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Thread: Strategy, Values and Ideas

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    Default Strategy, Values and Ideas

    At the start of this year, the UK Prime Minister opened a speech with the following:

    "Our response to the September 11 attacks has proved even more momentous than it seemed at the time. That is because we could have chosen security as the battleground. But we did not. We chose values. We said that we did not want another Taliban or a different Saddam Hussein. We knew that you cannot defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas". http://www.foreignaffairs.org/200701...al-values.html

    My question is this: Is it possible to fight ideas with ideas in the current environment and has it been done successfully before, not just in the recent past, but back to even biblical times. Blair goes on in his speech to suggest the spread of the Moslem Empire was itself a triumph of ideas rather than military might. The same could be said of the Roman and Macedonian Empires. Has the study of history concentrated too much on the military maneuvers rather than the moral and intellectual issues underpinning them?

    JD

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    Default A Mixture

    It has always been a combination of ideas, power and technology (the Romans brought a lot of societal upgrades.)(Indoor Plumbing ) To say that one of these was responsible would be myopic. In most cases though, one was the most dominant factor. Most often this has been military power.

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    Is it possible to fight ideas with ideas in the current environment and has it been done successfully before,
    I presume you are too young to remember the cold war? That was about fighting ideas with ideas.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JD
    Is it possible to fight ideas with ideas in the current environment and has it been done successfully before,
    Quote Originally Posted by walrus
    I presume you are too young to remember the cold war? That was about fighting ideas with ideas.
    When you quote another member's question, it should be with the intent of answering that question, or providing a link or resource pointing in the right direction.

    The original poster did not ask if there had been previously been a war that significantly involved fighting ideas with ideas - he asked if one had been fought successfully.

    Future responses of this nature will be deleted.

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    Ideas are the primary weapon of those who aren't in power. All they have to do is make promises. But if you are in power and all you have are grand ideas and promises, but you haven't done anything to improve the lot of the people, you're in trouble. "It's the economy, stupid." "What have you done for me lately." etc. It's a basic principle from domestic politics, but it applies equally well to our current conflict and COIN in general.

    So, in the current environment, I'd say we need more than just ideas to come out on top.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JD View Post
    At the start of this year, the UK Prime Minister opened a speech with the following:

    "Our response to the September 11 attacks has proved even more momentous than it seemed at the time. That is because we could have chosen security as the battleground. But we did not. We chose values. We said that we did not want another Taliban or a different Saddam Hussein. We knew that you cannot defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas". http://www.foreignaffairs.org/200701...al-values.html

    My question is this: Is it possible to fight ideas with ideas in the current environment and has it been done successfully before, not just in the recent past, but back to even biblical times. Blair goes on in his speech to suggest the spread of the Moslem Empire was itself a triumph of ideas rather than military might. The same could be said of the Roman and Macedonian Empires. Has the study of history concentrated too much on the military maneuvers rather than the moral and intellectual issues underpinning them?

    JD
    I'm not sure that you could say that the Roman Empire expanded based on ideas. The legions certainly had a fair amount to do with it, although the basis of the expansion was certainly based on ideas (as are most expansions....look at Manifest Destiny for one example). Hitler also tried to fight an idea (Bolshevism) with an idea (Nazism), although his was also certainly framed and underpinned by racial ideas as well (which could also be seen in a way as an idea fighting an idea).

    As for the study of history...you'll find so many shifts in this that it's hard to track them all. Military history has certainly gone through periods where it focused on maneuvers at a higher level instead of ideas, although that does also shift over time (look at some of the recent scholarship regarding the ideals of the men who fought the Civil War for some good examples of this).

    I think for your best examples of ideas fighting ideas you need to turn to politics. That is, after all, what they do on a day-to-day basis. The Green movement might also repay study, as their struggles are often in the realm of ideas (as are the anti-globalists...and I feel both groups have contributed much in terms of organization ideas and methods to the network-centric terrorist organizations we see with AQ and others).
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    Firstly, the cold war. It has been represented as an ideological struggle and I certainly think this was the basis of the conflict combined with some good old fashioned realist philosophy but to what extent did the ideas actually come into conflict? With the Iron Curtain firmly in place, to what extent were the peoples of communist countries exposed to western values, and if they weren't exposed, how can the war of ideas been waged? Is it not more that economic pressures eventually forced the elites to act? This obviously is only one perspective but I think it is perhaps seductive to believe that the values we hold dear won the great conflict of our recent past.

    With regard to ancient empires, I look at the trouble the west is experiencing in the Middle East with its unparalleled military might and wonder how the Roman, Muslim, Macedonian or British Empires could have possibly been kept intact without significant consent from the conquered people. If that is the case, then surely the idea of belonging to these civilizations was desirable and acceptable.

    Your thoughts?

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    Quote Originally Posted by JD View Post
    With regard to ancient empires, I look at the trouble the west is experiencing in the Middle East with its unparalleled military might and wonder how the Roman, Muslim, Macedonian or British Empires could have possibly been kept intact without significant consent from the conquered people. If that is the case, then surely the idea of belonging to these civilizations was desirable and acceptable.

    Your thoughts?
    I suspect that a different dynamic existed between the conquered elements of ancient empires and the perceived role of America today vis-avis the rest of the world. As a minimum, note that many of the sub-elements of the Roman republic/empire were called client kingdoms--that is they engaged in a give and take with Rome--Rome provided protestion from other forces that sought to upset a regime (or dynasty). In exchange, the client provided various goods for Roman consumption (including, BTW, specialized military forces). While America and Rome share a role as the world's policeman, Rome, unlike America, was usually invited to assume that role. America in 2007, unlike Rome in 0007, is perceived as a huge drain on the world's resources, providing little or no added value to the rest of world in exchange for its excessive consumption.

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    I would have have to agree with WM here at least in regards to the differences in imperial form. Let me toss out another difference; Rome, Britain, Macedonia, etc. were all openly imperialistic, even if that may have shown up in some odd ways (e.g. Britain's empire via mercantile trade corporations), while the US goes to great lengths to publicly state that it isn't an empire (something that might be believed by a slightly retarded chimp living in the Gombe reserve but by no one else). This creates a cognitive dissonance which, in turn, probably gives rise to many of the conspiracy theories running around today.

    Back to your question about ideas.

    There seems to be an assumption on the part of some people that ideas are somehow separate from the consequences of those ideas, but here really aren't. How you perceive the world is, in part, a function of how you conceive the world. If you want an example of a majority non-kinetic war of ideas, however, I would suggest that you look at the spread of Christianity into Europe (both pre- and post- Constantine), and at the spread of Buddhism. Other examples would include the development of social movements operating within societies, or with something like Ghandi's non-violent independence movement.
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    First let me apologise for my snarky comment regarding JD's original question.

    Yes, it is possible, in fact essential, to fight any war at all with ideas. They are an essential part of the armoury. Clausewitz specifically recognised this in stating that war was diplomacy by other means, and in stating that the objective was to break the enemy's will to fight.

    If you study the end of WW1, it was the German General staff that lost its nerve and then put it's faith in Woodrow Wilson's ideas for a negotiated settlement.

    The cold war involved a massive multi-country intellectual confrontation with the Soviets, that, in my opinion, dwarfed the military efforts.

    This was aimed at firstly selling the benefits of free market capitalism as well as highlighting the downside of command economies and repression. About the only thing left of this today is the Peace Corps. the Voice of America and perhaps some aid programs.

    If you lived in America, you would have seen very little of this effort as Europe was the main theatre. Typical programs were endless scholarships for any communist intellectual who wanted to visit and study in the west, multiple "friendship societies" and similar organisations aimed at getting the good news about western capitalism to the eastern bloc and taking any opportunity to pour scorn on the Russian "workers paradise" propaganda that they tried to foist on "non aligned" nations.

    Fruits of this program were "Prague Spring" and the Polish Solidarity movement

    The Russians simply gave up when they realised that the entire "workers paradise" charade simply couldn't be carried any further (it certainly would not have survived the internet). All of this infrastructure has been dismantled since the end of the cold war.

    Which begs the question - where is the similar and complementary effort to demonise Al Qaeeda in muslim eyes and win over the muslim world to our way of thinking??? It appears that only Dr. Kilcullen is trying to do this, and I suspect most of his efforts may simply be undoing some of the harm earlier "policy" decisions has done.

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    Default A War of Ideas Requires Some Ammunition.

    Quote Originally Posted by walrus View Post
    Yes, it is possible, in fact essential, to fight any war at all with ideas. They are an essential part of the armoury.

    . . .


    Which begs the question - where is the similar and complementary effort to demonise Al Qaeeda in muslim eyes and win over the muslim world to our way of thinking??? It appears that only Dr. Kilcullen is trying to do this, and I suspect most of his efforts may simply be undoing some of the harm earlier "policy" decisions has done.
    In order for the ideas to war one with another, the users of them must first know what they are. The Cold War was largely a Western event with a long history of similarities between the intellectual mindsets of the opposing sides. In other words, each side already had a pretty good idea what ideas were operative on the other side.

    I submit that the current conflict does not have the same easy understanding of the opponent's ideas. Once that understanding grows beyond its current pre-adolescent state (which is a good reason for getting some socio-psycho-anthropological efforts moving towards verstehen), things may change rather radically. In the mean time, calls for IO strategies, strategic communications plans, and other such tools will simply be attempting to engage in a battle of wits as an unarmed combatant.

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    Default A War of Ideas Requires Some Ammunition.

    Quote Originally Posted by walrus View Post
    Yes, it is possible, in fact essential, to fight any war at all with ideas. They are an essential part of the armoury.

    . . .


    Which begs the question - where is the similar and complementary effort to demonise Al Qaeeda in muslim eyes and win over the muslim world to our way of thinking??? It appears that only Dr. Kilcullen is trying to do this, and I suspect most of his efforts may simply be undoing some of the harm earlier "policy" decisions has done.
    In order for the ideas to war one with another, the users of them must first know what they are. The Cold War was largely a Western event with a long history of similarities between the intellectual mindsets of the opposing sides. In other words, each side already had a pretty good idea what ideas were operative on the other side.

    I submit that the current conflict does not have the same easy understanding of the opponent's ideas. Once that understanding grows beyond its current pre-adolescent state (which is a good reason for getting some socio-psycho-anthropological efforts moving towards verstehen), things may change rather radically. In the mean time, calls for IO strategies, strategic communications plans, and other such tools will simply be attempting to engage in a battle of wits as an unarmed combatant.

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    Default Ideas with Ideas

    I think it is possible to fight ideas with ideas, but it is important to understand that this is not to say that our goal should be to convince the advesary that our ideas are superior to theirs. For example, our goal for strategic influence should not necessarily be designed to convince the Muslim world why democracy, secularization, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press are the only acceptable elements of a modern society. Rather, fighting ideas with ideas may mean showing them how their own ideals may condemn illegitimate acts of violence. In Islam, "fitna" is their word describing divisions within Islam. It is a terrible state that must be avoided, and this is a view that is validated by many prominent Muslim scholars. So, when UBL states that the "near enemy" (backslidden Muslims) are legitimate targets, there is created there an ideological fissure that may be vulnerable for exploitation. In this way, we are using Muslim ideas to fight Muslim ideas, which is much more likely to succeed than fighting Muslim ideas with Western ideas!

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    Default Ideas -v- Ideas

    There is a debate reported within the Muslim world about current events, but as a Muslim (Deobandi) colleague admitted there is no debate - in the UK - on the 'J' question. What is really Jihad? Have the extremists hijacked Jihad from it's traditional interpretation?

    Is the "battle of ideas" one which non-Muslims can influence, even participate in? I have my doubts. So how can we as outsiders encourage and support the "battle"? By talent spotting those who will argue and providing covert support - shades of the Cold War.

    How can we do that outside Western Europe / USA? Where I suspect spotting and covert support are far more difficult. Are there people ready to argue?

    davidbfpo

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    Default Moderate Islamic Scholars

    Hi Davidbfpo,

    Good news. . .yes! Muslim scholars like Shaykh Salman al Qadah have criticized the 9/11 attacks for their blatant killing of noncombatants (Rosenau, 1142). In fact, Qadah is in favor of open dialogue with the West, and he is not the only Muslim scholar who thinks this way. Many moderate Muslim scholars already have an online presence (Resaba et al, 133). At www.free-minds.org, Saudi Islamic scholars advocate peaceful variants of dawa as a counter to the violent salafist ideology. The United States should support these types of scholars as an alternative to the violent preaching of Islamic insurgents, but support for these types should be covert because the Muslim world would see their message as tainted if openly backed by the United States.

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    I think you have it right Invictus. Professor Michael Howard in his excellent work "The Invention of Peace" talks about this in his last chapter prophetically called "The Tomahawk versus the Kalashnikov".

    He observes that in many countries (without naming names) the only people espousing western values are a very small elite of whom the majority of the population are deeply suspicious. Pakistan is, I think, a case in point.

    But it still begs the question: "what are we doing to win over Muslim moderates?". Where are the "alternative" schools to the madrassas? Where are the scholarships for muslim academics to visit the West? Where is the covert and overt support of moderate muslim opinion-makers and clerics? Where are the friendship societies, muslim-american solidarity committees, leagues of democratic muslim youth and the similar panoply of outreach organisations we employed to great effect during the cold war?

    I do not accept for one minute the "existential threat argument" since I have first hand expereince that the average muslim doesn''t give a damn about that - which is why many try and migrate (illegally) to the West.

    The only "outreach" we are doing these days seems to be with the bullet, the waterboard, and secret prisons, at least to the muslim mind.

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    Default Hard Power vs. Soft Power

    Hi Walrus,

    Thanks for the reply. You are right to suggest that we are relying too much on "hard power" (bullets). The funny thing is that hard power is a COA that could work. Unfortunately, it would take a merciless application of "hard power" in order to achieve success. For example, we could completely destroy a village from which a bomb maker is from. If we razed three or four Iraqi villages, I submit that this would have an affect on the number of people volunteering to make bombs. We could say, "Bomb makers! If we catch you making bombs, we are not only going to kill you but we are going to kill your family, your friends, and your dog!" This is the tactic that Alexander and the Roman Legions used to pacify conquered populations, and it is effective to a degree.

    The problem with this approach is that the American public, rightfully so, would not tolerate these tactics thereby dismissing them as legitimate COA. Public support for military action is a form of "soft power"; and in the 21st Century, "soft power" has become a much more critical component of military operations. A state can have the most advanced weaponry, the best trained military, and the most vibrant economy, all forms of "hard power", but still be rendered ineffective without the "soft power" of public support. Once policymakers grasp, which I believe they are, the reality of the importance of "soft power", we will be better able to develop and implement defense policies.

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    Default Alternative Model

    I have been thinking hard on this issue for a while now and I've laid out an alternative way to conceptualize the struggle for legitimacy. I am trying hard to think as originally as possible so not every idea is going to be a good one but at least there is room for discussion.

    Essentially, we are talking about fighting ideas - we are trying to bring about changes to peoples thinking to get them to act in ways we desire. In that case the battlefield is the mind of our adversary and this is where we make the conceptual leap. On this battlefield, we are the weak fighting the strong. If that is the case, we should employ classical insurgent philosophies where the currency is probably legitimacy rather than the classical measures of territory in the physical domain.

    Using Maoist philosophy for a physical campaign:
    "In China, the Maoist Theory of People's War divides warfare into three phases. In Phase One, the guerrillas earn the population's support by distributing propaganda and attacking the organs of government. In the Phase Two, escalating attacks are launched against the government's military forces and vital institutions. In Phase Three, conventional warfare and fighting are used to seize cities, overthrow the government, and assume control of the country." [Yes, itís from Wikipedia but it will do]

    Imagine instead a domain or battlefield occupied only by ideas with the government of those ideas being legitimacy becasue legitimacy sets the framework in which all other ideas operate. In the first phases, you erode the legitimacy of the opposition by attacking certain ideas that can be easily defeated. In the second phase, you develop your own legitimacy as an alternative to those of the opposition. In the last phase, your legitimacy enters into primacy and becomes the primary referent or government of the other ideas on the battlefield.

    Obviously this is all linked to acting in the physical realm.

    I throw this up as an alternative model mainly to get ideas so please let me know what you think.

    JD

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    The resignation of Karen P. Hughes as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy gives President Bush an opportunity to fix one of the most glaring blunders in his administration's response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- a failure to prioritize ideological warfare over public relations.

    How to Win The War Of Ideas
    By Robert Satloff
    Washington Post
    Saturday, November 10, 2007; Page A17

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    JD, I agree completely with you. After all, assuming that an Iraqi population is going to continue to exist in Iraq, and we are one day to leave, the only thing we can live behind are institutions based on our values and ideas. There can be no "victory" without this.

    For example, when Britain left India, they left behind their institutions, a civil service, and their values which still exist today as the fight in Pakistan between the High Court and the military is showing today.

    To my mind, the use of hard power in an insurgency is to defend the population, and especially the opinion leaders, from insurgents, so that ideas can spread, and the possibility of adopting Western patterns of behaviour (such as democracy) becomes thinkable, in that the consequences of the voicing of such sentiments is no longer a certain death at the hands of the insurgents.

    The problem of winning an insurgency situation then reduces to:

    1. What are the ideas, values, beliefs we wish to take hold and how do we model and promote them?

    2. How is our military force going support the modeling and promotion of our ideas, values and beliefs?

    You can then "chunk" the problem down from there.

    The policy blunders that have me tearing my hair out for the last five years all relate to our complete failure to model and promote our belief system (absent the one "purple finger" episode), starting by living up to it ourselves, in all our actions, even at cost to ourselves.

    To put it another way, why would an Iraqi sign up to a new and unfamiliar system of Government that admits the possibility of torture (waterboarding), detention without trial (Guantanamo, rendition), and a lack of personal privacy (FISA)? These things may have "saved" us from further attacks (although personally I doubt it), but at the cost of completely undermining our credibility as the high priests of Freedom, Liberty and Human Rights, and without that status, what are we offering Iraqis that Saadam didn't offer them?

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