Hammers Can’t Fix Computers OR How We Lost In Iraq

Originally posted at ivaw.org

March 20, 2007

Hi. My name is Jason, and I am veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps infantry. I served three tours in the Iraq occupation, and I have something important to tell you. You see, there are a lot of members of Iraq Veterans Against the War who speak out on the immorality of the occupation. Tons. While I agree with them that the occupation is immoral and unjustified, I don’t think that you are all that moved by hearing it. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not implying that you, the reader, are a bad or uncaring person. It’s just that lots of things in this world are immoral, and for most of us they all blend together after a while. What I want to tell you about the occupation of Iraq is something else entirely: Whether or not we are justified in occupying Iraq is irrelevant at a certain level, because we stand no chance against our enemy there, and every life lost fighting them is in vain.

As I left the Marine Corps last May, I wanted to be a scholar of military theory. I wanted to write academic articles in a snooty tone to like-minded professionals. Recently though, I’ve come to a realization: Writing for an audience that totally agrees with you and has the same level of understanding that you do is a waste of time. First of all, there’s not likely to be a huge market for it. Second, it doesn’t end wars. The reason is that the mainstream, the people with the real power to influence change in America, never get the message. That is why I want to tell you, America, the truth about war as we know it.

I intend this article to be user-friendly. If I don’t present my ideas clearly and interestingly, my energy is wasted. That is why I plead with you to let me know if something I write here seems unclear or confusing. As I will explain in greater detail, insulating oneself from constructive criticism only leads to failure. I can be reached at jasonlemieux@ivaw.org.

First, you need to understand that our military is designed to defeat another world power like the Soviet Union. The American way of war is what military scholars refer to as Second Generation or Attrition Warfare (2GW). Hereafter, I will refer to proponents of this style of war as attritionists. The idea in 2GW is to defeat other state militaries by killing the enemy and destroying their equipment. No thought is given to deceiving the enemy or undermining their will to fight, just to killing them with the most powerful weapons available. America loves to loudly proclaim that we have the best military in the history of the world, but it’s just not true. Our training is limited to a very specific set of methods, which are to be practiced without consideration to the enemy situation. Any attempt at introducing new methods is squashed. There are many reasons why, some of which will forever remain a mystery. Let’s look at a couple of the ones we do know.

One reason is the plague that is the military-industrial complex. The methods we use depend on superexpensive technology produced by the defense industry. The defense industry’s lobbyists ensure that Congress buys their equipment, which we are then forced to tailor our methods around. In the Department of Defense (DOD), generals get promoted by maintaining the status quo, which amounts to forcing these methods upon their troops. If they are particularly good at it, they can look forward to a sweet deal from a defense company when they retire.Another reason is that we have done so well in past wars (or so we are told) that our pride doesn’t allow us to admit there are things of which we are incapable. We think that because we’re “the greatest military in the world” that we already have all the answers. For example, one day I tried suggesting to my lieutenant that our platoon try a tactic used by the German Stosstruppen in WWII. He was in the middle of a conversation about which Harley-Davidson motorcycle was the best. He paused long enough to laugh at me, saying “Germany lost the war. Why would we use their tactics, Lemieux?”

“True,” I responded, “Germany did lose the war, but mostly because they ran out of soldiers and equipment first. That doesn’t mean their squads hadn’t figured something out that was working until our superior numbers overwhelmed them.”He didn’t seem interested in my response, and was satisfied to go back to his conversation about motorcycles. His attitude is typical of Marines and soldiers of all ranks. Now that we’ve exposed the truth about the DOD, let’s look at how this truth plays out in Iraq.

The war in Iraq is what’s known among scholars as a Fourth Generation War (4GW). 4GW is war in which a state military, like ours, fights a non-state enemy, like the Iraqi resistance. It’s not just a guerrilla war because state militaries can use guerrilla warfare too. We fight the 4GW enemy in Iraq in a couple of ways, and none of them is at all effective. One tactic we use is combat patrols. What these boil down to is four to eight Humvees driving around, looking for enemy activity. The problem is that there isn’t any way to spot enemy activity, especially from inside an armored Humvee. The main weapon of the resistance is the roadside bomb. Planting roadside bombs takes only a minute or two and can be easily concealed with normal activity you’d expect to see happening in a city, like dumping out the trash or digging a new sewer line. Once the bomb is in place, the bomber can detonate it from any building up to a mile away. The result is that a bunch of guys ride around in loud trucks with machine guns until a roadside bomb hits them, then they evacuate the wounded.

To understand the inward focus and zero-defect mentality of our military, consider the following: When a small-unit (30 soldiers or less) commander debriefs his soldiers after a roadside bomb attacks their patrol, he stands in front of them and says things like “you guys were on the ball getting that medevac called in” or “you did a good job of posting security quickly” instead of saying “I admit that I made us an easy target for our enemy. I guess driving four loud diesel trucks in single file down a main thoroughfare in broad daylight was not the best patrolling technique.” Our 2GW method of fighting is powerless to stop the attacks, because we can’t kill the enemy. In the course of three combat tours, my unit was attacked by hundreds of roadside bombs. You can count on one hand the total number of times we found the guy that attacked us.

Some people, however, think that there is more they can do. They have this idea because they are products of a military that has been content in the last 90 years to defeat other militaries solely by killing. They have the idea that if only we could kill more insurgents or their leaders, we’d defeat them. They cannot understand that killing only makes their enemy stronger. If you kill an insurgent leader, you just turn him into a martyr. In Iraqi society, killing a leader isn’t considered a disaster; it’s motivation to continue fighting. First of all, that we killed him just proves to them that we are the bad guys who deserve to be destroyed. Second, martyrdom is considered an honor, and the martyr is understood to be experiencing a better existence in heaven because of the fact that he was killed fighting for his cause. He’s actually thought to be better off now that he’s dead. Ideas like this influence the landscape of war. They’re also ignored by servicemen who are only interested in killing bodies and then counting them.

The attritionist crowd also thinks that if we just corner enemy forces and then systematically destroy them all, we’ll win. They have the idea that if the enemy isn’t stupid enough to play by our rules, we have some way to force these rules upon him. Take for instance, the words of one misguided Marine corporal in an online forum:

“The Insurgency will not abide by the rules we set so we must adapt to their tactics…they want to use fear and guerille [sic] tactics, you fight that by escalating your aggression, instituting a curfew, and most of all ENFORCE those rules. You dont [sic] capture a bad guy….asked [sic] him to be nice and let him go….LIKE THE POLITICIANS DID TO AL-SADR. My Marine unit as well as Army Bn’s had him and his militia surrounded. We had 2 Iraq Army Bn’s ready to close w/ and destroy a hostile enemy yet politics allowed him to sign a peace treaty, move his troops to Baghdad and he’s killing service members again.”

“Close with and destroy” is a 2GW term straight out of WWI. That this Marine used it to describe how he thinks Iraq should be won is further evidence of our inability to learn new methods. Marines like this one don’t understand that enemy forces in Iraq only get cornered when they want to, because all they have to do to escape is put down their weapons and walk away. We have no way to tell who’s been shooting at us and who hasn’t. The resistance doesn’t even have to use guns, because roadside bombs work just fine anyway. Furthermore, he doesn’t understand that the “politicians” let Al-Sadr go (trust me, he probably would have slipped through our fingers anyway) because otherwise his death or capture would have been the reason for his entire militia to fight to the death, killing many more service members than they have since. The inevitable carnage also would have made America look worse to the world than it already does, alienating the few allies we have left and placing more burden on us in the long run. Al-Sadr did what every good commander should do; he put his enemy (us) in a lose-lose situation. Even if the militia wasn’t moved to join Al-Sadr in martyrdom, his death would still be meaningless. One of the main characteristics of 4GW groups like his is that they have an infinite number of people ready, willing and able to assume command in the event that their leader is killed.

Most importantly, the attritionists don’t understand that in our situation, killing just creates more enemies. Let me repeat myself: Killing just creates more enemies. Ahh, I can hear the derogatory comments now: “typical liberal peacenik talk.” Well, to my conservative friends out there: I’m sorry (not really) to break it to you, but the majority of 4GW theorists are retired mid and high-level officers or civilians closely tied to the U.S., British and Israeli(!) militaries. They’re hardly a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing Volkswagen jockeys. The unavoidable fact is that in 4GW, winning the battle often means losing the war. What I mean is that if you kill one person for any reason, his entire tribe is considered justified in getting revenge by killing everyone in your tribe. Since our military doesn’t have identifiable tribes, every soldier becomes a justified target. Any warfighting philosophy that depends on killing is a sure way to failure in Iraq.

Quick example: An intelligence report I read explained how a member of the local police force (the report is classified, so I won’t mention the city), whose tribe was pro-American, was killed one day in a crossfire between resistance fighters and a U.S. Army unit. His family was well aware that his death was a complete accident. The same day that he died, two of his brothers and one of his cousins joined the resistance. In the accidental death of one Iraqi citizen that was on our side, we instantly turned three of his relatives to our enemy’s side. In the months that followed, I read version after version of the same story. When X is killed or captured by American forces, W, Y and Z all make America their sworn enemy on the same day. Winning by killing is a mathematical impossibility. The “we’re being forced to fight with our hands tied behind our backs” crowd complains until they’re blue in the face that if all these pesky rules of engagement were lifted and “politics” were ignored so they could fight their glorious war, they could finally wipe their enemy off the face of the earth. In order to make this argument, they continually ignore the fact that killing creates more enemies, even when it’s presented to them as plain as day.

Another element of 4GW that’s impossible for us to overcome is the complexity of what we are calling our enemy. I say “what we are calling” because many of them are our own creation, and if we hadn’t invaded in the first place they wouldn’t exist for us to deal with (a real blow to the “fight them there instead of here” argument). Most of the time, the insurgent groups are presented to us as the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, who are in opposition to each other. This is a gross oversimplification. The ‘enemy’ is a vast array of groups who are fighting for different reasons. There are groups that technically fall under the category of Sunni or Shi’ite, but they’re not all fighting to advance their interpretation of Islam. Other motivations include:

· Money – Businessmen attack their competitors. Also, teenagers are paid to plant roadside bombs. They’re not doing it because they hate Americans; they’re doing it because their mothers and little sisters are starving.

· Politics – In both the Sunni and Shi’ite camps, many political parties in Parliament have an active military wing that attacks members of the other parties.

· Organized crime – The resistance has tapped into the crime networks that existed while Saddam was in power. These guys have absolutely no political or religious loyalty at all; they fight for the highest bidder.

· Tribal honor – Now that Saddam and his enforcement of order are gone, tribes are free to go to war with one another over any little breach of honor. If you insult someone in another tribe, his whole extended family tries to kill everyone in your family.

The different factions are constantly shifting their alliances and fighting each other; the only thing they seem to agree on is that our troops should die. Once you understand the complexity of the actors and motivations involved in this war, it’s obvious that there’s no way to legitimate victory. Who could we ever negotiate peace with? At the end of what we commonly know as war, even the most hated enemies come together to negotiate the terms of surrender. We can’t cram every tribal leader, crime boss, political leader, businessman, religious leader and charismatic guy with money in Iraq into one room to negotiate. Even if we could, they’re all fighting for different reasons. Whatever solution satisfied one group would just alienate another. Since our military is designed to kill and destroy, expecting it to fix this incredibly complex social problem is like having a problem with your personal computer and expecting to fix it by smashing it with a ball peen hammer: “It isn’t fixed yet. Smash harder!”

The 2GW mindset of our military turns every Iraq deployment into one long, pathetic, tragic joke. I could go on and on about how completely pointless it is to have our 18-year old sons and daughters dying every day in Iraq and how the war was lost before it even started, but I think you’ll be better served if I stop here for now. In the rest of this series of articles, I’ll explain some concepts that are extremely important for the American public to know when their countrymen are dying overseas.

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