Monday, October 6, 2014

The West v ISIS: Air strikes just mean endless war minus victory.

   So there's a US led war party in the desert and every Euro country with an F-16 to spare is piling in to the fray just so they don't miss their chance to get a swing in at the bad guys. Even Belgium rustled up a squadron. It's popcorn material for sure but it's also just an air offensive which means, for Western nations, you've just subjected yourself to never winning a war but continuing it indefinitely. Everyone with a TV or web connection already knows ISIS are the bad guys. Populations hate them. And the ISIS media wing loves this and drinks foreign civilian tears like it's freedom fuel. ISIS have been beheading people on video for a reason. They want attention. The interesting game at work here is the weight of military history working against the idea that air strikes ever won a war. Strategic bombing is nice WWII style but that only works when the enemy have factories to bomb. ISIS have none of that. They've got a loose social network, a hostage civilian population, some stolen Hum Vees and no production capacity of any kind. So where is the win here via JDAM?

   ISIS picked this fight once they started beheading people on your TV screen and nobody nowhere ever picked a fight they believed they could not win. And that's remarkable for what it reveals about ISIS command ideology.

  They really believe they can win this war.

  ISIS have taken a leaf from the 9/11 playbook. A lot of empty places and Iraq got carpet bombed in the wake of the twin towers coming down. But, let's face it, the terrorists won that war a long time ago. If the goal of 9/11 was to damage, degrade and destroy the freedom of Western democracy then 19 religious nuts pulled it off. We're a police state now. In 1970s America you could get on a plane to Vegas just by rolling absently up to the check in counter and claiming you're the guy whose name was printed on the ticket. In 21st century America, your toddler's genitals get felt up by a government agent and the parents say yes sir, diddle my kid, this is acceptable because Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia and we need to be protected from the bad guys who fuel our cars. Let's face it, al-Qaeda won the war on terrorism a very long time ago.

   ISIS, new kids on the block, believe they can top that because they're banking on the fact that we're that stupid.

   One of the strengths of any guerrilla army throughout history is knowing when to stand your ground and when to run like fuck. ISIS will know how to run like fuck. They'll blend away once the rain of US and Euro JDAMs reach a crescendo. But their media wing won't. And that's why I've got serious reservations about 21st century warfare waged the way Western governments are waging it versus ISIS. If you're like me and have been hitting up LiveLeak all week to get some behind the scenes footage beneath the sanitized cool explosions Western news networks have been showing on TV, where the enemy dies clean and there is no unsightly limb separation or agonizing slow death under rubble, then I see an opening for the bad guys. This is where the ISIS media wing will gain some traction through social media. With a proper supply of dead baby footage, they stand a serious chance of enacting some counter narrative of their own.


    Because air campaigns don't do shit v militias.

    Never. Nowhere. Ever in time. 

    Air power is an awesome tool but nobody ever won a war from 20,000 feet.

    Let's talk West Point 101. When you're at war, killing the enemy is always good. Killing the enemy while also killing civilians as collateral damage, while distasteful in the post war analysis (Hiroshima), is, by and large, acceptable  (if you want to win). The interesting new paradigm at work here is what I hate to call the 'dead baby dynamic'. Since 21st century warfare has become a live popcorn munching event thanks to the Internet and 24hr TV news, parading casualties in front of news cameras has become a sort of counter propaganda and anti narrative that would've made Joseph Goebbels jizz his pants. For the defeated, if you can supply enough dead kid videos, there's a serious chance that you can convince a sizable segment of the enemy civilian population that war is bad. 

Because humans are retarded by war.

   But guess what... war is always bad

   That's a given. And the truth is grim. Ask the average war protester what he'd do if an intruder broke into his house to steal all his shit and kill his wife and the likely answer is that he is going to freak. Your mild mannered protester will quickly resort to 'warfare' with that burglar and attempt to beat the living shit out of the intruder via the two by four which once boasted his protest sign that now suddenly comes in handy as a weapon while he swings away to break invader skull open. War, despite what Jesus might say, works as the enaction of a policy where you don't die but the guy breaking down your front door does. It's never pretty. Bear with me here, I know I'm stretching the metaphor but the ISIS threat they're advertising on TV is exactly this.... What do you do if there's a guy hanging out across the street openly telling the neighbors he wants to kill your wife? He could be full of shit or he could be serious. Do you call the police? What happens when you are the police? America's self appointed role and Obama's tech heavy foreign policy is to run the numbers through the NSA's mega computer and the resultant actuary tables say that that asshole across the street needs to die. The risk of an ISIS dirty bomb in Times Square and the global wreckage that would ensue outweighs the right for ISIS to exist; so logic dictates letting loose the greatest advantage any war fighter anywhere ever had.

   The US Air Force.

   My problem is, can you win that war from the air?

   Am I advocating for a ground invasion?

   Nope. I'm just interested in how wars, once put into effect, get won.

   Air strikes without boots on the ground  never work if you're interested in defeating the enemy. What's bothering me about this campaign is the stated objectives. The West says they want to "degrade" ISIS. Surely this is the shitiest and most obscure objective ever enacted as policy. In many ways, war is very simple. You win or you lose. If you want to defeat ISIS you win by occupying the territory they do and leave them no space to run like fuck to. The West is selling this war thinking superior technology from the air can beat 'the idea of ISIS'. The only way you can beat the "idea of ISIS" is to kill every militia fighter hiding in a hole, or, crazy though it might seem, come up with a better idea. Each option is equally impossible so what do you do? Despite the laser guided, infrared and night vision tech getting advertised on our nightly news as a problem solver via destruction, at the very least you need, in order to 'win', a recon team on the ground designating by eyeball who should and shouldn't get killed. That kind of HUMINT shields you from the media explosion of accidentally wiping out a wedding party though it looked, to the pilot, exactly like a terrorist campfire from 20.000 feet.

   And that's how we know there are already US boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq.

   Western populations demand clinical war now that Wikileaks and Snowden are all over the government's ass. The war we get sold on TV demands precision lest the population back home on their iPhones throw a shit fit if a baby gets killed. Just imagine if WWII had been fought that way? We'd fucking lose every time a Nazi baby died. Proxy wars are hard to fight in a world where information spillage is everywhere, bullshit is rampant and death is as cheap as it ever was, but it does mean that today, more than ever, attack policy can go against foreign policy if governments don't get a serious grip on the narrative. ISIS are media whores operating in an environment where the threat of a dirty bomb in Time Square is nearly as good as actually detonating a real one.


  Because social media penetration is a very profound thing that changes the dynamic of warfare in the 21st century from all that's come before. Napoleon would've cried tears of joy and held Moscow if he'd had a media wing broadcasting to the Russian population just exactly why they should speak French. The Internet is changing how wars get fought..

   Let's get even more technical.


  When you're top dog on the global human hegemony heap like the US military is, conducting warfare while not subjecting your personnel to death is desirable. Obvious right? A functional given since Sun Tzu. Right now, the skies over Raqqa and other places in Syria and Iraq are filled with hardcore Western remote control technology. If you approach a HumVee in Syria or northern Iraq, a guy half way around the world at his work station nods to his supervisor and minutes later, the vehicle and its environs get carpet bombed by a guy who pulled the trigger from the opposite side of the world.

   The military call it suppression.The politicians call it 'degradation' and I call it war via call center and none of it means you win. It just provides a prescription for endless war. ISIS have done their homework and learned how to challenge civilization.

   Let's face it, we're living in Blade Runner.

   Victory will remain elusive for Western governments so long as your population demands safety. And who doesn't demand safety? ISIS doctrine is exploiting this and forcing Western governments to act in a bombing campaign that makes no sense. The world in 2014 is a boiling cauldron of seething rivalry between the great powers but, unlike 1914, nobody can make a big geopolitical move because nukes provide a cap on ambition where nobody can win, so proxy warfare, economic warfare and war via computer espionage have become king. None of the above will work against ISIS.

   Let's state what we know for a fact.

   Energy wars are complicated.

   Any military action by any state actor in the Middle East is by default an energy war.

   ISIS are formidable because the 'idea' behind ISIS recruits angry Sunni youth from many far flung places and that strikes fear into the heart of power elites in Sunni dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and every other Arab state that chucked an F-16 into the recent attack. The Shia in southern Iraq are not afraid of ISIS because they can rely on Iran for support. Mosul has become expendable. 

   Meanwhile, the Kurds, wielding their own excellent militia and capitalizing on US air strikes, will hold Kirkuk, the oil producing gem that cannot be allowed to fall. Interestingly, the Turks, NATO members next door, have chosen to sit the whole thing out because it's getting dangerous for them a) because fellow Muslim foreign fighters are spilling over their borders into the war zone b) because the political situation in Turkey is tenuous and Erdogan got elected by religious conservatives whose goals align with a fundamental idea of Islamic unity and c) because any help Turkey provides v ISIS makes an independent Kurdistan more likely. Remember, ISIS had 49 Turks held hostage a few weeks ago but guess what... they released all of them. Not a single beheading of any kind. Talk about knowing where your bread is buttered. ISIS atrocity is firmly directed against the West. 

   It's a clusterfuck of the first order and a very complicated war fighting environment.

   Meanwhile, ISIS are loving it.

   The only real question for Western policy is, where does victory against ISIS lie?

   The only way to win is via occupation and who has got two million troops to spare to subjugate Sunni Arabia? The cost benefit analysis is exactly what ISIS are exploiting. That's why we get the current air campaign that amounts to a capitulation, Kony 2012 style, to popular opinion because beheading people on TV is making people rage and the public want action.

   Every smart person alive today knows we're living in a kind of dystopia, a best of times, worst of times consumerist cornucopia that would make Orwell shit bricks. That's why I believe it's reasonable to stand back and resort to, and end on, a philosophical question regarding our species. 

  Warlike upright apes though we may be, we're still apes who managed a moon landing and currently have robots scouring Mars via remote control So the question must be why are we wasting our time with this shit? Should we not be directing our attention to a moon base, a human Mars landing and colonizing the galaxy?

   I understand the current tactical fight for resources here on Earth, but how many ISIS fighters, and fighters on every side, are smart enough to realize the fundamental question that has been bothering humanity since Thucydides wrote his terrible account of self destruction in the 5th century BC. That question posed 25 hundred years ago remains terribly relevant in 2014.

   'Why are we losing the war?'

    Against ourselves.