Boomerang Effect

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Last week, one of my students, a Marine captain, asked whether I had heard a news report about an "IED-like device" supposedly found near Cincinnati, and if I thought we would soon start seeing IEDs here in the U.S. I replied that I had not heard the news story, but as to whether we would see IEDs here at home, the answer is yes.

One of the things U.S. troops are learning in Iraq is how people with little training and few resources can fight a state. Most American troops will see this within the framework of counterinsurgency. But a minority will apply their new-found knowledge in a very different way. After they return to the U.S. and leave the military, they will take what they learned in Iraq back to the inner cities, to the ethnic groups, gangs, and other alternate loyalties they left when they joined the service. There, they will put their new knowledge to work, in wars with each other and wars against the American state. It will not be long before we see police squad cars getting hit with IEDs and other techniques employed by Iraqi insurgents, right here in the streets of American cities.

I know this thought — not to speak of the reality when it happens — will be shocking to some readers. To anyone who really understands Fourth Generation war, it should not be. Fourth Generation war does not merely work on the will of a state’s political leaders, as some theorists have said. It does something far more powerful. It pulls an opposing state apart at the moral level.

We saw this phenomenon in the effect the defeat in Afghanistan had on the Soviet Union. Just as that defeat led to the disintegration of the USSR, so defeat in the current Afghan war will bring the disintegration of NATO. We are seeing 4GW pull Israel apart today, to the point where a leaden blanket of Kulturpessimismus now oppresses that country.

We will see the same thing here, powerfully I think, as a result of our defeat in Iraq. It will manifest itself in many ways, and one of those ways will be the progression of inner-city and gang crime into something close to warfare, including war against the state.

Police will not be surprised by this prediction. I have talked with cops about Fourth Generation war, and they "get it" much better than do American soldiers and Marines. Many have told me that they already recognize elements of war in what they are encountering, especially in inner cities. Cops have been killed while just sitting in their cruisers, because they represent the authority of the state. How big a step is it for those cruisers to get hit with IEDs instead of pistol shots?

The Bush administration, as usual, has it exactly backwards. The danger is not that the "terrorists" we are fighting in Iraq will come here if we pull out there. Rather, American involvement in 4GW in Iraq will create "terrorism" here from among the people we have sent to fight the war there. Well educated in the ways of successful insurgency, they will come home embittered by a lost war, by friends dead and crippled for life to no purpose. Thanks to America’s de-industrialization, they will return to no jobs, or lousy "service" jobs at minimum wage. Angry, frustrated and futureless, some of them will find new identities and loyalties in gangs and criminal enterprises, where they can put their new talents to work.

It will, of course, be only a small minority of returning troops who will go this route. But something else they will have learned from the Iraqi insurgents, along with how to make and deploy IEDs, is that it takes very few people to create and sustain an insurgency.

The boomerang effect is a central element of Fourth Generation war. When a state involves itself in 4GW over there, it lays a basis for 4GW at home. That is true even if it wins over there, and all the more true if it loses, as states usually do. The toxic fallout from America’s 4GW defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan will be far greater than most people expect, and it will fall most heavily on America’s police.

William Lind [send him mail] is an analyst based in Washington, DC.

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