Asymmetric warfare: Spain and 9/11

Asymmetric warfare: Spain and 9/11

Al-Qaida blew up those trains, a fact the just-ousted leadership of Spain and the Bushies apparently still can’t quite grasp. The attack was precisely 2 1/2 years to the day after 9/11, it deliberately targeted innocents, was meticulously planned and executed, and al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for it. Hello?

Yet conservatives in Spain tried to blame Basque separatists, even after it was obvious they weren’t responsible. So the election blew up in their faces, as Spaniards, who opposed to sending troops to Iraq by a whopping 90% margin, voted against the incumbent conservatives saying, if you hadn’t gotten us into this insane war, the train bombings wouldn’t have happened, so, we will remove you from power. 

Chalk up another victory, however unexpected, for asymmetric warfare.

asymmetric warfare (definition from WordSpy)

Warfare in which the combatants have markedly different military capabilities and the weaker side uses non-standard tactics such as terrorism.

Example Citation:

“The conflict is an example of asymmetric warfare, which does not match the relatively even strength of two conventional military forces. It occurs when a weaker combatant uses nontraditional weapons and strategy in order to obtain a fighting advantage over a stronger opponent.

The Palestinians are employing asymmetric tactics in order to achieve concessions from a conventionally stronger Israeli opponent, Cordesman says, attacking Israeli settlements, detonating car bombs, using the media as a ‘political weapon,’ and even hacking Israeli computers.”

This is a much-discussed topic in military circles. Overwhelming force doesn’t work well, if at all, against a shadowy entity like al-Qaida because the US a) barely knows who they are, much less *where* they are, b) relies way too heavily on spy gadgetry, and too little on infiltration, to find them, c) believes it could win by blowing them all up – once they find them, that it. In fact, such an approach often backfires, driving moderates to the other side(s).

Here’s why the US approach doesn’t work – from an article on the Spain bombings.:

One alarming reason why most western intelligence agencies appear to have accepted the theory that Eta <Basque separatists> was responsible was that they had no information about an increase in al-Qaida activity. They say there was no “chatter’ – an increase in intercepted communications and other signs – to suggest an al-Qaida attack in Europe was imminent. “Our understanding of al-Qaida is not as it should be,” one well-placed source admitted.

Translation: National Security Agency spy satellites didn’t find any increased activity in cell phone, email, fax, and other such communications by those thought to be al-Qaida, hence they concluded al-Qaida couldn’t have been planning anything. I find this ‘logic’ to be nearly comatose, as if a spy bird could ever tell the US military everything it wants to know, as if al-Qaida isn’t smart enough to realize they’re being monitored and use alternate means of communications.

I read somewhere one of the biggest advantages Mexican drug cartels have is that the DEA, at heart, thinks they’re dealing with “dumb Mexicans”, when in fact the cartels are highly intelligent, quite capable, and may well have better technology than the DEA. I find this same arrogant attitude in the US insistence it can win wars solely with smart bombs and track Evildoers simply by using spy satellites.

In a Rand Corporation book, “Networks and Netwars. The Future of Crime, Terror, and Militancy” – which was written before 9/11- the authors discuss asymmetric warfare, as well as their larger topic, that underground organizations like al-Qaida are networks, not hierarchies. There is no head to chop off, something that hierarchies have deep trouble understanding. Killing bin Laden wouldn’t do much. In fact, several months ago, al-Qaida announced they’d morphed into new entities which would be unrecognizable to the West. The Spain bombings may be a demonstration of that.

The authors of “Networks and Netwars” have high security clearances, deal with top level military on a regular basis, and are hardly starry-eyed idealists. However, in the book they point out, the best – maybe the only way – way to win against an entity like al-Qaida, is to have a “better story”, to make people want to believe in your side of the story, not theirs.

And in that, the US is failing, and failing badly.