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Torture and Fourth Generation War

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By:John Seiler | December 12, 2014

Discussions on this week’s Senate report on the CIA and torture centered on two things: whether it’s moral. (It isn’t. Before 9/11, all Americans agreed on that.) And whether it worked to protect our country. The report said torture didn’t do any good.

But former Vice President Dick Cheney charged the report was “full of c***.” According to FoxNews, which summarized its interview with him:

“Cheney would not comment on specific instances of ill-treatment… But he said he and President George W. Bush were fully informed of approved interrogation techniques — including water boarding — and applauded the work of the CIA.”

Cheney said: “The men and women of the CIA did exactly what we wanted to have them do in terms of taking on this program. It was not deemed torture by the lawyers, and secondly, it worked.”

It’s somewhat amusing how analysts noted this was the first time Cheney identified Bush as knowing everything about the torture. In mafia terms, it’s like the consigliere, who’s supposed to be the ultimate insulation, fingering the don.

Cheney’s words also showed Bush and the rest of their administration ignored how terrorism, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the other recent wars, are part of what’s called Fourth Generation War, or 4GW.

Fortunately, the major strategist 4GW has come out with a new book, On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind, 2003-2009. The foreward is by noted military strategist and historian Martin van Crevald. It’s on Kindle, which offers a free sample from the early pages. But you also can read many of the columns free where they first appeared online at Some also are here.

Lind explains:

“First Generation warfare relies on massed manpower; Second Generation on massed firepower. Both First and Second Generation warfare are essentially linear. Third Generation warfare shifts to non-linear tactics based on speed and flexibility. Fourth Generation warfare is also non-linear; the fighting is conducted by non-state forces unbound by the rules of conventional warfare. However, the strategic objectives of Fourth Generation warriors extend beyond mere terrorism, which is only a technique.”

Lind has developed his theories after the insights of the late Col. John Boyd, USAF, whom Lind calls “undoubtedly the greatest military theorist America has produced.” Lind explains:

“Another of John Boyd's most important contributions to military theory was his observation that war is waged at three levels, the physical, the mental and the moral. The physical level is the weakest and the moral level is the strongest, with the mental in between.”

America is the greatest force ever at the physical level. Its military spans the globe and can strike with the most advanced weapons available, from drones to nuclear missiles.

Yet at the moral level – America’s global reputation of being the world’s good guys – the latest torture scandal is a major strategic defeat. As with other such scandals, such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, it will prove a recruitment tool for ISIS, al Qaeda, the Taliban and whatever other 4GW forces are out there or will develop.

Strategic myopia is characteristic not just of Cheney and Bush, but of the military establishment and the whole Neocon movement, which never has shown even an inkling of understanding 4GW. In recent days National Review has run story after story defending the torture and attacking Senate Democrats – no Republicans signed on – for releasing the report. For example, Ian Tuttle’s article is headlined, “Willful Blindness on Detainees.” Subheadline, “The Democrats’ CIA report overlooks the indispensable clues enhanced interrogation provided.”

He quotes former CIA director Michael Hayden from a 2011 interview, “What we got, the original lead information — and frankly it was incomplete identity information on the couriers — began with information from CIA detainees at the black sites.”

But Tuttle includes nothing of how the “enhanced interrogation” has been a 4GW strategic disaster, with consequences far worse than if there had been no bin Laden raid. Of course, the raid led to the Obama 2012 campaign slogan, mouthed by VP Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention, “Bin Laden is dead, General Motors is alive,” which quickly became a popular bumper sticker.

The question is whether those who run American foreign and military policy ever will be able to see the 4GW strategic picture beyond the next torture session, the next drone strike, the next foolish war or the next election.



Nicholas MOSES
Paris (FR)
12/13/2014 12:00 PM

  The three-pronged analysis (physical, moral, mental) is helpful, but needs qualification especially on the moral level. If state-sanctioned torture erodes the image and moral credibility of the U.S. and thereby provides an important recruitment tool for ISIL et al, what can we say about the latter's beheading of Christian children? The moral level is pliable between and among cultures: differing standards and perspectives make it impossible for a moral regime satisfactory to say Islam to satiate us, or vice-versa. The result will be escalating tribalism and cynicism in the physical conduction of warfare. Bush, Cheney and company need to be held accountable for their actions, but they are but one ingredient in the movement toward the bottom.

Clyde Wilson
Columbia, SC
12/13/2014 12:55 PM

  Let us remember also that the feds now have the effective capacity and will to massacre or disappear any American citizen they deem a potential "terrorist" without any process of law whatsoever. For all we know, they may already be doing so, Remember also, that for the feds, "rightwing extremists" are the chief "domestic terror" threat. The U.S. crossed this threshold under the first Bush, long before 9/11. The legal guarantees that are the very core of freedom may now by bypassed with impunity. The Founding Fathers would instantly recognise TYRANNY..

Harry Heller
San Francisco
12/13/2014 02:02 PM

  "Yet at the moral level – America’s global reputation of being the world’s good guys " Is it certain that America's reputation is what Col. Boyd meant by "the moral level" of warfare? Since when is "moral reputation" more important than physical power in winning wars? I am sceptical that such idiocy is in fact Boyd's position. In the Hobbesian sphere of geostrategy it is probably better to be feared than loved. I thought traditional conservatives understood this. "But Tuttle includes nothing of how the “enhanced interrogation” has been a 4GW strategic disaster, with consequences far worse than if there had been no bin Laden raid." But Mr. Seiler provides no evidence that this alleged "scandal" (a liberal's "scandal" might be a conservative's "common sense") has actually been a 4GW strategic disaster. His notion seems to be that we shouldn't upset the enemy. This is another example of what I call "manipulationist liberalism". Instead of standing on grounds of political principle (here, "you threaten USA, you may get tortured" - not that waterboarding is much in the way of torture: how about using a bolt cutter and car lighter to chop off fingers and cauterize their stubs until the savage talks, as the protagonist did in the massively underrated but excellent Tony Scott/Denzel Washington picture MAN ON FIRE (which I dimly recall the Chronicles film reviewer disliked)?) the manipulationist seeks to cajole preferred behavior via rearranging conditions. "Midnight basketball leagues" of yore was a classic example (instead of capturing and manfully punishing criminals, the idea is that we can reduce crime by manipulating environments, in this case, providing special athletic leagues for "at-risk" youth, so they shoot hoops instead of each other). Thus, instead of annihilating those who wish to harm us, according to Mr. Seiler we should do nothing which might increase their enmity. What's next? Nation-building? "Hearts and minds"? Root causes?

Joe Johnson
12/13/2014 05:27 PM

  I believe all of this got started with honest abe.

Letters From Canada
12/13/2014 07:34 PM

  If there would be any justice, Geoge and Dick would spend the rest of their lives in jail. Since USA foundation is based on slavery and white racism, no wonder it evolved to torture.


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