A DIFFERENT KIND OF WAR

 

     The country has been repeatedly told and reminded that we are at war.  From the highest political offices to the pulpits, the phrase is often repeated – make no mistake about it, we are at war.  The repetitious use of the phrase belies an underlying simplistic conception of its meaning.  America has been attacked, and America is fighting back.  This is war.  At the same time, while most would admit that this is a different kind of war, those differences and their implications for how this war must be conducted if we are to be successful are seldom, if ever, articulated.  Identifying those differences is critical, both in terms of defining the purposes for which we are engaged in “war” as well as how we will achieve those purposes.

 

     We are at war with terrorism.  The phrase itself shows how this war is different from conventional war – one carried out by legitimate authority (states) and executed by warriors under the governing influence of that authority.  Confusion is added when we also maintain that the forces we are at war with are not warriors, but rather criminals.  This is a different kind of war indeed.  Add to the confusion our treatment of these criminals as both criminals and warriors by invoking the criminal or military justice system to our convenience as the situation dictates and affords.  Yes, this is a different kind of war, with its rules being worked out even as we are involved in it.

 

     Our objective in this war is to root out terrorists wherever they may be found.  It is a war that stretches around the globe, involving a large, varied and variable array of collaborations and coalitions.  It is truly worldwide in scope, but is it truly war?

 

     War is, in its essence, the use of force to compel another to ones will.  Its character can take many forms. Military on military conflict under the direction and governing influence of nation states is only one form.  As, sociologically speaking, war is a legitimate activity, it is important what we legitimize by our actions and our justifications of those actions.  Although it is certainly not our intent to legitimize terrorism, both our actions and our expressions in our current “war on terrorism” have a very real potential to do so.  What is more important, however, is to truly define the struggle we are in, as that is the first step in determining how best to achieve the ends we seek, and if war, however characterized, is best suited to achieve these ends.

 

     The following is an illustration of the problem.  A recurring and difficult challenge in this on-going war is the identification and prosecution of targets.  We have been attacked by an un-seen enemy, who claims no allegiance to a geographical, political entity.  How do we show progress in this war?  Traditional measures fail us.  There is no country specifically linked to the terrorist acts, although we would desperately like to find a link.  There is no territory to capture.  There are no armies arrayed against us to destroy.  There is no clearly defined front or rear in this war.  What scorecard do we keep so that we can measure success and prove to an anxious public that we are, in fact, winning?  Showing a list of captured or killed terrorists proves little in this war unless we can show and explain why these individuals were the center of gravity of the opposing forces. 

 

     As uncomfortable as it may be to accept, the struggle that we have entered is an ideological struggle.  It is a “Faith Based Initiative” writ large, and one in which traditional measures of success in war have little meaning.  It is a very individual, personal ideology – faith.  There can be little doubt that those who seek to destroy us are embarked on a crusade, with all of the volatility which that expression carries in terms of that historical event of the same name.  And why should this surprise us?  History, if it teaches us anything, teaches us this – that there is nothing new under the sun.  It is cyclical.  There will never be either a war to end all wars nor a final sociological structure that will limit the character which war will take.  History and the character of war does, and will continue, to evolve, transform and repeat.

 

     If we can accept that this struggle is, in essence, ideological, then perhaps we can begin to appreciate and accept that war, whatever its character du jour, is not the most appropriate means to prosecute it, because force does not get at the critical vulnerabilities.  In fact, the critical vulnerabilities in an ideological struggle dictate a radically different targeting process.      

 

     The basics of targeting are fairly simple, although its execution is not.  In essence, targeting involves the following: location; identification; the matching of available weapons and means of delivery to the target and desired effect on the target; prosecution; impact analysis (BDA in military vernacular).  Transposing this process onto an ideological struggle presents unique, although not insurmountable, challenges. 

 

     In its largest sense, what is being targeted, the critical vulnerability, is a collective identity and shared sense of destiny of a group of people, the cohesion of which is maintained by ideology rather than political, geographic, or economic dependencies.  Prosecuting this target type requires a radical rethinking of what each element of the targeting process really means.  Location becomes identification and definition of the collective identity as well as how that collective identity is maintained and broadened.  What is the cultural medium in which they operate?  What are the cultural, societal, and individual needs which they seek to meet?  How do they communicate their message to maintain that cohesion and broaden their base?  Identification becomes more a measure of commitment – identification of those already committed to both the ideology and the use of violence in its furtherance, and identification of those inclined or disposed to be swayed to its cause.  Matching the weapons and delivery means to the target and desired effect in such a conflict shows just how different this targeting process is.  Traditional targeting seeks three principle effects on target – destruction, neutralization, and harassment.  Targeting in an ideological conflict seeks radically different effects: dissuasion, conviction, and conversion.  Likewise, the weapons are radically different, these effects requiring that a new faith, new hope, and a commitment to the law of love replace a misplaced faith, false hope, and hate.  It is misplaced, not because the object of faith is unworthy, but rather because the substance of what they hope for and the evidence they seek of what is unseen are completely unworthy of any conception of the eternal, who has no design on temporal, political thrones but rather the thrones of our hearts, and has no desire to compel by force, but rather seeks to win our hearts through love. 

 

     Such weapons, as well, require drastically different means of delivery.  They require one on one, and one by one relationship building, as well as focused efforts to meet the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of the “target.”  This is indeed a different kind of war, if it can be called war at all.  It is a spiritual war (not to be confused with a religious war), and, as such, is the only conception of war that is different, by nature, from any of our temporal conceptions.  Neither compelence nor force are part of its description and, in this war, hate and violence are not combated with fire and steel.  That type of war has its place and is, unfortunately, necessitated by the human condition.  Those who are committed to the use of violence and hatred to compel others to their will must be dealt with, and the “rules of war,” however incongruous the elements of that statement seem, must be followed and enforced if we are to limit wars destructive capacity and continue to exist.  Of much greater importance in this struggle, however, is the commitment of this nation to tolerance and our willingness to sacrifice to meet the needs of others, both at home and abroad, so that this message of hate has no ground in which to root and spring up.  Where there is disease, hunger, poverty, and despair, we must be active and involved in bringing healing, a helping hand, and hope.  This is the message and spirit of America, not vengeance.  The amount of time, effort, material, and dollars being poured into the war against those committed to violence should be far exceeded by that committed to bringing a helping hand and hope to those in need.  That is the scorecard that should be in our desk drawer.  And this, even more than war, requires a commitment to work with our partners internationally.  The needs are too vast for any one nation to bear the burden alone.  We don’t need a coalition of the willing.  To succeed in this struggle, we need a coalition of the committed.  What is the commitment of America, together with her partners, to assist in the success of the multiple fledgling democracies around the world?  What is the commitment to the plight of the thousands upon thousands of those dying of HIV Aids and leaving motherless and fatherless children?  What is the commitment to feed the hungry, cloth those who are naked, heal the sick, and assuage the thirst for knowledge, that necessity by and through which all are enabled to achieve a good life for themselves?     

 

     The critical difference in our current conflict is its ideological and spiritual basis.  Unless we resolve and accept this, we will be forever stymied by our lack of ability in achieving what we seek, for it is impossible to root out an ideology with fire and steel.  The use of terror and violence is not the root of the problem.  That is more an evolution in the character of war and societal rules for its conduct, and is a problem all its own.  The real struggle, which plays to America’s strengths, is in the heart of man.