Did we just surrender?

The United States cannot fight a war against radical Islamism and win …

There are those who will tell you that if you can’t sit in on meetings of our national security apparatus, the best alternative is to read George Friedman. So his most recent column in Stratfor, Avoiding Wars that Never End, might be taken as a trial balloon for a less intrusive policy for dealing with the treat posed by radical Islam. Friedman proposes returning to the strategy that proved successful in the two great wars of the twentieth century:

The United States cannot fight a war against radical Islamism and win … But the United States has the option of following U.S. strategy in the two world wars. The United States was patient, accepted risks and shifted the burden to others, and when it acted, it acted out of necessity, with clearly defined goals matched by capabilities. Waiting until there is no choice but to go to war is not isolationism. Allowing others to carry the primary risk is not disengagement. Waging wars that are finite is not irresponsible.

Read the article. Although it seems like a welcome, if belated, exercise in 21st century realpolitik, if you read carefully, you find the same failed grand strategy that got us into our present condition: We will still be fighting an “ism,” primarily with military force.

As Friedman notes, this was not our original goal:

That goal was not to deny al Qaeda the ability to operate in Afghanistan, an objective that would achieve nothing. Rather, the goal was to engage al Qaeda and disrupt its command-and-control structure as a way to degrade the group’s ability to plan and execute additional attacks.

Which we accomplished in short order. Even our “war on terror,” particularly the intrusion into civil liberties, was understandable as a short-term measure to ensure that the group did not reconstitute itself. However, our reliance on military force as our primary tool in this “war” has failed utterly. If you don’t accept this, then explain how, eleven years after 9/11, we are now fighting this same “ism” deep in the heart of north Africa, while failing to eradicate it in the Middle East and south Asia. Friedman, however,  is not proposing to abandon the reliance on force, just to change tactics a little.

Success, however, will require a new orientation. First, the threat is not “radical Islamism,” whatever that is, or any other brand of Islam, or any religion. Any country, though, does have the responsibility to prevent attacks by groups of whatever ideological stripe — or none at all as in the case of the infinitely more dangerous narcotrafficking groups. To accomplish this, we should use coercive/military means within a broader matrix of efforts to attract potential adversaries and the uncommitted to our cause (paraphrasing Boyd in Patterns 139). Friedman proposes changes to the coercive element of our strategy, but ignores the ideological component. This will not work: You fight organized military forces with organized military forces, but you deflate “isms” with isms.

In this struggle, we have many advantages. Perhaps our greatest is that our open, democratic system appeals to enormous numbers of people around the world, which accounts for the great effort we go to along our southern border to keep them out. Relatively fewer people are arrested trying to migrate to, for example, North Korea. For those around the world who do not find our system attractive, we have a simple solution: leave them alone. All we ask is that they don’t harbor those who would attack us. Otherwise the response will be swift, effective, and concluded with dispatch.

Boyd put it well in his summary of grand strategy (Strategic Game, 57):

With respect to others (i.e., the uncommitted or potential adversaries) we should:

Respect their culture and achievements, show them we bear them no harm and help them adjust to an unfolding world, as well as provide additional benefits and more favorable treatment for those who support our philosophy and way of doing things;


Demonstrate that we neither tolerate nor support those ideas and interactions that undermine or work against our culture and our philosophy hence our interests and fitness to cope with a changing world.

I explore this approach in some detail in my exegesis of grand strategy, If We Can Keep It (~ 1 MB PDF)

2 thoughts on “Did we just surrender?

  1. I agree. Military might is a 20th century solution for a 21st century problem. America’s enemies (and this is true for todays conflicts in general) do not take for the form of nation states like in War World II, with clear boundaries, strong military traditions, etc. Today it is guerilla warfare, underground networks, and playing the guessing game between civilian and combatant. And U.S. simply can’t get away with the same rate of collateral damage it did in the past, even with precision drone strikes. The War on Terror is folly.

    But I am not so sure about the example of “our southern border”. Although I am sure some Mexican immigrants have been persecuted or become fed up with their poor excuse for a democracy, I think what mainly drives them North is the economic opportunity. I also acknowledge that USA has a highly advanced democratic system (which is in part a reason for prosperity), but it can easily be characterized in many societies (esp. ones with radicalizing anti-american sentiment) as a corrupt, corporatized, pig feeding frenzy. Again, I think the importance of economic subsistence, sovereignty, and stability, are key factors in limiting the radical “ism” that we in the west don’t like. I think only in stable societies are people able to reconsider the U.S.’s image as a the world’s corrupt policeman.

  2. Well, the way things are going, i sometimes wonder how far really the US and western allies
    themselves might be away from somekind of serious political, economic and social upheaval.
    Look at a wildly successful company like this, yet they are laying off people by the hundreds.


    Remember Boys and Girls, the Henry Ford principle;
    Pay people a decent wage, they will reciprocate and buy your products,
    and others, but the point is, the whole system with flourish.

    lay every one off, in order to make a few extra bucks, to pay for another joy ride
    into orbit, and none will be able to buy anything anymore, at all.
    You’ll kill the middle class entirely.

    It’s all based on short term thinking and pure greed !
    That sadly, is where I see, we seem to be headed.


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