COIN Quotes… here’s my contribution

Read Abu Muqawama’s posts Counterinsurgency Reading List and COIN Book Club if you are a) interested in COIN, b) interested in public diplomacy or strategic communications, or c) interested at all in how wars will be fought in the near to long term.

Here are two contributions to Abu Muqawama’s nuggets of wisdom from the readings that should be read by those interested in (a), (b), or (c) above. The first is from page 14 of David Galula’s 1965 CounterInsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (Praeger):

Propaganda — A One Sided-Weapon

The asymmetrical situation has important effects on propaganda. The insurgent, having no responsibility, is free to use every trick; if necessary, he can lie, cheat, exaggerate. He is not obliged to prove; he is judged by what he promises, not by what he does. Consequently, propaganda is a powerful weapon for him. With no positive policy but with good propaganda, the insurgent may still win.

The counterinsurgent is tied to his responsibilities and to his past, and for him, facts speak louder than words. He is judged on what he does, not on what he says. if he lies, cheats, exaggerates, and does not prove, he may achieve some temporary successes, but at the price of being discredited for good. And he cannot cheat much unless his political structures are monolithic, for the legitimate opposition in his own camp would soon disclose his every psychological maneuver. For him, propaganda can be no more than a secondary weapon, valuable only if intended to inform and not to fool. A counterinsurgent can seldom cover bad or nonexistent policy with propaganda.

Galula shouldn’t just be required reading in war colleges, but also in programs on public diplomacy and strategic communications. Public diplomacy and strategic communications must both be national security priorities as it is in these realms that potential kinetic conflict could be prevented. For that, see Sun Tzu.

The second is my own:

The fungibility of force decreases as information asymmetry increases.

In other words, the pen can be mightier than the sword in a world were perceptions matter more than fact.

The Fraying of State

The freak out by some FSOs at State is impressive and less than an indictment of the corps than most make it out to be. True, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is trying to fill only 48 posts, but releasing the announcement Friday night like a bit of bad news is no way to treat trusted and valued employees and patriots and a good way to rile the entire Department. But this bad form is not entirely surprising given her leadership over the last several years at Foggy Bottom, or in the years before as National Security Advisor. Her Cold War thinking is out of touch with the requirements of the post-Cold War world.

I understand and in some way agree with the FSO’s complaints. To them, neither the personnel system nor the bureaucracy as a whole really incentivizes going into a war zone. To really get attention, you should be a standout elsewhere, as Patricia highlights with the award to the Deputy Chief of Mission in Rome. It makes sense not to single out the outstanding State personnel working on PRT’s and outside the walls, you wouldn’t want to discriminate, would you Ms. Rice?

I’ll answer that for you, Ms. Rice. If you don’t put your Department on a war footing, funnel (and otherwise lobby for more) resources to support and develop critical areas, you can pretend business as usual and things are going swimmingly. Except now you’ve realized the seas are choppy and too few people brought their gear to take a dip.

Rice’s Transformational Diplomacy did not result in the great restructuring promised, arguably because of her limited world view. Reducing U.S. activities in Europe because guns aren’t going off there doesn’t prevent the bombs that are or the bomb plans being hatched.

Has Rice been in standing firm for more money to rightsize her Department to conform to modern requirements? That would have been the real transformation.

No, instead she releases a memo Friday night for assignment to a country where the embassy (the old one, not the brand new one that’s still not online) is apparently not in a safe, as Rice admitted in her testimony to the House Oversight committee two weeks ago when she argued the International Zone isn’t safe. I know soldiers and Marines were smirking at that, as well as Rice’s own people.

In truth, it doesn’t matter if Rice is right or not about the safety of the IZ (although on the new embassy, I like this cite this quote: it’s like Fort Apache in the middle of Indian country, except this time the Indians have mortars.), the rebellion in State today is more an indictment of her leadership at State.

In short, Rice has not prepared her department for the mission she’s suddenly demanded. We’re now four years into Iraq, six years into Afghanistan, and her Department still hasn’t mobilized her Department for war to the extent that even a few months ago Crocker had to go public with staffing problems. State / DynCorp have messed up policing. State permitted (some, like me, might say encouraged) their security escorts to take an overly aggressive posture because of screwed up priorities. And State hasn’t intervened when American reconstruction contractors screw the Iraqi Government. I could go on but I’m bored with the list already. Apparently, Rice figured most of State didn’t have to deal with the little people. Perhaps that was Karen Hughes’ job, who, um, reports to Rice. (Great "job well done" speech by Rice, by the way. Not what I’d want from my tenure.)

No, Rice frames the "GWOT" (I prefer my superior acronym) in convenient post-detente Cold War terms, but she doesn’t grasp the need to conduct public diplomacy today that was so deep and integral to the pre-1960’s Cold War. Instead shielding herself, her people, and her processes (I won’t get started on Karen Hughes, except to ask will leaving position vacant make us better off or worse of than today?) Rice sits back. Rice has let DOD take the bulk of the mission and upsize to fill the holes left by her missing leadership. Rice, who ran away rather than announce the policy and take questions herself, is apparently now looking to whip State into shape as her department gets all sort of attention.

Yes, this whole thing speaks more to her leadership than to the panic of some FSOs who are just realizing they are part of a war. As for Rice, she’s terrified of being over there. Here’s a question: How often has Rice been to Iraq? How often was Rumsfeld and Gates? Those are numbers I want to see.

Update, what others are saying:

Discussing RAND’s Enlisting Madison Avenue @ USC

Enlisting Madison Avenue flyer v2On Wednesday, November 14, 2007, 11a-1p, USC’s Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars is proud to host RAND Social Scientist Christopher Paul to discuss the book co-authored with Todd Helmus and Russell Glenn: Enlisting Madison Avenue.

The event is free and open to the public and yours truly will be the moderator / master of ceremony (yes, just ceremony, the university is too cheap to have more than one). Click the flyer (PDF) on the right for details. Email me or, better, email APDS for directions and more information.

The Culture Wars continue

John Nagl responds to anthropologist Dr. David Price’s "assault on social scientists assisting national efforts to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan."

This time he impugns the work of anthropologists who helped write Field Manual 3-24, the Counterinsurgency Field Manual that was published by the Army and Marine Corps in December 2006 and republished by the University of Chicago Press in July 2007. Price’s essay is extensive, but the argument and the tone of the whole can be extrapolated from this paragraph on the first page:

Most academics know that bad things can happen when marginally skilled writers must produce ambitious amounts of writing in short time periods; sometimes the only resulting calamities are grammatical abominations, but in other instances the pressures to perform lead to shoddy academic practices. Neither of these outcomes is especially surprising among desperate people with limited skills– but Petraeus and others leading the charge apparently did not worry about such trivialities: they had to crank out a new strategy to calm growing domestic anger at military failures in Iraq.

…Price also decries the incomplete bibliography of the manual; again, he neglects consideration of the cultural practices of the society which he is examining. Bibliographies are not a common feature of Field Manuals; indeed, the Counterinsurgency Manual is the first of which I am aware that includes recommendations of civilian texts for further reading. The works cited in the bibliography are not all or even most of those consulted during the writing of the text, but those that soldiers are encouraged to read to further their understanding of counterinsurgency. This is a book for practitioners.

I’m still short on time so my only comment is this: get a grip. Price’s attack is ironic considering his authorship on the Federal government’s attack on anthropologists in the 1950’s. The view from the Ivory Tower must be nice.

See also:

Controversy: FM 3-24 Plagiarism Scandal

Want a good laugh? Have you followed the growing freak-out by anthropologists who fret over the perversion of their profession for national security and saving lives? If you have or haven’t, check out Abu Muqawama’s post (below) on the latest in this culture clash, as well as Sharon’s comment at Danger Room on the same:

Issandr over at The Arabist — whose job description includes reading publications like CounterPunch so Abu Muqawama doesn’t have to — sent over a .pdf file yesterday morning of this article, which you can now read for free. In it, David Pryce pretty much tees off on the authors of FM 3-24, accusing them of plagiarism as well as, hilariously, being "marginally skilled writers" and "desperate people with limited skills." (Nope, no academic elitism here. None at all. Look away, please.)

Yes, folks, it’s a smear piece. (Pryce can’t even be bothered to get John "Jon" Nagl’s name right in the original article, he’s so full of righteous anger.) Yes, it was published by CounterPunch, whose breathless headline was "Pilfered Scholarship Devastates General Petraeus’s Counterinsurgency Manual." (Who writes their headlines? The Sun?) And yes, the charges that Page 3 stunner Montgomery McFate is "prostituting" the field of anthropology to the services of empire is nothing new either. (Abu Muqawama guesses this is because of the obvious financial rewards involved with a Harvard Law graduate working for, uh, the federal government.) But the plagiarism claim is new and deserves attention. Read the article, and don’t feel bad if you skip toward the end to the unacknowledged sources section.

In the final analysis, the folks over at the Wired blog probably have it correct when they write:

Does military doctrine need to adhere to academic standards? No, it doesn’t, it’s not scholarship. Then again, should Pentagon officials really be surprised that academics are acting, well, like academics? No, they shouldn’t be.

Read the rest at AM and Danger Room….

Good news: it’s not just us fighting al-Qaeda

Over at the Long War Journal is a bit of good news.

The divisions between al Qaeda and their erstwhile Sunni allies in the insurgency intensified over the weekend as the Islamic Army of Iraq and the terror group battled in Khannasa, just south of the city of Baghdad near Salman Pak. Over 60 were reported killed in the three day battle, which occurred after al Qaeda kidnapped a leader of the insurgent group.

Al Qaeda continues to overstep its boundaries and kills, kidnaps, and coerces Sunni insurgent groups for failing to follow its rules. “The attacks took place in the past few days after terrorists from al-Qaeda kidnapped the head of the Islamic Army in Madain, Wahid Arzuqi,” Adnkronos reported. “Various witnesses said Arzuqi was kidnapped after receiving various threats, in particular a fierce verbal attack in a meeting organized with other Iraqi guerillas. Tensions between al Qaeda and the rival militant organization have reportedly been ignited in recent weeks after the deaths of several members of the Islamic Army in Samarra, Kirkuk and al-Duluiya.”

I hope we’re helping deepen this fissure.

“Left of boom” example

From Blackfive:

Afghan Citizens Attack Taliban While Planting IED

Ghazni Province: Coalition Forces discovered a Taliban weapon cache yesterday in Ghazni. While Coalition Forces were investigating the cache, a group of Afghans nearby saw Taliban insurgents digging in the road leading to the cache and promptly attacked the Taliban.


The Taliban fled leaving behind a half buried anti-tank mine in the road.

Unintended Consequences of Armed Robots in Modern Conflict

There is more on the robot killing in South Africa.

A South African robotic cannon went out of control, killing nine, “immediately after technicians had finished repairing the weapon,” the Mail & Guardian reports.

In light of this event, as well as Ron Arkin’s “ethical controls” on robots, and that I’m returning to the subject to finish a report, I re-opened a survey on unmanned systems in conflict, primarily ground vehicles. The survey is expanded with the addition of a few questions left out of the earlier iteration. If you filled out the survey before, you might be able to edit your previous answers.

Click here for an informal survey on unmanned warfare, your participation is appreciated. If you have already taken the survey, provided your haven’t cleared the cookie, you should be able to pick up the survey from where you left off. No, this isn’t the proper way to do a survey, but this is an informal query. The results will be included in a report I am completing on the subject (an early and rough draft presented earlier).

The draft findings so far, many of which you’ll find are in direct opposition to Ron Arkin “ethical controls” report above, are:

1. Robots reduce the perceived cost of war and may result in increased kinetic action to defend the national interest. Robots may be used like President Clinton’s lobbed cruise missiles against Afghanistan and Sudan. They also be used to facilitate a more expeditionary foreign policy with less public and Congressional oversight. To some, the value of private security contractors will pale in comparison to that of robots.

2. Robots may reduce local perceptions of US commitment and valuation of the mission. If the US isn’t willing to risk our own soldiers, do we value our people more than local lives? Is the mission not important enough to sacrifice our lives?

3. Robots reduce or remove the human from the last three feet of engagement and with it opportunities to build trust and understanding, as well as gain local intel and get a “feel” for the street (mapping the human terrain). There’s a reason why urban US police departments put cops on foot patrol and bikes. There is an analogy here with the difference of armored Humvees / MRAPs and Jeeps: the latter forces a connection / dialogue with locals. FM3-24 highlights the problem of too much defensive posturing. In American run detention centers in Iraq, General Stone noted the importance of skilled human contact with prisoners and not a sterilized warehouse run by robots replacing untrained personnel. Noteworthy is this anecdotal measurement of engaging “hearts and minds.”

4. Robots continue the trend of increasing the physical distance between killer and killed. Even if the robot is teleoperated, the operator will not have the nuances in the environment. The robot may not know when not to engage or when to disengage. The psychological cost of killing will decrease and targets will continue to be dehumanized.

5. Technological failures, or induced failures (i.e. hacking), would result in more negative press as the US continues to “hide behind” technology. Errors or accidents would likely be described by USG communications in a way that satisfies the US domestic audience. Before the South African robot-cannon, other examples high profile accidental killing of civilians, ostensibly by technology, including the KAL 007 and Iran Air 655 (USS Vincennes), both of which are notable for the different public diplomacy/communications strategies employed to address the particular incident.

6. Robot rules of engagement are being designed around Western / Machiavellian Laws of War (see Arkin’s report on ethical controls). This lawyer-on-lawyer based on facts and is ignorant of perceptions generated from actions. This perfect world model may become more a liability than asset in 21st Century Warfare. This is not to say that a more permissive environment should be created, but that the Machiavellian model of the end justifies the means creates too permissive of an environment to the detriment of the mission. The “new” U.S. Counterinsurgency manual notes the same when it says too much force as well as too much defensive posturing may be counterproductive. 

Others discuss the future of MRAPs

Briefly, with very little comment for lack of time, a few months ago, a Jon Grinspan wrote this in American Heritage magazine:

Yet the Humvee’s biggest drawback may actually be the false sense of security it imparts. American troops, many military theorists now argue, are too removed in their vehicles, fighting for Iraqi hearts and minds with a drive-through mentality. The open-air jeep meant that soldiers could, and had to, interact with the people of occupied nations; the closed, air-conditioned Humvee has only isolated American forces from Iraqis. This is even more of a problem with the MRAP, which offers only small, armored windows to peek out of. Though the tactics of the current surge seek to get troops out of their vehicles more often, many politicians involved in the debate over Humvees assume—perhaps erroneously—that more armor means more safety and success.

Today, Noah Shachtman at Danger Room quoted from a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report (pdf):

Counterintuitively, it may also be that a better way to reduce overall US casualties is to have personnel operate outside their vehicles. Successful counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, in particular, require close contact with the local population to provide them with security and to develop a working knowledge of the local environment that, together, produces the intelligence necessary to defeat an insurgent enemy force. This approach is similar to law enforcement techniques that emphasize policemen “walking the beat” in a neighborhood as opposed to merely driving through it in a squad car. Simply put, commanders may have to risk some casualties in the near term, by having their troops dismount, in order to develop the secure environment that yields the intelligence that will reduce the insurgent threat—and US casualties—over the longer term. Given this approach, which is consistent with the military’s new COIN doctrine, the MRAP—at least in this situation—may send the wrong message to troops in the field…

It is very likely we will see similar post facto discussions with unmanned ground systems.

See also:

Interesting metric on (not) engaging hearts and minds

Newsweek has an interesting story on that gives anecdotal evidence on the gap between the occupied and occupiers. From the outset, the US built self-contained bases (unlike the British) and limited contact with the population (as is the case with delayed US Embassy in Baghdad). The result was links to the population were denied, except in very few cases.

This is not just a different kind of war, it’s also a different kind of American military than existed 40 or 50 years ago—one that may talk about engaging hearts and minds, but spends many of its resources trying to keep them at a distance. The insistent demands of “force protection” and the insidious efficiency of the insurgents’ bombs and booby traps have isolated the American soldier from the population he or she was once tasked to liberate. We may not lament the lack of bars, dance halls and whorehouses for today’s troops. But in Iraq there’s hardly any human contact at all that isn’t at the point of a gun.

IED as a Weapon of Strategic Influence: Creating the Blackwater Nightmare

Abu Muqawama has a smart post on IEDs as Weapons of Strategic Influence, something I’ve talked about before. However, what he and others have missed is the role IEDs have had not just on American military force posture — using armored Humvees and MRAPs (scroll down to find reference) — but also of the entire Coalition, including private military contractors, highlighted by recent events that have dramatically altered the narrative and focus of the entire mission in Iraq, as well as the tools used in the execution of that mission.

The Blackwater incident of September 16th is a direct and successful result of the effectiveness of IEDs to influence the posture and response of our security forces, including of our own military, to threats. The effort to “stop the bleeding” back in 2003 took a turn toward our expertise (technology) and while failing to address the root causes and purposes of the attacks in the first place. The result: failure. Now you can subscribe to YouTube channels to watch new IED footage (as MountainRunner has) while more money is spent on jammers and armor. The former causes a technology race toward the bottom with diminishing returns and the latter insulates both physically and morally the Coalition from the population.

Continue reading “IED as a Weapon of Strategic Influence: Creating the Blackwater Nightmare

Did she really say that?

From Blog Them Out of the Stone Age:

“When you hear people say … ‘If you kill one of them, they’ll just replace him with another leader,’ remember that that’s like saying, ‘If you take out Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant, well, they’ll just replace them with another leader,’” Rice said.

As Mark Grimsley notes,

That’s our Secretary of State, Condi Rice, comparing Lee and Grant to an Al-Qaeda terrorist, namely Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The comparison has been derided as unfortunate if not ludicrous, but my question is this: If killing a key Al-Qaeda leader can have such major effects on the terrorist organization as a whole, then why does the Bush administration seem relatively indifferent to the fact that six years after 9/11, its architects, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, are still alive?

“If you kill one of them,” it matters a lot — or not so much — depending on which one of “them” you mean, and whether you’ve killed them or not.

And then there’s the difference between a socio-political leader and a military leader…

Wednesday Mash-up for September 26, 2007

David Axe, at Wired’s Danger Room, reminds us of the importance of creating a secure environment, especially after kicking out the bad guys. We saw the longing for the "good ole days" of safety even if it meant oppression in post-Soviet Russia and Iraq, just to name two place.

"The best antidote to terrorism, according to Horn of Africa analysts, is stability in Somalia, which the Islamic Courts had provided," according to one Nairobi paper:

As in other Muslim-Western conflicts, the world undoubtedly needs to engage with the Islamists to secure peace. … The objective for the United States … is simply to prevent Somalia from being an unwilling haven for terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda. To pursue that objective, the United States is handicapped by the fact that state authority is limited to only portions of the country. The United States has everything to gain from the formation of a broad-based all inclusive government and a stable Somalia.

Continue reading “Wednesday Mash-up for September 26, 2007

Battle of the Minds: an interview with Major General Douglas Stone

Walter Pincus in the Washington Post wrote about the Blogger Roundtable conference yesterday with Major General Doug Stone (transcript here). Motivated slightly by Pincus’s backhanded, but honest, comment yesterday on how none of the four bloggers attending, including MountainRunner, (out of 60 invited) on the call had as of yet blogged on the interview. 

I had the opportunity to ask the General two questions. The first was on his thoughts of using unmanned systems in detainee operations. In the battle of minds, it is not surprising that he looked at robots as not as an opportunity to reduce human contact with detainees but to increase it. The second question was on how he’s communicating his plans to State and involving other non-mil resources. Out of that came his thoughts, actually those of Iraq VP Hashimi, of a Work Projects Administration for Iraq. Each of those, as well as other great questions by my three comrades in digital space, Jarred “Air Force Pundit” Fishman, CJ “Soldier’s Perspective” Grisham, and Charlie “Wizbang” Quidnunc, deserve more commentary, context, and analysis, but unfortunately time is short.

Continue reading “Battle of the Minds: an interview with Major General Douglas Stone

Using Anthropology and Sociology

Working in foreign environments, whether it’s the moon, underwater, or another culture, you always need to know what works and what doesn’t. For example, on the moon, you need to wear a space suit to protect against the negative pressure. On the deep sea floor, you need armor to protect against overpressure. Scientists test and evaluate and propose solutions.

In Iraq or Afghanistan, a different kind of scientist must be at work. Here, the major variable isn’t the physical environment but the sociological environment. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the scientists informing us how to work in these foreign (to us) worlds are anthropologists.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting page one article on a self-taught anthropologist working in Iraq with the Marines.

Earlier this summer, William “Mac” McCallister’s Marine Corps bosses asked him for help selecting gifts for tribal sheiks who had teamed up with U.S. forces to fight radical Islamists.

Mr. McCallister, the Marines’ resident expert on tribal culture, settled on the perfect gift: a Mameluke sword. The swords, which all Marine officers carry, date back to 1804 when a Marine lieutenant led a group of Arabs in a successful attack on pirates and was awarded a sword by an Ottoman pasha.

There was only one problem: The swords were banned as gifts because their value exceeds the government limit of $305.

Note the source of the sword…

Tribal-affairs expert is a job that until recently didn’t exist in the military — even though Iraq has 150 tribes, and some three-quarters of Iraqis belong to a tribe. Mr. McCallister says he first saw the need in 2003 when, as an active-duty Army major, he was ushered into a meeting with an influential Fallujah sheik. The tribal leader began to warble a song about the different kinds of pain a warrior feels when he is wounded by different weapons, like a sword, a knife or a gun.

“Anyone who sings about that stuff has a different take on the rules of warfare,” he says he quickly concluded. “If you don’t approach them correctly you can kill 30, 40 or 100 of them and they won’t submit.” Mr. McCallister began to search the military command in Iraq for someone who was an expert on tribal affairs. There were none. “When I suggested we find one, people looked at me like I had something growing out of my head,” he says.

“The Iraqis expect the grand gesture. It’s one of their rituals,” says Mr. McCallister. “You show them no respect when you don’t offend.” He compares discussions among tribal sheiks to symphonies. They often begin quietly, he says. Then they grow hotter often elevating into screaming matches before the debate calms down again.

The Marines say they have emulated this in meetings with tribal and government officials. In June, Gen. Allen, who says he prides himself on not losing his cool, was meeting with the governor of Iraq’s Anbar Province in a hotel restaurant in Amman, Jordan. With security improving, Gen. Allen told the governor he wanted his help to reopen Anbar’s criminal courts, which had been shut down after threats of violence caused many of the judges to quit. The governor was noncommittal.

Gen. Allen says he slammed his fist on the table, causing silverware to clang and heads to turn. “You have got to want these courts to open more than I do!” he says he yelled. “We are going to have the first trials in Anbar by Aug. 1!” Today, thanks to the governor pushing, the trials have started. The Anbar governor regularly refers to the conversation with Gen. Allen as a turning point.

However, anthropologists continue to be upset at the prospect of their field being, in many of their eyes, misappropriated. Social scientists can provide a real benefit by understanding decision loops that result in terrorist or insurgent attacks. This understanding is an important component of the psychological struggle for minds and wills….

Petraeus on hold

Live blogging on Congressional testimony…. Blaming photographers for disconnecting Petraeus’ microphone accidentally, the General is on hold as the A/V guy gets around… at the same time, some body is complaining to the Chairman about only getting charts and not a written statement from the Petraeus… humorous, but not for Petraeus and Crocker.

Update: w/ the delay, the Chairman gets upset at a Congressman asking to preemptively remove rabblerousers (“their strategy is to sacrifice one every five minutes…”), the Chairman’s candid cursing and complaining adds to the fun…

Quoting History #3

“…it is the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they live in, and to punish with exceptional severity all members of their own race who have warmed their hands at the invader’s heart.” — Winston Churchill quoted in Dave Grossman’s On Killing : The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, 1995.

Also from this worthwhile book, a story told about told by Matt Brennan abpit Con, a Vietnamese scout assigned to an American platoon in Vietnam, who had

been a loyal Viet Cong until a North Vietnamese squad made a mistake and killed his wife and children. Now he loved to run ahead of the Americans, hunting for [North Vietnamese soldiers]…. He called the Communists gooks, just as we did, and one night I asked him why.

“Con, do you think it’s right to call the VC gooks and dinks?”

He shrugged. “It makes no difference to me. Everything has a name. Do you think the Americans are the only ones who do that? … My company in the jungle … called you Big Hairy Monkeys. We kill monkeys, and” — he hesitated for an instant — “we eat them.”