A Winning Strategy Lost?
The UK’s ‘Bin Laden Dossier‘ of 2001 reports that Bin Laden’s motivation was to wage jihad against countries (such as the USA and UK) engaging in ‘un-Islamic behaviour’.
In his speeches, Bin Laden cited examples of this, such as: the westernised mode of dress of young people; their liking of pop music and consumer goods; and their lack of respect for their elders and leaders for example.
In other words, the West was (unwittingly) already winning a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign though the spread of consumer capitalism and western goods, media, film, entertainments and comfortable lifestyle.
After 9/11, it could be reasoned that the West’s best course of action was to continue, and intensify, these so-called ‘soft power’ activities – not to attack anyone with hard power.
But this is not what happened and the War on Terror (always unwinable by definition) went ahead. The situation in 2015 continues to ramp up conflict, into what now seems inevitable – World War Three (WWIII).
World War Three (WWIII) – The War of Ideologies
Conflict in the Middle East is not new. It goes back at least as far as Egyptian times (Ostler 2006). And then, with Islam, it had the Shia / Sunni schism at its root. From the time of The Crusaders onwards, so-called Western forces and governments have had little success in changing outcomes (Stewart 2006, Tanner 2002, Wallach 2005).
Recent experiences in the region (Iraq, Afghanistan – even for the Russians) are not encouraging for the coalition that the UK and US governments are hoping to put together in 2016.
Also, analysis of the capabilities of Western coalitions (Lwin 1997, Mackay and Tatham 2011, Smith 2005, Treverton 2003) show up a series of endemic weaknesses in mindset, approach, capabilities and strategy and tactics.
With these in mind it is worth while trying to analyse what possible futures we may face. With certainty an impossibility, a sound approach is to develop a range of hypotheses (as in this example high-level scenario involving tactical nuclear weapons) and, using judgement (not just computer modelling), evaluate their relative merits.
Of prime importance is being realistic about what can and can’t be achieved practically. Especially in a situation where hundreds of factions vie for power, where allegiences are endlessly changing and loyalty cannot be relied upon. At the heart of WWIII is a clash of unreconcilable ideologies which, as the Cold War showed, may take generations to resolve. Negotiation (Howard 1999) is not an option – yet.
Till then, as Lawrence noted following his experiences of the ‘Arab Revolt’ of 1916-18 – and of the subsequent negotiations (including the betrayal of the Sykes-Picot agreement, which still rankles in the Middle East today) – nothing and no one can be trusted and nothing can be relied upon.
In 2016, little has changed from his time. Money, mercenaries and mediocrity mean that the chances of ‘success’ for the West’s new coalition are slim. And in a situation where it is not even possible to say unequivocally what constitutes ‘winning’, then we are all in for a long haul.
What has changed is that this time the consequences are global – and fanaticism, ruthless death and suicide are ISIS’ most potent weapons of coercion. No one is ‘safe’ and, currently, every possibility may happen.
We live in interesting times.
– Lwin, M. R. (1997) ‘General Tzu’s Army: OPFOR of the Future’. JFQ, USA.
– Howard, N. (1999) ‘Confrontation Analysis: How to Win Operations Other than War. CCRP, DoD.
– Lawrence, T. E. (1922) ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’. Various editions.
– Mackay, A. Tatham, S. (2011) ‘Behavioural Conflict: Why understanding people and their motivations will prove decisive in future conflict’. Military Studies Press. Saffron Walden, UK.
– Ostler, N. (2006) ‘Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World’. Harper Collins.
– Smith, R. (2005) ‘The Utility of Force’, p323-331. Published by Allen Lane, London.
– Stewart, R. (2006) Occupational Hazards, pp360-361. Picador, London.
– Tanner, S. (2002) ‘Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the war against the Taliban.
– Treverton, G.F. (2003) ‘Reshaping National Intelligence for an Age of Information’. Cambridge University Press. New York.
– Wallach, J. (2005) ‘Desert Queen. The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia’. Phoenix, London.