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Winning the Ideological Battle for the Support of the Populace

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Winning the Ideological Battle for the Support of the Populace

(Understanding the Role of Ideology in Insurgency)

by Colonel Robert Jones

Download interim version of article as PDF

To date far too much focus has been placed on the nature of the specific (though ever changing) ideology espoused by Bin Laden, and also on the aggrandized, almost mystical, value assessed to the role of ideology in insurgency in general, and for the Global War on Terrorism in particular. To take the position that ideology is the strategic center of gravity (source of all strength and power) of this, or any, insurgency shows a lack of understanding of both the concept of centers of gravity and the nature of insurgency. This is a topic for an entire book in of itself, so this paper will merely address a few key points on the narrower topic of the role of ideology in insurgency.

Download interim version of article as PDF

About the Author(s)


Tell me if you think the explanation offered below is accurate and useful:

As relates to one's goals and objectives (for example: our goal to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines), if one gets one's underlying premise wrong, then the strategy, foreign policy and military plans and operations that one develops and implements -- which are based on such a false premise -- these also are likely to be wrong and, therefore, are likely to fail.

Our post-Cold War premise was our belief in:

a. The universal and overwelming power, influence and appeal of our way of life, our way of governance and our ideology. And

b. The corresponding lack of power, influence and appeal of other ways of life, other ways of governance and other ideologies.

From this premise came forth strategy, foreign policy and military plans and operations which were based on -- and, therefore, depended upon -- the accuracy of the premise noted at "a" and "b" above.

This new premise -- and the strategy, foreign policy and military plans and operations which flowed from it -- these were in sharp contrast to our Cold War premise, strategy, foreign policy, etc.; all of which payed significant heed to the formidable nature of different ways of life, different ways of governance and different ideologies.

Once our post-Cold War strategy, foreign policy and military plans and operations (based on the premise outlined at "a" and "b" above) had had their trial runs -- wherein it was determined that these concepts were, if not faulty, then certainly premature -- then the United States moved to discard these initial post-Cold War notions and adopt/re-adopt a premise (and corresponding strategy, foreign policy and military plans and operations) which were more consistent with a more-Cold War-like view of the world.

This such old/new premise and worldview -- once again -- giving proper heed to the power, influence, appeal and, thus, the exceptionally formidable nature of different ways of life, different ways of governance and different ideologies.

This adoption/re-adoption of a more-Cold War-like premise and world-view helping to explain, for example, why our military forces have come to adopt/re-adopt such concepts as (1) village stability operations, (2) counter-unconventional warfare and (3) the study of the human domain; all of which, one might suggest:

a. Were notably absent in the initial phases of the post-Cold War trial period noted above.

b. Were notably present, in one way or another, during the Cold War (and again today) and all of which:

c. Did not discount but, instead, payed proper heed to the power, influence, appeal and, therefore, the formidable nature of different ways of life, different ways of governance and different ideologies.

(In considering the above offering, please view it in light of not only our disappointing post-Cold War experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria but, more importantly, from the perspective of our disappointing post-Cold War experiences and relations with Russia and China.)

Outlaw 09

Sat, 02/08/2014 - 12:15pm

There is an interesting discussion of religion (in the following article) ie ideology tied to European history that reflects on the current Shia/Sunni divide where one can see similarities between the two historical events---in some aspects more than similarities.

Since Roberts' article is a discussion on ideology---it would be an interesting read.…

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 02/07/2014 - 9:03am

In reply to by Bill C.


Ideology is always on the surface, ideology is invariably used to define the "teams" in the contest. And the role of ideolgy is, also invariably overstated in terms of its role as a causal or central factor to a conflict.

The Cold War was obviously defined in ideological terms, but that did not make it an ideological contest. It was a contest for power and influence and the two sides had different ideologies.

The US has always been a maritime, merchant nation. As such, we have long held the vital national interests, beyond our own physical security, of access to resources and markets; and not allowing any single or coalition of enemy powers to dominate the Eurasian landmass. This shaped our decision to engage in WWI, WWII and to wage a Cold War against the Soviets. Soviet domination of the Eurasian landmass was not in our interest, regardless of what ideolgy they may have held, but the one they did hold was particularly incompatible.

The wars of the 17th century (and 16th) were not "religious" wars, they were also about politics and power. Religion defined the teams, but it did not define the conflicts. The Holy Roman Empire employed Catholicism as a single system of ideological, educational and informational control over the population and as a system of legitmacy for leaders. To break that system of control required alternative systems, and Protestantism provided those systems. The work of Martin Luther was hijacked for that purpose. Following Westphalian the single broad system of ideological control was traded for each new country emposing its own system of ideological control. This is, by the way, why the US Constitution specifically forbade government to establish a religion. This was not freedom OF religion, but rather freedom FROM the risk of a single system of ideological control being imposed by the government.

Ideology is important, but it does not cause or define the conflict.


Bill C.

Fri, 02/07/2014 - 12:26am

Regarding the role of ideology, the following is provided from Hans Morganthau's 1967 "To Intervene or Not To Intervene:"

"While contemporary interventions serving national power interests have sometimes been masked by the ideologies of communism and anticommunism, these ideologies have been an independent motivating force. This is the fourth factor which we must consider. The United States and the Soviet Union face each other not only as two great powers which in the traditional ways compete for advantage. They also face each other as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other. Thus the Cold War has not only been a conflict between two world powers but also a contest between two secular religions. And like the religious wars of the seventeenth century, the war between communism and democracy does not respect national boundaries. It finds enemies and allies in all countries, opposing the one and supporting the other regardless of the niceties of international law. Here is the dynamic force which has led the two superpowers to intervene all over the globe, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes openly, sometimes with the accepted methods of diplomatic pressure and propaganda, sometimes with the frowned-upon instruments of covert subversion and open force."

Today we would seem (minus the obvious differences and with the appropriate substitutions) to be engaged in a somewhat similar battle as that which is described above. This such battle now being between (1) the winner of the contest between the two secular entities noted above and, shall we say, (2) the last religious hold-outs?


Thu, 02/06/2014 - 6:14pm

In reply to by Bill C.

The only insurgencies the UA has been "up against" in recent years are the ones we created by invading and occupying other countries. Invasion and occupation does beget insurgency. That doesn't necessarily mean the insurgents are resisting any change in their way of life, it just means they want any changes to be controlled by them, not by a foreign occupying power.

Once we're out of Afghanistan and fully out of Iraq, there won't be an insurgency on that planet that the US will necessarily be required to counter as a matter of urgent national interest. We may choose to try to counter some. We may even choose to create some, if we decide to go the invasion/occupation/"nation building" route again. Those would of course be our choices.

The assumption that insurgency is driven wholly or primarily by resistance to change seems to me insupportable, dangerous, and less than considerate of the rather large portion of the world's people that urgently desires change.

Bill C.

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 12:09pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Insurgencies may, indeed, have been fought more often to change -- rather than to retain -- the time-honored way of life and way of governance of various states and societies. I do not know. Indeed, both of these types of insurgencies might be considered historically "common."

But, these such "percentage" questions would not seem to matter.

What would seem to matter is which one of these insurgencies is one now (1) up against and, therefore, (2) having to deal with.

Today, and in the case of the foreign entity known as United States, might we say "both?"


Wed, 02/05/2014 - 7:19pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Why would you assume that insurgencies are fought to "preserve and protect a preferred way of life"? Aren't they more often fought to change a way of life that a populace no longer finds tolerable or acceptable?


1. a system of ideas and ideals, esp. one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.

2. archaic. the science of ideas; the study of their origin and nature.

When populations determine that they CANNOT depend on their standing governments, nor on their standing military forces, to protect their time-honored and preferred way of life, and their time-honored and preferred way of governance (which, one might suggest, are based on a time-honored and preferred ideology),

Then these populations may take matters into their own hands and join forces and organize:

a. Outside the bounds of what they now see as ineffective, compromised and/or traitorous state structures,

b. Outside the bounds of what they now see as ineffective, compromised and/or traitorous governments and

c. Outside the bounds of what they now consider to be ineffective, compromised and/or traitorous military forces.

These such actions being taken by the population to try to preserve and protect their preferred way of life, their preferred way of governance and their preferred ideology via other ways and other means. (Shall we say via "unconventional means?")

This, because the normal ("conventional") means of preserving and protecting their preferred way of life, their preferred way of governance and their preferred ideology (to wit: via the state structure, via one's own government and via one's own military) has been denied to these populations.

These such structures and institutions now being essentially owned by, acting in the interests of and working for foreign entities, whose goal is to:

a. Eliminate the preferred way of life and preferred way of governance (and the underlying ideology?) of these "different" populations and to

b. Cause these populations to cleave to and become dependent upon the way of life, way of governance and underlying ideology of the foreign devils.

Thus, in the eyes of the population, very desperate times calling for very desperate measures.


Thu, 02/06/2014 - 5:48am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

There is a tendency in these discussions to refer to "AQ" when we should be speaking of a spectrum of radical Islamist groups that have adopted terrorism as part of their tool kit. The extent to which any given group is inspired by or directly subordinate to "AQ Central" is really not that important, IMO, in determining the threat posed by any given group. An aspiring AQ competitor looking to make their bones with a highly visible action is likely more dangerous than "AQ Central".

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 12:04pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

The internal AQC debate between Central and it's affiliates is getting far more interesting and will mark how AQC moves forward over the next few years---this is a development that not even UBL could have foreseen.

There is some talk that the KSA has been driving this internal AQ clash via their unlimited support of al Nusra against ISIL.

It also goes to show that AQI/ISIL learned absolutely nothing from the 2006 split with the Iraq Sunni tribes.

Also notice the veiled comments that ISIL is an Assad creation.

Influential al Qaeda-linked jihadists have denounced the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) in recent weeks and are now calling on its members to defect. They have supported Ayman al Zawahiri and al Qaeda's senior leadership in their dispute with ISIS.

Read more:

The Syrian Revolutionaries Front issued a statement condemning the ceasefire of a prominent member of the IF with the ISIS. The statement called the ISIS a dark movement that enjoys spilling blood and has left Islam by the near unanimous fatwas, accusing it of several massacres against "Ahl al-Sunna" and even that it is working in collaboration with the regime. The Front stated that it will both battle the "Nusayri" (derogatory term for Alawi) regime and the ISIS.

As for the ceasefire, the statement called it illegitimate because it stemmed from a siege. The Front called for an end to the bloodshed and the evacuation of the foreign ISIS fighters outside of Syria. They state that they are the true defenders of Islam and the revolution and called on other rebel organisations to establish a joint room of operations.

Read more:…

The timing of the ceasefire is interesting given Al Qaeda General Command's denunciation of the ISIS earlier this week. The denunciation serves to further isolate the ISIS from the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, as well as from allies in the Islamic Front. The ISIS has been clashing with the Islamic Front and other rebel units over the ISIS' heavy-handed treatment of competing groups.

Read more:…

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 7:16am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

There are some that believe that in fact the individual AQ affiliates while claiming AQ status/membership or in fact greatly similar to the US university fraternity concept----each State chapter while adhering to the "mothership" still in effect act and plan for their own environment ie "think globally act locally".

So in fact if one reads the referenced article is AQC the threat or is it on a dying limb historically as the local events drive the actual fighting groups and terrorism is just another TTP used by the fighting groups.

The article also raises an interesting point---is AQ in fact a "terrorist" organization or has it in fact advanced to a "fighting army" capable of deploying to Muslim areas of interest with an ideologically focused central head?

Example AQC use to be the main recruiter of foreign fighters for the various fighting groups---each group now conducts it's own financial and manpower recruitment driven by an very effective social media campaign.

With AQC now on the sidelines so what is the necessity of an AQC?

Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 3:21pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

There is a really good article that goes to this article by Robert---…

Five questions were raised which go to what I mentioned as well as Robert's article.

1. Do we believe jihadist warfighting organizations present a national security threat on a similar order to terrorist groups?

2. What policy tools do we need to deal with such organizations?

3. If such organizations are a national security threat by their nature, does it matter whether a group calls itself al Qaeda or not?

4. How do we address our concerns about these groups without embroiling ourselves in a series of counterproductive wars all over the globe?

5. What can we do to mitigate the risk that future terrorist organizations might emerge as successors to these fighting groups?

Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 11:59am

Actually AQ is attempting to answer just this problem the last few weeks or so.

If the reporting is accurate that in fact AQ has thrown ISIL under Abu al-Bagdadi out of AQ then what is say the "ideological value" of being in AQ or better yet does an AQ affiliate really need to be in AQ?---especially if as ISIL has shown being an affiliate in the past ensured weapons, money and a flow of foreign fighters.

This dispute will in effect impact AQ in a far greater way that anything we the US have done violently or non violently against AQ since 9/11.

It appears that in fact "ideology" no longer drives the affiliates of AQ since they are the one's with the boots on the ground inside the country being affected---in fact by AQ's central remaining largely in Pakistan it might have had the affect of actually sidelining AQ central.

AQ affiliates' due to their actively being engaged within a country now ensues a flow of money, weapons, and fighters simply based on their use of the Internet, monies flowing from third party country's, and social media---not by being an AQ affiliate.

The various affiliate's are in fact slowly becoming independent from the "ideological" leadership of AQ---something Bin Laden failed to see happening.

Even if we declare say religion as an "ideology" when looking at Syria we "see" a number of different styles of "Islamic ideology" being used by the various Islamic groups inside Syria---Sufism, Salafists, Takfirist, secular Islamists of several flavors, Muslim Brotherhood being equally supported by Qatar and the KSA---not much coming via AQ outside of "ideological statements" via the Internet.

In the AQ Syrian dispute with ISIL AQ has sided with al Nusra instead of ISIL---BUT al Nusra is being massively supported by the KSA in both money and weapons. There are some indicators floating around that the non AQ Islamists are in effect starting to impact/gain an advantage over ISIL---maybe this is the reason AQ is jumping ship with ISIL---kind of changing horses in mid-stream.

There is still by the way among some of the Syrian Islamists the nagging feeling that it was the Syrian government who actually favored/created/protected the ISIL---1) by releasing the Islamists out of their prisons ISIL growth took off, 2) areas controlled by ISIL have not been bombed or shelled by the Assad military and 3) ISIL has been selling oil from their controlled areas (oil production points)of Syria to the Syrian government. The question still floats out there---did Assad create the ISIL Syrian wing in order to declare to the world that he is under attack from "terrorists"---interesting thought.

So in reality the "ideological" drive of AQ central has no effect what so ever in Syria and or other locations---so is AQ central even "ideologically" relevant going forward?

IMO ---actually no.

We have wasted so much time and money attempting to corner/damage AQ central when in effect their affiliate's are causing more emancipation problems within AQ than we the US have managed to do since 9/11.


Thu, 02/06/2014 - 5:18am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I'm not fully convinced that US operations on Basilan reinforced the legitimacy of the Philippine Government. In many ways American action underscored the very limited Philippine capacity (and will) to act in similar fashion: people knew very well where the resources were coming from and why, and they knew (and know) very well that it wasn't from their government. The obvious observation that when the American show up all of a sudden there's a bridge and a road and medical care doesn't really reinforce the legitimacy of the Government who has been nominally responsible for these things for decades but has produced little or nothing.

The problem, of course, is that governance in the area is dominated by an utterly corrupt political caste that stands above the law and routinely uses the resources and coercive power of the state to advance their own interests. As long as that situation prevails, the area will remain fertile ground for insurgents... but there's really not much the US can do to change that.

The threat represented by JI and other "AQ-linked" groups in SE Asia was certainly overstated for some time: at one point SE Asia was being touted as "the next front in the GWOT", a theory which if nothing else boosted the careers of some SEA analysts for a while.

The Muslim World overall certainly has its share of insurgent energy, but there are other energies as well. One that AQ has exploited with particular efficiency is the extensive resentment against Western and generic "other" intrusion in Muslim lands and interference in Muslim affairs, combined with an extended span that saw the military prowess of Muslims become an object of derision rather than respect. That is not "insurgent" energy per se, as it is not directed at a government by a governed populace, but it is a major source of energy for AQ. Bin Laden filled a role that the Arab World lacked for a long time: the warrior hero, battling the infidel for the cause of Islam. Maybe he didn't fill it very well... but who else did they have?

I very much agree that the stomping and sledgehammering approach needs to evolve. I would not want to see a new approach that involved attempts to intervene in populace/government relations in Muslim countries, or position ourselves and champions of the people agaisnt oppressive government. That, I suspect, would blow up in our faces.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 5:51am

In reply to by Dayuhan

Again, good comments, and I largely agree with your assessment.

As to the Philippines, unlike Iraq or Afghanistan where we blew out existing systems of sovereignty and legitimacy and imposed our own, in the Philippines we always worked to stay within the limits allowed us by government of the Philippines, thereby respecting and reinforcing the sovereignty and legitimacy of the existing government. When one does that what one intends to do and what one is allowed to do will invariably differ; and not surprisingly, what one actually accomplishes will differ yet again.

It is important to appreciate the limits of any UW campaign. UW does not, and I believe cannot, create insurgency. UW simply attempts to leverage the insurgent energy of a distinct segment of someone else's politically dissatisfied population in order to advance one's own interests. I also believe we exaggerated the threat and effectiveness of JI in the Philippines. As to AQ in the Middle East, there was and is so much insurgent energy there that even a blind squirrel could find that nut. I do not attribute super powers to AQ either, those were movements that did not need much of a nudge, and AQ has not been very effective at steering them to their purpose. Insurgencies can be a bit like an avalanche. Easy to start into action, impossible to steer, and sweeping up everything in their wake, resulting in new chaos rather than new order. But it is a new chaos with a chance to settle into a new stability overtime.

It is hubris to think one can stop an avalanche forever if one is unwilling to address why the instability is building. Natural forces like gravity and human nature will not go away; it is incumbent upon government to understand and address how they are shaping popular perceptions toward a critically unstable mass.

As to the US? Not so much a matter of meddle and countermeddle; more a matter of fine-tuning our foreign policy to be more appropriate for the times we actually live within. I personally believe we could replace our current military stomping and sledgehammering approach into one of much softer footprints with an occasional application of a scalpel here or there.


Wed, 02/05/2014 - 12:08am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

It would be a huge stretch to say that JI was "conducting UW" with the MNLF and MILF. By the time JI came on the scene the MNLF was fragmented and ineffective; there was certainly mutually opportunistic contact between JI operatives and MNLF factions, but I can's see that as "conducting UW". Relations between MILF and JI, while extensive, have also been largely opportunistic, with the MILF and some of its subcommands extending sanctuary and receiving training. I don't know that MILF ever subordinated its agenda to that of JI or otherwise served as a tool of JI. They they simply had common interests. MILF of course was also operating and well established before JI arrived on the scene.

I'm not sure I buy the idea that JI was the primary target of initial US operations in the Philippines. If that had been the case Basilan would have been a most inappropriate focus, as at that time the JI/MILF link was considerably more significant. The ASG may not in fact have been a meaningful part of the AQ network, but it was perceived as being a part of the network, and it was very much visible, making it a suitable target.

To me the greatest impact of the US presence there was not on the ASG or JI or the rebel organizations, but on the Philippine military, which notably improved both its human rights practices and its inclination to collude in assorted profit-making schemes when Americans were around. Whether or not that will continue when Americans are no longer around remains to be seen.

This I think is the point in your position that requires clarification and support:

<i>AQ's UW campaign to leverage latent and active insurgencies across the greater middle east to advance AQ's agenda</i>

AQ certainly leverages multiple drivers to different degrees in different markets, but I think overall you overrate the degree to which AQ exploits the resentment of populaces toward their own governments and underrate the extent to which they exploit direct hostility toward "the West" and notably Western military intrusion in Muslim lands. AQ attacks and campaigns directed directly at Western targets have drawn much more support than AQ efforts to remove Muslim governments. I think your model is quite applicable to understanding insurgencies (though perhaps less so in trying to resolve them), but the link between AQ/GWOT and insurgency remains tenuous.

I completely agree that the US should not, as a general rule, assist or enable the oppression of autocratic governments, in the Muslim world or anywhere else. The extent to which we are actually doing that at this time (can't undo the past), particularly in the Muslim world, is quite debatable. If the proposal is that we proactively intervene and try to persuade or compel Muslim governments to alter their relationships with their populaces, that would look to me like opening a potentially very nasty can of worms. Our influence is very limited and we are not trusted by either governments or populaces.

You can argue that some of the problems of the Middle East were caused in part by American meddling, but I can't see counter-meddling as a solution.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 10:45pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Good questions. I wrote this several years ago and my own thinking on the GWOT has evolved as well. I brought this article forward for the thinking on ideology, which I believe is standing the test of time.

To your questions:
1. "the role of ideology in insurgency in general, and for the Global War on Terrorism in particular

does that mean you see "terrorism" as "insurgency", and the GWOT as "counterinsurgency""

In short, no. It means that how ideology is applied in insurgency in general, and how ideology is applied in the GWOT - which is AQ's UW campaign to leverage latent and active insurgencies across the greater middle east to advance AQ's agenda - are how I describe in this article.

2. "the U.S. State Department and Congress must step up and assume a leading role as the primary agents of counterinsurgency for the West

Where does "the west", in any generic or specific sense, directly face an insurgency? There may be actual or potential insurgencies in progress where "the West" has a perceived interest, but does that mean that "the West" becomes a counterinsurgent, in either a military or a political role?"

I would re-phrase this today. I think that the US civilian authorities have the lead for US foreign policy in general and for what is probably best seen as a counter-UW campaign in regards to dealing with AQ. Much of dealing with AQ involves updating our relationships with many of the governments of the region where AQ operates. Only a small part of dealing with AQ is CT to mitigate a handful of UW operatives; we really need to get out of the business of conducting CT against nationalist insurgents on the behalf of these allies and partners. As to COIN, I see that as a domestic operation. The US does COIN at home, and FID abroad.

As to ASG, yes, I agree, they were and are largely a criminal organization with what is primarily a for-profit motivation. They were not the primary reason for US involvement in the Philippines. JI was what the US worried about due to their connections with AQ - and the MILF and the MNLF were the nationalist insurgent groups that JI was conducting UW with in the Philippines.


Tue, 02/04/2014 - 10:35pm

When you say:

<i>the role of ideology in insurgency in general, and for the Global War on Terrorism in particular</i>

does that mean you see "terrorism" as "insurgency", and the GWOT as "counterinsurgency"?

This I find confusing:

<i>the U.S. State Department and Congress must step up and assume a leading role as the primary agents of counterinsurgency for the West</i>

Where does "the West", in any generic or specific sense, directly face an insurgency? There may be actual or potential insurgencies in progress where "the West" has a perceived interest, but does that mean that "the West" becomes a counterinsurgent, in either a military or a political role?

Most of the countries we're discussing actually have governments. The relationship between governments and populaces in many of them is evolving and is often tense. Proposing American or "Western" intervention in these relationships, however, seems a very dubious prospect to me, especially where neither government nor populace seeks it. Assuming that we know what "the populace" or any portion thereof wants seems even more dubious.

What disturbs be about this argument is the ease with which it could be used to support intervention in government/populace relationships in places where it is neither needed nor wanted, which could become a very dangerous prospect. Government-populace relationships may indeed be tense, or even violent, but that does not mean we have any answers to the problems or that our involvement is necessary or useful. Nations have to go through their own evolutionary processes, and the last thing they need is "help" from a burly and well intentioned but too often clumsy and ignorant outsider.

I think the issues you discuss are quite relevant to understanding insurgency (though perhaps less relevant to understanding conflicts that are not insurgency). When they become a basis for attempts to intervene in the internal affairs of other nations, they are potentially very risky.

When you write, about the Southern Philippines:

<i>nationalist insurgents are recognized as distinct from terrorist organizations</i>

I think it's important to note that the organization specifically targeted by US intervention was, by the time of the intervention, less a terrorist group than a criminal syndicate with a rather nominal Islamist ideology. The rapid expansion of the ASG from roughly 2000 had nothing to do with ideology. It was about money, which the ASG was bringing in, in bulk. The US did not at any point compete with a superior ideology, they just assisted the Philippine Forces in cutting off the ASG from their supply of money, which reduced their appeal. Ideologically, the situation is pretty much the same as it was before. The warlords still rule, the rural Muslims still hate the Philippine Government (not so much the Americans). With the ASG splintered and the MNLF moribund, there's little leadership to take advantage of the disaffection (the Maranao/Maguindanao-dominated MILF has a hard time positioning itself as a representative of the Tausug/Sama populace), but the latent insurgency remains, and there's little or nothing the US can do about it. The Philippine Government could do something about it... but they won't and we can't force them to.

These insurgencies are ultimately between people and their governments, and there's often little and frequently nothing the US or "the West" can do about them. Suggesting that the US or "the west" can or should try to lead their resolution just invites more meddling.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 8:19pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


No arguments. Note I specified CvC's "Social Trinity" rather than his "Remarkable Trinity." Agree that the second one is best for applying his work on war, but I do find the first one to be a handy model for thinking about a state, or any system of governance, in simple terms.

I think the social trinity is helpful for exploring Human Domain in a way that I hope can clear up some of the debate raised by our air force and Navy brothers and others who struggle to see the value of recognizing this "new" domain. I put "new" in parenthesis as human domain is arguably the original domain - just the most recent one for us to recognize in our military thinking.


Dave Maxwell

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 6:06pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


Good points - especially the 4 inches between the ears which I do believe is the essence of the human domain. My one quibble is with the trinity of "government, army. people." I think it is important to remember that the trinity really is "passion, reason, and chance." I think that Chris Bassford's web site has some of the best work on the interpretations of the trinity that people might find useful:…

From the Howard/Paret translation the first paragraph is the operative one on the trinity:

War is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case. As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity--composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.

The first of these three aspects mainly concerns the people; the second the commander and his army; the third the government. The passions that are to be kindled in war must already be inherent in the people; the scope which the play of courage and talent will enjoy in the realm of probability and chance depends on the particular character of the commander and the army; but the political aims are the business of government alone.

These three tendencies are like three different codes of law, deep-rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship to one another. A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless.

Our task therefore is to develop a theory that maintains a balance between these three tendencies, like an object suspended between three magnets.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 4:53pm

What is the "Human Domain"? Sure, we've read definitions and debates, and perhaps have participated in the same. Army doctrine takes a stab at a definition, but one has to ask: Does the Army own Human Domain and therefore get to tell everyone else what it is, or is the Human Domain something that exists in nature and is what it is. Uncaring of what the Army believes it to be, the Human Domain simply is. If it is the former then we need to toe the line and figure out how to deal with what the Army has provided us. If, on the other hand, it is the latter, then we must all resist the forces of strategic inertia and all work free from intellectual constraint and attempt to understand natural phenomena to the best of our ability for what they actually are.

Personally, I think Human Domain is the four inches between the ears. Human Domain is where influence and understanding take place. It may also be helpful to apply Clausewitz's Social Trinity of "Government-Army-People" to the concept of Human Domain. Why? Because one may conduct a program of activities designed to affect the Human Domain within the Government to shape governmental decisions. One may do another program of activities to shape security force decisions. Or, one may conduct programs designed to shape perceptions among the general civilian populace.
This is an important construct, because Strategic Land Power or Air-Sea Battle or Diplomatic operations are primarily to create effects in that Government or Army Human Domain. SOF operations and also development operations, however, are more focused on the Human Domain of "the people."

A similar concept that is currently being bandied about is one of "contesting the ideological space." To me, the ideological space is the Human Domain.

Attached is an article I published several years ago born of my experience as the J5 and the J3 at Special Operations Command Pacific. I believe the ideas are still sound and are worth considering as we explore new concepts, such as "Human Domain" or "Ideological Space."