On War #154
Army Wins One
By William S. Lind
If the Army’s record against Navy in football has not been too encouraging in recent years, West Point has nonetheless scored a big upset in a contest that counts for rather more. West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, a project of the Military Academy’s Department of Social Sciences, has just published one of the most thoughtful and potentially most useful papers anyone has written on the so-called “War on Terrorism.” Harmony and Disharmony: Exploiting al-Qa’ida’s Organizational Vulnerabilities – the title echoes John Boyd – offers a far more sophisticated approach to terrorism than the “kill or capture” method currently in vogue with the U.S. government.
The bulk of the paper is summaries of translations of some of al-Qa'ida’s own key documents, materials that allow other analysts to see al-Qa'ida as it sees itself. As the study notes, “Any external assessment of al-Qa’ida’s weaknesses will have inherent limitations. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point believes an internal assessment – from actual members of the al-Qa’ida organization – is the best method to accurately assess their own true vulnerabilities.” That is correct, and providing materials that offer such an internal assessment would alone make this a valuable paper.
But in fact Harmony and Disharmony does a great deal more. For the first time in any U.S. Army materials I have seen, it offers an approach to fighting al-Qa'ida that might actually work. As the paper’s authors state right up front, “Our analysis emphasizes that effective strategies to combat threats posed by al-Qa’ida will create and exacerbate schisms within its membership.” In other words, instead of trying to win a jousting game al-Qa'ida is too smart to play, we need to follow the old Roman rule, divide et impera.
The question, of course, is how to do this, and most of Harmony and Disharmony is devoted to answering this question. It does so in a variety of intelligent and imaginative ways. Working from the Fourth Generation war framework first laid out in the 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article, it offers an intellectual model for identifying exploitable fissures within al-Qa'ida and similar Fourth Generation organizations. The paper accepts that al-Qa'ida is a networked rather than a hierarchical organization, but instead of stopping where most such efforts do, with identifying the strengths of networked organizations, it goes on to probe their inherent weaknesses.
In doing so, Harmony and Disharmony notes that
As to how these inherent tensions in networked, Fourth Generation organizations might be exploited, the paper goes on to say,
After looking at how agency problems led the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria to fail, Harmony and Disharmony compares Zarqawi’s Al-Qa’ida in Mesopotamia with its Syrian counterpart. It then goes on to an extremely valuable discussion of “Organizational Vulnerabilities and Recommendations to Exploit Them.” Of critical importance, this discussion grasps that “kinetic solutions” are often the worst. For example, at one point the paper recommends that counter-terrorism forces
Harmony and Disharmony is too rich in substance for me to attempt to summarize it here. Let me instead just recommend that anyone and everyone who is seriously interested in 4GW get a copy and read it closely. The Combating Terrorism Center says the best way to obtain a copy is from their web site, www.ctc.usma.edu.
My copy, of course, came from Zossen, in cipher, by telegraph, so there could be minor differences.
William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.
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