On War #123
June 29, 2005

Doing It Right

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.

An article in the June 23rd Christian Science Monitor, “A US patrol gains trust in Baghdad neighborhood,” tells the story of an American unit that gets Fourth Generation war.

When the patrol (in Humvees) passes a busy street, Lieutenant Waters . . . tells his men to get out and start walking. As the foot patrol makes its way through the streets, an old Shiite woman in a black hejab invites Waters into her house. At the threshold, Waters politely waits.

"I don't want to track the dirt from the street into your house," he tells her. . .

Waters is trying to gain the trust of this tense district, where the US has previously been regarded with hatred and suspicion. . .

After long months in this sector of Baghdad, Waters’s company has not killed anyone nor has it lost a single soldier.

"We are not killing machines; we are men," Waters explains. "I think if we can deal with the separation from our families, and not become hardhearted, we might just be able to leave here changed in a positive way.”

"It's just like the Hippocratic oath," he says. “‘First, do no harm.’ "

What has enabled Lt. Waters and his unit of California National Guardsmen to get it right? Lt. Waters is a cop. Specifically, he is a sheriff from Sacramento. He is dealing with the people of Baghdad the same way he deals with the people back home, politely and with a genuine desire to help. His unit has not killed anyone because Lt. Waters knows cops succeed by de-escalating, not by escalating violence. Cops try very hard not to kill people. In fact, cops don’t want to fight at all.

Just as having soldiers who want to fight is important in Second and Third Generation war, so not wanting to fight is key to success in the Fourth Generation. Any fight, whether won or lost, ultimately works against an outside power that is trying to damp down a Fourth Generation conflict. Fighting ramps up disorder, and Fourth Generation entities thrive on disorder. Disorder undermines the local government’s legitimacy, because disorder proves that government cannot provide security. Fighting usually means that locals get killed, and when that happens, the relatives and friends of the casualties are then obliged to join the fight to get revenge. Violence escalates, when success requires de-escalation.

Again, cops know all this. Here we see another lesson for 4GW: Reserve and National Guard units are more valuable than regular troops. Why? Because they contain a lot of cops. Lt. Waters is not the only cop who has succeeded in Iraq. Other Guard and Reserve units have let their cops take the lead, working the same way they do back home to de-escalate violence and bring security. Like Lt. Waters, they have achieved some local successes.

In order to turn local successes into success on a larger scale, American policy needs to focus more broadly on de-escalation. Here again there is some tentative good news. According to the London Sunday Times, the U.S. is now negotiating with several of the Sunni insurgent groups. Tensions between Baathist elements of the Iraqi resistance and Islamist elements, especially those employing foreign fighters, have already escalated to the point of firefights between the two. We should be able to make deals with some of the Baathists.

The Times reported that the resistance leaders we are talking with have one main demand: that we set a date for leaving Iraq. One of the Iraqi negotiators was quoted as saying, “We told them it did not matter whether we are talking about one year or a five-year plan but that we insisted on having a timetable nonetheless.” That is a demand the U.S. should be willing to meet. Not only would a set date for American withdrawal undermine much of the resistance, it would turn our opponents back on themselves by allowing the Baathists to focus on fighting the Islamists, assuming we are smart enough to let them do so. It would also help the American public see some end to a conflict with which it is understandable growing weary.

Fourth Generation theory says that to have any hope of victory, an outside force needs to de-escalate on every level. If other American units in Iraq could learn from cops like Lt. Waters how to de-escalate on the local, tactical level, and we could combine that with de-escalation on the strategic level through a deal with Baathist insurgents, we might still be able to avoid outright defeat. Given the consequences of earlier errors such as disbanding the Iraqi army, that is as close to victory as we can now realistically hope to come.

Word document available upon request.

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The Free Congress Foundation, is a 28-year-old Washington, DC-based conservative educational foundation (think tank) that teaches people how to be effective in the political process, advocates judicial reform, promotes cultural conservatism, and works against the government encroachment of individual liberties.

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