Goodbye 4GW, Hello Transactional Warfare

Guest blogger Daniel Markham posts a followup to his post on The First Media War.

There have been some great books lately on how warfare is both returning to its desultory roots and evolving from Mao’s war to a decentralized trans-national threat. One buzzword is 4GW, which stands for Fourth Generation Warfare. The general idea behind all of these works is that war keeps evolving, and understanding how it is evolving is essential for winning it.

Indeed, “What war are we fighting?” seems to be a popular topic among armchair Generals, and real Generals too. In a recent article in Armed Forces Journal, Major General Bob Scales, Ret, after digging up the ghost of Clausewitz for yet another trip through the briar patch, says it’s World War IV and we need to understand what the “amplifying factors” are. Amplifiers are not “multipliers” or “enablers” in that their influence on the course of war is nonlinear rather than linear; amplifiers don’t simply accelerate the trends of the past, they make war different.

For example, World War I was a chemists’ war in that the decisive strategic advantage on the battlefield was driven in large measure by new applications of chemistry and chemical engineering. The war should have ended for the Germans in 1915 when their supplies of gunpowder nitrates exhausted. But the synthesis of nitrates by
German scientists allowed the war to continue for another three horrific years. World War II was a physicists’ war. To paraphrase Churchill, the atom bomb ended the conflict, but exploitation of the electromagnetic spectrum in the form of the wireless and radar won it for the allies. “World War III” was the “information researchers'” war, a war in which intelligence and knowledge of the enemy and the ability to fully exploit that knowledge allowed the U.S. to defeat the Soviet Union with relatively small loss of life.

So what does General Scales and the academic he quotes think is going to be the amplifier in WWIV?

…controlling amplifier will be human and biological rather than organizational or technological. From his theory we can postulate a new vision of the battlefield, one that shifts from the traditional linear construct to a battlefield that is amoebic in shape; it is distributed, dispersed, nonlinear, and essentially formless in space and unbounded in time. This war and all to follow will be what I would call “psycho-cultural” wars.

The General goes on to say that sociologists are going to be needed in the new war along with scientific psychology “Cultural psychology can teach us to better understand both common elements of human culture and how they differ. An understanding of these commonalities and differences can help gain local allies, fracture enemy subgroups, avoid conflicts among allies, promote beneficial alliances and undermine enemy alliances. ”

I think the general is on to something here. Populations and attitudes play a critical role in our next war, even if it gets a lot hotter. The goal of any war is to make the enemy stop fighting, whether that enemy is one guy on the internet or an entire national command structure. There are obviously roles that culture play, and psychology and the way people think is an important part of all of this.

In short, I think the general is so close it’s a crying shame, as we say in the south. But a war for social scientists and scientific psychology? It seems that the general would keep the Armed Forces the same, and just “smarten up” the way we select and train people, sprinkling some little buzz words from the towers of academia over them as they head off into battle.

I know I’m new to the party, and I don’t have any stars on my collar, but I beg to disagree. Close, but no banana. The general is so close — the answer is sitting right under his nose.

Carl von Clausewitz, military philosopher
Is war a continuation of commerce by other means? Must we choose between “wrestling” or “politics”? Can’t it be both?

This is not the social-sciences war. Those guys couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. This is the businessman’s war. And it’s a war for which we are overwhelmingly prepared.

Welcome to Transactional Warfare.

Transactional Warfare states that the battlefield is described by messages and options, as I posted earlier. That the side that wins is the side that, by use of options and messages causes the other side to be unable to make any sales.

Sales? That’s right. Sales. TW stipulates that the fight for ideas, for hearts and minds, for psycho-cultural values, is a fight that businessmen have been engaged with for hundreds of years. That we have evolved the tools, separate from the military, to scale a discussion from one person selling a used car to launching a complex product line in a foreign market. We can measure, plan, and fight other ideas in any culture in the world. We can integrate media, messages, options, positioning to maximum benefit. Heck, we’ve even been known to integrate low-level armed conflict into our product campaigns. This is idea warfare, meme warfare, product warfare, and it’s what we know best.

But back to definitions for a minute.

Messages that are relevant to a population can be discovered fairly easily. In business, we call these “Key Selling Points“, “Unique Selling Propositions“, “Value Statements”, or “Political Maneuvers” (one good Clausewitz deserves a Machiavelli. >) In addition, there is a strategic position for any population for any set of messages and options. This relationship of options and messages in the market can be graphed, and opportunities discovered. In fact, a similar process is used for new products that are being brought to market — the goal is to position the product in the market to the maximum degree possible.

Sample Strategic Positioning Chart
Sample chart demonstrating for any message and its converse, various options can be plotted to show weaknesses and opportunities. Sample data only

Transactions are an exchange of economic value for a change in options and a delivery of messages. This is my column, I get to make the rules. A transaction, by this definition, can consist of a door-to-door salesmen selling vacuum cleaners. It can also consist of a laser-targeted bomb taking out a building where terrorist hide. Yes — it is wooly and it covers a lot of ground, but the new war also covers a lot of ground, if you haven’t noticed. The key concept is that every transaction in a market changes the risk of terrorism in that market.

That is, if I sell a cell phone from a street-corner in Baghdad, I have changed the risk of terrorism, to a very small degree. If I give a hundred dollars to tsunami relief, I have changed the risk of terrorism. If an Iraqi police commando team storms an insurgent hideout, the risk of terrorism changes. If the opposition party in Spain runs TV spots calling to get out of Iraq immediately, it changes the risk of terrorism — transactions are not good or bad based on how they change the immediate risk! Sometimes increasing short term risk might well be worth it in the long term, as in messages and options from the loyal opposition. But each transaction, the options it changes and the messages it sends, changes the war at a tactical level. That must be acknowledged.

In the past, we have concentrated on transactions that work at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid — we spend money, the bomb or the solider kills you. The message is that if you capitulate, we stop sending the bombs. This seems like a clean-cut and “honest” transaction for westerners. We like the simplicity. Other cultures, however, view the concept of war in a much more nuanced light. There are all sorts of capitulation, for example. I might not openly take up arms, but do so covertly. I might not take up arms at all, but might support those who do. If we are fighting a fluid, amoebic, and “fuzzy” war, we’re going to need better tools than body counts and exchange ratios.

So what is terrorism, anyway? Isn’t it the decision by a person or persons to hurt other people? A decision to use stealth to deliberately attack civilians in order to change political realities? In effect, a “sale” has been made by the opposition. All throughout their life, this person heard messages from both sides of the debate, finally choosing where to put their money (life). Their understanding of the messages of both sides, and their understanding of what options are available to them, directly contribute to the sale.

>From a population standpoint, the risk of a single person becoming a terrorist is very similar to the risk of a single person getting cancer, or dying early, or having an accident. Insurance companies manage these risks all the time. We have plenty of tools and methodologies for measuring and managing risk in a population. Why aren’t we using them?

Each transaction changes the risks, to a small degree. If we understand that ALL transactions have this effect, and we understand that we can measure risk before and after groups of transactions, then it follows that we should group transactions together into coordinated efforts to change the risk of terrorism. We should measure, promote, and coordinate those groups of transactions that do us the most good.

I’m not trying to be mushy or soft. Killing a terrorist with a sniper is a perfectly good transaction to reduce the risk of terrorism. The larger point, however, is that we need a management and planning structure that easily scales up from transaction groups that give free water bottles to villagers to small unit tactics. We need a philosophy of warfare that encompasses fatwas as well as sneak-and -peeks. We need an integrated command, planning, execution, and measurement environment. Else everybody — all of our allies, all of our departments and agencies, all of our NGOs — goes their own way, and we loose the synergy that would otherwise be available to us.

We have some clear models for terrorism that we can use. Terrorism is a risk in the population that can be measured and tracked. We have industries and experts that know how to do this in the private sector. The marketing and sales of terrorism, (or acts of terrorism) is also a concept that we can track and plan for. We have the best experts in the world at motivating people to make decisions, and better yet, we have management and planning structures to do this. Key Selling Points can be determined and plotted against market share. Finally, opportunities can be identified and projects put together to maximize economic return in the Long War. Start-ups and new product lines each day, all over this country, are identifying holes in mind share and market share and pinpoint targeting products to go into those spots.

None of this is anything new. If you were to ask, say, Coca-Cola to sell blue soda in Pakistan, within a few weeks they could tell you who the thought leaders were in the market, where the market was strategically and tactically, where the other products were, and what overall strategy would work best. They could tell you how much money it would cost, how the media and ground campaign would come off, and what type of return they would expect. Do you think a presidential candidate tries out any new platform without an almost exact understanding of where it will move the electorate? To be more provocative, if Baghdad asked BlackWater USA, the best PR firm in the Mideast, and a civil engineering firm from Jordan (note the combination of options and messages) to secure some city in Iraq and turned them loose to do it — would that be more or less effective than what is going on now? I understand that some of this is art, but there is also much science. Moving people to action is something we in the commercial sector have been working on for centuries. And better still, we have lots of examples of it working or not working all around us.

Why not use them?

Blogs, Fish, Ponds, Snakes

USA Today has an intreresting column today about the real – as opposed to perceved – impact of blogs.

Indeed, the bloggers had scored big. They had helped vault a local politician to national prominence and cemented the Iraq war as Issue No. 1 in the congressional elections. Not a bad day.

But their victory was short-lived. Even before the primary, Lieberman announced that, should he lose, he’d still run in November as an independent. This electoral chutzpah effectively rope-a-doped the bloggers and recharged the senator’s fabled Joe-mentum. Lieberman’s still the man to beat in the general election.

If this wasn’t enough to drain the effervescence from the blogger bubbly, America’s noisy Web wags were dealt an even more sobering blow 10 days later when Snakes on a Plane opened nationwide to a decidedly flat $15.3 million box office.

Before its premiere, Snakes had been the latest blogger darling, as swarms of online film geeks prematurely crowned it the summer’s big sleeper. This hyperventilating fan base even convinced Snakes’ distributor, New Line Cinema, to up the movie’s rating to R, to ensure a gorier, more venomous snake fest.

But all that clapping and yapping couldn’t put enough fannies in the seats. Ticket sales for Snakes’ debut barely topped those of Talladega Nights, which was already in its third week.

I’d go read the whole thing…as a blogger, I’m a big believer that blogs and bloggers are having an impact.

But it’s important to have a sense of what that impact really is, and to put it into scale against the rest of the world. Or, as Kluger says:

Lieberman’s boomerang reminds us that voters represent a meager percentage of the total populace — and that bloggers are an even tinier subset of that group. Consequently, what appears to be a coast-to-coast juggernaut on a 17-inch monitor is, in the real world, simply an elaborate PC-to-PC chain letter — enthusiastic, but not necessarily the national mindset.

And yet, as the scrambling suits at Lamont headquarters and New Line Cinema now know, it’s easy to be seduced by one’s own hype, especially when that hype is preceded by a “www.” Now it’s time to play catch-up ball. Lamont’s handlers will have to face a candidate who will surely try to have it both ways on the campaign trail; New Line will have to sell a boatload of popcorn. That’s the way the blog bounces.

Blogs are useful as an indicator and as a tool – but don’t mistake the world inside blogs for anything but a narrow slice of the world outside them. We may be big fish in our little ponds…but there are much bigger ponds out there.

And some of them probably have snakes in them…

It’s Not As If She Has Any Credibility

Ann Coulter sends out an email bulletin periodically.

Her latest one is headlined:


And proceeds to roundly criticize Republican Lincoln Chaffee.

Look, she’s a source of amusement to a lot of people, but I’ve got to say – I’m not amused, I’m disgusted. She’s not a random comment troll at DU, she’s a best-selling author. What exactly does she have to do to get shunned? How far does she have to go?

Will someone let me know, please?

More on Michael Richard

I wrote below about the passing of our friend Michael. If you liked his pictures, or admired his courage, please consider making a small donation in his name.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate contributions in Michael Richard’s name be given to:

The Los Angeles Braille Institute


The Rose Resnick Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco. The Lighthouse is also hanging 15 of Michael’s photographs as a memorial tribute
to him.

“Walt & Mearsheimer Rock. Fight the Israel Lobby.”

No, really. that’s the button CAIR activists gave to Mearsheimer at his recent presentation in Washington DC. His response?

“I like it,” he said, beaming.

Go read Dana Milbank’s account of this event in the Washington Post.

Then go back and read Lee Smith’s takedown of their original paper (I linked to it in a post called “Fat, Drunk, and Stupid Is No Way To Run The Kennedy School“).

And finally go back and read Benny Morris’ evisceration of their historical analysis (originally at TNR, reprinted at Jeff Weintraub’s).Then back to the Post:

Walt kicked off the session with a warning that we face a “threat from terrorism because we have been so closely tied to Israel.” This produced chuckles in the audience. Walt allowed that this was “not the only reason” for our problems, but he did blame Israel supporters for the hands-off position the Bush administration took during the Lebanon fighting.

“The answer is the political influence of the Israel lobby,” Walt said. He also hypothesized that if not for the Israel lobby, the Iraq war “would have been much less likely.”

Right. If it only wasn’t for those pesky Jews…and their habit of defending themselves.

This line of argument could be considered a precarious one for two blue-eyed men with Germanic surnames. And, indeed, Walt seemed defensive about the charges of anti-Semitism. He cautioned that the Israel lobby “is not a cabal,” that it is “not synonymous with American Jews” and that “there is nothing improper or illegitimate about its activities.”

But Mearsheimer made no such distinctions as he used “Jewish activists,” “major Jewish organizations” and the “Israel lobby” interchangeably. Clenching the lectern so tightly his knuckles whitened, Mearsheimer accused Israel of using the kidnapping of its soldiers by Hizbollah as a convenient excuse to attack Lebanon.

It’s funny, we’re just back from watching Suicide Murders, about which more in a bit. And having watched the interviews with the failed bombers – and their happy willingness to go bomb again (in every case but one), and watched the interviews with the parents who raised them believing that killing Jews is the highest calling, and seen the streets of Gaza – lined with billboards glorifying murderers. I’m a lot more sensitive to these kinds of arguments then I might have been this afternoon.

And it looks like Alwaleed’s $20 million gift to Harvard may be paying off. Oh – sorry, that wasn’t mentioned in the original study, so it must not really count.

Godspeed, Michael

Back in January, I wrote about our friend Michael Richard – a musician who, when he lost his sight, became a photographer.

A malignant tumor in his one good eye cost him his sight, and he found out two weeks ago that he had cancer elsewhere in his body. This weekend, his health collapsed, and this morning he died.

The LA Times covered Michael’s work back in January – and I talked about what I saw about Michael that I thought was so admirable.

TG and I have watched Michael and his wife Patrice as they faced the hardships and anxiety that came with Michael’s illness. And I have been filled with admiration for their resilience, determination, and optimism.

Michael and his band played at our wedding, and he told me he was happy to be a part of our day of joy. Today, I’m happy to read such a public acknowledgement of his deserved success.

I’m thrilled that he knew that success, had time with Patrice, and that his end was not protracted and painful.

I can only comment on the courage – the physical and moral courage – that he displayed every day. Every time we talked he was positive, excited, and hopeful; ready to take on any challenges the day might bring.

I’ll try and carry that around with me and hope that my memories of him bring me some of his courage.

You can see some of his photos here.

Paging Jane Hamsher…

So the latest Quinnipiac University poll is out in Connecticut.

And I’m shocked, simply shocked at the results.

Among Democrats, Ned Lamont is spanking Joe Lieberman 63 to 35. A huge margin.

A huge margin in a small subset of the voting population, that is..

Independent voters overwhelmingly support Lieberman and Republican voters are abandoning their candidate for Lieberman.

The telling result is the favorable/unfavorable numbers – 46% fav / 30% unfav among likely voters for Lieberman and 25% fav/ 30% unfav for Lamont.

Back in July, I said:

Ask yourself this, if you’re all excited at the notion of Lieberman running against Lamont as an independent. Who do you think is going to be sitting in the Dirksen Building in February of ’07? Lamont? In a state that was — in 2004 — 44 percent unaffiliated, 34 percent Democratic, and 22 percent Republican. Come Election Day, what exactly do you think is going to happen?

And when Lieberman is sitting in his Senate office next year, do you think the Democratic Party will be stronger or weaker for his departure?

So let’s see how kickass the netroots Democrats are at winning elections.

And when they show that they aren’t, what exactly will happen then?

And let’s note a telling statistic as well – among likely voters, 53% think he deserves reelection, and 40% think that he deserves the boot. Among the 40%, 24% oppose him because of his stance on the war.

That’s 10%. The antiwar vote…over to you, Markos. Ms Hamsher, any comment?

Will We Change War Or Will War Change Us??

When John Robb, of Global Guerillas, isn’t busy tooting his horn, he often comes up with insightful points about the situation we’re in – it’s a site worth bookmarking.

Which, I guess, entitles him to toot his own horn.

Today, he’s got a post up that crystallizes something I’ve been noodling with about the ambiguous relationship we in the West have with war.

He calls it “Playing With War

The western way of war in the 21st century is a pale shadow of the warfare it waged in the 20th. The reason is simple: for western societies war is no longer existential. Instead, it’s increasingly about smoothing market flows and tertiary moral concerns/threats. As a result of this diminishment of motivation, western warfare is now afflicted with the following:

…and he proceeds to list the ways that we are newly casual in our conduct of warfare.This is keeping with my last factslapping of Juan Cole – it’s cheap fun, but fun nonetheless – in which I point out what ‘wiping a city off the map’ really looks like.

Robb’s response to this artificial barrier is to suggest that we must conform our goals to our means.

Ultimately, western societies will need to learn to live within the limits of this new framework. It is not possible for us to reverse the clock on this trend. Any mass mobilization for war that lifts existing limitations will be severely punished by both global markets and opinion (both domestically and abroad) if it ever was attempted.

Right there is the $64 million question.

Will we conform our goals and policies to the social restraints we have placed on the conduct of warfare – or will we drop the restraints?

Robb doesn’t believe that we can drop the restraints (as above). I know that we can, and wonder if we will choose to. That’s a discussion well worth having.

The Stretched Pink Fabric Of Los Angeles

I’m working on a project in Hollywood (it’s going badly, which is one reason I’ve been so inattentive to the blog, thank you for asking), and yesterday left the building and headed up Argyle to the Hollywood freeway when a pink Corvette pulled up in front of me, with the iconic “ANGLYNE” license plate, and a bubble of frizzled blonde hair visible over the driver’s headrest.
If you’re not an Angelino, you may not know about Angelyne, a weird local phenomenon – a huge-breasted woman of no known talent who managed to take some mildly provocative photos of herself on billboards around town and build it into a weird kind of celebrity.

It’s a pretty odd phenomenon.

But somehow, sitting on my bike in traffic, seeing her car in front of me was strangely reassuring. When I moved back to Los Angeles in 1981, her billboards were all over Sunset Strip and she was a kind of a local legend. It’s nice to know that she’s still around – whoever and whatever she may be. She’s managed to insinuate herself into the fabric of the place and become a part of the city that I love.

I watched her drive away toward Franklin and as I turned onto the freeway and throttled up, felt kind of like Jim Carroll, waving fondly at Salvador Dali after Dali had stolen his cab…

I just raised my hand, with half-parted lips, and waved “Bonjour, Monseiur Dali,” I muttered. “Bonjour et adieu.”