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Kick Down the Doors and Beat 'Em Up

One of the purposes of this column is to share with readers the results of the monthly seminar I lead on Fourth Generation warfare. The focus is on the tactical and the practical, ideas that might be of use to American troops who have to face Fourth Generation war in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. That is not to say that I or others in the seminar support the strategy that got us there; it merely recognizes that the strategy has dumped a singularly ugly baby in the laps of our lance corporals and lieutenants.

Most of the members of the seminar are active duty Marines. Although I take an occasional shot at the Marine Corps — someone has to cut through Marines’ love for their own bullsh–, and I find the task congenial — the fact is that the Marine Corps has done more serious thinking about war over the last twenty years than the other services put together.

We gathered on a frosty January evening with a good fire, plenty of beer for the Marines and port for the civilized. Much of our discussion revolved around what the military might learn from police. Police seek to defuse situations, to de-escalate them, which is what our military needs to do in many, perhaps most, Fourth Generation situations. Escalation works to the advantage of our enemies on the moral level; de-escalation undermines them by allowing normal life to flourish.

We quickly encountered a serious obstacle: language. Cops solve at least 90% of all situations by talking. Talking is an alternative to fighting and therefore a critically important tool for de-escalation. The problem is, in places like Iraq our troops cannot talk to the locals because they do not speak the language.

We need help from locals to solve this, but how do we get it? In Iraq, we are trying to set up police forces that work for us. But working for us can easily be fatal, both physically and to the legitimacy of the Iraqi police. Many are responding, as they must to survive, by working for both sides at the same time.

How can we obtain the loyalty of locals? What if along with money we offered green cards? When Romans occupied an area, they quickly recruited local auxilia who, by twenty years of loyal service to the legions, earned Roman citizenship. Maybe we could develop a program like the KATUSA program in Korea, which recruited Koreans to serve in U.S. infantry companies.

Another police question was whether we should equip our troops with shields and riot gear. This brought sharp disagreement; some thought yes, because without shields we are vulnerable to rock-throwers (who are often kids), while others said no because it signals that you are prepared to stand there and take a beating.

One Marine said that the Marine Reservists he worked with in the first phase of the Iraq war who were cops had a problem: they could not escalate when the situation required it. Was this their police training working against them? Possibly, but might the situation be reversed in subsequent phases, i.e., the occupation and the fight against Fourth Generation elements?

Is perhaps the best achievable outcome in places like Iraq a situation where the locals expend their energies fighting each other? This is far from the neo-con’s objective of "peaceful, democratic capitalism," but that objective was a fantasy from the outset. It may be time for the foreign policy idealists to exit stage left while the realists enter. Mike Vlahos’ excellent paper, "Terror’s Mask: Insurgency Within Islam," may point the way here — along with our old friend Machiavelli.

If that is the strategy, might the best tactic be getting local factions to do our fighting for us? We have no long-term need for places like Fallujah, but someone who lives there may want it. If they can take it, make an alliance with them and help them do so. What if "someone" is the Baath? Perhaps it is time to say, "Any old port in a storm." We seem to be taking a Baath in Iraq as it is.

One model that keeps coming up in our discussions is the CAP program from Vietnam. One member of the seminar who had been in Iraq said he had lieutenants who were very good at settling their platoons into a neighborhood and becoming part of it. We are far from having enough troops to do this everywhere in Iraq, but maybe doing it in some places would set an example and provide a moral victory.

How do we train Marines for all this? We recognized that the problem would come when they took casualties and all the rage and hate and desire for revenge came to the surface. Role-playing might help, including putting Marines in the roles of locals who get humiliated by foreign troops. One pilot suggested SEER school might be a model — that is training where pilots get "shot down and captured," and have to try to survive and escape.

Another idea was to give each patrol a camera. If someone shoots at them, instead of blasting back with the high risk of hitting civilians, get a picture of the shooter. Then, you can either get snipers to hunt him down or take out a contract — the Mafia model — and let locals take care of him. Sometimes "no fingerprints" is more effective than running up a score.

What message do we send to proud people like the Iraqis when we establish a "little America" for our troops, where they live not only separated from the population but also in effect sneering at them? What if instead we did like every other army in history and billeted among the local population, paying them well (in gold perhaps) for the quarters?

Our central conundrum remains what it has been for the last few meetings of the seminar: everything we are talking about is part of just one model, one alternative to the "kick down the doors and beat ’em up" model the Army now appears to be using in Iraq. What if our model, the de-escalation model also fails? We still have no answer for that one.

William Lind Archives