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Of time and the rivers

By William S. Lind
web posted June 2, 2003

Whether the leaders and theoreticians of Fourth Generation forces such as al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah have heard of John Boyd, I do not know. It would not surprise me if they have; they generally seem to make better use of open-source intelligence than do America's high-tech, closed-system intelligence agencies. In any event, like Boyd, they do understand that war is conducted in time as well as in space, and that time is often the more important dimension.

A recent article in The American Conservative is titled, "God's Time: The Afghan war is over when the Afghans say so." The author, Jim Pittaway, makes the point that Fourth Generation, non-state Islamic forces have a wholly different view of time than does America. Of Afghan guerillas fighting the Soviets in the 1980s, he writes,

For more than a decade, they had been enduring the privations of life in the bush, organizing defenses, and preparing strategies that would ultimately lead them to success against the over - whelmingly superior forces of a global superpower...this idea of being on "God's time" led to an extraordinary degree of patience...

The same is true now that many of these same Fourth Generation fighters face American opponents:

As surely as the American soldiers and society will want to win and go home, these men do not need victory or closure in any comparable sense in order to justify their ongoing fight...Adversity, discouragement, and setbacks are never defeat; defeat is an epistemological impossibility except in the event that one ceases to believe...It is not his job to drive the "coalition" out; his job is to make them pay. Allah will see that they are driven out when it is his will to do so.

War on "God's time" has already fought us to a stalemate in Afghanistan, with very little fighting. Our puppet government in Kabul has failed to extend its authority beyond that city. Indeed, last week's mob assault on the American embassy, sparked by the mistaken killing of four Afghan Army soldiers by Marine embassy guards, shows that its ability to control its capital is shaky at best. The promised American "rebuilding" of Afghanistan has become a stale joke, because without security, nothing can be rebuilt. And America hasn't a clue on how to provide security in Afghanistan.

Or Baghdad, for that matter. Now, having found that M-1 tanks make poor police patrol cars, we are proposing to put a lot more American troops on Baghdad streets, in Humvees and on foot. Welcome to my parlor, say the Baathist and Shiite spiders to the fly. One RPG round will incinerate any Humvee, and foot patrols will be even easier game. When that happens, we will be back in the tanks, and someone else will control the streets. We could have used Iraq's own army for that purpose, but instead we have sent it home, without pay, providing a vast reservoir of fighters for our enemies. America's "plan" for occupying Iraq seems to have been to identify every possible mistake, then make it.

The American authorities in Baghdad claim to be restoring order, getting the economy moving, fixing the infrastructure, etc., but the Iraqi people don't seem to see any of it. We begin to sound like Saddam's Minister of Information. In fact, if he's still around, perhaps we should hire him. Already, American casualties are rising. Instead of bringing the troops home, we are sending in more. Those are not the usual signs of a war won.

In the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, time belongs to our opponents, not to us. We, not they, need closure. Our time is determined by American election cycles. They operate on "God's time." If they do not win today, or even fight today, there are many tomorrows -- for them, but not for us. If Iraq is still a mess and there is no end in sight a year from now, George Bush is in trouble.

The fly has occupied the flypaper. And time is always on the flypaper's side.

William S. Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • The beginning of the end of chaos? by Jackson Murphy (June 2, 2003)
    With a war in Iraq over opponents of the Bush administration are now accusing it of being ill-prepared for peace. Jackson Murphy responds
  • Don't take John Boyd's name in vain by William S. Lind (May 5, 2003)
    William S. Lind warns those who are arguing that Col. John Boyd's lessons on modern warfare have been successfully implemented in the American military machine that they could be wrong
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