When Honor and Strategic Advantage Converge: A Jominian Argument for Abandoning Torture as a Tactic Intended to Contribute to Security in the Altered Strategic Landscape of Terror Warfare





by Davida Kellogg


            “The most basic of the principles of war is the need to constantly challenge, reevaluate, and modernize all of them. The job is never done.” — B.G. Charles J. Dunlap Jr.



When American military thinkers talk about a “revolution in military affairs,” the image of dissension from high within the officer corps does not ordinarily come to mind. Individual American Generals (perhaps most famously, Gen. Douglas MacArthur) have disagreed with their Commanders-in-Chief over the prosecution of our wars. But that no less than six retired Generals who held recent commands in the war in Iraq have come forward this year to call for the resignation of the Secretary of Defense because of his insistence on what they consider a defective strategy for the Global War on Terrorism (G.W.O.T.) in general and the Iraq campaign in particular,[1] is unprecedented.[2] Nor are these American leaders alone in their misgivings. Perhaps the most substantially delineated criticisms of our current overwhelmingly kinetic strategy in Iraq so far have come from a commander of our most important ally’s troops, British B.G. Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who served with the Coalition in Iraq throughout 2004[3]


Based on his observations in the field, B.G. Aylwin-Foster urged that we take a more “hearts and minds” approach in Iraq. Whether we eventually act on his, or other, recommendations will depend on the results of a thoughtful re-evaluation of Coalition strategy.


Despite allegations that any probing of areas of weakness in our Iraq strategy indicated by the critical Generals plays into the hands of our largely anti-war political Left,[4] party politics is not what truly matters here. However one may feel about the morality, legality, or strategic wisdom of concentrating our military efforts on Iraq, what is at stake on our making the right (or at least a satisfactory) choice of a strategy for the greater Global War on Terrorism is at its core a matter of the utmost ethical consequence. It is nothing less than that most basic of human rights, the inalienable natural and legal right of innocent non-combatants of all civilized nations to their own lives. That old soldiers’ truism to the effect that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy” in fact simply reminds us that all strategies, even those that have so far been successful, require re-evaluation from time to time. The so-called “dissident” generals, a loaded term that to my mind does them a disservice, have only confirmed what those of us who follow the news from Iraq already strongly suspected — that our current strategy is not producing the necessary results to secure that right for our own and our allies’ peoples. Whether one agrees with retired Marine M.G. Anthony Zinni that we’ve already “wasted three years” losing ground in Iraq,1 the time for a rigorous re-evaluation of our strategy, there and in the greater G.W.O.T., has  arrived.


My object in writing this paper is to begin this process, if only on a small scale, by reassessing the utility of the practice of torture in extracting intelligence in the context of highly politicized warfare in which public perception of our actions, if not everything, is “‘way ahead of everything else.” I offer it in the hope of raising interest in convening a conference, or at least sparking discussion, in the course of which current and proposed Coalition strategies would be examined in the light of the full spectrum of “net assessment” systems running the gamut from statistical cost-benefit analysis to game theory[5], construction of logical decision trees and other analytical “tools,”[6] to more traditional systems and their modern permutations with which almost all U.S. military officers have at least a passing familiarity. Ideally, a number of different analyses would be made independently, then jointly examined for common “nodes” of agreement and, perhaps more telling, points of disagreement, and then synthesized into a new strategic doctrine more likely to secure our national grand strategic objectives in the G.W.O.T. than our current failing strategy.


To that end, it seemed to me that a system of Jominian-type Principles of War, updated and specifically adapted to the morally as well as strategically asymmetrical terror warfare, specifically the “neostrategicon” system proposed by B.G. Charles Dunlap,[7] might serve as a useful lens through which to focus initial analysis of the concerns raised by the retired Generals on questions of what we stand to gain and what we would have to give up in order to take their advice, and whether it is it worth our doing, or ought we to be hedging our bets on other strategies, or taking another tack altogether, etc.


The Jominian system of nine principles of war, originally intended to provide a “scientific” framework for planning and evaluating French strategy and tactics for the Napoleonic Wars, was taken up by U.S. officers with such enthusiasm that it used to be said of West Point graduates that they rode into battle with a sword in one hand and a copy of Jomini in the other. The nine classic Jominian principles still prominently displayed on classroom walls at U.S.M.A. when I was there on a Military History fellowship in the early ‘90s were indelibly etched on the minds of generations of West Point graduates and R.O.T.C. commissionees alike in the form of the acronym M.O.S.S. M.O.U.S.E. for mass, objective, security, surprise, maneuver, offensive, unity of command, simplicity, and economy of force. It is to them that M.G. John Batiste was referring when he “homed in on [Sec. Def.] Rumsfeld’s leadership style and decision-making,” warning that “When decisions are made without taking into account sound-military decision-making, sound planning, then we’re bound to make mistakes... When we violate the principles of war with mass and unity of command and unity of effort, we do that at our own peril.”[8]


Of course, not all nine principles are of equal importance in every military engagement. No general ever has all of them working in his favor; they may even conflict, as they in fact often do. The “art” of war may be said to lie to a considerable extent in knowing where and when to sacrifice the benefits of employing one principle in favor of others in order to maximize strategic gains. And though the nine original principles may be deeply ingrained in the American military consciousness, other considerations may also apply. In the ‘80s I understand that there was some talk, at Leavenworth at least, of adding morale and exploitation to this list, a move I would applaud. Additionally, there is something I have always taught under the rubric of “survivability,” which may be characterized briefly as “no forlorn hopes.” The necessity of ensuring adequate logistics has been famously counseled by both Sun Tzu and Napoleon. The British military recognizes (or recognized — I’m not sure if they still teach a Jominian system at Sandhurst; it seems to have fallen out of favor in the U.S. as a quaint historical artifact of early 19th Century linear warfare). In either case, this principle is reflected in both Dunlap’s principle of adaptability and Aylwin-Foster’s repeated urging on us of the willingness to consider changing our strategy in Iraq from a kinetic approach focused on destroying terrorist organizations and their leadership to a “hearts-and-minds” approach aimed at isolating terrorists from their civilian supporters. The need to re-assess and re-cast not only our strategy but the bases for making our strategies is clearly a “node” of agreement.


The perception, stemming from our frustrations with guerrilla warfare in Vietnam, that a system of principles of war specifically developed for Napoleonic-era linear warfare is ill adapted and, what is more, unadaptable to modern “irregular” or “asymmetric” styles of war has been proved vulnerable to creative strategic imagination by Dunlap. The approach taken by B.G. Dunlap was to define eight new principles — perceived worthiness, informed insight, strategic anchoring, durability, engagement dominance, unity of effect, adaptability, and culminating power — specifically adapted to modern irregular warfare, but each of which retains the kernel of one or more of the original Jominian principles (adaptability, for instance, is intimately related to security, with which this paper will be specifically concerned.


            The Altered Strategic Landscape of Irregular Warfare

The tack I will be taking in this paper approaches analysis of the strategic problems posed by guerrilla and terror warfare from an oblique angle to Dunlap’s, converges on the same strategic issues, and leads to many of the same conclusions. A geologist by education and original profession, I envision differing styles of war as presenting sometimes very different “strategic terrains” over which opposing armies must maneuver. When one party to a conflict radically alters its style of war, it is as though its war planners had  sterilized a great sand table and rebuilt it with strategic hills and valleys and fords so located as to improve their side’s likelihood of prevailing.[9] The more  asymmetrical — the more surprising, the stranger, the more “foreign,” and even, as in the case of terror warfare, morally repulsive — the altered style of war is to the opposing side, the greater the strategic advantage that accrues to the side that has initiated the shift. The one constant in this shifting strategic landscape is that its contours are controlled by the relative “weight” given in a particular style of warfare to the various considerations captured by the principles of war, and how that weight is applied or countered. That is, different styles of warfare place different amounts of emphasis on the core elements of different strategic principles. The “high ground” one must seize and hold to the last man in one style of war, may be so different in another that strategic planners may not at first even recognize it. To my mind, the “take away” lesson of the Vietnam Conflict, for example, may well be that the contours of the strategic terrain of modern irregular warfare is fundamentally different from that of conventional war, and what constitutes effective maneuver is determined by the nature of that altered terrain. Air Mobility was a highly sophisticated technological solution to the logistical problem of maneuver over Vietnam’s difficult geographic terrain, but it was no solution at all to the problem of maneuver over the political and psychological landscape presented by highly sophisticated enemy propaganda campaigns that undermined our morale and will to fight.[10] It is a lesson that we seem not to have yet fully absorbed, and that failure to appreciate the nature of the altered strategic landscape presented by terror warfare has put us at a dangerous and unnecessary disadvantage in our conflict with terrorist organizations and their sponsor states.


The first step, therefore, to effective strategic planning for this conflict would be to accurately locate the domains, or areas of influence of particular principles of war, in which the high ground lies in terror warfare — not where one would expect them to lie from our successful experience with conventional and even cold war, or would have them lie to facilitate the prosecution of the kinetic style of war we favor, but where the enemy’s style of warfare has relocated it. In terror warfare it lies in the political, that is primarily in the domains of objective and morale. Specifically, it lies in Dunlap’s principle of perceived worthiness (or lack thereof) of the Coalition campaign in Iraq, not only among the Iraqi civilian population but our own and that of our allies and prospective allies as well.


If a perceived lack of a clear objective for the current phase of the war in Iraq has sown confusion among our military leaders and troops, as Aylwin-Foster maintains (and it does seem that the greatest threats to our own and our allies’ lives and liberties are issuing from Iran and Syria and from terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas which have assumed the roles of de facto governments in Lebanon and the would-be Palestine), it has left our civilian population back home wondering what we are doing in Iraq in the first place, rebuilding Baghdad city infrastructure while New Orleans still lies in ruins.  Perceptions that the war in Iraq is just some venal grab on the part of our government for oil and influence in the Middle East, or a racist “Crusade” against Muslims are wide-spread. These bear no recognizable relationship to our true  (or what I see as our true) overarching strategic objective to cause (by legal and moral, but not necessarily non-violent means) our terrorist enemies to cease and desist from committing the crimes against civilian noncombatants that are the very defining elements — the sine qua non  — without which  logically and operationally there can be no such thing as terror warfare.[11]


Allegations that the war in Iraq is both immoral and illegal, and accusations (some few justified, most not) of “war crimes” leveled against our troops are uninformed by any demonstrable knowledge of either thousands of years of Just War Tradition or the corpus of International Law of Armed Conflict (the L.O.A.C.). Nevertheless, such negative perceptions of both our methods and means of war have a ripple effect impinging on the domains of several other principles of war, chief among them mass, maneuver, and security. In Dunlap’s terms, the creation and spreading of such negative perceptions about the Coalition’s methods, means, and reasons for fighting the G.W.O.T. is “strategically anchored”7 to terror warfare.



Given conditions of

            1. a small

            2. supposedly “expansible”

            3. all-volunteer army, almost entirely dependent on recruitment and retention because of perceived widespread voter resistance to a draft,


            4. the challenge of a widespread and multifaceted war, in which mass becomes a — possibly the — critically limiting factor to our ability to achieve our overarching objective. As missions proliferate and number of boots on the ground stay the same, or even decline, recruitment shortfalls present a real possibility for disaster as attrition, rotation, and retirement relentlessly thin  our “lines.” 


I contend that the sort of misconceptions about the morality and legality of our purpose and conduct in Iraq discussed above is intimately linked to the shortfalls we have been experiencing in military recruitment and retention. As an example, at my university members of the “peace action” committee have taken to setting up right next to the tables of military recruiters and heckling students who stop by with arguments against joining up to the effect that the war in Iraq is illegal and immoral. Such arguments are highly emotional, thoroughly irrational, and as Canadian Forces Maj. Michel Reid and I have demonstrated utterly uninformed by International Law of Armed Conflict or Just War tradition.11 They, and even flimsier arguments from political correctness are, however, plausible enough sounding to an uninformed and uncritical population to effectively sabotage vital recruitment and retention efforts on college and university campuses. Cases in point are those of


            1. Jeremy Hinzman, an A.W.O.L. U.S. Army paratrooper, who recently applied for refugee status in Canada on the grounds that returning to duty with his unit would oblige him to participate in actions which would render himself and his fellow soldiers criminally liable for the deaths of Iraqi civilians and, thereby, war criminals,


            2. Some of our nation’s most prestigious law schools, which have denied J.A.G. Corps recruiters access to their 3rd year students on the grounds that the military’s contentious “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards gays violates university nondiscrimination policy.


Hinzman’s appeal was denied by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, and rightly so, on the grounds that he had not demonstrated that the U.S. Army had any such institutional policies towards Iraqi civilians as he alleged. But his case, which is now in the process of appeal, has encouraged other troubled and confused enlisted men to file cases of their own, and is championed on university campuses, where he is widely viewed as a something of a martyr to the cause of “peace in Iraq.”


A recent Supreme Court ruling now requires universities to allow military recruiters equal access or risk loss of government funding. But the controversy over “don’t ask-don’t tell” has already done considerable damage to our efforts to recruit J.A.G. officers. These officers’ function is to determine whether proposed targets are legal under the L.O.A.C. and advise on other legal matters such as the treatment of “high value” prisoners that have become crucial to our ability to defuse the moral and legal claims leveled against us by apologists for terrorism. As such, these officers are especially needed in the context of the highly sophisticated style of political war presented by terror warfare which Dunlap termed “Lawfare.”[12] The posting of this new generation of “warrior lawyers” to the right hand of commanders in the field is the closest thing to a desperately needed “Lawfighting” doctrine[13] we have so far devised.


While the Supreme Court decision has been condemned in certain circles as  institutionalizing prejudice against gays in the military, it nevertheless rationally prioritizes the greater necessity for all citizens to make personal sacrifices in time of war for the common defense over insisting on such individual “goods” as a right to open sexual self-expression in a military setting. And being law of the land, it must take legal precedence over individual university policy.


But even though the Supreme Court’s decision has resolved the issue of equal access for recruiters for the time being, we are left with the pressing problem of convincing young people to join up. As mission creep, attrition and retirement take their tolls, we can no longer afford to have our recruiters simply disengage, as has been the practice on my campus, and end up routinely not making their vital mission. Therefore, I propose that, for reasons of mass and maneuver, we arm our recruiters with a solid basic understanding of Law of War and Just War theory that would enable them to overcome protesters’ arguments in private conversation with potential enlistees and cadets (not direct confrontation with protesters, which would be futile, off-mission, and non-contributory to our overall objective).


In the end though, we are not the only ones threatened by terrorism. Other nations including Britain, France, Spain, and Russia have suffered too at terrorist hands, or been credibly threatened. As I see it, the success of our Global War on Terrorism lies in our ability to make it truly global. For that, we need to convince our allies, and potential allies — the real powers of this day — in Europe, Asia, and on this continent that knuckling under, as Spain did after the terrorist bombing of its commuter rail lines, to the blackmail of terrorist threats will only guarantee more — and ever more outrageous — blackmail demands, and that it is in the best interest of all free and independent peoples to join with us in presenting an implacable, united, and overwhelming front to terrorist organizations and their sponsor or enabling states. That is where the bulk of the mass in the war against terrorism ought to come from. And that is where we might most effectively direct the bulk of our “hearts and minds” efforts, at least until we have built up our mass.[14] To convince these understandably nervous peoples to stand with us against terrorist organizations and sponsor states, we shall have to be able to reassure them that we can do more for them in the way of providing security and neutralizing terrorists’ ability to carry out their threats than terrorists can do to them in the way of harm. And, perhaps even more important, we shall have to do one more thing — we shall have to convince them of the worthiness of our cause.


This is no small challenge in an intellectual climate of post-’60s cultural relativism that has left a highly vocal segment of our own and European, society reluctant to acknowledge the necessity for going to war, even against an enemy that has committed unspeakable atrocities specifically named as war crimes in Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions (and threatens to commit more  against our own and our allies’ civilian populations) because of a post-’60s societal taboo against “judging” the motives and actions of other “cultures.” Followed to its logical conclusion, such unreasoning political correctness would have us standing like the proverbial deer in on-coming headlights, wondering uselessly (since there is little we can practically do about our sworn enemies’ most deeply ingrained cultural and religious prejudices) “why do they hate us so?” Whatever the answer, religio-socio-economic resentments (the so-called “root causes” for terrorism), however deeply felt they may be, can neither morally nor legally justify the commission of the atrocities and crimes against humanity that are the defining characteristics of terror warfare.[15] For while unfair conditions may exist[16] that may call for some form of reasonable remediation, nothing gives anyone the moral or legal right to deliberately and with malice aforethought murder innocent noncombatants; no such right exists in either the Just War Tradition or modern International Law of Armed Conflict.13


As a teacher, I am naturally inclined to believe that simple ignorance of Just War theory and the L.O.A.C. can be overcome by education, without which I have long argued our civilian voting citizenry cannot adequately fulfill its constitutional obligations inherent in civilian control of the military. But, even if we institute such vital citizenship education in our public schools tomorrow, it will be years until an adequately educated cohort of voters is of age to influence U.S. policy. Here, our media could be of great national and international humanitarian service in helping to unmask and delegitimize terrorism, if the news profession could be convinced to regulate itself merely insofar as to see to it that war correspondents were competent to report knowledgeably on military matters as a condition of their being embedded with our forces. Col. Ralph Baker[17] has gone so far as to consider information operations (I.O.) as occupying crucial battle space in the emerging strategic landscape of terror warfare. Baker’s policy was not to allow journalists to spend the night on his base unless they were willing to be embedded “long enough to understand the context of what is going on around them and to develop an informed opinion before printing a story.” This policy worked well for him, perhaps because of his evident native diplomatic skills. But the impetus towards imposing such really quite minimal requirements on an institution that has always jealously guarded its independence must come from inside the profession or almost assuredly be loudly and dramatically misinterpreted as an attempt to deprive it of its constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, and should always be handled with utmost delicacy. [18]



The sort of willful ignorance that actually has educated Americans seriously suggesting that we adopt a more “sophisticated European attitude,” and learn to live with terrorism — an abomination of an attitude that plays directly into our enemy’s politically skillful hands — is even harder to counter. But it is both widespread and deeply held in certain strata of Western society. It is imperative that we find a way  — and soon — to reach the remainder of our civilian population, and those of our allies, as well as Coalition troops, not with clumsy attempts at propaganda like transparent out-sourced advertising campaigns that are rejected out of hand by a public grown as mistrustful of government as ours has, but with a clear, honest, rational, and convincing deconstruction of terrorist apologetics and the public unmasking of terrorist methods, means, and objectives for the hypocritical hate propaganda and the cause of untold civilian death and suffering they are. For it is here, in the domains of perceived worthiness and its direct effects on morale — of our own and our allies’ civilian populations and of Coalitions troops — that the controlling high ground in the strategic terrain delimited by political warfare lies. It is in convincing the civilized nations of the world that a vast and unbridgable moral and legal gap exists between ourselves and those who wage terror warfare on all our peoples that our last best chance for taking this high ground from them resides. The (mis)perceived worthiness of terrorist war aims [19]is, really, the only principle of war they have working for them. But it is a powerful one, most especially in the strategic terrain of terror warfare. And apologists for terrorism have so far proved far more adept at exploiting it — that is at getting their viewpoint across to civilian supporters in the Middle East and abroad — than we have so far been at debunking their twisted rhetoric.[20] And radical philosophies tend to carry the weight of religion with their adherents.


Consider this lesson from our recent military history: Although the Vietnam conflict was at bottom about access to land (read wealth in that largely agrarian society), our “hearts and minds” strategy with its pigs and chickens, and vaccinations against childhood diseases, simply could not cover the same socio-economic-political terrain as the Communist promise of land redistribution. The problem in Iraq is even more complicated by old and deeply felt religious sectarian differences among those whose affection and co-operation we aim to win than it was in Vietnam. And any strategic Devil’s advocate worth his brimstone must ask: if the Vietnamese were willing to sacrifice over a million guerrilla fighters’ lives for a functional secular religion that deconstructs to mere Marxist economic ideology of economic redistribution, what would the Iraqis and others in the Middle East not do for the sake of their genuine religious contentions? For the objective of the terrorism coming out of the Middle East these days is all about a struggle for religious hegemony, something we seem not to fully appreciate, perhaps because we have been raised to believe, to the foundations of our national identity, is a matter of personal choice and public toleration.[21] There really is, if not a “clash of civilizations,” then a quite possibly unbridgeable gap between Islamic and Western culture vid. capital charges recently brought against an Afghani convert to Christianity, for which crime of apostasy, unknown to modern Western courts, Sharia law would have sentenced him to death by beheading. The fact that those charges were dropped and he was allowed to emigrate to Italy would appear to demonstrate just how vulnerable fundamentalist Islamist states and organizations are to the threat of withdrawal of international public support. And they are exquisitely vulnerable there, in the heart of their greatest if not only strength, because of the demonstrable, inherent, and, therefore, irremediable illegality and immorality of their methods and means of war13 Targeting the subversion of terrorism’s supporters in the domain of perceived worthiness of the terrorist way of war  contributes to our strength in the Jominian principle of objective.



Aylwin-Foster urges a “hearts and minds” approach to gain the willing co-operation of the Iraqi people[22]  in attaining our objective of neutralizing radical Islamic terrorist organizations operating out of the Middle East by convincing them that we understand and appreciate their point of view on the major conflicts in the area. And there is undeniable advantage to be gained in
“knowing your enemy,” as Sun Tzu advised. But I would caution that there is an ideological “tipping point” at which “understanding” other people’s motivations slides over into tacitly approving of, making excuses for (as in the flawed and dangerous “root causes” arguments for terrorism ably deconstructed by Elschtain), or even actively adopting it  (what the British Army in India used to call “going native”).


Our agreeing to step over this point and adopt an Islamist point of view towards Middle Eastern conflicts may well turn out to be the price demanded for a positive response to our efforts at reconstruction.  And that is a price we cannot, and should not pay, even if we could. For one thing, there is no single Islamic, Arab, or even Iraqi viewpoint, but a vicious religious conflict between Sunni and Shiite almost as old as the religious conflict between Moslems and “Infidels” (adherents to every other religion). So deep are these divisions that the vast majority of Iraqi civilians killed almost daily in Iraq  are the direct and intended victims of sectarian violence, and not collateral, much less directly targeted casualties (as apologists for terrorism so hypocritically claim) of conventional Coalition warfare , which honor binds its practitioners to minimize any possible harm to non-combatants, even at increased peril to their own lives. In this religio-political atmosphere, any rapport achieved with leaders of one sect would almost certainly be taken as our making common cause with their enemy by the other. Therefore, strict neutrality would be called for on our part, but there is little chance that either side would not demand our actively taking their part in return for its co-operation. Morally, there is little to choose between them; both sides have innocent blood on their hands up to their elbows. Politically, Sunnis are the majority in Iraq. But we have to contend with the more threatening reality that, though the Shiites might be Iraqi by nationality, their (stronger) religious sectarian loyalties may lie across the border in Iran, which is shaping up to be a far more formidable (nuclear capable) enemy to us than Iraq ever was. Further, we have made unsavory alliances in the Middle East before to our disadvantage in the domain of the principle of perceived worthiness, and there does not seem to be anyone in power, or capable of seizing it, with whom we could make an advantageous and honorable alliance.


While I am on the topic of religious intolerance, one demand pretty much any Moslem ally we may hope to gain in the Middle East would almost assuredly make of us is that we alter our foreign policy towards Israel to facilitate, or at least turn a blind eye to, the achievement of plainly stated Palestinian and more worrying Iranian objectives in the Middle Eastern conflict.[23] Primary among these is the “removal of Israel from the map of the Middle East.” The legal term of art for an war aim such as this is “ethnic cleansing,” and this charming little euphemism describes, not a reasonable objective in the Just War tradition, but a crime against humanity under international law to which we cannot allow ourselves to become a party and retain our honor or gain strategically controlling perceived worthiness in our own or others’ eyes. Neither can we afford to lull ourselves into imagining that the Palestinian (and now, Iranian) clamor for such ends are only overwrought ethnic rhetoric full of idiomatic overstatement, which we misinterpret literally and take too seriously; the bombing of the World Trade Towers was, by the admission of al-Qaeda spokesmen, planned and fully intended as an act of genocide, the site having been specifically targeted because it was thought to house large numbers of Jewish business people during working hours.


We must also ask ourselves, what we really stand to gain in the Middle East by allowing the destruction of our most reliable ally in the region in order to win over an unproved one. Certainly there will be negative international political and strategic consequences for demonstrating anything that might be interpreted by our European allies and potential allies as untrustworthiness or lack of moral fastidiousness in making alliances in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. For it is they — along with moderate Islamic states like Indonesia, where Ralph Peters[24] has argued we stand our best chance of success — that I would argue we really need to win over in order to present an implacable, united, and overwhelming opposition to terrorist organizations and sponsor states. Yet, in our efforts to avoid losing more ground in the domain of security to terrorist blackmail — a mostly defensive position that sacrifices the principle of offensive to little or no advantage —  we have lost track of the fact that the key to victory lies in taking the terrorists’ most valuable high ground — ground that is as vulnerable to assault by us as it has been strategically valuable to our enemies — that lies in the domain of perceived worthiness and associated morale. Own that ground — undermine support and sympathy for terrorist means and methods of war — and terrorist mass and ability to maneuver collapses; security will follow. Here, I believe, is another “node” of agreement between my own and Dunlap’s interpretations of principles of war.



Restoring security for our civilian population is, of course, what we are talking about when we say that our national grand strategic objective in waging the G.W.O.T. in which we find ourselves, willingly or not, embroiled is to neutralize the threat of terrorist organizations and their sponsor and enabling states. But in order to accomplish this objective, we will need the co-operation of our allies and potential allies worldwide, the civilian populations of moderate Middle Eastern states, and our own civilian population. And in order to win and keep their co-operation we will have to earn their confidence that for the civilized nations of this world, the best chance for security lies in solidarity and a credible counter threat of overwhelming kinetic force made possible by the mass and materiel of our combined military forces.


Once that mass is achieved, we will be better able to provide security for those in the Middle East who would take our side except for fear of terrorist reprisals like the targeting of Iraqi men queuing up to apply for jobs with the new Iraqi police force or to enlist in their own country’s military. The need for sufficient mass to supply such security is one reason for my advocacy of a “Europe first” policy for our application of a “hearts and minds” strategy in the war on terrorist organizations and their sponsor states. Towards that end, we and our allies in the U.N. might do well to launch a very public diplomatic effort to have the U.N. explicitly declare acts of terrorism crimes against humanity, and begin trying apprehended terrorists in the I.C.C., out in public where such trials arguably belong and can do the most to bring the worthiness of our stance re terrorism before our own and our allies’ civilian populations. For although military tribunals do have certain advantages (such as a greater level of security for H.U.M.I.N.T. providers and the possibility of hearing cases relatively quickly and cheaply overseas in the war zone where the alleged criminal activity took place and witnesses reside), the more valuable advantages in public perception to be had from transparency is sacrificed.  Whether we succeed in achieving these aims — and in the current atmosphere at the U.N., we probably will not — is almost immaterial, as the international discussion that would be opened in the media, if kept focused on the international legal issues, would serve our greater objective of forcing the civilian public to confront the demonstrable immorality and illegality of terrorism. It is the, for lack of a less cynical sounding term, “public relations” dividend that is the objective of this maneuver in the strategic terrain created by political war.


But we cannot hope to achieve this advantage if we cannot convince our allies and potential allies that both our strategic aims and the tactics employed to achieve them are worthy. And we cannot hope to convince anyone, even ourselves, of their worthiness unless they are worthy. Half measures will not be sufficient to this purpose, but will be interpreted in the media and many domestic and foreign civilian quarters as attempts to deceive. A case in point was President Bush’s signing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Among other things, “this legislation says the president ‘can interpret the meaning and application’ of international standards for prisoner treatment, a provision intended to allow him to authorize aggressive interrogation methods that otherwise might be seen as illegal by international courts.”[25]


The issue of security at home is even more fraught, because our civilian population demands security, but is deeply suspicious of any measures that smack of “racial profiling.” Even such individual-focused security practices as “behavioral profiling” may be spun as racial or religious profiling). At the same time, we are vehemently resentful of security measures that would subject all citizens and foreigners alike to equally stringent scrutiny. Just how unwilling Americans are to give up some measure of privacy for increased security may be illustrated by the significant number of civilian volunteers who have left my own organization (the C.G. Aux. —  lead civilian organization in the Department of Homeland Security) rather than submit to security checks before being allowed to participate in direct operational support of Coast Guard activities. Such an understandably touchy issue as infringement on personal liberties for the sake of tightened security must be handled with the proverbial kid gloves — the announcement of the Dubai ports deal at the same time that an extension of the contentious Patriot Act was under consideration in Congress was nothing if not politically clumsy. The recent decision to send funds for humanitarian aid to the Lebanon, where they will no doubt be disbursed to the local populations by Hezbollah representatives, may well turn out to be another cause for resentment among our taxpaying public. Any such arrangements must in the future be made transparently and subject to public debate, if not ultimate approval.


A problem perhaps not fully appreciated is that what may constitute an area of relatively high ground which may be occupied to advantage in the domain of one of the original or revised principles of war may at the same time constitute an area of strategic disadvantage, or relative lower ground, in the domain of another principle. The problem is to determine in the domain of which principle, or constellation of principles, the key terrain to occupy in order to achieve our national grand strategic objectives lies. This may necessitate the sacrifice of advantageous terrain in the domain of other principles. A case in point is that while maneuvering for the high ground of security we have made use of certain techniques for intelligence gathering which have been widely condemned as torture or other maltreatment of prisoners of war. It has opened us to counter charges of tu atque that have provided terrorist apologists with a smoke screen behind which to hide the unbridgable moral and legal differences between our way of war and theirs, and has weakened and charges of violation of the Torture Convention of 1990 we might wish to bring against them for mistreatment of any Americans they may take captive. And it has stranded us in an area of negative strategic advantage with respect to the domains of morale and perceived worthiness, where the controlling or key terrain in the kind of highly sophisticated political warfare which, like it or not, we are engaged, actually lies.


I propose that we must now consider the question of whether our employment of torture, which may contribute to intelligence (an area of high ground in the domain of security) should be discontinued because it places us in a strategic trough with respect to the key terrain in political warfare which lies in the domain of perceived worthiness. We must also keep in mind when considering any strategy that in this age of “television warfare” we can no longer keep anything our military does from public scrutiny.


Even if we could effectively cover our resort to torture, it may not be all that efficacious in delivering usable intelligence. Recent critics have pointed out that intelligence extracted under extreme duress may be unreliable because pain either clouds the memory of subjects who actually do know something valuable, or causes those who do not to lie in order to avoid further pain.[26] Those able to tolerate the pain of low-grade to moderate torture may still lie in order to deny us the intelligence they possess. The application of a heavier hand may result in death, in which case we are also out the intelligence we hoped to extract. And “breaking” a subject’s will to withhold intelligence by disrupting his diurnal biorhythms, keeping him isolated and in the dark, or exposing him to painfully loud rap “music” etc. takes time, which we may not have if the intelligence we are after, such as the details of an impending terror attack, is time sensitive. Research into so-called “truth sera” may hold out the greatest possibilities for extracting timely and reliable intelligence. But no drug, even aspirin, has zero probability of causing death or life threatening side effects, and psychoactive agents may so loosen the subject’s hold on reality that he produces little more than useless psychedelic ravings.


            Prohibiting the most aggressive of our interrogation techniques now in use (water boarding, for instance) and scaling down the intensity of those remaining will probably not result in any significant improvement in our “perceived worthiness rating.” What would a society so unused to making finely shaded value judgments that it categorically calls almost every interaction our military has with suspected terrorists “torture” consider acceptable interrogation techniques anyway — harsh words? the mere threat of same? All levity aside, it does not seem likely that anything Western  society would sanction would have much utility in extracting intelligence from a hostile and unwilling subject.  More importantly,  any use of torture  techniques on our part will almost assuredly be used as justification for the reciprocal use of the same or even harsher techniques on any of our own military personnel who are taken captive, or on kidnapped reporters, contractors, and other U.S. civilians etc. If there is one thing preventing their torture and murder at the hands of their captors, it is the ground terrorists would lose in the domain of perceived worthiness if their actions were exposed before their European supporters by a blameless U.S. We would probably do far better to concentrate on scrupulously legal and narrowly targeted surveillance, infiltration, and the turning and cultivating of informants.[27]  Although these measures too would be subject to the special pleading of apologists for terrorism, any case they could make in mitigation of acts of terror would be far weaker and more transparent in the absence of any evidence of torture on our part. More importantly, they would put terrorist organizations and sponsor and enabling states on an untenable defensive with regard to their own resort to torture.


Although I can conceive of instances in which the threat posed to innocent non-combatants is so great and so imminent that the moral case for torturing a subject known to be in possession of critical intelligence would outweigh moral and legal prohibitions on torture (the so-called “Dirty Harry” scenario), torture under less fraught conditions is an advantage decimator in the strategic landscape created by highly political terror warfare.  Furthermore, the moral and legal threshold beyond which torture might be justified could be lowered with the escalation of terror warfare. But, in the context of the present situation, the contours of the high ground in the domain of the principle of security defined by intelligence gathered by resort to torture appear to be relatively low in comparison to the elevation of the high ground in the domain of morale and perceived worthiness currently occupied by terrorists and their apologists. I believe that this ground is key to victory in the G.W.O.T. I also believe that we can take it. But in order to do so we will have to scrupulously “clean up our act.” Part of that process may be abandoning torture outright.



In advocating our abandonment of torture, I am by no means suggesting that we fight the G.W.O.T. without benefit of intelligence, only that we consider shifting the greater part of our intelligence gathering efforts from techniques which have become a hindrance to maneuvering in the politicized strategic landscape presented by terror war to more effective means including H.U.M.I.N.T. and (scrupulously legal)[28] use of electronic and other surveillance techniques. The question of our continuing resort to torture is moot in any case. Even if torture were demonstrably more effective in rendering reliable and timely military intelligence, the American civilianry has pretty much determined that we abandon torture, and under Constitutionally established civilian control of the military, our strategic planners and Military Intelligence personnel are oath-bound to accept that.


But even if we had a choice, strategic analysis would appear to argue for our abandonment of torture. This is where the art in the “art of war” resides — in having the fineness of  judgment to perceive the relative strategic value of the high ground in the domains of competing principles of war, the sheer strategic guts to relinquish the advantages of one principle for greater advantage in the domain of another more crucial principle, and the quickness of wit to exploit that advantage to the fullest.[29] Even a cursory perusal of American military history would reveal that we do not have much of a track record when it comes to effective use of the principle of exploitation. But in abandoning torture, we have the opportunity to gain strategically controlling high ground in the domain of our enemy’s most effective principle of war. The question is not whether to take that ground (we should), or if we can take that ground (we can), but how to exploit the advantages holding it will give us in the domain of perceived worthiness. We shall have to get very good very fast at getting our message across to the nation, our allies, and our enemies’ civilianry alike.[30] And we shall have to back those words up with our actions, so that anybody with eyes can see that we are the ones fighting for a just and humane cause in a just and humane manner. But here, at long last, is the one thing our cadet students have repeatedly told us they most desire — the possibility of fighting even a dishonorable enemy honorably, and with a fighting chance to prevail. I am well aware that a strategy of fighting a lawless, immoral, and demonstrably merciless enemy according to the precepts of the Just War tradition and International Law of War is counterintuitive at first thought. Only consider this possibility —  what if we have fortuitously been driven, like the Union troops on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, not into helplessness and defeat, but onto the finest fighting ground on the altered strategic battlefield of terror war, one that may be made to suit our own preferred methods, means, and aims of warfare far better than it suits those of the enemy who, blinded by unreasoning anger and religious zeal, redelineated its contours? Wouldn’t the exploitation of such a possibility be worth considering?




[1]David Cloud and Eric Schmitt, “More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld’s Resignation,” The New York Times, 4/14/06.


[2]Hendrik Hertzberg, “Rummyache,” The New Yorker, 1/5/06.


[3]B.G. Nigel Aylwin-Foster, “Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations,” Mil Rev., Nov.-Dec. 2005.


[4]Charles Krauthammer, “Dissident Generals Suit the Anti-War Left,” Bangor Daily News, 4/21/06.


[5]Col. Max Manwaring. “The New Master of Wizard’s Chess: The Real Hugo Chavez and Asymmetric Warfare,” Mil. Rev. Sept. - Oct. 2005.


[6]Col. John Wagelstein, “What’s Wrong in Iraq?” Mil. Rev. Jan.-Feb., 2006.


[7]B.G. Charles Dunlap Jr., “Neo-Strategicon: Modernized Principles of War for the 21st Century,” Mil. Rev., March-April, 2006.


[8]Sean Naylor, “Retired Generals Blast Rumsfeld,” Army Times, 4/24/06.


[9]In a similar vein, M.G. Robert Scales (“Clausewitz and World War IV —,” Armed Forces Journal, 2006-7) likened this transformation in style of warfare to the “moving of tectonic plates.”


[10]What Scales has aptly termed “psycho-cultural” war.


[11]Davida Kellogg and Maj. Michel Reid, “Terror Warfare, Perfidy, and the Geneva Conventions,” I.U.S. Conference on Transformation and Convergence: Armed Forces and Society in the New Security Environment, Oct. 1-3, 2004, Toronto.


[12]Col. Charles Dunlap Jr., “Law and Military Interventions: Preserving Humanitarian Values in 21st Century Conflicts,” 2001, on line at <www. duke.edu/pfeaver/dunlap.pdf>


[13]Davida Kellogg, “International Law and Terrorism,” Mil. Rev., Sept.-Oct., 2005, pp. 50-57.


[14]This is actually an economy of force argument, which is closely related to mass.


[15]Jean Bethke Elshtain, “Just War Against Terror,” Basic Books 2003.


[16]Michael Radu noted in his F.P.R.I. talk on teaching 9/11 that “the theory that people join terrorist organizations out of poverty, injustice, etc. is losing ground.” Radu’s point is supported by the fact that the would-be plane bombers thwarted this August came from relatively comfortable British circumstances.


[17]Col. Ralph Baker, “The Decisive Weapon: A Brigade Combat Team Commander’s Perspective on Information Operations,” briefing to Information Operations Symposium II, Ft. Leavenworth, 12/15/05.


[18]Kenneth Payne, “The Media as an Instrument of War,” Parameters, Spring 2005, 81-92, goes much further in designating the media — ”ostensibly non-state actors” — as “instruments of war,” in the context of terrorism’s highly politicized war of words. He further calls for greater control of the media by the military, and even for the modification of existing International Law of War specifying the non-combatant status of journalists and media buildings and installations in view of the effective military nature of such terrorist apologists  as  Al Jazeera and Al Manar.


[19] Emblematic of this misperception is the frequently cited equation of “one man’s terrorist,” who murders civilian noncombatants in suicide bombings and decaptitates captives or forces their religious conversions literally at sword’s point, with the “freedom fighter” of a civilized people whose soldiers do everything within their power (even to their own detriment) to spare civilians, and who, when abuses do come to light, try and punish the perpetrators


[20] “In which murderers are renamed ‘martyrs,’ to deliberately cause the deaths of innocent civilians becomes to do the ‘will of God,’ and all efforts at self defense by those targeted by terrorists becomes ‘aggression,” Davida Kellogg, “On the Need for Moral Armoring of our Soldiers in the Rhetoric Wars of Terrorism,” Canadian Conference on Ethical Leadership, 2002.


[21]“Throughout most of the 1990s, intelligence personnel were not quite forbidden to consider religion as a strategic factor, but the issue was considered soft and nebulous — as well as potentially embarrassing in those years of epidemic political correctness.” Ralph Peters, “Rolling Back Radical Islam,” Parameters, Autumn 2002, pp. 4-16.


[22]I should mention here that Baker especially dislikes this term because he feels it gives his troops an unrealistic understanding of their mission as making friends with the Iraqis they encounter — a dangerous and ultimately impossible goal. What he advocates is the cultivating of certain influential persons who command the ear of some target segment of the Iraqi population. Such tactics have in fact netted him successes in I/O operations and the acquisition of valuable H.U.M.I.N.T., but it is questionable as to whether we can  make  a strategy of cultivating  — or even find — enough leaders to discredit acts of terror in a sufficiently large segment of the world-wide Moslem population to bring about the cessation of terror warfare. That probably being the case, I contend that the credible threat of overwhelming force from the civilized nations of the world might suffice as a deterrent and serve our strategic purposes as well, if not longer and more reliably.


[23]Such thinly veiled objectives were recently broached by former Iranian president  Khatami, who urged that the U.S. alter its foreign policy in the Middle East to achieve some measure of rapproachment with a determinedly nuclear Iran.


[24]Since, as Peters (“Rolling Back Radical  Islam,” Parameters, Autumn 2002, pp. 4-16) “much of the Arab world has withdrawn into a fortress of intolerance and self-righteousness as psychologically comfortable as it is practically destructive. They are, through their own fault, as close to hopeless as any societies and cultures upon the earth


[25]Nedra Pickler, “ Bush Signs Bill for Terrorist Trials,” Bangor Daily News. 10/18/06.


[26]At a DOD news briefing on a new Field Manual 2-22.3  on human intelligence collector operations that “establishes the DOD-wide interrogation standard consistent with law, the Geneva Convention and DOD policy”(CQ Transcripts Wire, “Defense Department News Briefing on Detainee Policies,” The Washington Post, 9/6/2006), no less an authority than L.G. John Kimmons, Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, stated the following:

                “No good intelligence [obtained through “interrogation” defined here as “getting truthful answers to time-sensitive questions on the battlefield] is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that. Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and additionally it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can’t afford to go there. Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been — in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them, have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices in clever ways” [italics mine]. His views were seconded in a letter to Sens. Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary arguing that “proposals now before Congress concerning how to handle detainnees suspected of terrorist activities run the risk of squandering the greatest resource our country enjoys in fighting the dictators and extremists who want to destroy us — our commitment as a nation to the rule of law and the protection of divinely granted human rights”  written by a group of “experienced intelligence and military officers who have served in the frontlines in waging war against communism and Islamic extremism,” including 15 CIA officers, a retired Director of Defense Humint Services, and the Deputy Coordinator of the Office of Counter Terrorism Dept. of State).


[27] The recent foiling of a relatively large-scale plot to smuggle the components of bombs in liquid form on board several England to U.S. commercial flights reportedly provides some proof that these methods can indeed work (William Rashbaum. “Subway Terror Case to Offer Insight into the use of Moles,” The New York Times, 4/24/06), though hard evidence to back this statement up has not yet been released.


[28] Properly issued warrants and fastidiously legally conducted searches are the tools which come readily to mind, although we may have to have some serious legal debate over what constitutes just cause in the context of terror warfare. Attempts to change the law to facilitate monitoring and prosecution of suspected terrorists will almost assuredly come across as finagling to a large part of our and our allies’ populations, and  therefore a “force decimator” when it comes to securing their perception of the  worthiness of our ways, means, and aims in the war on terrorism.


[29] One case in point is our failure so far to fully exploit the recent Islamic radical strategic blunder in capturing two Western journalists and converting them, literally at sword’s point. Plainly and truthfully presented in all its details, without editorializing or spin, this truly offensive violation of the religious freedoms of these civilian members of the fourth estate would make the international furor raised by offended Muslims that threatened freedom of the press worldwide over a few supposedly insensitive cartoons in a Danish newspaper appear silly in comparison, and focus public attention on the illegal and immoral nature of the methods, means, and evident aims of terror warfare.


[30] Baker had some very interesting ideas about how to accomplish this on a Brigade Combat Team scale. While leafleting is probably not applicable to the U.S. population, ways of implementing his policies of relentlessly telling the truth about the consequences of each act of terror in terms of  human costs, and not covering up our own transgressions but swiftly moving to correct and/or punish them, deserve serious consideration.