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SWJED 03-06-2006 01:02 PM

The Lessons Of Lawrence
Moderator's Note: 8th January 2015 I have merged two SWJ Blog threads into this one. In January 2014 four others threads found, mainly SWJ Blog were merged in. The theme of each thread on a quick review was: can we learn from the past today?

4 March Long Island Newsday - Iraqi Insurgents Learning from Lawrence.


If anyone can claim credit for inventing the improvised explosive device, it's Lawrence of Arabia.

When insurgents in Iraq use IEDs to attack armored vehicles and disrupt U.S. supply lines, they are taking a page from the less-advanced tactics of T.E. Lawrence, the British adventurer who pioneered guerrilla warfare during the 1916-18 Arab revolt against Turkish rule. His main lesson for insurgents: If you're facing a bigger and better-armed adversary, don't engage him directly.

Lawrence introduced many innovations to modern guerrilla wars, but perhaps his most effective technique was the use of mines to disrupt Turkish trains and supply convoys. "We had proved that a well-laid mine would fire; and that a well-laid mine was difficult even for its maker to discover," he wrote in his 1922 memoir, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." "Mines were the best weapon yet discovered to make the regular working of their trains costly and uncertain for our Turkish enemy."...

[Lawrence] once famously said that suppressing a rebellion "is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife."

In his memoir, Lawrence argued that a native insurgency that is mobile and has natural cover and support from the population would always wear down a foreign occupier. "Granted mobility, security, time, and doctrine, victory will rest with the insurgents," he wrote...

As the Arabs' British liaison, Lawrence quickly became the military architect of the rebellion. He led small groups of fighters on raids against Turkish convoys and taught his guerrillas to plant mines underneath bridges and railroad tracks. "My pupils practiced the art of mining afterwards by themselves, and taught others," he wrote in "Seven Pillars."...

Lawrence's book has inspired many modern insurgent leaders. Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese general who fought the French colonization of Vietnam in the 1950s, once told a French adversary: "My fighting gospel is T.E. Lawrence's 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom.' I am never without it."

While Iraqi insurgents are applying the military tactics developed by Lawrence, they are ignoring his political lessons. They have disregarded the principles - of Lawrence and others - that guided most rebellions of the 20th century: Try to win broad public support; create a political wing; present an alternative system of governing, and build international legitimacy. This insurgency also has no charismatic leader, no clear chain of command and not even a cohesive ideology.

Lawrence argued that, in order to succeed, insurgents must have at least passive support from the local population. "Rebellions can be made by 2 percent actively in the striking force and 98 percent passively sympathetic," he wrote.

Since a wave of car bombings began in August 2003, Iraqi insurgents have shown a willingness to kill civilians indiscriminately. With each new bombing that targeted a market, a mosque or a wedding party, the guerrillas lost another chance to win Iraqi hearts and minds.

Some segments of the insurgency are hoping to foment a sectarian war that would lead to the partitioning of Iraq into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions.

"In Iraq, the insurgents are deliberately killing large numbers of civilians," said Kamil Tawil, a Lebanese historian and expert on militant movements. "And that is turning a large segment of the population against them."...

GorTex6 03-06-2006 05:59 PM


Lawrence's book has inspired many modern insurgent leader
Add the IRA to his list of offspring. There is Lawrence throughout the old relic.

Bill Moore 03-06-2006 06:32 PM

Amazing man, but
Lawrence of Arabia was one of the most amazing men that the West has ever produced. However, like Clausewitz, not all of his ideas are applicable to every situation in the world. The author notes that the Iraqi Insurgents have neglected Lawrence's political ideas, and he assumes that since the insurgents are targeting civilians indiscriminately that they'll fail. Yet the facts on the ground tend to counter this argument. While the attacks do turn some segments of the population against the insurgents, for the most part (with a few exceptions) they still have freedom of movement throughout Iraq, and still control several areas within Iraq. If the acts are explicable to the Iraqi people, then they will continue to achieve effects. We can't blindly apply what I call Western logic to other cultures.

Admittedly the Iraqi insurgents appear to be their own worst enemy when we view them through our eyes and doctrine, and they have even apparently been counseled by AQ leadership on their indiscriminate mayhem, but none the less they're still effective. Why? This is the question we really need to answer.

Also, there are several insurgent groups in Iraq, and each one has a different agenda. In some cases indiscriminate targeting of population helps them achieve their goals. They don’t want a peaceful Iraq in the near term, but rather Civil War. Others like the AQI, want to use Iraq to destabilize the Middle East to help achieve their objectives, so Lawrence’s arguments in this case may not apply.

Stratiotes 03-10-2006 06:07 PM

I have to agree with you on the targetting of non-combatants and the effect in Iraq. I think we could alter our understanding of the concept and say not so much that targetting civilians turns the public against the attacker - I think it more often just turns the public against whoever is seen as the party in charge.

Instead of thinking of insurgents, think instead of a natural disaster - like Katrine for instance. When destruction comes to the people they blame not the weather but the administration in Washington, DC. The destruction is obviously not their fault but the people are understandibly angry and want to lash out so they lash out at the most convenient target - and one they feel is responsible for their well-being.

It is not necessarily the one who does the attacking that loses credibility - it is the one you think is responsible for your well being who gets the blame. That may not be right but that's the way it is.

We talked in another thread a while back about legitimacy - who is the legitimate power? Insurgents have an advantage in that they do not have to prove they are the legitimate authority - they only have to challenge the legimitacy of the current authority. That's why they can target non-combatants and still gain while the authorities cannot. In both cases, it weakens the legitimacy of the current authority. It is much easier to challenge the status quo than it is to offer an actual alternative.

Bill Moore 03-14-2006 02:44 AM

Well put

Your comments were interesting and well put. Do you know if there is a name for the theory or hypothesis you articulated about who gets the blame? This is definitely worthy of further discussion and hopefully we can find some way to mitigate the impact of this syndrome. Perhaps not, but we have to at least calculate the impact of it before we go in.

Tom Odom 11-16-2006 01:29 PM

TE Lawrence, "Evolution of a Revolt"
Latest history lesson:


Then I estimated how many posts they would need to contain this attack in depth, sedition putting up her head in every unoccupied one of these hundred thousand square miles. I knew the Turkish Army inside and out, and allowing for its recent extension of faculty by guns and aeroplanes and armoured trains, still it seemed it would have need of a fortified post every four square miles, and a post could not be less than twenty men. The Turks would need six hundred thousand men to meet the combined ill wills of all the local Arab people. They had one hundred thousand men available... The Turk was stupid and would believe that rebellion was absolute, like war, and deal with it on the analogy of absolute warfare. Analogy is fudge, anyhow, and to make war upon rebellion is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.

This history lesson is both old and new. Old in that I am again offering T.E. Lawrence's Evolution of a Revolt, a paper I used in a history lesson back in 2003 when the application of the term "insurgency" in Iraq was under debate. New in that it bears looking at with the benefit of three years hindsight. The Combat Studies Institute offers this paper as a reprint (see the link below).


Remember when you read this paper, that T.E. Lawrence was not the typical British officer of his day. Indeed he was not the typical Britain of his day. But much has been made of Lawrence as the prototype foreign area officer/unconventional warfare genius of his day. He was in many ways just that, a genius who found it difficult to fit into his own society and ultimately failed to fit into his adopted Arab world.


So why do I offer "Evolution of a Revolt" again? Simply that it remains a remarkable template for insurgent strategy in Iraq and even Afghanistan, one based on insights from a successful rebel/insurgent who unhinged the Turkish occupation of the Middle East.



As was almost inevitable in view of the general course of military thinking since Napoleon, we all looked only to the regulars to win the war. We were obsessed by the dictum of Foch that the ethic of modern war is to seek for the enemy's army, his centre of power, and destroy it in battle. Irregulars would not attack positions and so they seemed to us incapable of forcing a decision.
In this analysis, Lawrence broke away from what he describes as the trap of conventional thinking. Indeed, Lawrence admits that at first he and the other British and Arab leaders found themselves mired in that same trap, trying to use the irregular Arab forces to defend conventionally, when he had already realized they could not attack conventionally.



...the books gave me the aim in war quite pat, "the destruction of the organized forces of the enemy" by "the one process battle." Victory could only be purchased by blood. This was a hard saying for us, as the Arabs had no organized forces, and so a Turkish Foch would have no aim: and the Arabs would not endure casualties, so that an Arab Clausewitz could not buy his victory.
Lawrence realized that penning the Turks in Medina and allowing limited use of their rail supply lines essentially achieved the aim of the Arab Revolt years before WWI ended. A foe confined to base is a foe contained and possibly defeated. Indeed such confinement whether self-inflicted or enforced by an enemy surrenders not only "99 per cent" of the terrain but all of the population that resides on that terrain.



It was the ethical in war, and the process on which we mainly depended for victory on the Arab front. The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armoury of the modern commander, and we, being amateures in the art of command, began our war in the atmosphere of the twentieth century, and thought of our weapons without prejudice, not distinguishing one from another socially.
"The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armoury of the modern commander"hopefully jumps out at anyone reading the above paragraph. Lawrence states that the importance of the word as a weapon was more readily apparent to him as an amateur than his professional counterparts. Translate "printing press" to information operations and then ask yourself have we really changed that much from the days of T.E. Lawrence: have we truly grasped the primacy of IO in winning a population during counter-insurgency operations (COIN)? I believe that we have, although not as rapidly as we should have.


Finally in looking at this paper I urge you to read it through to the end for Lawrence reserved his most important messages for the final page. There Lawrence offers his requirements for a successful revolt (insurgency). And before those who would dismiss revolt as something different from insurgency, Lawrence uses the term insurgent to make his points.



It seemed that rebellion must have an unassailable base, something guarded not merely from attack, but from the fear of it: such a base as we had in the Red Sea Ports, the desert, or in the minds of the men we converted to our creed.

Much has been written since WWII especially on Algeria and Indochina (Vietnam) on the subject of COIN. And gratefully much of that writing has resurfaced and been incorporated in discussions on COIN in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the greater COIN effort called the Global War on Terror. Nearly all of those writings have postulated that a successful insurgency must have a sanctuary or base beyond the reach of counter insurgent forces. Lawrence writing this paper in 1920 correctly points out that the ultimate sanctuary of the insurgent is inside the minds of the insurgents and their supporters.



It must have a sophisticated alien enemy, in the form of a disciplined army of occupation too small to fulfill the doctrine of acreage: too few to adjust number to space, in order to dominate the whole area effectively from fortified posts.
Lawrence choice of words--or at least as I interpret his writing--was careful. This short quote reflects that care; the numbers issue is obvious and has been well debated in terms of OIF and more recently OEF. But look at the concept of an "alien" enemy. At first glance, one might--wrongly--assume all enemies are alien. Certainly in the case of an occupying force that is usually the case. But in a COIN environment, not all enemies are alien; in this short paper, Lawrence highlights the use of Arab members of the Turkish Army who defected to the rebel cause. In a larger sense, though, Lawrence was speaking of an enemy that remains alien or alienates itself from the population.



It must have a friendly population, not actively friendly, but sympathetic to the point of not betraying rebel movements to the enemy. Rebellions can be made by 2 per cent. active in a striking force, and 98 per cent. passively sympathetic.
COIN theory keys on the role of the population as the objective of COIN operations and strategy. Dr. Kalev Sepp in his "Best Practices in COIN" article for Military Review rightly highlights this factor. French Colonel (now deceased) David Galula similarly points out the pivotal role of the population in COIN. Lawrence offers the insight that a passive population is a population essentially friendly to the insurgents.



The few active rebels must have the qualities of speed and endurance, ubiquity and independence of arteries of supply. They must have the technical equipment to destroy or paralyze the enemy's organized communications, for irregular war is fairly Willisen's definition of strategy, "the study of communication" in its extreme degree, of attack where the enemy is not.
Lawrence's campaign against the Turkish rail net was not to cut them as lines of communications, but to make the Turks feel the pinch of lost supplies and infrastructure. In this paper he essentially identifies material as a Turk center of gravity, stating that the Turks cared about lost equipment--especially rail--much more than losses in soldiers. The Arabs on the other could not sustain casualties and Lawrence sought to hurt the Turks by targeting their rail LOCs, not their strong points. In many ways the enemy's use of improvised explosive devices has repeated this strategy while changing its target to Coalition soldiers.



In fifty words: Granted mobility, security (in the form of denying targets to the enemy), time, and doctrine (the idea to convert every subject to friendliness), victory will rest with the insurgents, for the algebraical factors are in the end decisive, and against them perfections of means and spirit struggle quite in vain.
Ypu can read or download this paper at CSI .


MASON 11-16-2006 04:33 PM

Thank you
Great read and analysis.

Rob Thornton 04-28-2008 02:44 AM

Lawrence and his Message - by Robert Bateman @ the SWJ Blog
I thought Robert Bateman's latest blog had some good insights - it is all too often that we take what sounds like a good piece of advice from its proper context and apply it liberally to whatever ails us.

However, I think he basically uses the same the same type of bias in his closing paragraph:

From Blog:


If Lawrence were still around, working as a strategist for the Iranians, for example, he would certainly be advocating this position. After all, so long as the greater part of the land combat power of the United States is consumed in attempting to squelch violence in Iraq, those forces cannot be used elsewhere. He would, as he did along the Hejaz railway, recommend calibrated support to agitated elements inside Iraq. His advice to his higher command would be that they never allow the pressure to drop so much that we withdraw after declaring a victory, nor raising the pressure so high that we actually quit the place. Iraq, through the eyes of Lawrence, is our Medina.
I think its wrong to assume Lawrence would try and advocate the same position as though the political context of his time could be laid down upon the current one. The Iraqis are not the Bedu, Iraq is not Arabia as Lawrence knew it. The Americans are not the Ottomans or the Germans. Iran is Iran, and the political context of today is different for a number of reasons. Iran may or may not view its interests as keeping a large U.S. presence in Iraq, from our standpoint we are strengthening Iran's neighbor who also happens to have been a formidable enemy in the not too distant past. Our presence there and our commitment to regional allies could also be seen as standing in the way of Iran extending its influence.

I think a legitimate argument could be made that if Iran continues to foment distrust against its Arab neighbors across the Gulf, and if it continues to threaten Israel, and if it continues to support terrorism, and if it continues to support proxies, and if it continues to pursue a nuclear program that seems geared toward nuclear armament, then it will create a political context that put it at odds in the region and possibly with regard to much of the West.

If Iraq gains strength militarily, economically and politically (and I believe it will) - it alters the context further. With its oil revenue, Iraq stands to be a different state then it was under Saddam. Its a combination of its how it is reforming (yes it is slow, and it is violent - political transformation usually is) and its economic potential that stand to make it among the most powerful states in the region. Its alliance with the United States - and yes I call them an ally, and the process which have grown its institutions will make it a formidable regional player.

My point is the same one that Robert Bateman used in developing the argument - context matters. The conditions and all the possibilities must be considered. I'm not so sure that:


His advice to his higher command would be that they never allow the pressure to drop so much that we withdraw after declaring a victory, nor raising the pressure so high that we actually quit the place. Iraq, through the eyes of Lawrence, is our Medina.
is sound advice to Iranian leadership, we are not just sitting idly by allowing ourselves to be strategically fixed - there is more to our end then extracting ourself from Iraq. There is also the question of crossing a threshold you did not intend to cross by upping the ante with regard to "keeping up the pressure" and triggering an event you did not anticipate, or wish to happen, after all, this an environment where chance often influences policy in unanticipated ways.

Best, Rob

SWJED 04-28-2008 04:17 AM

... the link.

Ken White 04-28-2008 05:48 AM

Good post, Rob.

"Iraq, through the eyes of Lawrence, is our Medina."
Cool. Except the issue is how we see it. Besides, Lawrence is dead... :D

Tom Odom 04-28-2008 02:17 PM

Lawrence and The Evolution of a Revolt
1 Attachment(s)
As a historical metaphor. Rob, I have used Lawrence twice in the past 5 years to illustrate what was happening with the insurgency in Iraq via my history lessons.

The problem with Bateman's sourcing is that he would have been on much safer ground had he done the same. Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a turgid, wandering, and very much self-promotying memoir that has been effectively challenged with regards to accuracy.

You can read a better essay by Lawrence here at The Evolution of Revolt

My last use of this essay is introduced in the attachment.


JJackson 04-28-2008 05:51 PM

Am I missing something?
While I know little about Lawrence beyond a bit of general knowledge, Bateman’s post and that film the conclusion – if not the route taken to get there - seems valid.
The conclusion being this part from Rob’s original post.

After all, so long as the greater part of the land combat power of the United States is consumed in attempting to squelch violence in Iraq, those forces cannot be used elsewhere.
Many of you have significant military backgrounds and I have none but it seems to me looking at it from the position of an Iranian military strategist this would make perfect sense.
That it would be in Iran’s interests to keep the US forces occupied elsewhere would seem obvious. The one recent occurrence most likely to influence their thinking would have been the NIE report - which knocked the wind out of some of the more hawkish sails and so will have reduced their fear of attack. As seen from an Iranian standpoint up until the NIE report a quick clean Phase III to Phase IV transition – a la Rumsfeld, Feith & friends – would have left the US with troops free to deal with another axis-of-evil target. A little aid to those in a position to keep those forces otherwise engaged would seem to be a cost effective solution.
Faced with a similar problem in Afghanistan the US supplied the insurgents in the same way – training, weapons. As they were militarily and diplomatically fire proof they were unconcerned about the source of supply being traced back to them, they also supplied MANPADs. One suspects that a traceable supply of man-portable anti-amour or air-defence would, in this context, be enough to provoke an attack on Iran.

Steve Blair 04-28-2008 06:15 PM

I just replied to this one...spurred on more by Gian's little snip than Bateman's entry, honestly. He does take the example out of context, and like Tom I've seen many serious questions raised about the Seven Pillars and indeed the overall impact of Lawrence in the area. There's good points there, to be sure, but I think the conclusion is a bit shaky.

JJackson, I moved my original reply to better deal with the points you raised. While the situation may look similar on the surface, there are in fact a great many differences both in terms of the overall strategic situation and the makeup of the groups involved. For the Ottoman Empire, Arabia was a weak flank - menaced by a sizable British force in the bargain. They lacked the manpower and transportation infrastructure (which they had in common with all WW I powers) to deal with multiple threats, and Lawrence's activities posed major problems for them in this regard. The Ottoman army was also a fairly weak reed in this theater, and it was facing an invigorated command under Allenby. Given the WW I framework, abandoning the region wasn't an option for them.

That said, in realpolitik terms the US has more options than the Turks did when facing Lawrence. Currently we do have a large number of ground forces in Iraq, but they aren't tied there by the same considerations that kept the Turks locked in place. Remember, I'm not talking from the morally right or wrong standpoint here, but what could be considered international 'reality.' The US could easily declare victory and leave, or taper off the ground force presence under a pretext similar to that used in South Vietnam (where we pulled out and stayed out in terms of ground forces in the face of two major attacks on our ally).

And, as Rob points out, since this isn't taking place against the backdrop of a major world conflict, there are many variables that Lawrence didn't have to consider. Since the situation hasn't escalated yet (at least in "world war" terms), both sides have to consider the possibility that it could jump into areas neither want to go to.

Interesting article, but again I think he's taking history out of context.

Rob Thornton 04-29-2008 03:34 AM

Steve, Well said:


Since the situation hasn't escalated yet (at least in "world war" terms), both sides have to consider the possibility that it could jump into areas neither want to go to.
I think it comes down to misunderstanding the stakes for one side or another (or as Clausewitz said "the object in view"), and the lengths that a side is willing to go to secure those ends. It would be a mistake for anyone to assume that because the bulk of our land power (meaning that which we use to compel others through through displacement and occupation of the same space) is involved in Iraq and Afghanistan that we are unable to employ the military element of national power toward a political end.

Its worth considering that any state that has an economy such as Iran has plenty of fixed site assets, and plenty that must be mobile to exert influence or fulfill their function, and as such they are at risk. Having said that, the damage done in terms of disrupting energy resources to other states who import from Iran; the risk that the military action will not wholly succeed; that it might engender other military reactions (both by Iran and others); that the action might risk other objectives; or the risk of creating conditions within Iran where instability is likely because we destroy its security and C2 assets are examples of possibilities that must all be weighed as risks against the use of military force to achieve a political objective. Its an environment where chance and the unknown are competitive.

Keeping that in mind, the value and attraction of the object in view - be it success in Iraq and the risk to U.S. military members, the risk of a nuclear armed Iran, or the possibility of a military empowered Iran that unduly influences the flow of world energy resources from the Persian Gulf - or any combination thereof - creates the opportunity for misjudgment and misinterpretation that leads to a new set of interactions.

A Iranian strategy that seeks to prolong the U.S. involvment in Iraq by supporting insurgency must be weighed against the possibilities that it by itself, or in combination with some other act (such as going nuclear, or some other action) may then require a reaction on the part of the U.S. that the other elements of policy (DIE) can no longer achieve.

In this context, I think there is a great deal of risk for Iran in adopting such a strategy. It doesn't mean that Iran has not done so - their actions would seem to suggest either they have adopted some policy aimed at supporting Shiite insurgents/groups, or it could be that the central authority does not have complete control, or that they have not considered alternatives for whatever reason -e.g. they may believe its a question of regime survival, or it may be that they believe they are somehow immune. If its the former, then diplomacy may work over time. If its the latter, sooner or later diplomacy will be ineffective. At that point its a question of how long before the two sets of political ends must be reconciled in some other fashion. Either side could come to that conclusion erroneously or at a different time then the other - but once they do, and once they act, it changes the nature of the interaction and stakes again. It stays this way until one side abandons, or modifies its end to a point that is acceptable by the other.

Best, Rob

JJackson 04-29-2008 01:39 PM

Loads of good stuff in your posts and thanks for taking the time to reply.
Steve I had read your blog post and am in complete agreement re the limited scope for escalation then – as opposed to now – and off course the obvious adjustments Lawrence would have had to make to is math if he had had satellite surveillance, UAVs, instant radio communication and supersonic air support to contend with. From Rob’s post

e.g. they may believe its a question of regime survival, or it may be that they believe they are somehow immune. If its the former, then diplomacy may work over time. If its the latter, sooner or later diplomacy will be ineffective.
what I was trying to argue was that – regardless of any lessons we could learn from Lawrence – Iran may well have viewed the situation at the end of OIF phase III as ‘a question of regime survival’. Iran and the US have obviously not learnt to play nicely together and the level of mistrust and propaganda is very high leading to an increased risk of escalation by miscalculation.
I went back to the blog to re-read the comments before writing this and found three new comments: Zenpundits (always worth reading), Ken’s (pithy and astute as usual) and this one which rather makes my point for me.

arifJAA :
Excellent article, excellent points.

With the Iranian youth largely anti-regime why we can't do the same to them eludes me. It's more than justified.

I have a confession...when I came back in 2003 I thought Iraq was the toehold and we were going to sweep the least Iran and Syria. As the Iranian youth rose in spontaneous revolt at the time of the 2003 invasion I may not have been as foolish as I feel now, or perhaps I was not the only one fooled.
Anyone else care to share?

"*The American Army's seduction over Galula
*The Straight line drawn between Generals Abrams and Petraeus"

If LTC Gentile wants to draw eerie parallels to of my early mentors was a SF Advisor in 1965. He said at the time of LBJ's major infusion of troops the Army officers of Company and Field Grade rank thought they would drive into North Vietnam. We know what happened instead.
[the bold is mine - JJ]

Leaving aside the reliability of “With the Iranian youth largely anti-regime”.
Also leaving aside the legality/moral legitimacy of The ‘Democratic Crescent’ dream arifJAA refers to it was prevalent at the time and it, along with, axis-of-evil status, calls for regime change, claims of WMD production and the carte-blanche afforded by the pre-emptive use of force doctrine combine to leave Iran with little choice but to view the US threat as existential. I would further argue that the US has, in its GWOT response to 9/11, ‘re-assessed’ its position on a large number of hitherto generally accepted norms of international behaviour (extraordinary rendition, treatment of prisoners (detention without trial & ‘enhanced interrogation’), the whole issue of State Sovereignty & fragile States and the aforementioned pre-emptive use of force). This combination has left other State and non-State actors– myself included – confused as to where the US stands and how it is likely to react in any given situation. Which leads me back to Rob & Steve’s point re escalation; how can any state now assess the likelihood of escalation, and if they can’t reliably, will they not default to planning for a worst case scenario: massive military build up and more nuclear weapon states.
Pre 9/11 I would have accused anyone who told me that within five years the US might think it had the right to march an army through the Middle East, replacing regimes it did not like as it went, a paranoid lunatic – I wish I could say the same today.

Ken White 04-29-2008 05:15 PM


"This combination has left other State and non-State actors– myself included – confused as to where the US stands and how it is likely to react in any given situation."
I am quite convinced that's a feature, not a bug; i.e it is by design.

It has also been long and is now quite true and should be borne in mind by all...

Rob Thornton 04-29-2008 10:52 PM

While the reaction can be seen as rational in the context of the moment that created it, it might not be seen as such before it occurs, - or after the fact when additional information has borne out that the reaction might have either been inappropriate or generated consequences we'd have preferred left in the bottle.

Those non-linear outcomes are in keeping with the nature of complex interactions where fear, honor and interest are at stake, and where the cost of military inaction is seen as too high (see Colin Gray's "The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines: A Reconsideration" for a good discussion).

As Ken said, it is a feature - its simply a more visible feature when the stakes are perceived as higher and the mutual understanding between enemies/competitors is lower with regard to the stakes.

Best Rob

JJackson 04-30-2008 09:06 PM


Originally Posted by Ken White (Post 46317)
I am quite convinced that's a feature, not a bug; i.e it is by design.

It has also been long and is now quite true and should be borne in mind by all...

Ken: By design?
I was thinking more unintended but not unwelcome side effect. Although I am sure there is someone out there writing their book who will remember it differently. For it to be a design feature some prescient US foreign policy wonks on Sept. 12th must have 'felt the force' flowing through all those non-linear outcomes until they clearly saw the confusion a disproportionate response would sow in their enemies. Just a shame they could not have foreseen a few other things while they were at it.
And there was I thinking you were a cynic rather than a true believer.

Rob thanks for the link, I am about half way through (finding him slow to get to the point) and suspect I am not going to agree with his premise when I am done but we shall see.

Hacksaw 04-30-2008 09:26 PM

By design or not
Ken et al,

Whether the ambiguity we have sown (regarding likely US response to other State and non-State actions) was by design or not, I think it is an incredibly important/dangerous development.

I think we can all agree that surprise is a good thing when applied to military activity (except of course when we surprise ourselves... hello this isn't the enemy we planned for... that is a not so good surprise).

An analogy (please bear with me)...

However, surprise is not so good when your girl friend's father comes home early and finds his baby naked and in your arms... However, you can deal with this surprise if you had some reasonable expectation of his reaction (e.g. throws you out of the house and tells you not to return).

If, however, his response is cut off your package, break both your knees, and drop you off naked in the middle of the country... well that is a rather bad surprise.

If there was this much ambiguity there would be very little dating and our supply of warrior babies would drop to a dangerously low level.

From Grand Strategy point of view we want and need to be predictable... one way or another... its the only way to maintain some semblence of global stability.

I vote for Fathers with a more predictable response...

Unless of course it involves my two teenage daughters... That blade is well honed

Live well and row

Ken White 04-30-2008 10:16 PM

I think so...

Originally Posted by JJackson (Post 46391)
Ken: By design?

That doesn't mean it was a major issue, merely a synergistic side effect.One of many such small benefits if the operation succeeded but that would not be too harmful should it not succeed.

I was thinking more unintended but not unwelcome side effect. Although I am sure there is someone out there writing their book who will remember it differently. For it to be a design feature some prescient US foreign policy wonks on Sept. 12th must have 'felt the force' flowing through all those non-linear outcomes until they clearly saw the confusion a disproportionate response would sow in their enemies.
Eminently possible, we'll find out some day. Maybe.

Just a shame they could not have foreseen a few other things while they were at it.
We can agree on the thrust of that if not the wording. It was foreseen, those who foresaw were simply ignored.

And there was I thinking you were a cynic rather than a true believer.
Unsure what you mean by that. If it is that I am a supporter of the way things are being done, you're quite wrong. I have said before I wouldn't have done a lot of things the way they're being done. Wasn't my call. I do agree that some response above Afghanistan was long overdue and that Iraq makes strategic sense. Things don't have to be done my way to be work.

Though it would usually be helpful to all if they were done that way ;) .

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