The Coming War with the Caliphate
Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his vision of an Islamic caliphate transcending traditional international borders is becoming a reality in the form of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS has transformed itself from a terror group into a viable proto-state with a civil governance arm and a regular army capable of taking and holding cities and defeating the conventional armies of established nation-states. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has declared ISIS a Caliphate with himself as Caliph. This new proto-nation is every bit as dangerous to United States security as was the original al Qaeda infestation in Afghanistan. It now has a former Iraqi chemical weapons production facility and a number of fighters who have U.S. passports. We will have to fight them eventually. That war will not come under this administration, and if it does, any action taken will likely be some feckless combination of airstrikes and halfhearted aid to the Iraqi government; that would be throwing good money after bad at this point.
When that war comes it should not be a counterinsurgency or a series of pinprick counterterrorist strikes merely designed to take out the leadership of ISIS. The capabilities of the new Caliphate have gone far beyond mere insurgency or terrorism. If the Caliphate is to be defeated, it will require a series of ground actions using large combined arms forces to destroy the conventional military forces in the areas where they have gained control. I am not suggesting a refight of the ground war in Iraq. This is not about helping Maliki who has made his own bed, nor is it about helping either the Syrian rebels or the Assad regime in Syria. Those are other sets of issues. The coming war will be about naked U.S. self- interest and eliminating a threat before it coalesces enough to attack us in our homeland. If we buy the Iraqis time to get their act together or help the Syrian moderate rebels by eliminating extremists in the Syrian anti-Assad ranks, it would be icing on the cake, but destroying ISIS' conventional military capability would be the primary objective.
Why are ground forces needed? Although the armed forces of the new born Caliphate are experienced regulars, they are largely composed of light infantry that can easily blend into the Sunni population. Al Baghdadi knows that tanks and armored vehicles are easy targets for U.S. airpower and will largely eschew them. Armored vehicles are also hard to maintain; at this stage in its development ISIS forces don't need them. It will take boots on the ground to root out the foreign fighters from the civilian population; an indiscriminant air bombing campaign would make permanent enemies of the Sunni populations of Iraq and Syria that the Islamist forces of the caliphate have infested.
What would such a campaign look like? Each fight would resemble the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, but with one major difference. Once the areas where the conventional military power of the Caliphate are eliminated; we leave. The Syrians and Iraqis will have to sort out the aftermath. We tried nation building and it didn't work. Once the Caliphate's conventional military capability to project power and governance institutions have been eliminated, the organization formally known as ISIS will revert back to the status of a non-state terrorist organization.
When will such a campaign be feasible? Probably not under this administration unless Baghdadi and his minions do something so egregious that even Barak Obama cannot ignore it; and even then his administration's response would probably be ineffectual if past performance, or lack thereof, in any indication. It would be better if action is postponed until an administration with some concept of how to effectively employ military strategy comes along. In this, time is on our side for two reasons. First, jihadist movements tend to turn inward on themselves over time and fight over the spoils once there are spoils worth coveting. Al Qaeda central has already disowned al Baghdadi and the nationalist fissures among the fighters who make up the Caliphate's military arm have agendas of their own will eventually become restless as will the Sunni populations that have welcomed them as liberators from Shiite dominated governments in Damascus and Baghdad.
A second Caliphate vulnerability that can be exploited is now that they have taken territory the Jihadists have to govern. This means fixed governance and security sites that become fixed targets. Time will also sour the subject Sunnis on the strict imposition of Sharia law. Military theorist William Lind has long advocated letting insurgents win and govern for a while. His theory is that, at least we'll know where they are.
The article is fine in its sort perspective, but every one of the reports I read fails to appreciate the aspect of Islam and the increased likelihood when states reach Muslim majorities or even near majorities more extreme expressions of religiosity in government are to be expected.
Nowhere is this a more critical factor than the nation states of the EU. It had been projected that the rate of immigration and the higher number of children born to Muslim households in France, lead many to assume that by 2050 France would become a Muslim nation. However at that time, late 1990s, the rate of births dropped and it seemed that assimilation possible.
The current rate of immigration has changed the equation yet again and it is now projected many EU states and not only France will become Muslim majorities as early as 2040. The threat it poses to democratic institutions and more stagnant economic and other measures sometimes confused with socialist's ideals will have moral, economic, and limitations on non-Muslims rights who will then forced over time into submission.
These changes are catastrophes for democratic nations.
Turkey has even been paid tribute by Euro nations to stem the tide of immigrants changing their countries, not assimilating.
Group rapes on the streets of Germany and other outrageous attacks on women by Muslim chauvinists does not even seem to turn heads.
Many Muslim men remain unemployed and even more woman disproportionately and 20-30% of polls show many of those Muslims believe such is their entitlement to be subsidized as guests in non-Muslim states.
It is also outrageous that the figures the White House rejected that falsely claimed immigrants increase the economy are using imaginary money based on citizens paying new taxes to provide transport to the USA and within the USA, housing, clothing and some luxuries. This is considered expanding the economy? Its tax money a burden on tax payers it just makes the USGs budget bigger the notion 200,000 refugees would greatly expand the economy is based on socialist notions of redistributing wealth. Another aspect is that although the advocates of this latest Ponzi scheme claim refugees increase the economy by double digit billions the same amount of money spent on needy Americans is a third to half the cost of tax subsidized refugees. (When capital is distinguished only by the size of governments expenditures we might as well put a casino in every town on the premise they circulate money and its good for the economy, what?)
This does not trouble liberals in the West who remain more offended by Christianity and capitalism disdain genuine protections of individual rights.
I would be interested to know peoples reactions to the Oxford on line dictionaries definition of "Marx and Islam" and the explanation offered to explain how Atheists do not seem to be as easily offended by Islam? Because it is more socialist?
I can follow the arguments about Caliphates, but I believe we are missing bigger threats. One in which Marxist Islamists may achieve their goals from the inside of our democratic institutions. It is this principle the Israelis object to when "The Right of Return" is made issue.
The Republicans in Congress were castigated for suggesting a fair representation of Christians and other non-Muslim by the liberal media and the radical democrats who advocate some 200,000 MUSLIM refugees; of the 11,000 refugees the Obama administration did bring to the USA, only slightly more than 100 were Copts, Yazidis and Iraq or Syrian Christians 20-40% of all refugees and they are even persecuted by Muslims in UN refugee camps. But to challenge socialist pro-Islamists on such obvious discrepancies and what is an obvious shift that enables Islamic supremacists is deemed Islamophobia.
The Islamists seem to grasp Clauswitz principle, war is politics by other means, better than we give them credit for.
Ned---this whole Caliphate declaration is interesting ---if one really looks at the traditional Shia/Sunni divide a lot of it has to do not only about the 1400 year old question of who was to follow Mohammed or the total wipe out of Hassan and his 50 followers by a Sunni Army---it actually goes deeper and it goes to the question of how does the Islamic Community govern itself---the Sunni have always driven the question of governance in their writings and have shown a lot of interest in that historical question.
The Shia on the other hand did not show any interest historically in that discussion at all until Khomeini come on board in 1979. Would argue that Khomeini in fact created his own religious government that is in fact not anchored in Islamic law--but no one is about to challenge it with the Revolutionary Guards around.
What is so funny historically speaking is that while Khomeini decried the brutality of Savak under the Shah somehow Savak missed the opportunity to kill him while he was in Paris.
Who would have thought back then 15 cent audio tape cassettes smuggled into Iran from Paris would lead to a coup.
The Caliphate declaration has now motivated a large scale debate across Islam---today for example there was a combined Sunni/Shia Imam/Mullah statement out of the UK condemning the Caliphate.
At least this is a sign of a global discussion starting to occur which is long over due within Islam.
Until that discussion gets deeper there will be no getting the Salafists and the Takfiri's under control.
The question that keeps coming up for me is whether the whole Sunni / Shia split makes any sense anymore. I suspect that there are many within the Sunna that have links back to the original inner circle of the Prophet. Couldn't the Shi´ites accept a Sunni with such lineage? Couldn't the Sunnis accept a Shi´ite faithful to the practices of Islam? After all, if the Shi´ites were not considered apostates but good Muslims, they too would be part of the Sunna. This is coming from the point that few Iraqi Shi´ites switched allegiance in the Iraq-Iran War of the 1980s. Might this situation ultimately split more along Arab-Persian lines?
If not a red herring, is this issue a green masguf?
The comments are interesting in that williejon is correct in that the Caliphate does in fact block the Khomeini "Green Crescent" Shia expansion in an elegant fashion and for less than a third of the cost we had incurred while we were in Iraq.
Notice the KSA has challenged the philosophy of the Caliphate based on Sunni interpretations and has increased border security, but at the same time offered a way for KSA jihadi's to return home from Syria and Iraq.
But the KSA has not directly called the Caliphate "craziness" on the part of a bunch of Sunni Takfiri's ---why---because the other Sunni Coalition fighters are being supported by the KSA as valid representatives of the Sunni tribes and the KSA understands the Malaki policy of beating up on the Sunni's since 2005 will lead to the separation of Iraq also a valid form of a blockade of the "Green Crescent".
We will do well in just sitting back and offering humanitarian aid where we can---let the area itself hash this one out as it is effectively ending the colonial borders under Sykes-Picot as only those populations on the ground can do the hashing out---any outsider will be only viewed as "dictating" those changes.
Our entry into Baghdad started this mess as it appeared to many Iraqi's both Shia and Sunni that it took an outsider to eliminate Saddam---he would have fallen over the short run anyway as the forces to do that were building---one takes away the pride of the populations on the ground if an outsider does the work---they then have no vested interest in which way it goes afterwards---and we are seeing that play out now.
I think preparing a flagged ground operation is not smart at all. This is a quick way to shift the perception of hostility in the wrong direction. The former MI6 head has suggested that global jihad is not the issue right now but rather the consolidation of an Islamic State in lands that have been poorly governed from Damascus to Baghdad. Keep a low profile and tinker with homeland security but do not fall into the "Counter-Insurgency Trap."
You cannot separate Iraq from Syria in terms of the mood and sentiments of large swathes of the population supported by private funders and quietly by Arab and Gulf state powers. They are incensed by the complicity from Tehran to Damascus through Baghdad and the logistics pipeline that has enabled the extension of Iranian power through to Lebanon.
The so called "Caliphate" blocks and disrupts this progress made. It takes away resources, time and energy from consolidating an edge for the government in Damascus and presents a natural rebalancing of a whole region that better reflects the self-determination and identity of the people and their interests.
If the goal is to limit Iran, or at least "push back"; not a bad signal for negotiating by the way, then at least listen to the concerns of Kurds, Sunnis and Arab governments. We will need them all over the east. Keep a low profile, work with the Kurds in Erbil and avoid falling prey to the "counterterrorism" narrative trumpeted in Tehran,Damascus and Moscow.
Colonel Anderson makes two points:
 that search and destroy missions conducted by troops who haven't the faintest idea of whom they are actually looking for followed by immediate withdrawal to allow the people who couldn't deal with the problem in the first place to deal with the first place; and
 actually having a target to shoot at is better than not having a target to shoot at.
The first point is patent nonsense - it didn't work in Vietnam and it isn't going to work in the Middle East.
The second is sound - but totally trite.
Without attempting to actually sort out what the goals of ISIS are (and those goals are much more murky than the media makes them out to be), the goal of al-Qa'eda was never to "push America out of America" - Osama bin Laden's clearly stated goal was to push America out of the Middle East so that there could be a Middle East government of the Middle East and for the Middle East.
That establishing such a government would necessitate displacing several US "client" governments and changing the "traditional" boundaries in the Middle East (thereby lessening the ability of the US government to control the actions of those governing the Middle East and also lowering the profits of American companies who benefited from the ability of the US government to control the actions of those governing the Middle East) is an inconvenient truth.
<blockquote>Unfortunately as far as billions of people are concerned it is we who have already sent 2.5 million ‘fanatics’ to Iraq and AF to shoot the crap out of everything and everyone for no apparent reason. That is not how you and I see it but that is how they see it.
We would justifiably argue vengeance and most of these folks would respect that but what they don’t respect is we attacked the Afghans and the Iraqis? Rightly or wrongly they smell a rat. If the US had threatened to carpet-bomb downtown Riyadh if the KSA failed to utilize all of its enormous influence in the Muslim world their attitude would have been very different.</blockquote>
You are generalizing thoughts in the heads of 1.5 billion worldwide Muslims and many other “infidels” that may or may not be there. The fact that you and many others advertise that in op-eds, and go on TV after returning to think tanks after serving in the decision-making bodies of the CIA, State Department, and National Command Authority only inflames and falsely vindicates those beliefs in Muslims and the rest of the world. Israel learned long ago that no matter what they do, they will be hated by Muslims and the UN. We face similar propaganda in schools and madrassas as the big Satan.
Going on an apology tour when you first become President does not change those thoughts among the 1% and only spreads feelings of invulnerability to some of the most impressionable and willing to act in the 99%. Just as Central American illegal immigrants became convinced that they could act and the administration will do nothing, our failure to follow-up on threats to use force in Syria no doubt empowered ISIS and weakened more moderate Sunni insurgents.
Admittedly, I know little about the KSA. There is no doubt that <strong>some</strong> Saudis supported al Qaeda then and ISIS now monetarily. I also wager it was a lot more than $500 grand to them and the Taliban. However, both al Qaeda and now ISIS were also threats to KSA so it is doubtful that its leaders provided/provide that support. In addition, as you point out, we are unlikely to abandon KSA or the GCC as allies no matter how authoritarian their governments.
If Egypt and Libya and perhaps even Iraq taught us anything, the alternative to an authoritarian government that maintains control and keeps the peace is not always a worse arrangement than a free-for-all anarchy or an Islamic state. Didn’t KSA give Egypt’s new military-supported government billions in recent aid?
<blockquote>If 9/12 the KSA had immediately began to cajole their fellow Islamic governments to kill or capture the Saudi-centered ALQ in AF/PAK/SE Asia/ME/N Africa etc. many would have respected that as well.
But instead, as far as billions of folks are concerned, we sent 2.5 million of our ‘nut-cases’ to Iraq and AF to avenge what a mere dozen or so Saudi nut-cases did to us. Consequently it is we who are perceived to be wildly insane. I must stress – that’s not how I see it but billions of normal folks do.</blockquote>
I’m not sure that KSA has that kind of influence in say Pakistan or other locations mentioned. The terrorist training grounds of the new century and beyond were in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not the KSA. However Pakistan and recent events in Karachi and now North Waziristan show that perhaps the Pakistan Army and ISI finally figured out that they cannot fully control the Afghan Taliban and Haqqanis, and definitely cannot negotiate with and control the TTP Pakistan Taliban.
There are many similar articles that show the Pakistan Army has finally learned what the KSA must also realize. The fighting dogs you create may ultimately turn and bite the hands that feed them.
<blockquote>Currently a 45 kg Hellfire coming thru the window at 400 knots is considered by all these hugely expensive platforms as pinprick surgical precision. Unfortunately it destroys the house and all the inhabitants who are inside. The fact we were only wishing to stop the ass-hole on the roof sniping at people running across the nearby plaza or launching a dumb rocket at Tel Aviv is of little comfort to the dead inside the house. Their infuriated neighbors have lost all their windows and the tens of thousands within a dozen blocks have probably no water or electricity as the Hellfire has collapsed the utilities on or under the sidewalk.
IMO what is needed is all of our current platforms must have a COIN applicable suite of micro-ordnance. Certainly the current platforms can maintain the capacity to deter or fight ‘The Chinese Armada’ type threat but they need a micro-range that in the terminal phase is non-lethal, or if lethality is desired, a few tungsten-tipped knitting needles is the maximum kinetic effect.</blockquote>
I saw a clip today on ABC’s “This Week” of a Hellfire or some smaller munition “tap on the door” of a multi-story Gaza rooftop that did relatively little damage. It was followed some time later by a larger bomb that leveled the structure. The Israelis also drop leaflets and phone houses about to be hit. The military and I suspect the CIA are extremely cautious about what they hit with Hellfires and you can’t get much smaller than the warhead on a 100+ pound missile. To me it appears unfair and counterproductive for anyone who should know better to generalize that the U.S. and allies are arbitrary and careless on how we use force.
The micro-ordnance idea is certainly a sound one to augment Hellfire and larger bombs/missiles on Reaper. Perhaps laser-guided 2.75" rockets would be the ticket and we have all read about shorter range missiles like the Griffith on the LCS and the Starstreak 15kg missile with 3 darts and 2.75” rocket with flechettes. Keep in mind that the rocket obviously is unguided and none of these alternatives has Hellfire’s range. Darts/flechettes also are unguided and easily could penetrate some walls and kill civilians...or miss targets entirely. Suspect the Reaper ultimately will benefit from the Small Diameter Bomb II but it may exceed what you believe is small enough. An Infantry platoon, A-Team augmented by a CIA-type, or SOF Ranger unit or SEAL team might have other thoughts on what is too large.
<blockquote>Many hell-yeah folks in the military and industry would probably find it a ludicrous waste of resources to hurl a flight of F-18s off a carrier, refuel a few times and deliver a knitting needle into the chest of an ass-hole 500 km away. I would argue the $5 trillion we have dropped suggests it is the hell-yeah people who have been a spectacular success in demonstrating what is ludicrous.</blockquote>
A private multinational corporation I once worked for sponsored a PBS series called “Carrier.” It was an interesting series about life on a carrier during OIF. However, I also recall that the carrier spent 6 months supporting actions in Iraq <strong>without dropping any ordnance.</strong> When I hear anecdotes like that and the $400 cost per gallon to actually get fuel into Afghanistan for the USAF, it really irritates me that the Army/Marines gets most of the blame for that $4 trillion cost. Some of that is future VA costs and perhaps questionable “build” costs. VA disability likely would be faced in any event from normal servicemembers or could have been reduced if we had “surged” sooner in both OEF and OIF so 2.5 million servicemembers from the active and reserve components were not required. The “build” aspect of COIN also is one of the most questionable/debatable doctrinal aspects.
And as I continue to harp on, and events in Iraq/Syria/AfPak continue to illustrate, State Department and National Command Authority decisions not to subdivide screwed up boundaries when the combined force had that authority/ability led to much of the “long wars” and lack of a long-term solution. The fact that the Iranian foreign minister in an interview on "Meet the Press" today stated that he believed both Iraq and Syria should retain current single-state status should be ample evidence that they should be sub-divided by whatever means necessary. Imagine former Syrian/Iraq territories with no land or aerial bridge for weapons and fighters to help Assad and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria...
Elections that are both fraudulent and non-representative of those outside the marginal plurality are no solution within dumbly-drawn colonial boundaries. Continuous defense of Shiites and their rulers in Iraq and non-intervention in Syria where the Alawite 10% suppress the Sunnis and Kurds is far more likely to create the bad blood in the 1 billion Sunnis than any military action we might now need to take against ISIS with KSA/GCC and Turkey assistance.
As for my time, I currently have lots of it and make no attempt to claim my ideas or peon career contributions are remotely comparable to yours or those who have actually served in these and other wars. I do think it does not help, however, to badmouth our military efforts in OEF/OIF and blame them exclusively on COIN and military decisions and ground forces when so many other external factors were involved that were not under military leader control let alone that of the average Joe. Bet the average amongst the surviving 10% of the 1% of radical Muslims are not laughing at us nearly as much as you think they are. The other 66% of Muslims that are Sunni probably <strong>are</strong> noting are abandonment of many Sunnis being killed and suppressed in Syria and Iraq.
Also perhaps you could comment on this “War is Boring” article that seems to indicate that ISIS, if not filled exclusively with Islamic extremists, jihadists, and true believers, certainly is making its recruitment appeals and threats to moderates along those lines:
‘1% of 1.5 billion Muslims who may become extremists remains a figure of 15 million. 1% of 10,000 U.S. right wing extremist nuts is all of 100.’
This is how you perceive the source from where a threat may come. Fair enough I understand and respect your reasoning.
Unfortunately as far as billions of people are concerned it is we who have already sent 2.5 million ‘fanatics’ to Iraq and AF to shoot the crap out of everything and everyone for no apparent reason. That is not how you and I see it but that is how they see it.
We would justifiably argue vengeance and most of these folks would respect that but what they don’t respect is we attacked the Afghans and the Iraqis? Rightly or wrongly they smell a rat. If the US had threatened to carpet-bomb downtown Riyadh if the KSA failed to utilize all of its enormous influence in the Muslim world their atitude would have been very different.
If 9/12 the KSA had immediately began to cajole their fellow Islamic governments to kill or capture the Saudi-centered ALQ in AF/PAK/SE Asia/ME/N Africa etc. many would have respected that as well.
But instead, as far as billions of folks are concerned, we sent 2.5 million of our ‘nut-cases’ to Iraq and AF to avenge what a mere dozen or so Saudi nut-cases did to us. Consequently it is we who are perceived to be wildly insane. I must stress – that’s not how I see it but billions of normal folks do.
It doesn't matter how much we disagree with the rationale nor the offensiveness of the argument ; if that many people believe something about US policy then the US has a strategic problem that it ignores at its peril. Dropping bombs, kicking in doors, arresting numerous suspected ass-holes within their midst is only going to deepen the HN's belief that it is we who are insane and out of control.
More ominously for us is the perception that not only are we insane - but we are weak. Folks take stock of the strategic effect of what a bunch of ass-holes with just $500K did to the US and what little benefit our $5 trillion military-spend has achieved for us. Needless to say that gives our opponents a sense of power that is not lost on billions of people – especially the young and impressionable.
As opposed to the ‘2.5 million fanatics’ perception, many Americans would agree that after 13 years of effort our supposed military power has very little to show for the enormous cost. Despite the profound differences in both of these issues, our enemies are emboldened by the fact that on at least one issue they can point to a common belief shared with many Americans.
‘… Forgive me for mentioning that the I-phones and other technologies that originate from Silicon Valley are the sole example of bringing multiple ethnicities together, to include Muslims, in a collective pursuit of excellence and peaceful coexistence with "infidels."
I find the pace of technological advancement miraculous. I am often left staring at some kids latest iPhone or app and dwell on the number of my friends who would still be alive or not crippled if back in the day we had had 10% of the comms-based resources today's grade-school kid has in his school bag. Contrary to what you are implying I suffer from too much expectation from modern technology rather what you suggest.
IMHO our problem is we are slaving all this amazing technology to fires that by nature and design are between 50 and 100 years old. The bullets, shells, bombs missiles etc. which we currently slave to millimeter-wave riding, MEMS-based, active-seeking, varied algorithmic augmented control systems were/are designed for a ‘war of annihilation’. As you often point out these fires were necessary for success in WW 1 & 2 and the Cold War. My argument is the modern technology we currently possess is being retarded by the ancient purpose of the ordnance we attach it to.
Currently a 45 kg Hellfire coming thru the window at 400 knots is considered by all these hugely expensive platforms as pinprick surgical precision. Unfortunately it destroys the house and all the inhabitants who are inside. The fact we were only wishing to stop the ass-hole on the roof sniping at people running across the nearby plaza or launching a dumb rocket at Tel Aviv is of little comfort to the dead inside the house. Their infuriated neighbors have lost all their windows and the tens of thousands within a dozen blocks have probably no water or electricity as the Hellfire has collapsed the utilities on or under the sidewalk.
IMO what is needed is all of our current platforms must have a COIN applicable suite of micro-ordnance. Certainly the current platforms can maintain the capacity to deter or fight ‘The Chinese Armada’ type threat but they need a micro-range that in the terminal phase is non-lethal, or if lethality is desired, a few tungsten tipped knitting needles is the maximum kinetic effect.
Many hell-yeah folks in the military and industry would probably find it a ludicrous waste of resources to hurl a flight of F-18s off a carrier, refuel a few times and deliver a knitting needle into the chest of an ass-holes 500 km away. I would argue the $5 trillion we have dropped suggests it is the hell-yeah people who have been a spectacular success in demonstrating what is ludicrous.
In my view our current approach to counterinsurgency is comparable to suggesting to someone with a sore tooth to go to a dentist who utilizes a tax-payer funded multi-million dollar millimeter-wave riding, MEMS-based, active-seeking, algorithmic augmented 50 kg jack-hammer to fix their sore tooth.
Needless to say it’s never going to work.
Thanks for taking the time,
<blockquote>Wow, talk about a hammer seeing everything as a nail.</blockquote>
Or a left coast graduate, former CIA operative not seeing the forest for the anecdotally individually-studied, historically analyzed, and subsequently generalized trees. True, his analysis has flaws and agree that these events should not lead to a new U.S. led ground OIF. However, doing nothing, a FID/UW, or an airpower option alone also are unlikely to work.
<blockquote>A Regiment-sized force of mascara-wearing death-squads lurching around town in clapped out pickups, HMGs mounted on tripods spot-welded to the tray, glass-eyed and stoned to a man and yelling Allah Akbar every time they see a women’s hair or drive over a pot-hole.</blockquote>
Yet this same force has managed to retain terrain in Syria and Iraq against far larger forces. They have managed to attract foreign fighters from Europe and the U.S. whose motivation is far more likely some "perceived" holy war rather than personal animosity against Assad/Maliki and the Syrian/Iraqi armies.
<blockquote>There was a time when I believed we could get away with such little basic understanding of the causal drivers of the conflict owing to the massive disparity in our resources, our good intentions and our mickey-mouse RMA hardware. But I should have known better – the Mark-One eyeball is still the master of understanding the battle ecosystem. Or put another way – take your iPhone and shove it.</blockquote>This I believe illustrates the fallacy in using history and one agency's past events/perspectives to solve future problems. I admire your past stories about ground action in Afghanistan in the 80s and in 2001. It really does not apply in the context of subsequent OEF/OIF events and technologies. If news reports are correct, your own former agency appears to see the advantages of "mickey-mouse hardware" in Pakistan and other locations.
I similarly admired your recent story about traveling with Chinese who thought we intended to invade China during the Vietnam war. Forgive me if I remind you that today's China is utterly different in its economic relationship with the U.S. In addition, individual Chinese public worldwide awareness, despite government attempts to suppress it, is far more prevalent.
Finally, I have heard you express great fears that WMD will fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. Can you get much more extreme than ISIS and haven't we already heard news reports about buried bunkers of chemicals falling to ISIS and a lab being seized with dirty-bomb material?
In addition, if you are who I think you are and lived on the left coast at one time like I did, forgive me for mentioning that the I-phones and other technologies that originate from Silicon Valley are the sole example of bringing multiple ethnicities together, to include Muslims, in a collective pursuit of excellence and peaceful coexistence with "infidels." The Michigan area and its large peaceful Muslim population is another example that disputes your later discussed implication that ISIS ability to recruit somehow relates to U.S. domestic terror and its ability to spread beyond a few whackos.
<blockquote>I would have thought the one lesson the last 13 years has taught us is that you will get nowhere if you go around offending the cultural beliefs of 99.9% of the HN in particular and 99.9% of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims in general.</blockquote>
1% of 1.5 billion Muslims who may become extremists remains a figure of 15 million. 1% of 10,000 U.S. right wing extremist nuts is all of 100.
How many more Muslim extremists travel to join ISIS and board airliners with bombs if we continue to ignore Shiite-controlled Syria and Iraq killing and ignoring rights of large groups of Sunnis in their midst? Are there more Sunnis in that 1.5 billion or more Shiites?
<blockquote>Imagine our reaction if the rest of the world declared the US's societal problems stemmed from our failure to address the ‘populist’ grievances declared by ‘constitution fundamentalists’ Timothy McVeigh, or ‘care-in-the -community advocate ’ Adam Lanza or ‘educational-reform zealots’ Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold. Needless to say 99.9% of Americans would consider the individuals who espoused such opinion were simply spoiling for a fight.
Furthermore if these foreign ‘friends’ decided to broadcast to the whole world these causal ‘fundamentals’ at the heart of the US's problems in governance, education and mental-health I dare suggest our disposition would be far from inviting.</blockquote> Can you show me the massive following and recruitment base that any of these individual U.S. nut jobs generated? This is the least credible of all your arguments and a failed example of generalizing domestic terror and equating it to Islamic terror and jihad by those extremists.
<blockquote>We have created a ‘superpower’ military that doesn't possess any power. Just like Ike said we would. The military can deliver an insane amount of force but any power to establish a permanent change that benefits ourselves and/or our allies is as elusive as is was shown to be in VN.
Many current and former leaders in the military, government and industry are desperate to prove this isn't so - with, IMO, very little concern for what benefits the US.
IMO this lack of real power, and our leadership’s refusal to acknowledge the problem, has a destabilizing effect on everything the military encounters – both domestically and across the globe.</blockquote>You and other would-be Ike through Nixon era historians conveniently forget that communism was real and spreading at the time and the fear of nuclear war was genuine. The U.S. military in the 50s-60s and the size of the defense budget relative to GDP was far larger than today. Similarly, back then domestic economic production and the number of multinational corporations was far smaller. No economic interdependence and massive exports from China to the U.S. were occurring. Wal-Mart and Silicon Valley barely existed. China and the U.S.S.R were supporting a surrogate war in Vietnam and controlling multiple governments elsewhere with great influence in the Middle East and Central America.
What was the destabilizing effect of communism in the Cold War? What if we had done nothing and had made no effort to defend Europe and Korea with boots on the ground? Madeleine Albright, that noted neocon ;), said this in the 90s:
<blockquote>It is the threat of the use of force [against Iraq] and our line-up there that is going to put force behind the diplomacy. But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.</blockquote>
And don't forget this question she inquired of Colin Powell?:
<blockquote>What's the point of having this superb military you are always talking about if we can't use it?</blockquote>
The latter quote was in reference to the Balkans and our ground involvement there in the 90s and beyond. We defended Muslims there did we not? We have kept peace in the Sinai with ground forces in another area with Muslims. Why do we assume that use of limited U.S. ground forces in Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan would lead to great cost and loss of life and inflame local and international terror? Could heliborne assaults into ISIS-controlled areas not reduce logistical requirements and limit casualties? Could Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the GCC not shoulder the bulk of the burden of combat vehicle movement and occupation/stability operations? Could U.S. stealth airpower support that movement and that of our heliborne forces?
<blockquote>Many intelligent folks point out our current Order of Battle is necessary to prevent a surprise attack by The Chinese Armada. Unfortunately that viewpoint renders me extremely stupid and please forgive me for wasting the last few minutes of your time.</blockquote>
You mentioned Vietnam and your prior trips in China in decades past. Yet China's economic boom had not begun at that time nor its had its ties with the U.S. We barely dealt with China until Nixon and China embraced capitalism. That is why you are correct that China's relationship with the U.S. is different now. Your anecdotal conversations with Chinese of eras past does not mean that the average Chinese citizen or General believes the U.S wants to invade them today. Of course if you listened to the Pacific Pivot crowd that is seemingly oblivious to events in the Middle East and Ukraine, you would think war with China was imminent.
<blockquote>Our foreign allies are overwhelmed with expectation when we arrive with so much promise, effort and hardware but are left bewildered and resentful when it amounts to nothing – or worse. Similarly the US taxpayers are equally bewildered by the thousands of schools, hospitals, bridges and tens of thousands of miles of highway, canal and flood-defense that were foregone for nothing – or worse.</blockquote>Most of your alternative uses of money are local and state concerns with the sole exception of federal gas taxes not raised in over a decade. Toll roads and private-public partnerships on infrastructure such as bridges are another possibility. Schools are funded by local property taxes and we already spend more for less results than in most places in the world. Most hospitals are privately owned and the VA care system illustrates how badly that could go with more federal involvement and a single-payer system. Floods are the result of choosing to live in the wrong place when you know floods will occur, and then not choosing to buy cheap flood insurance.
Again, what would the world look like today had we not defended Europe and Korea long past those wars, had we not intervened in Afghanistan or Iraq either time or did and then left both unstable messes, and if we had not had ground troops on the ground in the Sinai and Balkans? Note that both the Sinai and Balkans involved changes in international borders. Why didn't we learn that lesson in Iraq and Afghanistan?
<blockquote>The smart money suggests the military can redeem itself in the eyes of our friends, both foreign and domestic, if it adopts a more FID/UW approach. IMO not only has FID/UW a better chance of success but it will cost a fraction of what the US taxpayer is currently forced to shell out.</blockquote>Are you volunteering to take on ISIS with FID/UW? Does the Iraqi military appear up to snuff after Maliki fired his top Generals? Which non-ISIS insurgency groups would you support against ISIS? Would FID/UW fix Korea, Ukraine, the Balkans, or Sinai? Would it alone stop a Taiwan invasion? Why are we so quick to forget that just because we grow tired of war that war will tire of us? Why do we always wait until things get worst before deciding to act?
<blockquote>But leaving that aside, we will get absolutely nowhere if at the get-go we dance to the fiddle of yet another deluded Messianic fruitcake (as we did 9/12)and insist on insulting the fundamental cultural beliefs of 99.9 % of the HN population that want and need our help.</blockquote>Near as I can tell, 58% of Afghanistan's population is not Pashtun and does not support the Taliban. The Northern Alliance areas had never been major problem areas during OEF until the northern supply line opened when the Pakistan one was halted. Land swaps could have repositioned Pashtuns from certain enclaves where they are not the majority. New borders inside existing Iraq and Afghanistan ones could have led to early self-rule without the election corruption fiascos we continue to see there and in Iraq.
Separate militaries could have existed just as the Kurds have developed theirs. We could have supported each effort more massively upfront to train individual security forces and then left earlier to avoid long occupations. But instead, the State Department and some Defense Secretaries always limit initial troops on the ground and thus minimize their effectiveness leading to prolonged wars and greater disability costs later.
State department diplomats also appear reluctant to use force to redraw century-old screwed up colonial borders. Don't waste time trying to solve the Israeli/Palestinian problem. Secretary Kerry should be talking to the KSA and GCC, Turkey, Jordan, and the Kurds to determine how we could support <strong>their</strong> efforts on the ground to seize areas of Syria and Iraq that are traditional Sunni enclaves so that radicals do not control them.
That of course would mean pulling our forces and maybe diplomats out of Iraq entirely (except in Kurd areas) but haven't we already found that to be a failed effort that only makes us appear to favor Shiites when we kowtow to Maliki and ignore the Alawite minority's control and genocide of Sunni/Kurd Syria? Isn't it pretty obvious when Iran is supporting both Assad and Maliki that we are on the wrong side?
Wow, talk about a hammer seeing everything as a nail.
‘ISIS has transformed itself from a terror group into a viable proto-state with a civil governance arm and a regular army capable of taking and holding cities and defeating the conventional armies of established nation-states.’
A Regiment-sized force of mascara-wearing death-squads lurching around town in clapped out pickups, HMGs mounted on tripods spot-welded to the tray, glass-eyed and stoned to a man and yelling Allah Akbar every time they see a women’s hair or drive over a pot-hole.
The political ideology to justify the Crusade Mk III:
‘The capabilities of the new Caliphate have gone far beyond mere insurgency or terrorism.’
And just in case you didn't get the memo on leadership:
‘Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has declared ISIS a Caliphate with himself as Caliph.’
IMO it is long past the time when we stop being played by the fruitcake element that the KSA and others have a nasty habit of conjuring up every time they feel their vested interests threatened and ‘forget’ to tell us what they’re doing about it.
There was a time when I believed we could get away with such little basic understanding of the causal drivers of the conflict owing to the massive disparity in our resources, our good intentions and our mickey-mouse RMA hardware. But I should have known better – the Mark-One eyeball is still the master of understanding the battle ecosystem. Or put another way – take your iPhone and shove it.
I would have thought the one lesson the last 13 years has taught us is that you will get nowhere if you go around offending the cultural beliefs of 99.9% of the HN in particular and 99.9% of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims in general.
Once again a ‘Broadway Joe’ has decided we might yet again want to drop 3 trillion dollars and ‘piss off the entire world’ if he and his buddies go on TV, shoot random people in the back of the head and declare God and all good Muslims believe it to be just.
Imagine our reaction if the rest of the world declared the US's societal problems stemmed from our failure to address the ‘populist’ grievances declared by ‘constitution fundamentalists’ Timothy McVeigh, or ‘care-in-the -community advocate ’ Adam Lanza or ‘educational-reform zealots’ Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold. Needless to say 99.9% of Americans would consider the individuals who espoused such opinion were simply spoiling for a fight.
Furthermore if these foreign ‘friends’ decided to broadcast to the whole world these causal ‘fundamentals’ at the heart of the US's problems in governance, education and mental-health I dare suggest our disposition would be far from inviting.
If these same ‘friends’ then offered to ‘help’ the US in the same manner framed above as:
‘If the Caliphate is to be defeated, it will require a series of ground actions using large combined arms forces to destroy the conventional military forces in the areas where they have gained control.’
Good luck with that my ‘friend’.
We have created a ‘superpower’ military that doesn't possess any power. Just like Ike said we would. The military can deliver an insane amount of force but any power to establish a permanent change that benefits ourselves and/or our allies is as elusive as is was shown to be in VN.
Many current and former leaders in the military, government and industry are desperate to prove this isn't so - with, IMO, very little concern for what benefits the US.
IMO this lack of real power, and our leadership’s refusal to acknowledge the problem, has a destabilizing effect on everything the military encounters – both domestically and across the globe.
Many intelligent folks point out our current Order of Battle is necessary to prevent a surprise attack by The Chinese Armada. Unfortunately that viewpoint renders me extremely stupid and please forgive me for wasting the last few minutes of your time.
Our foreign allies are overwhelmed with expectation when we arrive with so much promise, effort and hardware but are left bewildered and resentful when it amounts to nothing – or worse. Similarly the US taxpayers are equally bewildered by the thousands of schools, hospitals, bridges and tens of thousands of miles of highway, canal and flood-defense that were foregone for nothing – or worse.
The smart money suggests the military can redeem itself in the eyes of our friends, both foreign and domestic, if it adopts a more FID/UW approach. IMO not only has FID/UW a better chance of success but it will cost a fraction of what the US taxpayer is currently forced to shell out.
But leaving that aside, we will get absolutely nowhere if at the get-go we dance to the fiddle of yet another deluded Messianic fruitcake (as we did 9/12)and insist on insulting the fundamental cultural beliefs of 99.9 % of the HN population that want and need our help.
I can't comment on the politics on the ground, but I would imagine that at least in Iraq Sunni areas allegiance to Islam will override any tribalism.
The light infantry is indeed sufficient for the time being to deal with the poorly trained and poorly motivated forces of the Iraqi army. Also it is apparent that Shiia militia is not match to IS forces.
IS ability to wage war and make strategic moves will depend on the long term development of their armed forces. Even an embryonic air defense system may impair the attacker's air superiority. The other measures that may be employed are deception and masking as the Serbs did during Kosovo war.
While any future armoured forces may not be match to the US armour, they may inflict the damage on the attacker in combination with other anti armour units.
It is all about building deterrent to make any incursion costly for the aggressor.
Mr. Anderson is right in his essential point, these guys are double dangerous and we will have to do something about them, ie kill them, before they get strong enough to come after us in a big way. Which they will as soon as they can.
This will not be an easy thing. Even Mr. Anderson believes they will trip over themselves and weaken as time passes. Others, some quite well known, think that as time passes they will rule in such a manner as to make themselves unpopular and therefore become more vulnerable. I think these beliefs are wishful thinking and do not take cognizance of the history of hard ideologies enforced by hard men in the 20th Century. The Bolsheviks and the Red Chinese both weren't especially popular as evidenced by the multitudes they killed. But kill them they did and they ruled whether the ruled liked it or not. The men running IS are just as hard as any Red Chinese cadre who clubbed somebody to death with a shovel or any Chekist who helped starve millions of Ukrainians. And they are just as smart and just as resilient or they could not have lasted as long as they have or grown as they have in the face of persistent pressure.
We underestimate IS at our peril.
I would suggest the presence of significant portion of foreign fighters indicates the possibility the locals realize the ideological basis is a sham. After-all there is no shortage of local grievances from which to draw an almost exclusively native supply of fighter. I have no way of knowing the level of FF in the ISIS ranks but in my experience the FF come for psycho-babble reasons for Jihad but generally stay for the money.
For most terrorist organizations this poses a significant retention problem for experience fighters but obviously not for one funded by the KSA. Our relationship with the KSA represents the horns of a dilemma. Even the most unworldly of folk I have encountered, from the Mediterranean right across to Pacific coast of SE Asia believes our support for the KSA severely undermines the perception that the US is an honest broker. But that's not about to change.
To your 'grace and finesse' I'd add empathy as well.
Understood. It is your point, and your reasoning is sound.
Yes, the Sunni-Shia divide would be flamed with new justifications for mutual attacks, but I believe that will happen anyway. The best bet is if the Sunni coalition splinters from within. I think that is a probability, which is why I favor containment rather than direct action. The example was only meant to demonstrate that, to become involved at this point on a military level, we are more likely to create the exact problem we are worried about (foreign fighters returning home and continuing the Jihad) than it is probable that a “Islamic intervention” takes place.
I respectfully disagree. Baghdadi's message really does not resonate with anything resembling close to a majority of Sunnis - people see that in Syria he has no qualms about beheading and using suicide attacks against SUNNI MUSLIMS who disagree with his political platform. Those who are attracted enough to Baghdadi's message to go fight in Syria and Iraq are not mainstream Sunni Muslims, but rather 15-25 year olds who are motivated by the sectarianism of the last ten years and recently exacerbated by the Syrian conflict and really want to get out and kill the perceived enemy (be they Shia or "Sahwaat," the term IS uses to describe any Sunni Muslim group it fights). If born in entirely different circumstances, these may be the same kids who at age 17 may be talking to their parents about enlisting in the Marines. Despite "statements of support" from random AQ elements or sympathizers in North Africa and Indonesia, the majority of Sunni Muslims see Baghdadi as a demagogue and political aggrandizer.
To your second point, given current sectarian sentiments in the Middle East, I think it would be even MORE polarizing if al Sistani were to declare Baghdadi illegitimate than the US. I really don't think his message resonates the way you think it does. That being said, yes, it makes infinitely more sense to work by, with, and through our Sunni Muslim allies. But if there comes a point where that is not possible, or that the homeland is under imminent threat, in my opinion, the benefits of hitting IS in Iraq unilaterally would exceed the costs.
RLL, your second point is not minor at all. In fact, it goes to the heart of the problem. Why is it that Baghdadi’s organization can draw foreign fighters in such numbers. These people have no local ethnic connection to Iraq or Syria. They are there to fulfill their obligation as Muslims – that is the identity ISIS draws on. These people are drawn in by the idea of the Caliphate. That is why they join ISIS versus any other group (that and ISIS obvious successes). While Baghdadi’s connections are clearly greatest in Iraq (he has the home team advantage there), his message speaks to Muslims across the Islamic world. So when you decide to attack Baghdadi, you must do it in a way that separates your actions from the draw of that larger message.
Let me put it another way. Right now if Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani were to declare that Al Baghdadi was not the true Caliph, that he was a mere pretender to the throne, and the Shia militias were to kill him that would piss off a lot of the foreign fighters but his word as a Muslim cleric would at least put doubts in the minds of the fighters. They would probably go off and join other groups in the ME.
BUT if the U.S. declares war on the Caliphate and kills Caliph Ibrahim then, with little doubt, they would return to the U.S. or other Western countries to exact their revenge. We would create the exact blowback that we are using to justify action against Baghdadi.
This is a situation that needs to be handled with grace and finesse. Covertly we can provide any assistance needed. Overtly, we need to stay out of this.
I think that's fair - you're right that it's counterproductive for us to continue using their preferred nomenclature to describe this (Caliphate or Islamic State). Arabic sources often refer to IS/ISIS as "Baghdadi's State" or "Baghdadi's Organization," implying that IS is more motivated by Baghdadi's personality and focused on power politics than true Islam.
A couple of points (though minor) - even though IS/ISIS is an Iraq-centric group, it's my impression that a significant proportion of their folks operating in Iraq are foreign fighters - North Africans, individuals from the Gulf, European converts - a much larger proportion than in first and second Fallujah. It will be more difficult for them to "blend in," particularly if we properly leverage the cultural expertise of Iraqi Sunni allies (tribal or otherwise).
Second, you're right that any military action against IS must be targeted at fulfilling overarching politico-strategic objectives, which, in my opinion, NEEDS to be exploiting rifts between IS and their Suni/Sufi/Ba'athist allies, pealing the latter off of the anti-Maliki Sunni insurgency and somehow incentivizing them to either back the government or otherwise turn their guns on IS (maybe with the promise of a federal Iraqi state). Robert Ford published a good article on this in FP, available here: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/07/07/the_fractured_caliphat…
RRL, I don't take issue with the idea that ISIS is an organization that needs containment initially and destruction eventually. But read the title “The Coming War with the Caliphate” – not “The Coming War with ISIS” or “The Coming War with Al Baghdadi.” He might have well have said “The New Crusade against Islam.”
Rant Corp does of good job of explaining the nature of this cultural stupidity.
One last point – the good Colonel sees Fallujah as success: “What would such a campaign look like? Each fight would resemble the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, but with one major difference. Once the areas where the conventional military power of the Caliphate are eliminated; we leave. The Syrians and Iraqis will have to sort out the aftermath. We tried nation building and it didn't work.” No, No, No No!. First, Fallujah may have been a tactical success but it was a strategic failure. We never eliminated the insurgent element, we merely forced them underground. We never addressed the actual political and cultural problems that created the insurgency, we simply suppressed its overt manifestations for a short period. it was not Nation Building that did not work, it was a failure of military operations to achieve the political objectives. Fallujah was a failure.
Ultimately, the Colonel is using interstate war theory and trying to apply it to an intrastate war problem. It all sounds good on the surface, but it never fully understands the problem, and the first step in solving any problem is properly defining it.
In the most general terms, you're right that a US ground operation against IS would would not do much for Muslim hearts and minds. That being said, despite its flashy social media branding etc., it is difficult to overstate how unpopular IS really is in the mainstream Islamic world. IS kills Sunni Muslims (and even Salafist-Islamists) with impunity - their reputation in Syria precedes them. Even old-guard jihadi clerics from across the region view IS's "Caliphate" project as presumptuous (i.e. what gives Baghdadi, reportedly a former Ba'athist, the right to unilaterally declare a Caliphate, circumventing the Quranic prerequisites for choosing a Caliph and superseding the efforts of generations of his Salafist predecessors).
Moreover, I think that despite the outcry that a ground operation is sure to generate, the Islamic world understands at its core, and from precedent, that the US will target a jihadi group that both overtly threatens the US and has the means and will to put those threats into action. This doesn't necessarily mean that the jihadi group will become more popular - take, for example, AQAP. It is taken as fact in Yemen that the US has a hand in counterterrorism operations - either unilaterally or with the Yemeni government. Despite widespread resentment for this US role, AQAP remains very unpopular in Yemen, largely because they too have been portrayed in media (and in fact are) responsible for killing more Sunni Muslims than any other group.
Therefore, I'm not sure that narrowly targeted US ground operations against IS would generate as much backlash as one would expect. This is especially true if the US is able to broker a deal to bring some of the Sunni elements currently aligned with IS back into the Iraqi government fold - including former Ba'athists. If we can do this effectively, we avoid looking like tools for Maliki's overtly sectarian regime.
It would be well if a Muslim force were found to whack IS. But it seems to me that we had better get cracking looking for that force and make it clear that we will back them while they are doing it. The moderates don't seem to be doing so good on their own now.
(I hope that the homicidal inclinations of IS don't reflect the hopes and dreams of half the world's Muslim population. If they do, things will get very, very hard, so hard as only seen in the nightmares of the devil.)
Wow, this demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the nature and importance of the Caliphate, particularly the idea of the U.S. going in and wiping it out by name and leaving the local Muslims to clean up the mess. This is backwards at best. The only way to destroy this Caliphate is for a Muslim force to do it. Any "infidel" intervention will certainly be viewed by about half of the Muslim population world wide to feel like we destroyed the hopes and dreams of all of Islam. Not really the way to make friends and influence people. When ISIS is confronted, it needs to be by a Muslim force with the backing of a prominent Imam. Otherwise you will be doing more to further OBL's dream of a worldwide Jihad than simply allowing the new Caliphate to disintegrate of its own internal fights.
Balkanization of Syria and Iraq will probably happen, and I doubt any form of true stability can come to that region until it does. A Sunni state or states would form if that happens, but to call such a state a "Caliphate" as a pejorative term is not warranted.
The most likely thing that would occur within such a "Caliphate" would be an immediate internal insurgency as potentially dozens of disparate actors turn from their common foes to compete with each other for supremacy and key terrain.
I suspect the Saudis and others are betting on it. The same thing happened within a young United States upon securing our liberation from Great Britain. The insurgent becomes the counterinsurgent. This is the normal cycle.
But it will not be the United States' problem to fix, and should be of minimum disruption to our truly vital national interests. And that is far different and far better than our current problem with the "made in America" Iraq that exists today.