Obviously no one in WDC paid attention in history class…

It’s really stunning to me. History used to be the favorite subject of political leaders worldwide. The old saw that says those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it is patent nonsense because any school child (at least the ones who paid attention in history class) can tell you that history does not, in fact, repeat, ever. However, it is true that people tend to respond to the situations they find themselves in with familiar patterns of behavior. People will tend to form their responses to familiar situations with solutions to their problems that they’ve seen others use. Whether they’re successful or not depends on how they read the history they were taught. So, many would-be world leaders have been avid students of the past because knowing how their predecessors responded to a given situation, and whether that response turned out well or not, gives them a broader palette to paint with.

What’s troubled me is that the current crop of history-makers, in particular the current Administration, seem to not even know the past on a superficial level. When the attacks of 9/11/01 happened one of the first things out of my mouth to anyone who wanted to listen was “looks like the Visigoths have decided to sack Rome again.” It seemed (and still does) abundantly clear to me then that the so-called Third World had had enough of living on the less-than-pleasant side of the Limes, and that the mercenary armies of proxy states that we’d established to protect our bacon, thus freeing us to indulge in gluttony and sloth, had decided that the Visigoths paid better. And yet the response our government has made, so far, to the fringes of our empire crumbling around us has been utterly out of context with what has happened.

William S. Lind writes frequently about what he calls Fourth Generation War. He very effectively states that the use of the word “terrorism” to describe the conflict we find ourselves currently in is a misnomer. Terrorism is a tactic, not the war itself. Fourth Generation War, as defined by Lind, is war that exists outside the framework of traditional nation states. It’s super-national war. He argues that the nations of the Middle East, for instance, are failed or false entities that generate no sense of allegiance. Young men in Iraq, for instance, who were conscripted into Saddam Hussein’s military had no allegiance to Hussein or to the Iraqi nation. This is part of what made them so easy to defeat in the opening days of the invasion. The characterization used frequently by the Bush Administration and others of what’s happening now in Iraq as an insurgency composed of elements of the old Hussein regime is nonsense. These young fighters feel allegiance to Islam, and perhaps to a grand conception of larger Arab or Muslim world, but not to the borders on the map that define the area they are currently fighting in.

One of the things that has happened as a result of the Iraq invasion is the deployment of large numbers of US National Guard troops. The National Guard was never designed to fight in foreign wars. Its purpose, and the main reason most of these people signed on for Guard duty, is the protection of individuals and property at the State level during disasters, both manmade and natural. These folks signed up to help their neighbors out during a flood, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, large-scale blackout, fire or on the outside chance that troops were needed to defend their home state from a military attack. As Lind puts it very well…

“For many Guardsmen, deployment to Iraq means economic ruin. They have mortgage payments, car payments, credit card debt, all calculated on their civilian salaries. Suddenly, for a year or more, their pay drops to that of a private. The families they leave behind face the loss of everything they have.”

Lind suggests that this is the reason we are beginning to see open resistance to service in Iraq on the part of National Guard troops. He also takes it further to suggest that use, or rather mis-use, of the Guard in Iraq raises the possibility that this war will destroy the Guard. Guard units who have been returned home have seen their numbers shrink dramatically when as many as 70% of Guard soldiers have chosen not to continue their service. Lind asks what will happen should a major disaster (or another attack like 9/11/01) occur in a few years should Guard enlistment dry up as a result of this war.

My perspective is, once again, historical. History shows us again and again that when soldiers feel they are being treated with disrespect, overused and overworked for work in causes they do not understand or believe in they simply walk away. The western Roman Empire fell not because the Visigoths sacked Rome, but because ultimately Roman citizens in the western half of the Empire no longer cared whether it stood or not. They refused military service, refused to pay taxes and refused to pledge obedience to the Emperor because they grew to see the institutions of Rome as without value.

The USA is still a long way from this kind of contempt for the institutions of its empire that I’m talking about above, but you can see how Rumsfeld and Co., with their massively incompetent mismanagement of troop rotations, deployments of Reserve and Guard elements into the field in Iraq for long tours of duty and inability to see that people like General Shinseki were right that you could win the war easily with 50K or 100K troops but could not maintain the peace and ensure security with anything less than 400,000 troops, have put cracks in one of the basic foundations of empire – a strong and devoted military.

If Lind is right, and we are in the midst of a Fourth Generation War, then the battle in Iraq is lost. No one can save it, and the smartest strategic move would really be to simply get the hell out.

If you’re interested in William S. Lind’s writing you can check out his columns here, at the Defense and the National Interest website.

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