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Sherman’s 300,000 and the Caliphate’s 3 Million

August 12th, 2014 - 3:31 am

Caliphate puts men to the meat-grinder

Crossposted from Asia Times Online

General William Tecumseh Sherman burned the city of Atlanta in 1864. He warned: “I fear the world will jump to the wrong conclusion that because I am in Atlanta the work is done. Far from it. We must kill three hundred thousand I have told you of so often, and the further they run the harder for us to get them.” Add a zero to calibrate the problem in the Levant today. War in the Middle East is less a strategic than a demographic phenomenon, whose resolution will come with the exhaustion of the pool of potential fighters.

The Middle East has plunged into a new Thirty Years War, allows Richard Haass, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations. “It is a region wracked by religious struggle between competing traditions of the faith. But the conflict is also between militants and moderates, fueled by neighboring rulers seeking to defend their interests and increase their influence. Conflicts take place within and between states; civil wars and proxy wars become impossible to distinguish. Governments often forfeit control to smaller groups – militias and the like – operating within and across borders. The loss of life is devastating, and millions are rendered homeless,” he wrote on July 21.
Well and good: I predicted in 2006 that the George W Bush administration’s blunder would provoke another Thirty Years War in the region, and repeated the diagnosis many times since. But I doubt that Mr Haass (or Walter Russell Mead, who cited the Haass article) has given sufficient thought to the implications.

How does one handle wars of this sort? In 2008 I argued for a “Richelovian” foreign policy, that is, emulation of the evil genius who guided France to victory at the conclusion of the Thirty Years War in 1648. Wars of this sort end when two generations of fighters are killed. They last for decades (as did the Peloponnesian War, the Napoleonic Wars and the two World Wars of the 20th century) because one kills off the fathers die in the first half of the war, and the sons in the second.

This new Thirty Years War has its origins in a demographic peak and an economic trough. There are nearly 30 million young men aged 15 to 24 in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, a bulge generation produced by pre-modern fertility rates that prevailed a generation ago. But the region’s economies cannot support them. Syria does not have enough water to support an agricultural population, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of farmers into tent cities preceded its civil war. The West mistook the death spasms of a civilization for an “Arab Spring,” and its blunders channeled the youth bulge into a regional war.

The way to win such a war is by attrition, that is, by feeding into the meat-grinder a quarter to a third of the enemy’s available manpower. Once a sufficient number of who wish to fight to the death have had the opportunity to do so, the war stops because there are insufficient recruits to fill the ranks. That is how Generals Grant and Sherman fought the American Civil War, and that is the indicated strategy in the Middle East today.

It is a horrible business. It was not inevitable. It came about because of the ideological rigidity of the Bush Administration compounded by the strategic withdrawal of the Obama administration. It could have been avoided by the cheap and simple expedient of bombing Iran’s nuclear program and Revolutionary Guards bases, followed by an intensive subversion effort aimed at regime change in Teheran. Former Vice President Dick Cheney advocated this course of action, but then Secretary of State Condileeza Rice persuaded Bush that the Muslim world would never forgive America for an attack on another Muslim state.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, warned Bush that America’s occupation army in Iraq had become hostage to Iranian retaliation: if America bombed Iran, Iran could exact vengeance in American blood in the cities of Iraq. Then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen told Charlie Rose on March 16, 2009: “What I worry about in terms of an attack on Iran is, in addition to the immediate effect, the effect of the attack, it’s the unintended consequences. It’s the further destabilization in the region. It’s how they would respond. We have lots of Americans who live in that region who are under the threat envelope right now [because of the] capability that Iran has across the Gulf. So, I worry about their responses and I worry about it escalating in ways that we couldn’t predict.”

The Bush Administration was too timid to take on Iran; the Obama administration views Iran as a prospective ally. Even Neville Chamberlain did not regard Hitler as prospective partner in European security. But that is what Barack Obama said in March to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg: “What I’ll say is that if you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they’re not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits. And that isn’t to say that they aren’t a theocracy that embraces all kinds of ideas that I find abhorrent, but they’re not North Korea. They are a large, powerful country that sees itself as an important player on the world stage, and I do not think has a suicide wish, and can respond to incentives.” Bush may have been feckless, but Obama is mad.

With Iran neutralized, Syrian President Basher Assad would have had no choice but to come to terms with Syria’s Sunni majority; as it happens, he had the firepower to expel millions of them. Without the protection of Tehran, Iraq’s Shia would have had to compromise with Sunnis and Kurds. Iraqi Sunnis would not have allied with ISIS against the Iranian-backed regime in Baghdad. A million or more Iraqis would not have been displaced by the metastasizing Caliphate.

The occupation of Iraq in the pursuit of nation-building was colossally stupid. It wasted thousands of lives and disrupted millions, cost the better part of a trillion dollars, and demoralized the American public like no failure since Vietnam-most of all America’s young people. Not only did it fail to accomplish its objective, but it kept America stuck in a tar-baby trap, unable to take action against the region’s main malefactor. Worst of all: the methods America employed in order to give the Iraq war the temporary appearance of success set in motion the disaster we have today. I warned of this in a May 4, 2010 essay entitled,General Petraeus’ Thirty Years War (Asia Times Online, May 4, 2010).

The great field marshal of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, Albrecht von Wallenstein, taught armies to live off the land, and succeeded so well that nearly half the people of Central Europe starved to death during the conflict. General David Petraeus, who heads America’s Central Command (CENTCOM), taught the land to live off him. Petraeus’ putative success in the Iraq “surge” of 2007-2008 is one of the weirder cases of Karl Marx’s quip of history repeating itself first as tragedy second as farce. The consequences will be similar, that is, hideous.

Wallenstein put 100,000 men into the field, an army of terrifying size for the times, by turning the imperial army into a parasite that consumed the livelihood of the empire’s home provinces. The Austrian Empire fired him in 1629 after five years of depredation, but pressed him back into service in 1631. Those who were left alive joined the army, in a self-feeding spiral of destruction on a scale not seen in Europe since the 8th century. Wallenstein’s power grew with the implosion of civil society, and the Austrian emperor had him murdered in 1634.

Petraeus accomplished the same thing with (literally) bags of money. Starting with Iraq, the American military has militarized large parts of the Middle East and Central Asia in the name of pacification. And now America is engaged in a grand strategic withdrawal from responsibility in the region, leaving behind men with weapons and excellent reason to use them.

There is no way to rewind the tape after the fragile ties of traditional society have been ripped to shreds by war. All of this was foreseeable; most of it might have been averted. But the sordid players in this tragicomedy had too much reputation at stake to reverse course when it still was possible. Now they will spend the declining years of their careers blaming each other.

Three million men will have to die before the butchery comes to an end. That is roughly the number of men who have nothing to go back to, and will fight to the death rather than surrender.

ISIS by itself is overrated. It is a horde enhanced by captured heavy weapons, but cannot fly warplanes in a region where close air support is the decisive factor in battle. The fighters of the Caliphate cannot hide under the jungle canopy like the North Vietnamese. They occupy terrain where aerial reconnaissance can identify every stray cat. The Saudi and Jordanian air forces are quite capable of defending their borders. Saudi Arabia has over 300 F-15′s and 72 Typhoons, and more than 80 Apache attack helicopters. Jordan has 60 F16′s as well as 25 Cobra attack helicopters. The putative Caliphate can be contained; it cannot break out into Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and it cannot advance far into the core Shia territory of Iraq. It can operate freely in Syria, in a war of attrition with the Iranian backed government army. The grim task of regional security policy is to channel the butchery into areas that do not threaten oil production or transport.

Ultimately, ISIS is a distraction. The problem is Iran. Without Iran, Hamas would have no capacity to strike Israel beyond a few dozen kilometers past the Gaza border. Iran now has GPS-guided missiles which are much harder to shoot down than ordinary ballistic missiles (an unguided missile has a trajectory that is easy to calculate after launch; guided missiles squirrel about seeking their targets). If Hamas acquires such rockets-and it will eventually if left to its own devices-Israel will have to strike further, harder and deeper to eliminate the threat. That confrontation will not come within a year, and possibly not within five years, but it looms over the present hostilities. The region’s security will hinge on the ultimate reckoning with Iran.

Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman. He is Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the Was Family Fellow at the Middle East Forum. His book How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying, Too) was published by Regnery Press in September 2011. A volume of his essays on culture, religion and economics, It’s Not the End of the World – It’s Just the End of You, also appeared that fall, from Van Praag Press. 

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Top Rated Comments   
1. Visit first. Stay two or three weeks to make sure you can deal with living there culturally, socially and physically.
2. You cannot protect even yourself. Taking family is riskier.
3. Visit the Mohave in August, living in a tent. Climate is brutal.
4. If you are enticed/ lied to enough to take the chance, be very, very sure that you get your money out weekly or at least each pay period.
5. Acquire your passport early. Then 'Loose' it. Having 'Lost' your passport replace it. Purchase a neck pouch that will never leave your body, and I mean never, wear it in the shower and when with your sweetheart... in that part of the world passports are frequently collected and held by authorities.
6. Always, always, always, know your emergency exit route(s) and location of nearest US consular office/ embassy. This is the reason you need the spare passport, even if outdated and invalid, you need something to show the Marine at the gate so you can at least get in the door and get a hearing.
7. Figure out what 'coin-of-the-realm works. I found 24k gold neck chains useful, you can break off a link or two to bribe as needed.
8. Don't believe anything you are told. Do your homework like you life depended on it. It does.
9. Forget sex, and alcohol. You can get there, but a great risk.

I spent a year in the ME in the mid '70s and another year in the early '90s. From what I read and hear from friends it has only gotten worse.
PS neither time did get to choose to go there. When I did have a choice I turned ARAMCO down.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Reposted from Belmont Club, yesterday.

Pundits and politicians are always on the lookout for teachable moments.

The coincidence of Ebola Raging ™ and ISIS Abroad may be just such a moment. Both diseases are being treated the same way, first ignoring, then quarantine followed by treating symptoms; all followed by ignoring the root causes-deadly viruses, biological or human.

Islam kept itself isolated for centuries by wallowing in self-inflicted poverty. The luck of geology and skills of the west generated wealth, breaking the quarantine. Now loose we can beat them back a little here and a little there, like using OTC remedies for the common cold. Only it is much, much worse than a cold.

Liz Warren is trumpeting for negotiations with ISIS, an idea as futile as negotiating with the Ebola virus. Negotiating with ISIS only gives the headhunters legitimacy. The definition of insanity comes to mind…same actions hoping for different outcomes.

Medicine understands that treating symptoms is only a short term option while the search for the kill shot continues. Real treatment requires a strong anti-whatever and in the longer term, inoculation.

Over the last ten years we treated the Islam with over the counter military strength. Works for a while and unless maintained is temporary.

There remains only one option short of the Third Conjecture. Attack the infection, pursue the virus, and vaccinate the hosts. Release the propagandists on Islam. They have a proven track record having nearly destroyed Christianity and with it Western Culture. Surely they can handle Islam.


28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Like you David, I have no sense that this religious war will end until the parties can't go on. When I see Walter Russell Meade write: "Haass’ analysis is sobering, particularly his emphasis that the spread of nuclear weapons in the region would be a global disaster of incalculable proportions. It is vital we stop this." I like WRM, but here incalculable means he can't bring himself to do the calculation thereby making it far too easy to pretend we can 'stop this'. You, Brother Goldman, do the calculation - decades. and three million men and I immediately feel better! Not because I relish the idea of decades of suffering and 3 million deaths, but because someone is willing to grasp the nettle.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (59)
All Comments   (59)
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"All of this was foreseeable; most of it might have been averted." Nonsense. It was inevitable. Or are you saying that 3 million useless men, with a readily avalible evil philosophy to follow, would wait forever? They awaited only the means, oppertunity, and leadership to do what they are now doing. The means were simply guns. The oppertunity was the erosion of the central goverment and the economy, which was bound to happen. The leadership? Anyone willing to say "follow me to victory". Each year went by, and the fuse on the bomb burned shorter. If we had not invaded Iraq, what would be happening right now? Iran/Iraq war II? Would Saddam have invaded Syria? Saudi Arabia? Instead of mad bands of terrorists we might well have had a Sunni Napoleon.

Why are the gulf sheiks supporting Egypt? Simple - for the cannon fodder to throw against ther Shia, if it comes down to that. And it probably will - something to burn off the excess Egyptians, and if not an all out fight with the Shia, then an invasion of Libya, or even Ethiopea, or perhaps Yemen.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
The war will end in the middle east when the shia and sunnis go broke.

That will happen in about 15 years when the price of oil collapses to $30@ barrel.

Demand destruction won't happen in a big way for another 5-6 years.

Anyone can see that eventual demand destruction for oil is the logical consequence of the shift over from oil to natural gas buildings (in the USA northeast)trains trucks and buses. Plus electric cars.

In this area the USA and the Chineses--as well as the Japanese and Europeans-- are natural allie with very well aligned interests.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Doth say Spengler: "ISIS by itself is overrated."
All true, because without the support of a state, they cannot win a war of attrition. But try explaining that to the hysterical American media and McCainist militarists. They want endless war.
Don't shoot me, but I disagree that the problem is Iran. The problem is over population of the least productive and poorest peoples on earth. Why else would there be 3 million men ready to fight to the death.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
The finest summary yet. Thank you, Spengler.

Unfortunately, somebody's going to make lots of money selling airline tickets.
Our politicals will make even more building banlieues.

The locust horde is coming. Medievals didn't have mass transit.

The Deep State will use its new profits to fortify its cultural enclave, and become more draconian, more oppressive, much more expensive, and further detached from citizenry.

We're just scenery, or cattle.
As Spengler has pointed out, soon enough strangers with different ways will be speaking different languages in what were once our cities.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
I say this because there is no incentive for our ruling class to rejoin the smothering middle classes.
The new 'base' will only further their estrangement and stratification.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment

"Spengler is unhinged."

You could have stopped there and said everything that needs said.

To embellish, David Goldman feels decline is inevitable. Wishing to be correct, he urges courses of action which will ensure it in his lifetime.

I am sure it's not consciously done.
imho the world is more complicated than simple decline. For example a large section of American Christians believe like Israel's red heifer movement that the temple needs to be built in Jerusalem again. Why? In order for Jesus to return --this event must be preceded by an abomination in the temple (likely the statue of a man). But in order to have an abomination in the temple--you first have to have the temple. To build the temple, Israel will have to be much more powerful than that country is today.

Israel's greatest days are ahead.

28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
For that matter America's greatest days are ahead. What will that look like? Well just as you will know that Israel's greatest days will be when the temple is built in Jerusalem--its also the case that America's greatest days will be when great off world migrations begin and go on for a time. In those days the USA like Israel will be much more powerful as well as much more technologically advanced. This is not to say that the great scourges will not come. They will. But later.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
The template for this talk again comes from the book of revelations which these days is generally considered by christian scholars to have been written about 60 AD or about 10 years before the destruction of the 2nd temple.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Much of the wild imagery from the book of Revelations (written in 60 AD)comes from the book of Daniel and the book of Ezekiel--written by Daniel and Ezekiel who wrote in captivity in Babylon soon after the destruction of the first temple in 589 BC.

The imagery is so wild and the interpretation so difficult that Christians typically give people wide latitude to believe what they want as to the meaning of the Book of Revelations.

While I have not read the book of Enoch--ny understanding it that it was banned by Jewish rabbis in the 2nd or 3rd century AD because it simply had too many angels and demons in it at a time when Christianity was still largely a Jewish sect. The rabbis wanted to emphasize doctrinally that "God oh God our God is one."

I mention this book because my understanding is that this book also has some pretty wild imagery in it. I think it can still be found in the Ethiopian Jewish torah.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mr. Goldman is obviously a VERY intelligent man, but overlooks the simplest of factors.

Very few nations (to include America much to my shame), have the WILL to provide the 'meat grinder' necessary for Mr. Goldman's prediction to come true. We HAD a chance to annihilate ISIS while they were totally exposed, but CHOSE not to. Now thousands, if not TENS of thousands, of innocent people have paid the price for our failure / reluctance.

It is this timidity of heart that allows ISIS and Iran to prosper. This timidity is further multiplied by the politically correct environment we live in. The West no longer possesses the 'stomach' to speak the truth and do what is right.

Let's hope we realize the error of our ways before it is too late.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
I still cant figure out why those large roving masses of ISIS truck-and-troop columns were not turned to blessed smoldering wreckage on their way to Mosul…

They were massed and in the open….perfect A-10 and Cobra food. Were there NO American Forces left AT ALL in Iraq? Are we not “partnered” with their Government/security apparatus in some way in Bagdad? Do we have no Tactical Air Assets in the country, do THEY have no Tactical Air Assets we equipped them with?

I’m not buying it.

It is inconceivable that thousands of armed men in pick-up trucks and on foot, could just walk mile after mile into a sovereign nation, one with an elected president, parliament, and SOME level of US troop/advisors/diplomatic relationship stautus, announce their Caliphate Designs, move from city to city, displacing and massacring Sovereign Citizes, while facing no air attack for over a month.

At the absolute MINIMUM, conventional Arty and .50 cal have far greater standoff than ISIS AK’s and RPG’s, and the terrain is tailor-made for simple chew-them up, step back, chew them up some more tactics, that even minimally trained Junior Infantry Officers trained inmid- 20th century tactics could easily control and execute.

I'm not buying it. This is WAY beyond your typical Squeamish Western Battlefield Paralysis. The usual fear of gory TV images coupled with the “quagmire” narrative blaring 24/7 over here.

No, something much, much larger is happening here by acquiescence or design.

Old Barry is either a completely disconnected coke-head, Flailing in Denial and Incompetence like The Fuhrer’s last day in the bunker….

Or, things are going perfectly, all according to plan.

Either way, WE are totally screwed…..Israeli style “grenade at the pizza shop” operations are certainly in our future, along with some big-ticket mass transit/sporting events as well.

Whether it happens now, or (conveniently) after Barry’s party is a Minority after the Midterms or he's completly out of office, is the only question.

Incompetence, or Plausible Deniability…take your pick
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
OK, first, Sherman wrote letters to people, and talked a lot. He always said things in hyperbolic terms. He often didn't do whatever he said he was going to do...and this is one of those circumstances. In the mid-1870s he said he was going to burn settler's wagons if they violated the borders of an Indian reservation, but he didn't do it. He *was* a tough soldier, and he made Georgia howl and then burned his way through South Carolina, but he also talked a lot. He absolutely hated journalists, and at least one of his biographers suggested that this might have been because they wrote down everything he said, and he said a lot...

I think ISIS or ISIL or IS or whatever they're calling themselves this week will probably burn themselves out eventually. Extremists almost always do that, though they can do a lot of damage first.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment

Ilegante irse a casa
While David's demographic analysis is pertinent, there is another factor often over looked. Water

I have developed a scheme to convert the Mediterranean Sea to fresh water
Agree that water is what changes the world in the 21st century. However, imho another path will be through technological breakthroughs that make desalinized water cheap enough for agriculture.

Right now Israel and Singapore compete head to head here. Both Claim to have desalination plants that will produce desalinized water for under $500@acre foot.

People don't realized how close these numbers are to making desalinized water cheap enough for agriculture. Desalinized water in the 200-300@ acre foot range carefully husbanded --is cheap enough for high end cash crops. In the $100@acre foot range field crops carefully husbanded become commercial.

These numbers will be reached in a decade or two when a couple technologies come together. The first is 4th generation portable nuclear reactors which promise to cut the cost of electricity in half or more. There is currently a world wide race getting underway to be the first to prototype lftr thorium reactors and their variants. The second technology is going to be either graphene or carbon nanotube semipermiable membranes which take cost of production power and maintenance out of membranes. A dozen or more companies have claimed major advances in the lab on these kinds of materials. The third big technology is a materials science play that creates cheap materials that are virtually maintenance free even in the presence of highly corrosive salt water. The field of materials science is moving just as fast as bio engineering. These tools have not yet been turned on desalination infrastructure. But when this happens a lot of maintenance costs will be squeezed out of desal plants. The fourth technology is one of several that use salt as a basis for making all kinds of different products. There are already a number of commercial industries that use salt to make stuff. No one has yet thought to turn salt concentrate wastes from desalination plants into marketable materials. But that will happen. The fith will be 3d printing technology that creates pipelines by extrusion using only the materials the pipes pass through. There have already been some initial tests on this.

All these technologies will happen and mature in the next 10-20 years. Some under 10. They will change everything.

Right now Israel's interim solution--and one that really should be adapted by California--is to use desalinized water first for urban use and then turn the brown water out in fields for agricultural use. Its frankly weird in fact, that great entrepreneurs like Elon Musk should be talking about rail transport projects when California is drying up for lack of rain. Why do California billionaires take on projects in Africa or where ever when the the most important thing they could do for California and the world is figure out how to make cheap environmentally friendly desalination plants.

Collapse the cost of water desalination & transport and basically it become possible farm all the worlds deserts. You turn the world's deserts green and that doubles the size of the habitable planet.

This is going to happen anyway. The question is how fast.

28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
>> ISIS by itself is overrated. It is a horde enhanced by captured heavy weapons, but cannot fly warplanes in a region where close air support is the decisive factor in battle.

Close air support isn't a regional thing, it was the American military invention.

The old trope that Iran holds or held the cards over the US because of troops in the region is stupid. However, the reasoning behind not knocking out key assets and destabiizing the regime was always because folks like Spengler would say it was stupid two years later no matter what happened.

Any move to destabilize Iran and Spengler does an Obama and claims a "smart war" switcheroo with the "dumb war".

Spengler is unhinged. As tragic as the losses of our military men and women are, defeating an insurgency and fighting two wars and barely losing more than a single event on 9/11 is an astonishing feat. The truth is that Spengler has disillusioned himself. He, like the rest of those he's cheerleading but claims to be following, claims the public was disillusioned because those who fashion themselves the elites know when the public is disillusioned and tell us what the public thinks. Pathetic.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Spengler is unhinged."

You could have stopped there and said everything that needs said.

To embellish, David Goldman feels decline is inevitable. Wishing to be correct, he urges courses of action which will ensure it in his lifetime.

I am sure it's not consciously done.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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