May 22, 2007

Perspective on modern conflict - Part 1

War, and modern warfighting have been on my mind a lot lately. In particular, the question: "Is the United States, the only remaining super-power in the world, prosecuting conflicts to her fullest advantage".

In so many of my thought-chains, the answer is immediately "no", then, after fuller reflection, "no" still.

From our "hot wars", such as in Iraq, and Afghanistan, to our "cold ones", with, sadly, the near remainder of the planet, but more overtly: North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and Syria. The U.S. appears to be caught in abject limbo; both in terms of determining sufficient basis to escalate conflict, and, indeed as we are made to view on television nightly: how, once engaged in direct conflict, to fight well.

In this post, and a constellation of others, I'll attempt to flesh out for myself, and anyone interested, what I believe to be significant errors in current warfighting policy, and a host of unorthodox solutions designed to play to our strengths, as the most powerful nation on the planet.

Basis for conflict

Inspiration for conflict today, as I see it, is principally domestic security. Not since WWI have we derived security from the buffer offered to us by vast oceans. Modern Ships, Airplanes, and later, ICBM's, served as sharp arguments against Isolationism. The ambitions and ideologies of states "over there" became geometrically more threatening against the steady march of technological advance. To suggest, at the turn of the 20th century, that we'd be embroiled in a global war, then acting as nation builders, not once, but twice, before mid-century, would have landed you a seat not on Meet the Press, but probably the looney bin.

It's a sad and terrible coincidence that exactly 100 years later, we as a nation will once again have to overthrow so many sacred, and hard-won precepts. Very little of our experience in dealing securing our nation through international diplomacy, and, when necessary, through warfighting, will, in my view, be of much use.

It should be easy for us as a nation to know what to do if a Dictator were to abruptly sieze power over a nation of wealth and resources, then begin to attack/annex his neighbors, and summarily round up hundreds of thousands of his own people for wholesale slaughter. Intercede right?

Just as with the war in Iraq, it wasn't easy for us as a weary post WWI nation to act either. Only in hindsight did we realize what the implications of not acting would have been: most likely, geometrically more casualties, if not, total domination by Nazi, Japanese, or the Soviet forces. Even after involving ourselves so aggressively, as the US did in WWII, 60 million people lost their lives. Keep in mind that war was fought - save the 300k lost in the atom-bomb attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - with conventional weapons.

The new threat

Just over 50 years later, owing exclusively to technology, we stand on the brink of another world war. A war far more dangerous than the last, and, as it was at the dawn of WWII, equally confusing.

We as a nation, during the start of WWII, were highly unclear as to what all the dying was about overseas. In fact, one of the largest Nazi parties on the earth was right here in the US. Few, if any anticipated the savage ambitions of Germany, Japan, or Russia. Only post-war did we grasp the world-changing implications inaction would have had.

I find a bizarre similarity between then and now. It seems today, we're as confused, or understandably more confused, about why we're fighting in Iraq, as we were when fighting in Europe and Asia.

History, as is so often said, isn't conveniently "repeating itself"; though I do believe, with enough information, one can see how it's rhyming.

The fundamental similarities in why we're fighting are much the same today, as they were then: we're opposing aggressive, competitive, enemies that threaten our way of life at home.

The principal difference however, is that these enemies aren't just States, but (as Thomas Friedman defines them) much more lethal "super-empowered individuals".

In what I'm sure will be considered by anyone reading this "arrogant", I'll attempt to cut away as much confusion as I can as it relates to what's so different about modern day conflict, why we should all know what super-empowered individuals are, how to fight them, and the stakes at hand should we (as we were so tempted to do in the first two world wars) choose to isolate ourselves in peace.

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