Grim Beorn’s post Clausewitz and the Sunni Triangle is perhaps one of the best descriptions of the Iraq War.
Grim identified the two centers of gravity in this war – The Sunni Tribes and the US Congress. If the Tribes flipped, Al-Qaeda loses. If Congress flips, Al-Qaeda wins. This was a race to see who would lose first.
Remember that all the bad stuff that happens to us, happens to the enemy as well.
The First Center of Gravity is the Sunni Tribes of Iraq. They are the foundation of any insurgency in Iraq. Iraq is a tribal society, so these ties are far more important than any other ideology, sect or ethnicity.
Al-Qaeda and its loosely affiliated Islamists Guerrillas embarked on a losing strategy in 2004.
Grim describes how the fog of war creates the “myth of the guerrilla” and confusion. Dismantling this myth and looking at the guerrillas as real human actors gives us a better idea of what is going on. The Islamists were never as powerful as they seemed. They reached the culminating point of their attack in 2004 but were unable to achieve victory when they had the window of opportunity. Thereafter, AQI would get relatively weaker compared to the Iraqi Government.
Part of the reason is because Al-Qaeda and other Islamists were in conflict with the Sunni tribes. Without their firm support, the Islamists could never capture and hold territory.
For all the worrying about the things we do that might turn the populace against us, it is rarely remembered that the enemy can turn the populace against it too.
There is cause to think that it is doing so.
Consider this: the Sunni Triangle, as mentioned, is largely tribal in culture. People who grew up there are strongly attached to the tribal system, which to them seems as natural and morally right as the sun rising in the east and the moon waxing and waning. The enemy of the tribe is your enemy — and it is not our side that is wrecking the tribal strength.
It is the guerrillas in Iraq who are undoing the tribal structure, scorning the traditional authority, and bringing chaotic change to the Sunni Triangle. The US military has negotiated with tribal leaders, not only in Fallujah but constantly. Had the assualt on Fallujah been completed, we would have emplaced tribal leaders over a town secure enough for them to control, instead of one that still contained a large enemy force. We would not have occupied it ourselves, any more than we have occupied Najaf.
The scorning of the tribes is an offense to the natural order in the minds of many Iraqis. Some will join, heart and mind, with the guerrillas — they will accept that the tribal order was wrong and deserved to be overturned, in favor of Allah’s divine sha’riah. Most will not, though while the guerrillas are present in numbers and with guns, they will be silent. Even the Afghans, a well-armed and fiercely independent people, did not toss out the Taliban, though they were very glad to see the back of them. The guerrillas in the Sunni Triangle, likewise, are their own worst argument.
American arrogance, for all we hear about it, does not match the arrogance of the guerrillas.
Al-Qaeda could never reach the culminating point of victory. Their very tactics weakened their own base of support. There were rising tensions and increasing fighting between the Tribes and the guerrillas between 2005 and 2006. In 2006, the Anbar Tribes rebelled against the insurgency for every reason Grim described. This tribal rebellion spread to over 40% of Iraqi today. The Sunni Tribes are now the Schwerpunkt of the American COIN operation. The US is focusing the vast bulk of its effort onto this focal point to achieve victory.
The Islamists just lost their center of gravity in Iraq. Can they recover their balance or not? I don’t know. But AQI is most certaintly destabalized at the moment.
Grim also described the American Center of Gravity well. This was not the American soldiers on the ground, who were doing just fine. Al-Qaeda launched an Information War against the American public and Congress to force an American withdrawal. AQ has stated repeatedly that all they have to do is kill a few soldiers and the American public will panic and withdraw them. AQ’s terror campaign is in part targetting the American people with deceptive propaganda to make the Iraqi situation seem far worse than it is.
The Trinity is the balance between Rational, Irrational, and Non-Rational Forces. Grim described how the Americans could be defeated since many at home are incapable of rationally understanding the war.
Friction is an enemy of rationality, as it takes rational decisions and distorts their effect.
Most Americans obviously do not know what Friction is. They think its effects must be the result of incompetence. They see the effects and assume rational intent, basically getting everything backwards and completely wrong.
This is a particular flaw of American politicians who have a rational incentive to appeal to the public’s emotion with rhetoric and condemnation of failures. Yet this is not conducive to rational military operations.
By yielding control of military operations to the front-line forces, the government chooses a very rational course: their policy goals are more likely to come about. The military can more effectively impose its rationality on the field. The government need only be clear about the end state it desires.
The real danger of defeat lies in the irrational aspects of the American people, including both her voters and her political class.
The irrational aspects are out of balance because few Americans have the background to evaluate war in a rational way. The military science is absent from teaching at the high-school level, and taught to only a minority of college students. Americans in general do not know what to do with the information they get from the media, and so they are especially vunerable to fear, anger, anguish, and worry — the irrational aspects.
This dynamic is worsened because the media presenting those facts has no grasp of the military science. Not only do Americans not know how to evaluate the information they are getting, but the people conveying that information don’t understand it either.
Even to the extent that civilians say they “support the troops,” the statement is meaningless if they do not understand the mission that the troops are being sacrificed for. It’s not about “supporting the troops.” It’s about the mission.
Supporting the troops is an emotional argument – good perhaps, but it is fickle. The mission is rational.
When you lack knowledge and a framework for understanding military operations and the mission, all appears like a confusing blur. Nothing is in perspective and minor events seem more frequent and severe than they are. Humans get frightened by loud noises and act like startled goats.
To quote Private Hudson:
That’s it man, game over man, game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?
So Grim urges us to restore the balance of the Trinity. We have to bring back rationality and calm the Private Hudsons in Congress. Or at least smack them upside the head real hard.
The best military professionals can do is try to educate the public about what the military does. I mean the real substance of the profession – like a doctor explaining how vaccines work to their patients.
Grim Beorn has been focused on these two centers of gravity since the start of the war. He is not distracted by actions on the fringes or irrelvant disruptions. The war is all about the Tribes and Congress. Keep focused on those two centers and you understand the tug and pull of the war effort.