Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fighting the last war

The screen shot is from the Drudge Report this morning.  The four headlines show a US President that is facing a crisis with no clue how to react.  Even Obama supporters are giving him tepid words of encouragement such as, "he doesn't want to get us involved in another war".  Perhaps but that's not really a strategy after two American journalists have been beheaded.  The last I checked, Obama ended the "war" (more correctly, occupation) in Iraq and Afghanistan but he did not end the war against al Qaeda.  ISIS and al Qaeda see US forces still quite engaged against them and are using some of their best weapons against us.

A common mistake military generals and their staffs make is to fight the last war.  The huge number of casualties of the First World War was due largely to a general staff that fought using Napoleonic style tactics (let's all line up side by side and march forward) without realizing the machine gun made that style of warfare obsolete and suicidal!  Those same general staffs had no Plan B so they dug in and trench warfare ensued.  No one wins under such circumstances and your troops rot from exposure.

In Vietnam, military forces trained and equipped to fight the Soviet military didn't know what to do with the guerrilla tactics of the Vietcong.  A long, protracted war ensued again with no Plan B.  The North Vietnamese correctly assumed a protracted, bloody war would turn the hearts and minds of the American public back home against the government.

When the US went into Desert Storm, it was trained and equipped to fight another Vietnam (many troops first arriving in the desert still wore woodland BDU patterns).  A massive air bombardment took our most of the Iraqi air force and softened the Iraqi Army to the point the war was over quickly.  US military planners have been trying to do that again ever since.

The challenge for George W. Bush was after 9/11, he needed to wage another Desert Storm against al Qaeda.  In Afghanistan, there was no large standing Taliban military to take down so massive airpower wasn't an answer.  When Bush became convinced Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, he saw the opportunity to wage another Desert Storm in retaliation for the attack on US soil.

Let's ignore the issue of whether or not the there were weapons of mass destruction and simply focus on the way Bush decided to go after al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  Nineteen terrorists killed 2,996 (Wikipedia) on 9/11.  Bush then leveraged the entire US military, plus those of allied nations, to achieve 176,000 combat deaths in Iraq (Iraq Body Count project) and 21,000 in Afghanistan (Cost of War).  What Bush, and now Obama, fail to see is how our actions are being perceived by the Arab and Muslim world.  We are inflicting many more casualties than died on 9/11.  We may be winning the battles but we are losing the war.

Obama is facing a much different type of warfare and he is unfortunately proving ill-equipped to handle it.  Social media is what the Cold War era mind-control experts of the CIA and KGB could only have dreamed about.

Social media rapidly creates perceptions and shapes opinions amongst divergent groups that only a few years ago, would never have connected.  Look at the events in Ferguson, MO just a few weeks ago.  Social media turned the shooting into an international situation.  Social media helped fan the flames of the protestors.  It rallied people who may not have otherwise heard of the shooting to take action.  Terrorists groups already know all of this.

In the past, if you wanted to recruit people to your terrorist group you had to first find the right people.  If you are say based in Yemen and want to recruit in London, you first have to travel and then establish some type of network.  Very risky and dangerous not to mention expensive.

Now with social media, you can create websites, chatrooms, Twitter accounts, etc that are designed to attract a certain type of personality.  Often these take the form of political or theological discussion groups (I also wonder if gamers aren't being handled via the content of some video games).  Handlers mine the chat rooms for those personalities that seem most pliable.  Those people are then recruited for additional training.  A low cost, low risk platform for finding the right people.

Now Obama is facing an attack over social media where American journalists are being beheaded.  The perpetrator is almost sticking his tongue out saying, "Ha!  You can't catch me and I'm gonna do it again!".  Obama looks powerless.  For all we know, these videos could have been shot days or weeks ago making it that much difficult to pinpoint where the terrorists are at so direct some type of military action is return is almost impossible.

Obama has another social media problem.  Each time another crisis occurs, he other gives a glib speech about his concern and promise to take only to then be whisked away from the cameras.  He is then seen playing golf.  The real reasons for this are elusive but the effect is it renders him at best disengaged and worst, incompetent.  His statement last week that he did not have a strategy for Syria left many gobsmacked.

Putin, being a former KGB operative, knows a thing or two about waging psychological warfare (which is what really social media was pre-made for).  He has always shown himself as a steely eyed warrior, riding horses bare chested or flinging opponents around on the judo mat.  He should no signs of weakening his resolve annexing Crimea or sending troops into Ukraine.  Juxtapose that with Obama's image and your see a slightly built man with a clipped manner of talking like a fop who has just been offended.  Point, set, match Putin on the social media front.

This is just about Americans cringing over their President.  By waging an image war on social media, terrorist groups may feel that are under less threat from this US President and are emboldened to take action.

What can Obama do?  His brand is already damaged but he could turn that into an advantage (although I fear he is a very vain man he may be too hurt to realize it).  He know has nothing to lose on the image department so why not do something unexpected?  Whining about sanctions and building long term solutions is a snooze-fest when your citizens and being butchered.  Now would be the time for find out just who Jihad-Johnny is and send a Hellfire missile right into his living room window.  Make sure hackers "illegally access" that video and share over social media.  It won't stop the terrorists but it will sure slow things down.

One last closing thought, all of the concern about ISIS sneaking into the US to launch an attack?  Social media makes that notion obsolete.  Operatives can be recruited, indoctrinated and even trained virtually.  No need to sneak anyone in, they are already here.

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