On War #279: Confirmation

By William S. Lind
October 20, 2008

I have suggested in previous columns that the al Qaeda model of 4GW may be failing for inherent reasons, i.e. for reasons it cannot fix. “Tom Rick’s Inbox” in the October 19 Washington Post offers some confirmation of that assessment. Ricks writes:

Where did al Qaeda in Iraq go wrong? In a paper prepared for the recent annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, the Australian political scientist Andrew Phillips argues persuasively that, by their nature, al Qaeda affiliates tend to alienate their hosts….

He then quotes Phillips at some length:

In successive conflicts ranging from Bosnia to Chechnya to Kashmir, the jihad jet-set has rapidly worn out its welcome among local host populations as a result of its ideological inflexibility and high-handedness, as well as its readiness to resort to indiscriminate violence against locals at the first signs of challenge…. That this pattern has so frequently been repeated suggests that the underlying causes of al Qaeda’s defeat in Iraq may transcend the specific circumstances of that conflict. Baldly stated, the causes of al Qaeda’s defeat in Iraq can be located in its ideological DNA.

In my view, the “DNA” to which Phillips refers is the type of people drawn to al Qaeda and other Fourth Generation entities modeled on al Qaeda. They are mostly religious fanatics of the most extreme varieties, similar to the Levellers and Diggers of the English Civil War. Regardless of what their organization’s leadership may enjoin, they will treat any locals they regard as religiously “lax” with severity. They cannot do otherwise without becoming “impure” themselves. It is useful to remind ourselves where the word “Puritan” comes from.

A failure of the al Qaeda model, while welcome, does not imply any weakening of the impulse toward Fourth Generation war. On the contrary, it represents its evolution. 4GW is something new in the post-Westphalian world, and it is likely to go through many cycles of innovation, failure, learning and adaptation as it evolves. I expect that evolution to play out over the course of the 21st century and beyond.

What does the prospective failure of the al Qaeda model mean for other current models? The Taliban model would seem to share al Qaeda’s DNA. When they were in power in Afghanistan, the Taliban also imposed a Puritanism that overrode local cultural norms and thereby alienated much of the population. However, the Taliban also left power with several assets on its balance sheet, assets it continues to draw on. It represented Pashtun dominance of Afghanistan, something all Pashtun regard as natural and necessary (the Karzai regime’s origins are Uzbek and Tajik). Like a state, it brought order. It reduced corruption, now out of control, to locally acceptable levels. And while actually a creation of Pakistan’s ISI, the Taliban successfully presented themselves as something home-grown, which the Karzai government will never be able to do. In terms of the all-important quality of legitimacy, Robespierre always trumps Vichy.

Beyond Afghanistan, the Fourth Generation future belongs neither to al Qaeda nor to the Taliban but to two more sophisticated models, Hezbollah and the Latin American drug gangs. Both can fight, but fighting is not primarily what they are about. Rather, both are about benefiting their members with money, services, community, identity, and, strange as it may sound, what passes locally for good government. Even the drug gangs’ governance is often less corrupt than that of the local state.

Both of these 4GW models can fall into the fatal error of alienating the local population, but the tendency is not inherent. While Hezbollah is religiously defined, it seems to appeal well beyond the Puritans, which means it can give orders Puritans will not obey. The drug gangs’ principal faith is in making money, and few faiths are more broadly latitudinarian.

Andrew Phillips adds to his analysis the prudent warning that “Al Qaeda may have lost Iraq, but this is no way implies that America and its allies have won.” In Iraq as elsewhere, the fading of the al Qaeda model is being balanced not by the rise of a new state but by the adoption of other models of 4GW. So far, as best I can determine, no foreign intervention in a Fourth Generation conflict has succeeded is re-creating a real state (you can add Ethiopia in Somalia to the long list of failures).

Do intervening foreign forces, like al Qaeda, have DNA that preordains failure? The answer, while not final, seems to be pointing toward the affirmative.

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 | 11 responses so far

11 Responses to “On War #279: Confirmation”

  1. […] and the Latin American drug gangs (I would add other criminal networks and piracy too). He writes: Both can fight, but fighting is not primarily what they are about. Rather, both are about […]

  2. Duncan C Kinderon 22 Oct 2008 at 10:19 am 2

    In the 16th century, monarchies, when confronted with distant and unruly tribesmen, would – rather than attempt directly to manage things – would rely upon relatively friendly groups to oppose those which were less friendly.

    Accordingly, the Tudors in Ireland used the Butlers to subdue the Fitzgeralds; while the Stuarts in Scotland used the Campbells to subdue the MacDonalds. ( Related topics, BTW, since Scottish mercenaries from the Isles had been major elements in Irish rebel armies. )

    By analogy, we should seek out our own Butlers and Campbells, at least to enable us to make an organized retreat from our neocon overreaching and to buy time until we can figure out something better to do.

  3. JJon 22 Oct 2008 at 11:28 am 3

    AQ, to this day, I have no real understanding of exactly what it is; I know what it is purported to be, however I think it hard to discern reality from propaganda in that particular instance.

    Hezbollah, on the other hand, is a group well-studied over the years. Remarkably they have a broad spectrum of support among Lebanese of all religions. Even some Sunnis support Hezbollah, which is more surprising than the substantial support the Christian community now gives to Hezbollah.

    Hezbollah intrigues in that it has not been infiltrated, to all reports, by Mossad.
    Now that is a most exemplary achievement for any organization as the Mossad are highly regarded for their abilities to get inside other Arab groups, government and NGO.

    Lastly the “drug gangs.”

    These are run by people who are, one might suggest, not as learned as those in Hezbollah, for example, yet achieve remarkable successes.

    In 2006 PCC launched a brief show of strength that effectively humbled the State of São Paulo.

    What intrigued me the most was the infiltration by the gang of the very highest levels of Federal law enforcement. No sooner than the top brass held their strategy meeting to deal with the assault than PCC leadership had the information.
    Literally within MINUTES of end of session.
    Now that is impressive to me for a prison founded gang.

    We have seen that the United States Federal agencies, e.g. DEA, ICE, and others, are compromised as well.

    PCC is not alone of course there are numerous gangs in Brazil who, potentially, can also challenge the state, e.g. “Red Command”

    I think, sadly enough, Mr Lind will have much DOMESTIC strategies to write about within the next 7 years at most.

    Ladies and gentlemen please fasten your seat belts, we may be experiencing some turbulence during this flight of 21st Century America.

  4. Maxon 22 Oct 2008 at 3:48 pm 4

    To para-quote Boyd,

    Speaking of the Russian built swing wing Mig-23,


    “Thank God those dumb SOBs are a stupid as we are !”

    Where the westernised style of low risk , but exorbidently high priced, ineptly conducted, partially sanitised remote control warfare alienates the grass roots, so does Alquida’s brutality, intollerence and fanatisism.

    As Mr. Lind aludes to their collective phycology, charaterised
    as institutional DNA. In the end, and notwithstanding the brain trust at the top, look deeper and find little more than a gang of thugs.

    Some astute observers here may have come across reports
    of the Taliban, (and I’m no fan of theirs either) softening their hard line, vis-a-vie social policy.


  5. SRCon 23 Oct 2008 at 5:51 pm 5

    With most of what Mr. Lind has written I agree, as usual. I hesitate to quibble with one of my two heros.

    Wars of religion do have the problem of ideological rigidity. Wars for greed (Drug 4GWs or 3GWs for oil) have equally serious problems. There is no honor among thieves, and the greed of one thief tends to turn against another. Moreover, and I follow here my other hero, Martin van Creveld, no is unlikely to will risk his life against an armed opponent for the motive of greed, or for any personal interest, because dead men don’t have interests (Van Creveld, The Transformation of War, chap 6). It’s one thing to risk murder or armed robbery against those likely to be unarmed, acts we call crime. Yet acts we call war involve the very high risk of having done to the armed soldier what he’s trying to do to his armed opponent.

    Wars of religion have their own unique logic and motivation, motivations that ought not be confused with ideological motivations. We haven’t had a war of religion in the West since the Battle of the Boyne. We need to read up on what such wars involve. Start with ibid., chap. 5.

    [CR: One has to be careful making anything into a dogma, but an occasional browse through Transformation of War is probably a good idea. Van Creveld’s new book, The Culture of War, is also very good and takes up a lot of the same themes.]

  6. Mycophagiston 25 Oct 2008 at 12:09 pm 6

    There has never been a strictly criminal structure that has ever taken power in all of history. “Bandits,” who are unconsious rebels, with roots in a community, have from time to time turned into revolutionaries – Criminals? Never.

    I realise that there have been over the course of time incredibly powerful criminal organisation – China with it’s various criminal “tongs” is the best example. But they, unlike bandits, have always been absorbed in preserving number one – As a result they ultimately self destruct, or find themselves in a losing war with revolutionaries. Indeed, often ultimately align with the State as their “preserver.”

    The drug gangs in Latin America are no different. Their only interest is in preserving themselves – they have no roots in the population. True, they are the richest gangs in history, and this tends to give them huge resources, and blur the internal contradictions…

    How well are drug gangs doing in Venezualla?


  7. Duncan C Kinderon 27 Oct 2008 at 3:15 pm 7

    “There has never been a strictly criminal structure that has ever taken power in all of history. “Bandits,” who are unconsious rebels, with roots in a community, have from time to time turned into revolutionaries – Criminals? Never.”

    I believe that Transnistria serves as a counterexample.

    Perhaps more interesting is the sort of usurpation that Bolingbroke effected in Shakespeare’s Richard II. According to Shakespeare, this usurpation of the rightly crowned king by a man with no colorable claim gave rise to a sea of troubles – and the crisis of legitimacy would not be restored until Richard III’s Bosworth Field, where the Tudor’s restored order.

    All of this follows from the “Divine Right of Kings” theory of legitimacy, in which primogeniture determined succession.

    For some reason, I have been running through my mind a counterfactual, in which the British instead had the Celtic laws, which did not have primogeniture but rather passed the kingship to the the most qualified member of the royal family. Hence, a robust Bolingbroke or Richard of York could have taken over from a nitwit Richard II or Henry VI without a crisis of legitimacy.

    So, as Shakepeare’s Hamlet said, “[T]here is nothing either good or
    bad, but thinking makes it so.”

  8. OldSkepticon 29 Oct 2008 at 3:44 am 8

    Actually I think (and hope) that Hezbollah will become a significant model for 4GW antagonists. Mainly because (for all their faults) they an uniting force and are prepared to share power with other actors. In other words they will be a force helping create a legtimate and (reasonably) stable State.

    Plus they seem more liberal than the Taliban model and seem quite happy to make stable alliances with other groups. I caught a report (just after the 2006 war) about Lebanese communist groups (! they still have them apparently) fighting alongside Hezbollah on the front line. Which is another impressive aspect, ‘blood debts’ are honoured, whoever they are made with.

    Form the West’s point of view I’d rather see more 4GW groups evolving into that sort of structure, if just from a totally selfish point of view, you have someone to deal with and that can (reasonably) trusted to stick to a deal.

    Which forms an interesting idea. Co-opt Hezbollah as advisors for some of the seemingly intractable State/4GW conflicts? Help out in East Timor and Sri Lanka?

    A Grand Bargain perhaps (obvious quid pro quo, no more Israeli attacks on Lebanon, but let’s be realistic that is easy to deliver, with some courage .. or more accurately patriotism… from the US).

  9. Mycophagiston 29 Oct 2008 at 11:29 am 9

    Duncan C Kinder Wrote:

    “I believe that Transnistria serves as a counterexample.”

    As you are aware, Transnistria, like South Ossetia, is a temporary construct of the Russians, and will disappear any time Putin makes up his mind to end the farce.

    “Criminals,” are just what the name implies, and history is full of powerful criminal organisations none of which took over the State. “Bandits,” in the sociological definition, are defacto revolutionaries; men and woman driven to resistance by the oppression of government. If they are bandits during an era of revolution, they usually join the revolution – whereas criminal organisations usually align with the State.

    Ultimately a criminal has no higher alliegance than themselves.

    As I mention, the South American gangs are as powerful as any criminal organisation in the past. There’s billions in the drug trade. Even so, a determined effort by government will eliminate them. In Columbia, drug gangs are allied to the government, and serve as their death squads (Leaving out those on the left who have been equally corrupted by drugs). In Mexico, the government is just waking up to the threat they they pose; not to the State, but to the workings of legitimate buisness.

    Why is this? Because criminals not only have no social program, they can’t imagine a social program. Their power in some cases is immense, simply because they can hire a larger number of people. But they are never a mass movement, and what violence they direct at the State (as in Brazil) is simply that of self defense and intimidation. “Leave us alone and we will leave you alone,” is their attemped message.


  10. JJon 29 Oct 2008 at 12:24 pm 10

    Mentioned above was the power and ability of the Brazilian gangs to mount serious, albeit temporary challenges to the state. Also of the penetration of Federal police and intelligence agencies by the members of the gang. Note it was the PCC who determined the end time of the demonstration, the state was helpless.

    Right on our border is another interesting situation that is now penetrating into the US proper, e.g. kidnappings, murders etc.

    There have been several news reports of similar penetration of other agencies in Mexico.

    Cartel reportedly infiltrated Mexican attorney general’s office, BBC, Oct. 27, 2008

    What one is moved to ponder is in the New America how many more millions of sworn Federal officers will be needed to, using the vernacular, “keep a lid on it.” Also since there will be, without question similar levels of corruption, it should be quite an interesting time. If even now the US government has not been able to root out the double agents within ICE and DEA then it is not going to happen.

    Can’t stop this either:
    Mexican marijuana cartels sully US forests, parks
    By TRACIE CONE, Associated Press Writer

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    Weed and bug sprays, some long banned in the U.S., have been smuggled to the marijuana farms. Plant growth hormones have been dumped into streams, and the water has then been diverted for miles in PVC pipes.

    Rat poison has been sprinkled over the landscape to keep animals away from tender plants. And many sites are strewn with the carcasses of deer and bears poached by workers during the five-month growing season that is now ending.

    “What’s going on on public lands is a crisis at every level,” said Forest Service agent Ron Pugh. “These are America’s most precious resources, and they are being devastated by an unprecedented commercial enterprise conducted by armed foreign nationals. It is a huge mess.”
    These are all signs.

  11. Duncan C Kinderon 30 Oct 2008 at 12:04 am 11

    Mycophagist wrote:

    “‘Criminals,’ are just what the name implies, and history is full of powerful criminal organisations none of which took over the State.”

    However, according to the NYT article Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria:

    “‘Other countries have the mafia,’ said Atanas Atanasov, a member of Parliament and a former counterintelligence chief who is a magnet for leaked documents exposing corruption. ‘In Bulgaria, the mafia has the country.'”