phenomenon of Fourth Generation war. The Saudi regime is in trouble, and its replacement will not be parliamentary democracy. Pakistan’s General Musharraf is one bomb away from his destiny, at which point al Qaeda will have nukes (if it doesn’t already). Russia’s President Putin is acting to strengthen the Russian state because he knows the state’s existence is on the line in Russia. In West Africa, the state is almost gone, and it is going in the rest of Africa. Most interestingly, as the next few months will likely show, the state is fracturing in Israel, a modern, Westernized country. That is how Fourth Generation war works: it pulls the state apart at the moral level. Soon, just as Arab is fighting Arab, Jew will be fighting Jew.

For the most part, all these evidences of a world coming unglued fall in the tragic category; we can only chronicle them, and weep. But one massive fiasco promises high comedy: that of the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs,” the vast Pentagon money tit through which an army of Congressmen, contractors and colonels is sucking the country dry. Based on hucksters’ promises of video game war, where General Swami “sees all, knows all” through a vast array of hyper-priced “systems,” the RMA is coming unglued in Iraq’s gritty streets. To the grunt on the ground, it has proven as useless as a regiment of lancers.

For the moment, the same Pentagon that pretends we are winning in Iraq can also pretend the RMA represents “future war.” In fact, it is war as it never was and never will be. To employ one of Boyd’s less elegant phrases, reality is about to give the RMA and its military, Congressional and industry pimps “the whole enchilada right up the poop chute.” Frankly, that is going to be funnier than fighting Frenchmen or drowning cats.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation

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