Time for more venting on Congresspeople – and media – who have learned nothing from recent history.  First point, strategy is not tactics.  Bombing ISIS vehicles and strong points is tactics, it requires some good intelligence and is even handier if you have trusted folks on the ground lighting up the target with a laser.  Otherwise you waste a lot of money and risk American military lives unnecessarily.  Bombing just for the sake of bombing is stupid at best…….read Shadow Warfare and CENTCOM’S bombing strategy for the first weeks of the post-9/11 mission to Afghanistan to fully appreciate that. Bombing with no true “forces on the ground” link to the bombing is tragically stupid and about as far from strategy as you can get – read the same chapter for Rumsfeld’s classic remark about …”.if we can’t find targets in Afghanistan there are plenty in Iraq”…..and run, don’t walk away from anyone who has that attitude (run even faster if its Rumsfeld himself or any Congressperson or politician who admires him).

Afghanistan is a perfect primer for how a good strategy against ISIS would be developed and worked.  The CIA guys and Special Forces who went into Afghanistan did a wonderful job with that and once they established a coalition effort with several warlords, demonstrated the true shock and awe of highly targeted bombing via laser and GPS info collected on the ground they broke the back of the Taliban in weeks – totally surprising Washington, the Bush Administration and CENTCOM who had refused to pay any attention to them.  Bombing without linkage to local forces on the ground is stupid (uh, did I say that enough already), if you are trying to oust a force that has embedded itself in the local population.

We have some good circumstantial information to suggest a solid Syrian strategy was being explored on back in 2012, with American CIA types on the ground trying to ID the non radical Syrian opposition groups and get them weapons.  At that point Senator McCain was meeting with the other guys, the jihadi types, and lobbying to ship them weapons – lesson to be learned, don’t take strategic or tactical advice from Congresspeople, and don’t be comfortable with a President who wants to run his own bombing campaigns as Johnson in Vietnam.  If you have to do something leave it to the professionals, and these days that means good Joint Special Operations Command personnel.   In any event, that initial effort in Syria largely got blown apart by Congressional politics and politicized media coverage following the Benghazi attacks (the CIA Benghazi base attack being the heart of the matter).  We deal with that in SW as well.

Which meant a big reset in Obama Syrian strategy, leaving time for Qatar and Saudi to take over control of weapons shipments into Syria and ensure that the good stuff went to their radical jihadi surrogates.  And yes we do have a real strategic problems with both those allies – if not the actual top levels of their governments, with their military intelligence which has a jihad oriented religious leaning – much as in Pakistan during the jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan – and all their very wealthy private donors….that’s another story unto itself.

Fast forward to 2014 and stopping ISIS…..that strategy is going to be complex, its going to involve working simultaneously – and on the ground – with a number of different local fighting forces, many with no special love for each other but now with a nicely formed sense of hate and self preservation against Isis.  But that is going to take time; the last thing we need is a repeat of the Gulf of Tonkin experience, where Johnson started a decade long war simply to win the upcoming election.  And if this all sounds like I woke up with an attitude – right on (a dated expression but then so am I).

Rather than responding to the Congresspersons – from either party – that  you hear on Sunday morning TV, I would recommend assessments such as the one at the link below:





About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

11 responses »

  1. Jim Stubbs says:

    I agree completely about bombing. No matter what some experts say, bombing, ultimately, is a supporting arm for whatever forces you have on the ground and for whatever strategy you’re trying to implement. No war was ever won by bombing alone. As to fighting ISIS (and they DO have to be destroyed, not “contained”), that requires some intricate diplomatic understandings to share/merge intelligence information directed toward identifying ISIS fighters, bases, logistics suppliers and routes, financial supporters, and neutralizing them. In the case of fighters and recruiters, it means killing them. No other way to put it. I do not believe that this administrration has the smarts, the will, the leadership ability, and the respect of the international community to pull it off.

    • Jim, I’m not sure exactly which leadership would be best qualified – and I’ve spent the last five years in intense study of pretty much that question – I certainly know it was not the G W. Bush Administration, possibly the most inept in such things that I’ve studied – well that and the dreadful Nixon/Kissinger era. The first G H W B administration might be my top pick, simply because he was quite good at building coalitions that were focused and targeted – and time limited in a manner that did not scare the participants off. He also knew when to back off and leave the job to the military…

      I can tell you that on the military side the JSOC troops have more admiration for Obama than we have seen in most previous administrations because he takes their advice and listens to the actual commanders, not just the top level political/military officers. I know many people don’t want to hear anything good about Obama but I’ve no time for that. The way he had been giving the Task Forces their heads has been far superior to micro management we have seen with far too many Commanders in Chief (and Secretaries of Defense for that matter). Actually I believe this administration does have the smarts and many of the elements needed to implement a workable “kill” strategy as you put it. What I’m more worried about is the fact that it won’t be given the time to do so in a the very intricate manner you outlined well in your comment…just as JFK was not given the time to work out viable strategies for Viet Nam or Cuba. And JFK – along with Harry Truman – will always be my pick for best Commanders in Chief, possibly because both men had been in field combat.

      But this is also a situation in which the US does not have to and perhaps should not feel it has to be the only one to carry the ball or even organize all the elements of the strategy. If you want to be single minded about killing ISIS, there are a goodly number of local states whose very best interest is joining in the effort – several constituencies in Iraq, Jordon, Egypt, Turkey and even Iran. If you step back and let pragmatism drive the calculus, anyone whose best interest is to put troops on the ground on their own land or even to to move out from under the ISIS barbarities are the ones you want to either be supporting – or not getting in their way. Moving to support the Kurds in Iraq for starters was for better than immediately to rush to support Baghdad. I agree with you that there need to be boots on the ground but I would disagree that they should be US in any great quantity – the locals don’t want us there and after our sins in Iraq they have good reason not too. But they may well be happy to take a handful of special ops and a lot of air support for a limited time and we need to give them precisely what they need to kill ISIS – and no more. Its exactly the strategy of the first four months of post 9/11 operations in Afghanistan. Heaven help us if it turns into what happened after that. Anyway, it seems like I woke up with opinions today so there you go….grin.

      • Jim Stubbs says:

        I agree that GHWB was masterful at pulling togeher the coalition to deal with Iraq in the first war there. I think that GWB was not nearly so talented in that regard. It’s apparent (at least from reading Douglas Feith’s book) that GW had an administration that he did not adequately run, and it seems to have run him on the Middle Eastern situation. I got the impression that he and the CIA were at loggerheads, that the CIA did not like him. That may not speak well for him, but the CIA was not where it should have been on the Middle East. Maybe the result of what they’d become under Clinton. And my personal feeling is that Colin Powell was not the best SecState, and I was left with a feeling that he didn’t serve Bush as well as he could have. But then I’m not a Powell fan and never have been. My problem with President Obama is his worldview, with which I am in strong disagreement. I believe that if he had the grasp of the realities of international relations that a president needs, he would have been in the forefront long ago in actively, publicly condemning ISIS and Islamic terrorists as a whole and personally trying to forge the type of coalition needed to combat that threat in the long run. I realize that simply killing is not a complete strategy. But, as he said, he doesn’t have one. Letting a couple of inept SecStates carry out his foreign policy, whatever it is, while he vacations isn’t what the world needs to see. Perception counts for all in international relations. As to inept, BTW, I’d have to add LBJ as among the top foul-ups in foreign relations, as per the Viet Nam War.
        As you see, I have a couple of opinions that I’ve been known to express on occassion – smirk, smirk, and grin!

      • Jim, I can’t think of a better or more concise description of GWB than in your second sentence. Actually Bush had some good instincts on the point, he is quoted early on as saying that we would never do nation building in Afghanistan nor put boots on the ground to serve as police – somehow that view evolved into something dramatically different and I have to assume it changed because of the folks who were truly influencing his policy. As far as I can tell the CIA disconnect was largely between the CIA and Cheney/Rumsfeld – they were driving the Agency and the intel community in general towards assessments on Iraq the CIA was not prepared to give and to a great extent Cheney effectively set up his own separate national security advisory group who shared his worldview more than the Agency did.

        On your second point, actually I agree that the Obama Administration has made a serious strategic mistake in regard not just to ISIS but the much broader global jihadi threat – I think you’ve read Shadow Warfare and you’ll remember that we spend a couple of chapters assessing the extent to which the nation has simply let itself get sucked into a state of “gray” warfare. Actually that has been fairly successful on a tactical level – which is where I prefer Obama to GWB or more accurately Cheney/Rumsfeld – since he definitely gives authority and does not micromanage. However, he has essentially continued the GWB approach to the jihadi groups, without much discussion of a broader strategy – we continue to treat their attacks as crimes rather than as warfare. In a broader sense I actually fault Congress more than either President as they have a responsibility for declaring war and my view is that should have been done over a decade ago. When someone declares war on you, you need to take them seriously.

        I appreciate the dialog and as soon as I get the chance I’m going to post a some more lengthy thoughts on the lack of a grand strategy, not simply for ISIS for for Syria but for the entire network who continues to follow bin Laden’s religious fatwa for war against America and all Americans wherever they can be reached. The US devoted a lot of brainpower and strategy to the global Communist movement following WWII and even more to dealing with anticipated surprise attacks from the Soviet Union – although we did often err diagrammatically in confusing Nationalism with Communism – but I have not see anything like that effort under either the GWB or Obama Administrations so I’m perfectly willing to take both to task in that regards. I’m not sure we can truly lead the international community anywhere but I’m darn sure that when somebody declares war against us and continues to carry it out for almost two decades, it demands a better plan than than simply responding to each attack.

        Of course anytime the White House or the appropriate Congressional committee calls me for advice I’ll be happy to help….haven’t seen them on the answering machine yet though…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Larry,
    I loved your posting here. I just got through listening to your recent interview by Brent Holland along with Bill Simpich and Alan Dale. Hope all is well with you. I have yet to read your new book Shadow Warfare but as soon as things slow down for me, I will be delving into it!

  3. Greg Kooyman says:

    “Anonymous” is me, Greg Kooyman. (sorry for not listing my email identifier before hitting the “post” button..)
    I also enjoyed your comments here regarding the Obama Administration and the current situation with ISIL / ISIS.

    • Great to hear from you Greg, I enjoyed doing the show with Bill and Alan – Bill and I bounce things off each other frequently and we are currently discussing some things related to my presentation at the upcoming DC conference. I will not be able to be there in person but if things work out I’ll be able to call in for a presentation.

      Jim has definitely led me into making some further comments on grand strategies – but frankly so has the new book I’ve just completed (Surprise Attack). Its given me to opportunity to compare the response of every administration since World War II in regard to not their practice of covert/clandestine warfare (as in Shadow Warfare) but in their conventional military activities in regard to strategic and tactical warnings intelligence and preparedness for surprise attack. For some five decades that was presumed to be surprise attack by the Soviets and for the last three decades or so it has evolved to include surprise terror attacks. Being able to compare the intense effort that was put into the preparation against conventional attack vs. the contemporary approach to terror attacks has been extremely educational. The big difference being that we still approach terror attacks (anywhere in the world) as essentially crimes, rather than as acts of warfare – in response we talk about bringing the peretrators to justice. The net result of that is a most dramatic type of asymmetric warfare – with one side declaring itself at war and with its people regarding themselves as combatants – while the other side approaches them in a strange mix of foreign military assistance and domestic law enforcement. In any event, I’ll delve into that shortly with a post – if I can get my head around it to pare it down to something post-able rather than several chapters in a book…

      • Jim Stubbs says:

        Larry, I recollect reading something many years ago about the attempts made to get the military to transition from a conventional war mind set in re terrorists. I can’t remember the book, but essentially the author said that Reagan wanted the military to expand the operations of essentially what became Delta Force, and to expand the capabilities of special operations forces in general. As I recollect, the military leadership at the time did not want that and dragged their heels on it for years. I believe he said that Delta Force was in existence for a number of years before they got their own organic air assets. I know that for many years there was a disconnect between the conventional military brass and the special operations people. I think a good part of it had to do with the lack of control theater commanders had over them, inasmuch as the spec ops people frequently operated more with the CIA station chief than the theater commander. That’s been mostly overcome, but this illogical obsession with treating terrorists as criminals is standing square in the way of a cohesive, comprehensive policy that better addresses the terrorist threat. Look at the handwringing that will go on about the American citizens who’ve turned up fighting for ISIS. By their actions, words, and deeds they have committed themselves to a military force that has waged war against America, has stated their intentions toward us, and has committed beheadings to drive the point home. But there will be politicians and lawyers who’ll want to treat the problems as criminal.

      • Jim, I’m thinking that you have not read Shadow Warfare yet because this is a subject we devote about a third of the book to….chapters 22 and 23 in particular go into the evolution of special operations and in particular the formation of JSOC. It’s transition to counter terrorism and “gray warfare” is in chapters 24, 27 and 28. Nixon actually did use special forces for counter terror operations on a couple of occasions, but gave it no special initiative. That actually happened under Carter, following the Iranian hostage rescue effort. Carter issued orders and designated money for an integration of special forces to remedy the obvious problems that had come out of that effort and set up for a second mission (Honey Badger). But he got a great deal of push back and it was not until the early 1980’s – enabled by new legislation that took the Joint Chiefs out of the direct chain of command – that the special ops command got some real authority and funding. In SW we also go into a good deal of detail on the integration of special weapons such as gun ships, drones etc – all of which the Chiefs and many senior officers had opposed. Actually it was a matter of bringing back many of the tools first fielded in Vietnam but then scrapped afterwards in the Reagan Administration refocus on strategic weapons and nuclear confrontation with the Soviets. Under Reagan Bombers and missiles were in, gunships not so much.

        On your second point, that is also a major topic in Shadow Warfare and will be in my next book – Surprise Attack – as well. I’ll address that further in my grand strategy post sometime this weekend but indeed the American inertia which continues to treat a state of declared war by the jihadi forces as simply individual criminal acts is perplexing. In SW we talk at length about Congress failing to declare war and even passing the post 9/11 AUMF with tight restrictions on it. The institutional and endemic problem is actually far worse than most folks would imagine; we are in the midst of totally asymmetric warfare with our enemies considering themselves combatants and the US continuing to define them only as criminals. Rather than addressing this with a declaration of war, or a serious and comprehensive rework of the National Security Act of 1947, the post 9/11 changes were focused on cleaning up legal issues dealing with acts of terror, not addressing the more fundamental situation. In any event, I think Shadow Warfare tells the story pretty fully but I’ll revisit the contemporary strategy issue with a new post sometime this weekend.

  4. Jim Stubbs says:

    Yes, I haven’t read Shadow Warfare yet but am starting it. Looking forward to it.

    • Great, hopefully we can discuss the points in your previous posts when you get to the chapters I mentioned, hopefully they will give you a good deal of detail on the special forces transition. That would include not just the combat organizations themselves but the evolution of the weapons, often in the fact of considerable opposition from the senior commanders who always seemed to prefer big formations and big weapons, regardless of the task at hand. The Air Force preoccupation with jets over prop aircraft for anything and everything is a good example.

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