Wrong Question, Worse Time

by Milo Clark

March 11, 2002


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One factor which I notice I presently assume, although not precisely spelled out, may be stated simply: Conventional 20th Century strategy, tactics and weaponry are now irrelevant. All the king's horses and all the king's men as generally assumed no longer apply. More than Humpty Dumpty have fallen. The wall he sat on is down, too.

Looking backward to WW II which extends to Korea, then going forward through the assumptions of Cold War sideshows and opening acts, conflicts possibly engaging the primary actors were based in armored swarms and slogging foot soldiers bolstered by air power and shadowed by nuclear capabilities.

The pragmatics of an increasing number of conflicts between then and now, however, showed that wars or engagements fought rarely displayed those characteristics. Both major actors were stymied and frustrated when conflicts to the contrary showed the fallacies of the key assumptions known as military doctrines on which they depended.

American experience in Vietnam and Soviet experience in Afghanistan have in common a new set of probabilities. When opponents are fragmented geographically. When there is some sort of overriding ideology or communal focus. When there is little infrastructure or established investment to destroy. When there are significant outside suppliers. Then all the conventionally applied and unconventionally applied conventional weaponry may no longer be decisive. The balances maybe tipped by presently unknown factors.

An interim horror is collapsing states and resultant anarchy plus chaos, viz., twenty-plus years of a dysfunctional Afghanistan. However, as long as interests judged vital are untrammeled significantly, those conditions which serve to destabilize and render impotent former states can be managed relatively easily at minimal risk, viz., Sub-Saharan Africa. Only people suffer -- mostly obscure, probably tribal, certainly of little note -- those kinds of people. Vital interests either don't exist or are maintained whether or not people suffer.

Given the relatively recently revealed arrival of weaponry delivering massive destruction rather personally, when combined with the general strategic inutility of conventional warfare even unconventionally applied, military opposition then takes on new levels of risk even for the most foolhardy of fanatics.

Survival alternatives available are much reduced. Direct confrontation has a very low probability of effectiveness. When heavy new stuff comes down, fade fast, find safe houses, go to the mattresses. Symbolic sacrifice is iffy. Although we may well remember the Tet Offensive which some consider tipped the Vietnam balances, that build-up took years.

Writing in Swans on 1st January 2002 ("War as Punishment Risks Splattering"), I offered a "first rule of interpersonal and international relations: Don't piss on the jackboots of a bully. Second rule: If the front door is blocked, come around behind. First axiom: Bullies can be had by good thinking, avoiding confrontation and picking opportunities carefully. Second axiom: Symbols communicate. Calculate the bully's trigger point. Work on fallback, feint, parry and thrust. Which is to say, the way to do a bully is to stay out of sight, work around rather than at, fake him out..."

Anybody seen bin Laden recently? Is Sharon prevailing in Palestine?

Axis of Evil: "Rogue" States are those who may be defined as capable of organizing, maybe delivering, weapons of mass destruction (an ill-defined but symbolically convincing idea). Big States possessing and improving weapons of mass destruction, especially delivery systems, such as all members of NATO, Russia, China, India and Pakistan, et al., may be too big to take on just yet. So go after some smaller, presumably safe rogues to demonstrate the possible next level of lessons to be given. Ok, so they get blown away in the next show. Then what?

Then we are back to folks who don't fight fair.

Question: Were you of a mind to twist a lion's tail, how would you go about it?


       Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine. Milo can be reached at Swans.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Milo G. Clark 2002. All rights reserved.

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Published March 11, 2002
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