...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

February 11, 2007

Social Science As The Answer

Back in August I asked this rhetorical question:

I'm sure there's lots of guys working in thinktanks and war colleges whose job it is to figure these things out, but so far I haven't seen nor heard of any effective way to fight guerrillas other than by total unrestricted warfare — which we won't do. How do you counter the weighty advantage they've claimed for themselves by co-opting the machinery of world public opinion? How do you beat an enemy that has perfected the use of civilian deaths both offensively and defensively, if your one achilles heel is the fear of civilian deaths?
By researching the bio of Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, whom I quoted in my last post, I found this essential article by George Packer in the December 2006 issue of The New Yorker. It may contain the answer to my question, namely "is there another way?"

The article is New Yorker length, unfortunately. But it's Sunday Morning, so why not print it out and read it with your coffee instead of the funnies.

Lt. Col. Kilcullen and Dr. Montgomery McFate* are two people who may provide the "new way" I've been talking about. I have read about the social sciences approach to counter-insurgency before and I was very skeptical. The New Yorker article is detailed enough to be persuasive. The anthropological approach is more than just "hearts and minds" b.s. Properly implemented, it's an integrated and adaptable strategy that includes force, coersion, propaganda, and all those other fun things I've said we need to be doing. But it also recognizes that we're in a new "information age" and we need to understand and adapt to the advantage this gives our enemy.

Another very important concept, which I've not considered before, but which makes perfect sense to me, is this:

“I saw extremely similar behavior and extremely similar problems in an Islamic insurgency in West Java and a Christian-separatist insurgency in East Timor,” [Kilcullen] said. “After 9/11, when a lot of people were saying, ‘The problem is Islam,’ I was thinking, It’s something deeper than that. It’s about human social networks and the way that they operate.” In West Java, elements of the failed Darul Islam insurgency—a local separatist movement with mystical leanings—had resumed fighting as Jemaah Islamiya, whose outlook was Salafist and global. Kilcullen said, “What that told me about Jemaah Islamiya is that it’s not about theology.” He went on, “There are elements in human psychological and social makeup that drive what’s happening. The Islamic bit is secondary. This is human behavior in an Islamic setting. This is not ‘Islamic behavior.’ ” Paraphrasing the American political scientist Roger D. Petersen, he said, “People don’t get pushed into rebellion by their ideology. They get pulled in by their social networks.” He noted that all fifteen Saudi hijackers in the September 11th plot had trouble with their fathers. Although radical ideas prepare the way for disaffected young men to become violent jihadists, the reasons they convert, Kilcullen said, are more mundane and familiar: family, friends, associates.
I think it's really more complicated than just saying "kill the enemy." As a spectator, I've been as guilty as anyone in believing that our problem was an insufficiency of ass-kicking. Kilcullen sees radical Islam as just a template that the terrorist assholes plug into when they decide to dedicate themselves to their particular brand of assholery. But it's social networks, i.e. their friends, family and local communities, that are the avenue towards jihad. I think about gang members here in the U.S. These are "military age males" who would probably be joining al Qaeda if they were in Pakistan. Why, because they're assholes, and gangs or al Qaeda are what their particular social networks would drive them towards.

We need a strategy that understands and targets those social networks with a flexible and multi-faceted approach. The correct strategy should work not only in Iraq but also in the "long war," which includes Afghanistan, Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and wherever else radical Islam is making inroads. But as the article points out, not many in government understand the problem or have the expertise to tackle it. Another obstacle is the decades long antipathy of social science academics to any endeavor that might be considered patriotic.

That needs to change.

* A fellow Cal Bear.

Posted by annika, Feb. 11, 2007 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: annikapunditry


I only disagree with your conclusion. No strategy? I assure you there IS a strategy. The danger is in having more than one, or not fully developing/following your strategy.

The template for unconventional warfare is as old as the Romans. In the modern era, the Brits in Ceylon were the experts. Honestly, our Civil Action Program teams in Vietnam did a great job. It takes time to win, and one can't ignore the conventional component, i.e. one can not ignore the Iranians.

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 11, 2007


The theory that the observable connection or what may look like the cohesive force that drives people in their radical, violent, antisocial and non democratic quest is not of primary but rather of secondary importance is a terribly important revelation.

It is almost a universal paradigm for understanding the nature of the movements that people join and use to explain the violent, enraged behavior they are engaged in. I was in many violent demonstrations in the 60’s, clubbed and gassed numerous times. I know today that my goals were mostly correct, the war in Vietnam was as bad and evil an idea conducted by men equal to those conducting the obliteration of Iraq today, but I have come to understand that my methods and strategies were in large part justified by aspects of my nature that nothing to do with the “war machine” and the inhumane nature of Government.

If our country were to look at hardcore drug uses through this lens they might do much better in shaping the battlefield where the "war on drugs" is fought. Nothing was more damaging in the battle to curb drug abuse in this country than was the simplistic drivel “just say no" campaign of Nancy Raygun. It was so narrow, so lacking in understanding and of course ultimately such a failure I was dumbstruck at its stupidity when it was launched.

The same “Nancy thinking” is in effect now with the nonstop harping on the nature of Islam. How Islam is the enemy and that it creates its acolytes from air as if it had the power to genetically alter young men and women such that they will give their lives to kill freedom and Americans who purportedly love it.

The thinking in the west about the forces that create those who join the army of jihad is shallow and one dimensional. The article you reference, which is open in my bathroom, is a deeper and more important way of analyzing any struggle of the sort where disaffected youth join movements and hang their rage on the rhetoric at hand. What you say about LA gang members is absolutely true; if they were in Gaza they would be Hammas and Israel would be the cause of their disaffection and her destruction their goal.

A friend once said to me in the late 60’s during the period of inner city riots in Watts (65) Newark(67) , Detroit(67) etc. that if you want to put an end to this violent outraged community (Jihadist’s) fighting against America you need only install air-conditioning in every apartment and you problem will be over. I was pretty pissed off at this seemingly shallow and callus and possibly racist remark, but knowing what I do today it was a true. Of course, AC would have done nothing to adjust the racist social policies that fueled the anger but it would have corrected a deeply held belief by the dwellers of these horrible neighborhoods that the government had an interest in their comfort and cared enough to do something about it. No riots and possibly an avenue created toward peaceful social changes that could alleviate the pernicious sense of entitlement that motivates the have-nots whose lives are surrounded by the haves.

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 11, 2007


You forget one thing in your tirade against "Just Say No." There was a dramatic drop in drug use among the young during that campaign. You are a testimony to why leftists should never be allowed to dictate social policy as their solutions always fail and make problems worse.

Posted by: Jake on Feb. 11, 2007

The driving force in the jihad is sex-the strongest drive there is. In the 90's Bin Laden repeatedly said that Western culture is corrupting Muslim women by giving them ideas of freedom and independence. Bin Laden believes the only way to keep their dominance over women is to destroy Western culture.

It is not a coincidence that almost every man in the Guantánamo prison hates or fears women. Their perverted view of sex mixed with religion is an explosive force.

Theodore Dalrymple is a prison psychiatrist in the UK, and he has interviewed many captured suicide bombers whose missions failed. He says they all have sex as a motivation for their crimes:

"However secular the tastes of the young Muslim men, they strongly wish to maintain the male dominance they have inherited from their parents. A sister who has the temerity to choose a boyfriend for herself, or who even expresses a desire for an independent social life, is likely to suffer a beating, followed by surveillance of Stasi-like thoroughness. The young men instinctively understand that their inherited system of male domination—which provides them, by means of forced marriage, with sexual gratification at home while simultaneously freeing them from domestic chores and allowing them to live completely Westernized lives outside the home, including further sexual adventures into which their wives cannot inquire—is strong but brittle, rather as communism was: it is an all or nothing phenomenon, and every breach must meet swift punishment."

Posted by: Jake on Feb. 11, 2007


I think you are wron. While the number of casula and first time users may have dropped the number of serious and habituated uses remained constant or increased and the number of tons, kilos or whatever of interdicted and hence the estimated amounts received unimpeaded in the US increased.
Statistics, Jake, That's why most social scientists do not trust the RW. They are too inlclined to fuck with the numbers to suit their wished for result. Just look at the no child left behing numbers and the commentary of teachers that have been forced to implement it. Or more recently the NOAA scientists whose research has been edited to shift the meaning by WH hacks.

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 11, 2007

The new Sheriff in town, Praetus, reputedly "wrote the book" on counter-insurgency.

Anybody here ever read it?

It ould be intersting to know what he is thinking.

But then, I'll bet the insurgents have read it; as Patton said as he was routing Rommel, "I read your book you son-of-a-bitch".

I hope Praetus has some new tricks up his sleeve.

Posted by: shelly on Feb. 11, 2007


Two problems with your last comment:

"No child left behind" is our only hope of school reform. Because of that program we now know the following about Minneapolis public schools.

Minneapolis spends $15,780 per pupil and only 40% of the students pass their grade’s standardized test. Only 40% of black males graduate from high school. The teacher's union has unbridled political power in the city so there is little hope of reform.

Before then no one was aware of the problem that the corrupt teachers' union had created. Based on these statistics, black parents acted. Parents moved over 50,000 black children to alternative schools. Private individuals including me gave scholarships so over 1000 could attend private elementary schools. None of this would have happened without "No child left behind."

As to NOAA, a few left-wing activists in NOAA created those false stats and the White House insisted that real science was reported instead.

Posted by: Jake on Feb. 11, 2007

Whoops, make that "Petraeus".

Posted by: shelly on Feb. 11, 2007

Probably this thing, Counterinsurgency Field Manual - U.S. Army Field Manual on Tactics, Intelligence, Host Nation Forces, Airpower - Petraeus and Amos.

There was a Marine Colonel in Vietnam by name of Corson. He's one of the Godfather's of US Counter-Insurgency warfare. Trouble then was that he couldn't be heard above the din of the ticket-punchers.

Petreaus is probably the right General Officer for the job. He has the vision. Let's see how good he is at making it happen. So far the McClellens have been setting the stage. Now is the hour of Grant.

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 11, 2007


This admin. does not know real science. It only knows politiczed science taylored to meet their distorted wishes and promises. To label the NOAA scientists whose data and conclusions were "adjusted" to the party line as "Left wing" and therefore unreliable is the symptom of the blindness you suffer from.

The school data has been cooked as well. the school superintendent in Houston upon whoes sucess with the pilot run has been dismissed and proven to have "adjusted" his data to tow the party line.

The administration is corrupt and dishonest when it comes to science and education policy. Training students and having teachers and administrations force the curriculum to meet the goals is denying children an education. I watched a teached drill 6 year olds on the subway as they traveled to a museum on a field trip, in their times tables. It was completly ludicris. six is, child psychologist agree, far too young to be taught these types of things. And I am sure if I asked any of these children to think mathematically they would be unable. They know 8 x 8 is 64. But ask what is the sum of 8 groups of horses each group having 8 members and see what happens. It is bullshit teaching being passed off as an education. I am an employer of people who need basic match skills and I haved proved this point time and time again during my hiring procedures.

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 11, 2007

Let's hope Petraeus has a drinking problem like Grant. And that he brings plenty of his brand of hooch with him for the other general staff officers.

Posted by: shelly on Feb. 11, 2007

I knew my multiplication tables through 12 by the conclusion of 2nd grade. I wasn't unusual. Children can certainly learn mathematical concepts at that age. My younger brother could read whole words before age 3. My parents and his siblings simply worked with him.

Typical left-winger: The "people" are always stupid. Except of course for the left-wing elite who will save us all for ourselves.

Posted by: blu on Feb. 11, 2007

Sorry Shelly, these UW guys tend to be warrior monks, abstaining from all vices save killing the enemy.

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 11, 2007

"six is, child psychologist agree, far too young to be taught these types of things"

Ironically, Straw, my best friend since high school is a child psychologist and he wouldn't agree.

I'm not suggesting that all kids learn at the same rate. IQ is certainly not democratic. But most children are plenty capable by the 1st grade to begin grappling with basic math concepts like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Let me guess: You are also agree with the whole language idiots who don't think kids need to learn to spell.

Posted by: blu on Feb. 11, 2007


You mean coincidentally. Classic misuse of irony. I guess you were absent from school that day.

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 12, 2007

Hey, I just found this blog.

Who is this idiot Strawman? Why does anyone even respond to his idiocy?

Posted by: AntonioVdeLA on Feb. 13, 2007

Oh My,

Another fan!

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 13, 2007

Well Antonio, it's like this. Strawman is a self-loathing queer, literally. Nobody talks to him except Blu, who gets some sort of titilation arguing with him. Closet queen? You make the call.

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 13, 2007

Ah, that explains it. Put me down for the "nobody talks to him" group.

Posted by: AntonioVdeLA on Feb. 14, 2007


More intelligent discourse from the cheap seats.

What is it with you and queers Casca? Had an uncle roll you over and put your face in the pillow when you were ten? Or was it your cell mate or the guy in the upper bunk at Camp What-the-fuck.? When will it dawn on you that when you insert (pardon the image) your sexual-orientation-fixation into political discussions it only serves to indicate which muscles you tighten when you think about Rep Foley doing some 15 year old.

You haven't even noticed that whatever I have said about the debacle in Iraq the last few years has been true and that every wish you have had about Iraq over the same period has been just that; the wish of a deluded 'merican. Gee, I guess that does make me queer and you? Just another ignorant, frightened, lie loving American true believer who thinks he should have a gun in his hand instead of his flaccid dick, sitting home on the 50 yd line, cheering the team on. You are pathetic. You don't have the courage of your convictions like that fellow from Sacramento who took the money but at least, you would say, went into the fray. Although for all we know he was transporting BP oil guys, making a payroll run to the local Mullah who was protecting their wells, that’ll make his kids happy some day. But you do have the courage to get angry at me for hanging out in your playground, which, of course ain’t your playground, you presumptuous ass. You sit here tapping out what you think passes for smug commentary with he tips of your fingers and your ass firmly in the seat passing judgments, while 50-100 humans die each day, and you are musing about my ass, my dick, my mouth and my closet. What the fuck is wrong with you, man? You are one sick puppy Casca.

Now you can give your stupid one line retort.

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 15, 2007

This fool strawman must be a blonde; the inner woman is emerging.

Posted by: AntonioVdeLA on Feb. 16, 2007

Straw man
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A straw man argument is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact a misleading fallacy, because the opponent's actual argument has not been refuted.

Its name is derived from the practice of using straw men in combat training. In such training, a scarecrow is made in the image of the enemy with the single intent of attacking it.[1] It is occasionally called a straw dog fallacy[2] or a scarecrow argument.

Posted by: AntonioVdeLA on Feb. 17, 2007


And...........the point is.......other than demonstrating that you can read and type?

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 18, 2007

Antonio, take a cue from Casca and me; ignore the fucktard. Your post was apt, but all it does is encourage him to dialogue insipient crap.

Let it go.

Posted by: shelly on Feb. 18, 2007


I hope you had good clerks when you were sitting because a good education is clearly not in evidence when you use insipient (d.beginning to appear) to mean insipid. Not to mention that insipid means lacking flavor or zest. You were clearly a jellybean appointment. RR was insipid. Also, like Bush, he was a liar, (which is a character flaw you seem to admire) RR was also as puerile as GB (his open mic …let the bombing of Moscow….) George’s flight suit and Mission Accomplished stunt. RR sold weapons to Iran for cash to support murderous thugs in Central America. It is conceivable that the weapons sold to Iran are contributing currently to American deaths in the streets of Bagdad and will to a greater degree in the near future if the conflict escalates. You would be howling if the transfer of weapons to Iran was of Carter or Clintons doing?

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 19, 2007

Before you put stupid comments on Russian poetry on-line, you should better read the original before you judge the translation (or don't you speak Russian???), as common sense would call for.

Posted by: Jenny on Feb. 25, 2007