Americans refuse to face realities of fourth-generation war

By WILLIAM S. LIND  |  April 20, 2009 at 4:13 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 20 (UPI) -- The 300th column in this series offers a useful point from which to look back. Events since the first installment of "Waging War" have, I think, generally validated the four-generation framework of modern war.

Iraq was not a cakewalk, nor did the initial U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late November 2001 in retaliation for the al-Qaida terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, eviscerate the Taliban. Mullah Omar, the ruler of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, proved the better prophet: Before the first American bomb fell, he said, "We will lose the government and lose Kabul, but it doesn't matter."

What lessons might we draw from the previous 299 columns and their interplay with the larger world? Three seem to me to be of overriding importance.

First, so long as America pursues an offensive grand strategy, fourth-generation war will ensure her defeat. The reason is Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld's concept of the power of weakness and its intimate relationship with legitimacy.

In a 4G world, legitimacy is the coin of the realm. At root, 4GW is a contest for legitimacy between the state and a wide variety of non-state primary loyalties. American power lacks legitimacy because, on the physical level, it is so overwhelming.

That is the power of weakness: Anyone who stands up to the American military becomes a hero. In turn, any state the American military supports loses its legitimacy. The more places America intervenes militarily, the more states lose their legitimacy, to the advantage of 4G, non-state entities.

In effect, the United States has a reverse Midas touch. Only a defensive grand strategy, where the United States minds its own business and leaves other states to mind theirs, can break the nation out of this downward spiral.

Second, 2G militaries cannot win 4G wars. Second-generation armed forces, such as those of the United States, fight by putting firepower on targets. This wins at the physical level, but as it does so, it brings defeat at the moral level, which is decisive in 4GW.

The best current example is Pakistan, where the combination of Predator strikes and arm-twisting of the Pakistani government has undermined the legitimacy of the Pakistani state. That state now stands on the verge of disintegration, which would give al-Qaida and other Islamic 4GW forces the greatest victory they could imagine. The image on Osama bin Laden's cave wall should be a Predator, with the title, "Our best weapon."

Third, there is no chance the United States will adopt a defensive grand strategy or reform its military to move from the second to the third generation -- a necessary, though not sufficient, step in confronting the insurgent challenges of fourth-generation war -- so long as the current Washington establishment remains in power.


Part 2: Why the political establishment of the United States is doomed to fail and fall


(William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.)

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