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Balance And The Big Picture: Understanding Our Enemies In Modern Conflict

By Mace Carpenter

The United States, with the greatest conventional military capability in the history of the world, has had difficulty understanding and defending against enemies who employ modern, hybrid warfare. The problem begins with our nation mischaracterizing our conflicts with the American people. With all the best intent, the Bush Administration declared a, “Global War on Terrorism.” My friend Cletus asked me “I am confused—what is terrorism.” I explained that terrorism is a violent and often illegal tactic that a group or nation might use to win a conflict. So Cletus responded, “So we are fighting a war on a tactic?” Well, that is what the administration was saying.

My friend identified a real problem. By declaring a war on a tactic, we are removing the human aspect from the issue. In reality, we are NOT fighting a war on a tactic. We are fighting real people who we need to understand to defeat. Sun Tzu, the great Chinese strategy and author of “The Art of War” contended, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

The US State Department declares 59 organizations that employ terrorist tactics. In that regard they are similar. In almost all other characteristics, they vary dramatically. From objectives, religion, ethnicity, capability, financing, and other demographics the actors are often extremely different. Knowing an enemy is the first step in defeating an enemy. Simply labeling them a terrorist or extremist is not particularly helpful. Knowing whom they are, knowing their culture, knowing their goals, knowing their capability, and knowing their strategy is paramount.

As a democratic nation, part of employing our military today is our leadership communicating our plan for engaging the threat. Today, our President is challenged in communicating the threat being posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS). We cannot simply label these people terrorists or Islamic extremist, we need to understand whom they are and what they are trying to accomplish. Our President needs to state these are bad people and how they threaten our allies and us. Second, our President needs to explain what he believes they are trying to do. Third, our President should outline a US and Coalition strategy for defeating them.

Cletus was confused for good reason. We were never at war with a tactic. We are in conflict people who mean our allies and us harm. We need to know the enemy people and defeat them. We need to stop confusing our nation.

Colonel (ret) Mace Carpenter has 34 years of national security experience to include a Masters Degree in National Security Strategy; Masters in Public Administration; Masters in Military Art and Science; and 9 years of service in the Pentagon. Mr. Carpenter is also a volunteer and consultant for Kaskaskia College.

Balance And The Big Picture:

Understanding Our Enemies In Modern Conflict

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