Saturday, August 26, 2006

The "Islamic Way of War"

I found this essay The Islamic Way of War by Andrew J. Bacevich on The American Conservative website. It comes to the conclusion that America can not win the war in Iraq because Muslims have discovered the key to defeating Western armies and he offers a couple of examples to prove the point.

The fact is that Professor Bacevich is wrong in concluding that America cannot win and the examples he used actually prove the oppisit of what he wants them to.

To start with he states his thesis:

In Iraq, the world’s only superpower finds itself mired in a conflict that it cannot win. History’s mightiest military has been unable to defeat an enemy force of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 insurgents equipped with post-World War II vintage assault rifles and anti-tank weapons. In Gaza and southern Lebanon, the Middle East’s mightiest military also finds itself locked in combat with adversaries that it cannot defeat. Despite weeks of bitter fighting, the IDF’s Merkava tanks, F-16 fighter-bombers, and missile-launching unmanned aerial vehicles failed to suppress, much less eliminate, the armed resistance of Hamas and Hezbollah.

What are we to make of this? How is it that the seemingly weak and primitive are able to frustrate modern armies only recently viewed as all but invincible? What do the parallel tribulations—and embarrassments—of the United States and Israel have to tell us about war and politics in the 21st century? In short, what’s going on here?

The answer to that question is dismayingly simple: the sun has set on the age of unquestioned Western military dominance. Bluntly, the East has solved the riddle of the Western Way of War. In Baghdad and in Anbar Province as at various points on Israel’s troubled perimeter, the message is clear: methods that once could be counted on to deliver swift decision no longer work.

What are these methods that no longer work against the Muslims?

For centuries, Western military might underpinned Western political dominion everywhere from Asia to Africa to the New World. It was not virtue that created the overseas empires of Great Britain, France, Spain, and the other European colonizers; it was firepower, technology, and discipline.

Through much of the last century, nowhere was this Western military pre-eminence more in evidence than in the Middle East. During World War I, superior power enabled the British and French to topple the Ottomans, carve up the region to suit their own interests, and then rule it like a fiefdom. Until 1945, European machine guns kept restive Arabs under control in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine.

Firepower, technology and discipline. Why does he believe that they have now failed?

Well before Saddam’s final defeat, others, less stupid, began to develop alternative means of what they called “resistance.” This new Islamic Way of War evolved over a period of decades not only in the Arab world but beyond.

In Afghanistan during the 1980s, the Mujahadeen got things started by bringing to its knees a Soviet army equipped with an arsenal of modern equipment. During the so-called First Intifada, which began in 1987, stone-throwing and Molotov-cocktail-wielding Palestinians gave the IDF conniptions. In 1993, an angry Somali rabble—not an army at all—sent the United States packing. In 2000, the collapse of the Camp David talks produced a Second Intifada, this one persuading the government of Ariel Sharon that Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank was becoming unsustainable. Most spectacularly, in September 2001, al-Qaeda engineered a successful assault on the American homeland, the culmination of a series of attacks that had begun a decade earlier.

Here is where we have the examples which do not prove what they are intended to prove.

First the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. The myth of Afghanistan is that tribesmen with pre-WWI weapons brought the Red Army to its knees by knowing the countryside like the backs of their hands and fighting smart. They are said to have used hit-and-run tactics to bleed the Soviets white. Of course they had a bit of help from the USA with antiaircraft missiles, but mostly it was just that the Mujahadeen imposed costs on the Russians that were too high for them to sustain.

There is some truth here, but the whole truth is this. The Afghan resistance scored some early success by using hit-and-run raids but the Soviets figured out how to beat them. The Red Army would locate a resistance base, not too hard to do since they had to operate in the area of villages, upon which they relied for logistical support. The Russians would then bring in Special Forces by helicopter and insert them near the Mujahadeen encampment. The Spetsnaz commandos would then kill everything that moved. Both in the resistance camp and in the nearby village(s) that were, or could have been, giving them support.

This tactic broke the back of the Afghan resistance and the Mujahadeen fighters were making their way out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan when the United States saw an opportunity to give the Soviets a bloody nose. We supplied the Afghans with Stinger surface-to-air missiles which denied the Afghan countryside to the Soviet helicopter transports, gunships and attack jets.

This forced the Soviets to try to fight a kind of ground war which they were uniquely unsuited for. What they needed were small units operating with a great deal of local autonomy. What they were trained for was massive ground formations operating under strict central control. They could not adapt and so were forced to cut their losses and withdraw.

He then invokes the “Blackhawk Down” incident in Somalia in which Somali fighters were able to shoot down a couple of American helicopters and kill a small number of American soldiers. What Bacevich fails to mention is that in order to kill 18 US soldiers the Somali militia lost between 1000 and 1500 fighters. At the end of the Battle of Mogadishu the ranks of Somali “resistance” fighters were seriously thinned and their stockpiles of RPGs (their most powerful weapons) were nearly depleted.

In the days after the battle the US received overtures from other Somali leaders in which they intimated that warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid could be offered up in exchange for peace talks.

In other words Western armies showed the Muslims what they were capable of when they “took the gloves off” and the Muslims blinked.

That truth has been obscured by the fact that the US at that time had a weak and irresolute president who saw TV pictures of dead American soldiers being dragged through the streets and panicked amid visions of falling poll numbers. We cut and ran not because we couldn’t win, but because the Commander-in-Chief was a coward.

The other example Bacevich cites, that of the Israeli inability to put down the Palestinian Intifada, is an example of a modern nation choosing, for reasons of political correctness, to fight with one hand tied behind its back. In Mogadishu Americans won the battle because they stopped being nice. Somali fighters would surround themselves with a ring of women and shoot at the Americans from between their bodies. Americans would just hose the whole group down with machinegun fire.

We took the decision that if they were going to use woman and children as human body armor that we would demonstrate to them just how poor human flesh is at standing up to sustained automatic weapon’s fire.

The Israelis have not reached that point yet and so they fail to win a complete victory over their foes.

The question is this: Can the Americans and the Israelis reach that point of focused savagery in not just one pitched battle, but for an entire decades long war? I think we can. One only needs to read the fawning approval in newspaper accounts of the brutality with which the Indian uprisings were put down in the post Civil War era and the similarly gushing accounts of the utter ruthlessness with which the Moro rebellion in the Philippines was crushed to understand that one only needs to scratch the surface of the most civilized Westerner to find the heart of a Roman heading off to the Coliseum to spend a happy day watching gladiators soak the sand with each other’s blood.

Modern Western civilization traces its lineage back to Rome. Our Muslim enemies need to remember the fate of Carthage.