Monday, May 21, 2007

"Brave New War" Winning is no longer an Option

In a recent editorial by David Brooks of the NY Times this past Friday, he referenced a book by a former special ops counter terrorism officer, John Robb. The book entitled "Brave New War" (which, I confess, is now on my short list of must reading) stimulated the columnist into making some serious assertions about the how we should be approaching the new global war of terrorism. I found a passage particularly enlightening in its simplicity and perhaps oft overlooked reality.

In referring to terrorist organizations as they are presently configured Brooks writes " They merely seek to weaken states, so that they can prosper in the lawless space created by collapse of law and order." If this is really true then many of us are certainly not dealing with the insurgents in Iraq or any place else in light of their true goals. I was listening to Newt Gingrich debate Christopher Dodd this weekend on Meet the Press. Despite his admitted distrust of the execution of the Iraq war by the inept Bush Administration, he as do many Republicans candidates, still clings to the idea of "winning the war".

How can we go about "winning a war" if it really isn't a war at all. If as Brooks intimates from his reading of Robb, that the terrorist intent is simply to proliferate social disorder and eliminate the rule of law, then how can we possibly treat this like a war which can be won. Like a traditional conflict with an aggressor who wishes to take over a geographical area. With tactics that try to defend boundaries. With the notion that somehow some entity is organized in such a way that it can be routed like the central command of the Nazi Germany in WWII.

This is like being in denial about the very nature of the way technology has changed the world. From the notion of centralized power bases to the reality of a new de-centralized, constantly morphing enemy. Their power lies in their skill at what Robb calls, "systems disruption".

They have learned that...."its better to weaken target governments, but not actually destroy them." In this way they can foment continued disruption, with no intent of full occupation as would be the intent of a traditional war opponent. Since they are not looking to actually win anything! They are simply interested in maintaining a disruptive state of confusion that allows their existence to "be". They never have to deal with any of the economic and social obligations or leadership that would be required to actually manage the myriad of responsibilities to the people who they are supposedly liberating. We cannot "win" this type of conflict.

One thing is for sure, traditional war type planning and perhaps even weapons systems are at best ineffectual against this type of foe. Lets stop the rhetoric that winning or losing implies. The best that we can hope for is to educate ourselves about how to best deal with this new type of threat and stop hiding behind these outdated concepts of machismo and bravado.

It is clear that our presence in Iraq is not being viewed by the Iraqis with the same type of overall enthusiasm that a liberator should expect. It is in fact impossible for us to stop the type of violence that has become an every day occurrence without the people's help. If the population at large does not participate in the identification and apprehension of the terrorists that continue the violence, than no amount of troop surges will be able to improve their daily life and we will be sending more troops into needless danger.

Winning is no longer an option.

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