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Monday, September 15, 2014

Fighting ISIS: Things to Read as We Trot Off to Bomb People

Photo by Spc. Joshua Grenier

You can start with this Foreign Affairs reprint of the prescient Samuel P. Huntington article (that spawned a book of the same name) The Clash of Civilizations?:
It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.
If that bit doesn't do it for you, buy the book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Kindle format costs about $11.

Of course, this work has its critics: here:
Without Huntington’s unique view of this era, it would be challenging to try to understand some daunting international relations concepts . However, in that same strength of taking a complex study of international bodies and simplifying it, Huntington fails to account for many other factors that must be understood when dealing with rising economic, political and military powers such as China, Pakistan, India, and the “new" Russia.
And, of course, Edward Said held some strong views The Clash of Ignorance: Labels like "Islam" and "the West" serve only to confuse us about a disorderly reality. :
The basic paradigm of West versus the rest (the cold war opposition reformulated) remained untouched, and this is what has persisted, often insidiously and implicitly, in discussion since the terrible events of September 11. The carefully planned and horrendous, pathologically motivated suicide attack and mass slaughter by a small group of deranged militants has been turned into proof of Huntington's thesis. Instead of seeing it for what it is--the capture of big ideas (I use the word loosely) by a tiny band of crazed fanatics for criminal purposes--international luminaries from former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have pontificated about Islam's troubles, and in the latter's case have used Huntington's ideas to rant on about the West's superiority, how "we" have Mozart and Michelangelo and they don't. (Berlusconi has since made a halfhearted apology for his insult to "Islam.")
There probably a middle ground there someplace.

For another perspective on the commitment of military force and strategy, there are many lessons to be learned from H.R. McMaster's Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam.

Another book on "limited war" and the dangers of "peace dividend" and trusting in air power alone is T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History from whence comes a quote worth remembering:
Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men in the mud.

Source: Institute for the Study of War Iraq Updates

Whether that quote applies to Iraq is an interesting question - properly phrased as. "What is our purpose in engaging ISIS?" If the goal is to "keep" portions of Iraq and Syria "for civilization" - well, someone has to be willing to have boots out there. Should it be the U.S.?

See also H.R. McMaster (yes, him again) on The Pipe Dream of Easy War (2013):
American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.

More McMaster comments reported as McMaster busts myths of future warfare:
Americans and their leaders all too often wear rose-tinted glasses when it comes to assessing future warfare, said the deputy commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command for Futures and director, Army Capabilities Center.

Too often, people think battles can be won through engineering and technological advances: cyber, advanced weapons systems, robotics and so on, said Lt. Gen. Herbert R. McMaster Jr.

Big defense firms sell big-ticket systems that are supposed to win wars, he said. The firms use subtle and not-so-subtle advertising that you need this system for the sake of your children and grandchildren and if you don't purchase it, "you're heartless." Congress usually obliges.

The truth is that while overmatch is important, people win wars, he said.
An interesting take on the appeal of ISIS to the Sunni masses using a Marxist approach can be found in Why is there Sunni Arab support for Isis in Iraq? (site seems a little buggy to me):
Above all, however, it behoves to consider the specific economic circumstances in which many Iraqi Arab Sunnis have found themselves – roundly ignored by most analysts – in order to explain their inclination to embrace the militants.

Economic deprivation has plagued the Iraqi Sunnis, who are thought to comprise between 20 and 35 per cent of the population (accurate data is lacking), since the 2003 war.

Driven from power by Western forces after enjoying supremacy, and comprising the majority of Saddam's Ba'athist government (Saddam himself was a Sunni Arab from Tikrit), the Sunnis have been increasingly marginalised in the past ten years.
Well, that's not really news, is it? To take up arms there has to be some discontent - happy people seldom revolt.

That ought to get you started. Feel free to disagree with any or all of it.

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