Thursday, January 24, 2008

Losing the GWOT

T.E. Lawrence, explaining what guerrilla warriors, particularly in Arabia, need in order to succeed. From the Encyclopedia Britannica (1929):
Here is the thesis: Rebellion must have an unassailable base, something guarded not merely from attack, but from the fear of it: such a base as the Arab revolt had in the Red Sea ports, the desert, or in the minds of men converted to its creed. It must have a sophisticated alien enemy, in the form of a disciplined army of occupation too small to fulfill the doctrine of acreage: too few to adjust number to space, in order to dominate the whole area effectively from fortified posts. It must have a friendly population, not actively friendly, but sympathetic to the point of not betraying rebel movements to the enemy. Rebellions can be made by 2 percent active in a striking force, and 98 percent passively sympathetic. The few active rebels must have the qualities of speed and endurance, ubiquity and independence of arteries of supply. They must have the technical equipment to destroy or paralyze the enemy's organized communications, for irregular war is fairly Willisen's definition of strategy, "the study of communication," in its extreme degree, of attack where the enemy is not. In 50 words: Granted mobility, security (in the form of denying targets to the enemy), time, and doctrine (the idea to convert every subject to friendliness), victory will rest with the insurgents, for the algebraical factors are in the end decisive, and against them perfections of means and spirit struggle quite in vain.
When Small Precautions speaks of the United States losing the war against Al Qaeda, our claims are rooted in an appreciation for this sort of venerable analytical approach to the problem of insurgency and rebellion. In the 64 months since 9/11, has the Bush administration managed to achieve any of the goals which Lawrence lays out here?

First, has Al Qaeda lost its unassailable base? It appeared in the Fall of 2001, during the invasion of Afghanistan and the Tora Bora campaign, that they might be about to. But in recent years the U.S. has been forced to concede that Al Qaeda has managed to reconstitute their "unassailable base" in the Northwest Frontier and FATA provinces of Pakistan.

Second, does Al Qaeda face, in the United States, "a disciplined army of occupation too small to fulfill the doctrine of acreage." Even the local NATO commander agrees that U.S. does not have enough troops to command the space in question.

Third, does Al Qaeda operate among a friendly population, even if ninety-eight percent of this population is merely passively friendly. Again, obviously yes. Despite huge bounties on all the principles' heads, the local population has betrayed no one in Al Qaeda's senior leadership.

Fourth, does Al Qaeda continue to "have the qualities of speed and endurance, ubiquity and independence of arteries of supply." Again, clearly yes. Pakistan is a widely globalized country, and connections to the outside world are far more numerous than in, say, the hinterlands of Afghanistan or Sudan.

Finally, does Al Qaeda have the "technical equipment to destroy or paralyze the enemy's organized communications?" Here the answer, from a technical perspective, is obviously no. However, the technology of communication has vastly advanced since Lawrence's time, and one can at least make the claim that from a propaganda perspective (which is what Lawrence is mainly talking about here, rather than battlefield communications), Al Qaeda has achieved at least parity with the United States. The United States still lacks basic visual literacy, by which I mean that it still lacks a basic understanding of the rhetoric of Internet-era visual communications, and hence lacks the ability to challenge and disrupt the media efforts of Al Qaeda.

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