Recent years have seen the transition of social media from a source of entertainment, a way to share photos and funny videos with friends and family members, to a powerful tool for change at the regional and national level. The Arab Spring of 2011 witnessed uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain, fueled by the use of social media, resulting in the toppling of several governments. More recently, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) conducted a well-funded, professionally developed social media campaign in its blitz across Iraq, which helped them increase recruitment, raise funds and expand their reach to a widespread audience.
With the move to Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF), ground forces could find themselves deployed across the globe within hours of being alerted. These environments will be dynamic and can rapidly change with the presence of U.S. Forces. It is critical that Commanders have the ability to gain and maintain an understanding of the local population beyond traditional forms of Intelligence.
The competition between Russia and Britain for control of Central Asia and environs, including Afghanistan, was termed “The Great Game.” It lasted roughly from 1813 to 1907 and beyond. It was waged for national prestige and economic gain – and because India was a jewel in the British Crown. That is, it was about power, real and perceived.
The phrase “New Great Game” has been used more than once. In one instance it was used as shorthand for the competition between Russia, China, and various western powers for political influence and access to the raw materials of Central Asia in the post Soviet era. It has also been used for U.S. involvement in Central Asia during the Soviet and post Soviet eras, especially since 9/11.
After 20 years in the U.S. Army and 30 in the U.S. Foreign Service – including two tours of duty as a U.S. ambassador – I’ve been involved in numerous civil-military exercises since I retired in 2012. In particular, I was asked to help prepare the military to work effectively in a post-Afghanistan environment.
Organizations operate like they train. So, it’s important that training is relevant and realistic to make sure our young men and women, in and out of uniform, are prepared for future challenges. This is especially important for the military after the final withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan – now scheduled for the end of 2016.
Intelligence has failed us again. 9/11, Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, London, Iraq and its missing weapons of mass destruction, Afghanistan and now ISIS – can all be seen as intelligence failures. ISIS did not come out of nowhere. For 18 months, they have been gathering money and recruits, exploiting social media and developing a clear strategy. All these activities are the daily grind for our intelligence and security agencies, so why did we not know what they were going to do, how quickly they could move or how appealing they would be to young people?
Yes, sometimes failure is complicated. Take 9/11 for example. It was easy in retrospect to identify all the relevant dots of information and draw a line from the Twin Towers to Afghanistan. Not a straight line, but from New York, Washington, New Jersey, Boston, Florida, Germany, Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan. Those responsible were taking flying lessons, renting houses with cash, moving money around from Europe to the U.S. via the Middle East. We also had prior doubts about some of the individuals involved. The clues were there, so where was the intelligence?
Cyberspace – a vast, complex and dynamic environment that has significantly altered the battlespace of the 21st Century.
It is empowering non-state actors, creating new vulnerabilities and combining with other technologies and trends in unpredictable and dangerous ways. The cyber domain offers adversaries the opportunity to gather and share intelligence and data, shape perceptions and affect physical operations.
Cyber is not just a war between computer networks, it is a virtual human world (social media) and a potential weapon or vulnerability that affects every other aspect of warfare and security.
“The moderate Syrian opposition” is ruining the debate over U.S. policy on Syria. It is an essentially meaningless phrase that has taken the place of any thoughtful consideration. It is useful, though, insofar as it informs the listener that the speaker: a) has no idea what he is talking about, or b) does not want the listener to know what he is talking about.
There is nothing moderate about civilian populations taking up arms against their state. That is an act of total, zealous commitment. So when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an August 29 New York Timeseditorial, “We need to support Iraqi forces and the moderate Syrian opposition” against ISIS, what did he mean?
No military strategy will promise success unless it gives full discount to the non-military factors of politics, economics and sociology.
While cleaning up the files on my desk recently, I came across a copy of a declassified top secret document from the Vietnam War era, part of which is a strategic appraisal provided by the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (CG-FMFPAC). Written 49 years ago, the CG’s appraisal makes two concise points. Paraphrased, they are: (1) the enemy’s greatest strength is manpower, and we are foolish to attempt to fight that fight and expect to win and (2) we ignore civil considerations our peril.
The writing is intense and potent: “Scrupulous attention to these two facts is a design for victory. Evasion of their implications is the route to defeat.”