On War #266: Viva Colombia!

By William S. Lind
July 14, 2008

The war between the Colombian state and the Marxist FARC is not a Fourth Generation conflict, because it is fought within the framework of the state. The Colombian government seeks to maintain control of the state, while the FARC want to replace it. It’s all about who runs the state, not offering alternatives to the state.

Nonetheless, some lessons for Fourth Generation wars may be drawn, because the way in which the war is fought — a guerilla-style insurgency — similar to many (not all) Fourth Generation conflicts. The recent successful rescue of hostages long held by the FARC is a case in point. It was a brilliant victory for the Colombian government and armed forces, on all levels, including the moral level. What might the U.S. Armed Forces learn from it that they could apply in Iraq, Afghanistan, and (we fear) elsewhere?

First, it illustrated the advantage mental cleverness has over brute firepower. The Colombians’ previous foray, the aerial bombing of a FARC camp in Ecuador, blew up in their face. In contrast, the hostage rescue made the Colombians look both brave and smart and the FARC appear to be the Three Stooges. The FARC was not bombed or blown up, it was outsmarted. It has no martyrs to off the public or its supporters, just its clownish face covered in pie. The FARC was made a laughingstock, which is the worst blow that can be inflicted upon any political organization.

Second, the combination of outsmarting the FARC with the fact that no one on either side was hurt, much less killed, allows this action to count as an unmixed victory, a rarity in this kind of war. Usually, a victory at the physical level generates blowback on the mental and moral level. Not here. It was a real triple-play. The fact that the testimony of the rescued hostages made the FARC, not the government forces, into the bully adds to the score.

Third, the operation was a strategic success because it was a Colombian, not an American, operation. Had American forces gone in and done exactly the same thing, the action would have made the Colombian government look weak, not strong. It would have undermined rather than strengthened its legitimacy. Most Latin Americans would have seen the rescue as one more humiliation of fellow Hispanics by the North Americans, and they would have identified with the FARC rather than laughing at it.

The reason the FARC now seems to be on the ropes and, one hopes, going down for the count is that it is fighting a Colombian enemy, not an American enemy. As several observers have noted, while almost no foreign occupiers have defeated insurgencies, the local state has sometimes won.

I am sure the United States played some role in the Colombian hostage rescue, but for once we seem to have been smart enough to keep our mouth shut about it. Whoever is running the show there for us — I think it is an admiral — seems to understand the value of a small footprint. We had another admiral who knew his business running the show for a while in the Persian Gulf, Admiral Fallon. The Bush White House fired him for the mortal sin of committing truth, a sin his successor is not likely to repeat.

All of these points relate directly to the Fourth Generation wars we are enmeshed in, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Outsmarting and embarrassing our opponents, holding them up to ridicule by the locals, is far more effective than killing them. But only locals can do the outsmarting and humiliating, with some discreet help from us behind the scenes. If we do it openly, we’re still Goliath and our local opponents remain David, which means they win morally. The local government can only gain legitimacy from its own successes, not from victories won on its behalf by foreign invaders and occupiers. Such “victories” diminish rather than enhance its legitimacy, the currency in which gain or loss in 4GW is measured.

I think it is safe to say that if several American divisions were today fighting the FARC in Colombia, the FARC would be gaining strength, not withering away. (It will soon be time, if it is not time already, for the Colombian government to offer the FARC a very generous peace, the all-necessary “golden bridge.”) It follows that so long as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are American wars, we will continue to lose them. Dare we hope the next American president realizes that “victory” in both places requires not mindless “staying the course” but American withdrawal?

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Direct line: 703 837-0483

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Filed in Uncategorized | 21 responses so far

21 Responses to “On War #266: Viva Colombia!”

  1. judasnooseon 14 Jul 2008 at 8:32 pm 1

    Ridicule might be the worst thing that can happen to a group that needs to recruit members, but ridicule often motivates super-empowered individuals.

  2. jarhed73on 14 Jul 2008 at 9:07 pm 2

    Having just returned from a one tour in Afghanistan as an adviser to the Afghan Army and having a small understanding of the culture of Islam in Afghanistan, I agree with Bill. Coalition forces have outgrown their personal welcome, having forced themselves upon the AFghans, initially with tacit support but eventually becoming overbearing and arrogant with little understanding that both problem and solution is Afghan. It is interesting to also observe that even while NATO forces (and US) increase in numbers so does so called Taliban activities (attacks) . It has been made clear to me that the Afghans know who the enemy is and how to fight and defeat him (and it is not a military enemy), Coalition forces choose to wage a conventional fight from inside of vehicles on the road.
    There are enough forces and people in Afghanistan who know who the Tb, ACM, HIG and other 4GW fighters are and who can isolate them to irrelevancy, but as long as Coalition forces are there thinking they are sent there to fight, the Afghans will default to them thereby contributing to a cycle of hubris(Coalition arrogance + Afghan ignorance)

  3. jdo21on 15 Jul 2008 at 12:41 am 3

    I strongly disagree with the assessment that the “war” between the FARC and the Colombian government is not a 4GW conflict; in fact this assessment shows a shocking lack of knowledge about both the history and present state of the conflict. Worse, it appears this stance is taken from purely political standpoint to advocate for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Not saying I support either the “stay the course” or the “withdraw now!” mantras, either, as that aspect of the argument I am not commenting on. I am simply appalled at seeing this completely mistaken assessment from one of the principal definers of 4th Generation Warfare.

    Borrowing the criteria listed on John Robb’s Global Guerrillas page:

    * Global — how many countries and international organizations are linked to the FARC, according to the numerous press articles stemming from Raul Reyes’ hard drives?
    * Pervasive — how widespread is the FARC’s reach throughout Colombia? Throughout Latin America? How about from a narcotics standpoint?
    * Granularity — how many Fronts, companies, and associated narcotics trafficking groups are members of or associated with the FARC? How many NGO’s? How many “political” entities?
    * Vulnerability — do you really think the FARC are limited to the jungle? Which open societies and economies are being exploited by the drug trade? Why do you think they attack infrastructure and take hostages?
    * Technology — how many FARC members did it take to kidnap the Cali deputies? What happened at President Uribe’s inauguration in 2002?
    * Media — why do you think nearly the entirety of Latin America was destabilized after the death of Raul Reyes?
    * Networked — in 40+ years the FARC have been down, up, down, and up again. Think again about the press reports on how many different narcotics-trafficking, political, insurgent, and non-governmental groups the FARC is or has been in contact with.

    If the FARC isn’t a classic and clear example of 4GW as an agile, globally linked, media savvy, networked element trying to blur the lines between war and politics to push for a moral victory – what is it? To anyone that bothers to research the details, the FARC is a shockingly effective example of every aspect of 4GW – the fact it is in Latin America seems to blind even the above average American to its depth and danger. The US will regret this shortsightedness. Keep reading the FARC press statements instead of the recently released hostages’ statements on whether the FARC are truly trying to replace the state. I expected better from you, Mr. Lind.

  4. […] On War #266: Viva Colombia! […]

  5. Maxon 15 Jul 2008 at 8:01 am 5

    jdo21on 15 Jul 2008 at 12:41 am 3

    “I strongly disagree with the assessment that the “war” between the FARC and the Colombian government is not a 4GW conflict;”

    I tend to agree, moreover am bewildered by Mr. Lind’s
    assertion that such conflict within a state is not variation of 4GW.

    “The war between the Colombian state and the Marxist FARC is not a Fourth Generation conflict, because it is fought within the framework of the state.”

    I don’t get it.

    Max

  6. Maxon 15 Jul 2008 at 8:09 am 6

    “Coalition forces have outgrown their personal welcome, having forced themselves upon the AFghans, initially with tacit support but eventually becoming overbearing and arrogant with little understanding that both problem and solution is Afghan.”

    Distrubing, if true, but also it makes sense given the track record,
    and from what astute observers can gather through the news.

    I follow the news of grevous civilian casulalties being inflicted by NATO particuarly airstrikes, very closely.

    That IMO makes us look just as bad as the Taliban & Aquida, to
    the locals who’s co-operation we rely on, and need if we ever expect
    to win.

    MaX

  7. Maxon 15 Jul 2008 at 8:34 am 7

    judasnooseon 14 Jul 2008 at 8:32 pm 1

    “Ridicule might be the worst thing that can happen to a group that needs to recruit members, but ridicule often motivates super-empowered individuals.”

    Such as John Boyd Col. USAF Dec. ?
    M

  8. Cheton 15 Jul 2008 at 11:55 am 8

    Bill looks at 4GW in terms of who fights and what they are fighting for, not the tactics or technology in use.

    FMFM 1-A, for example, defines 4GW this way:

    At the heart of this phenomenon, Fourth Generation war, is not a military but a political, social and moral revolution: a crisis of legitimacy of the state. All over the world, citizens of states are transferring their primary allegiance away from the state to other things: to tribes, ethnic groups, religions, gangs, ideologies and so on. Many people who will no longer fight for their state will fight for their new primary loyalty. In America’s two wars with Iraq, the Iraqi state armed forces showed little fight, but Iraqi insurgents whose loyalties are to non state elements are now waging a hard fought and effective guerrilla war.

    Under this concept, as Bill insists, ordinary insurgency is not 4GW because its goal is to replace the government, not the state.

    If you don’t make this distinction, then as a number of commentators have pointed out, 4GW is nothing new. Insurgency and the style of fighting we call guerrilla warfare, which is common in its early stages, have been around since forever. In the immortal words of Tony Echevarria, that dog won’t hunt.

    To me, the more significant question is whether a conflict that is “a political, social and moral revolution: a crisis of legitimacy of the state” should be considered “war” at all.

  9. Maxon 15 Jul 2008 at 4:16 pm 9

    “To me, the more significant question is whether a conflict that is “a political, social and moral revolution: a crisis of legitimacy of the state” should be considered “war” at all.”

    Very interesting and so very subtle throughout.

    I would take the example of the US State of Vermont’s grass roots successionist sympathies
    and initiative, and characterise it as Zero intensity warfare.

    From thier point of view, it is exactly that,
    A Crisis of the legitimacy of the state, these United States, and it’s governance. leaving thier interests without adiquate representation.

    At the sametime, where I come from it has
    all the ear marks of 4GW.

    I know it, see, hear, feel, and smell it when I find it.

    MaX

  10. Maxon 15 Jul 2008 at 4:24 pm 10

    “Under this concept, as Bill insists, ordinary insurgency is not 4GW because its goal is to replace the government, not the state.”

    I think I get it.

    Your average ordinary run of the mill coup,
    is not 4gw.
    Becasue at the end of the day, it’s still
    the same country, going by the same name,
    just new management.

    Now Burma, come Mayranmar, is somewhere in between. (no pun)

    When one or more, entirely new state entities emerge, from another,
    that’s different, and we’re seeing a fair
    number of those. The former Soviet
    Union being a good example.

    M

    [CR: Important to keep in mind that this is Lind’s and to some extent Martin van Creveld’s concept of 4GW. Others, most prominently TX Hammes, take a different view. TX, for example, defines 4GW as evolved insurgency, where the insurgents use all available networks to get decision makers in the target state to quit the fight. In that sense, an insurgency could well be 4GW and these techniques could be used in state-vs-state warfare.

    My purpose was to explain where Lind is coming from, not to enshrine his views as holy writ.]

  11. Dr_Vomacton 15 Jul 2008 at 5:25 pm 11

    To me, the more significant question is whether a conflict that is “a political, social and moral revolution: a crisis of legitimacy of the state” should be considered “war” at all.

    Precisely: there’s the ambiguity at the heart of the matter. Mr. Lind speaks of the multiple “generations” of war, thereby leading us to envision a progression, an evolution of what is fundamentally a single phenomenon. If we consider the first three “generations”, this seems plausible. We appear to be speaking of an evolution of strategic thought: from frontal, linear movement and attack, to the use of massed firepower (and how are these so fundamentally different?), and finally to the “war of maneuver” that found its apotheosis in the German victories during the early years of World War II.
    But when we turn to “4th Generation war” a conceptual fog descends. It seems that Mr. Lind wishes to define “4th Generation War” in such a way that it can appear only against the background of “the decline of the state”. If there’s fighting, but no state is visibly going down the tubes, then it’s not true “4th Generation War”. There is something very odd about Mr. Lind’s definition.
    At the very least, it seems to me that in making this the distinctive characteristic of 4GW, Mr. Lind makes the tacit assumption that in generations 1 through 3, the state is not declining—presumably, it’s alive and well. But that’s clearly wrong: the state—indeed, the existence of any state—is not a prerequisite for war.
    Unless one wishes to argue that there was no war before 1648, it must be understood that the state’s “monopoly on organized violence” does not mean that the state invented war. The existence and characteristics of war cannot be seen and understood exclusively against the background of “the state”. If it is true that the Western state is in decline, this does not automatically mean that war itself has undergone some sort of fundamental metamorphosis. Or, to put it another way, if war has undergone a metamorphosis, it cannot be explained only by referring to the “decline of the state”.

  12. Mycophagiston 15 Jul 2008 at 6:49 pm 12

    While there are other Gurrilla organisations in Columnbia, the FARC is the main opposition player. Why are they still in existance? Cery simple. The columbian government is the tool of vested local interests. And they work hand in glove with these interests to attack the legitimate aspirations of farmers and workers, using the Right Wing death squads as their immediate insterments.

    The FARC would have long ago disappeared and never have resurrected itself if this was not true. Indeed, Uribe was caught red handed in his associations with these death squads and is indelibly associated with them.

    This is why Mr. Lind has this nailed correctly. The rural and working class people of Columbia look to the FARC as their natural protectors.

    This clever little coup on the part of the government is indeed a victory, but since there are hundreds of other hostages held by the FARC, it’s also pretty meaningless. While we Americans are under the impression that the “hostages” were freed, in fact just a small group of them were freed.

    Dave

  13. Cheton 15 Jul 2008 at 7:29 pm 13

    Dr_V,

    Unless one wishes to argue that there was no war before 1648, it must be understood that the state’s “monopoly on organized violence” does not mean that the state invented war. The existence and characteristics of war cannot be seen and understood exclusively against the background of “the state”.

    It’s not that the Westphalian state invented war, but it attempted to limit it to conflicts between the armed forces of states. Before 1648 and Lind is arguing today, all manner of entities (including states) waged war and they did it for all manner of reasons. Under this concept, 4GW is a return to the way war has always been, that is 4GW = 0GW.

    Lind does not regard this as progress (van Creveld seems to disagree) and up to a very broad limit, appears to regard any state as better than no state.

  14. Maxon 15 Jul 2008 at 7:36 pm 14

    “We appear to be speaking of an evolution of strategic thought: from frontal, linear movement and attack, to the use of massed firepower (and how are these so fundamentally different?), and finally to the “war of maneuver” that found its apotheosis in the German victories during the early years of World War II.”

    Those are all tactical doctrines, and we all recognise frontal assualt as being less creative
    than the much further evolved manuver,
    and blitzgreig. I think we know 1st, generation,
    2nd gen and 3rd when we see it.

    “when we turn to “4th Generation war” a conceptual fog descends.”

    Well, yes, and no.

    Let’s get right back to basics, and in the simpliest
    terms.

    I think 4GW gets a bad wrap, and is clouded by those who don’t have a feel for it, or otherwize can’t recognise it, and try to re-define it into something thier more confortable with.

    1) I associate 4GW with non-linear gureilla and terrorist tactics.

    2) Similarly,
    “full spectrum warfare” whereby every tool of propeganda, politics, public sympathy, brain washing, mass media, etc
    is used to gain advantage. This can include peacefull protestation, war of information and media, etc.

    3) Very closely related to point 2.
    We have “asymetric warfare,” whereby the militarily weak can and do hold moral advantage over the strong.
    In this case an agrieved party can leverage support
    and sympathy for a cause and eventually turn the tables on thier oppressor, real, or imagined.

    4) Finnaly we have the legitimacy and/or decline of the state, in myriad forms.

    You take those points, in various proportions and recipe, and throw them in a blender,
    add milk, a shot of gin, and there you go.
    ;0)
    M

  15. jdo21on 16 Jul 2008 at 7:48 am 15

    “Under this concept, as Bill insists, ordinary insurgency is not 4GW because its goal is to replace the government, not the state.”

    The FARC have less interest in replacing the government than in replacing/displacing the state – in the areas they held sway they became the state, meting out their own brand of justice, using coca for money, and providing a structured environment. Unfortunately, since at least the 80s and their involvement in the cocaine trade, their interest in doing anything more than preserving their state within a state in order to further their drug profits has been obvious. They may have started off as an insurgency, but now they are narcotics traffickers and terrorists. They make wonderful use of non-linear, guerrilla, asymmetric, networked, full spectrum tactics to take and hold areas within Colombia in order to protect the narcotics trade. Note the comments from Mycophagist above if you think their rhetoric and use of media haven’t been effective. This is anything but an ordinary insurgency – it is the effective use of an insurgent cause as a mask, nothing more.

    To link a “state/government in decline” as the hallmark of 4GW is ridiculous – once the state starts to win the conflict is no longer 4GW?

    Again – the claim that this conflict is not a 4GW conflict is a poorly researched blanket statement that does not reflect the reality.

    [CR: Please refer to our comment policy before making remarks like this. You may not agree with Lind, which is fine, but you have provided no evidence to support remarks like “ridiculous” and “poorly researched.” Lind can be criticized for may things, but lack of research is not one of them.]

  16. Maxon 16 Jul 2008 at 11:27 am 16

    “They may have started off as an insurgency, but now they are narcotics traffickers and terrorists. ”

    Good observation, organised criminality on that scale and proportion
    is maybe something reletively new, and is a burgeoning underclass
    of 4gw that I overlooked entirely in the previous posting.

    This could become the greatest threat to civilisation
    to come in the 21st century.

    Back in the 1960 and 70s, the rise of corporations was seen as such,
    in undermining the legtimacy of the state.

    Very scarey is J.A.N.’s comment in “Running the rapids.”

    What happens when the state falls into severe collaphs,
    can not longer offer represent the interests, offer services,
    and protect it’s population ?
    Then criminality and violence emerges as a wide spread and predominant alternative means of making a living ?

    I’m sure examples abound.
    M

  17. Mycophagiston 16 Jul 2008 at 2:12 pm 17

    “They may have started off as an insurgency, but now they are narcotics traffickers and terrorists. ”

    This is too easy an out. Narcotics trafficers are not viewed THERE as they are viewed HERE. Witness the election victory in Bolivia of a “narcotics” trafficer. Moreover, the Columbian Government winks at it’s own trafficers.

    http://www.sirjohnmag.ca/mpg-article-view.asp?article=2006-09-Columbia&mode=archives&ad=07-03

    As peasants find it increasingly difficult to make a living farming food stuffs, they turn to growing narcotics, which is a cash crop they can make money with.

    Back in the nineties, the government amnestied the FARC and they became a legitimate and peaceful political party. It was at that point that over 3000 local elected officials were murdered by the death squads, and the FARC once again took to the hills.

    Both sides see nothing wrong with selling dope to the Americans. And if Uribe is extradicting trafficers, he’s certainly not extradicting those on “his” side.

    Dave

  18. loggie20on 16 Jul 2008 at 6:31 pm 18

    jarhead73,

    I am interested in how this statement comes about:

    “but as long as Coalition forces are there thinking they are sent there to fight, the Afghans will default to them thereby contributing to a cycle of hubris(Coalition arrogance + Afghan ignorance)”

    The Afghan is a fighting man, been that way with westerners since 330 BC. What mechanism would set well with those warriors if they let the NATO troops do it for them?

    Do you think they want to let the US GI fight for them?

    I rather think there is no support among the tribes to do what NATO wants, whether the tribes want to combat the “enemy” of the US or not is contrary to their culture.

    The enmey of an outsider is everyone enemy and that is the reason that NATO needs to go.

    The hand wringing over the resulting civil war is irrelevant as under your scenario the warriors on the side line are just waiting for NATO to punch itself out so they can get on with establishing a natural order.

    The civil war will come soon after the NATO evacuation whether it is view as vistory or retreat.

  19. Barryon 05 Aug 2008 at 4:36 am 19

    The historical enemy of South American armies is their own State’s population, they fight their own people . If Colombian’s army is good at anything one would expect it to be that; they have had 60 years of practice.

    In Guatemala and El Salvador ( and Algeria) the masses were with the Guerillas, in all three implacable violent force was applied. The lesson that is being drawn from these successes is to have the killing attributed to vigilante extemists (or in Algerias case false flag Guerillas).
    Lack of a cross border base and decine of a “youth bulge” also helped.

  20. Barryon 21 Aug 2008 at 7:35 am 20

    BBC World service interveiw last night with a scientist trying to identify remains from the insurgency that ended twelve years ago with the state triumphant. The take home message was hardly on the moral level. About 400 people met a very protracted and unpleasant death in just one incident. The remains were disposed of on wooden pires in pits, helicopters flew in exta fuel for the fires over the four days it took to finish the task. It takes a village to raise a rebel.

  21. Barryon 21 Aug 2008 at 7:38 am 21

    Forgot to say where; it was Guatamala .