Are we losing the war? It seems incomprehensible that the huge armies of the west with their advanced military equipment should be defeated by a bunch of tribesmen with rifles. But wars are not fought like that any more.
The other night I watched Alan Parkers's movie "Michael Collins". Seeing the massacre at the Dublin Post Office in 1916, Collins conceived the idea of asymmetric warfare. The IRA would not wear uniforms. They would merge with the indigenous people. They would put spies in police headquarters. They would thrive on good intelligence.
It worked well until Devalera returned and insisted on a conventional confrontation. This reduced the power of the IRA so that they would have had difficulty in surviving another week. Fortunately for them, the British government offered a truce and a settlement - the Irish Free State and partition in the north - was agreed.
The same asymmetric tactics were adopted by the Provisional IRA in the 1970s. Again counter-intelligence measures brought the Provos close to defeat and they accepted a truce. All they got was an amnesty. Ireland is still partitioned. Despite the failure of the new Northern Ireland Assembly we do not see a return to bombing and kidnap. The world has moved on a notch. The biggest change is that the people of Ireland are wealthier now. They have nothing to complain about. The stiffness of fundamentalist Catholicism has been shaken off and an emancipated people have taken to enterprise.
But we know how to defeat that sort of terrorism. You do not bombard Belfast with shock and awe. You need to infiltrate the enemy. You must have good intelligence. You must isolate the terrorist from his community. You win by thinking, not by violent reaction. Eventually the terrorist has to talk, and he will, for although he will have many foot soldiers willing to commit suicide, the generals do not think in the same way.
The most effective counter insurgency campaign was fought by the British in Malaya. It worked by keeping the villages segregated from the terrorist.
Asymmetric warfare has been adopted in many theaters of war. From Vietnam to Iraq powerful armies have been tied down by booby traps, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, train bombs and the rest. Had Hitler invaded Britain in 1940, Churchill had plans to lead a guerilla war on English soil.
The guerilla operates from cells. Adjacent cells do not know each other. Funding is easy via the internet, and besides guerilla warfare is not expensive. The local community is loyal because it is cultivated. Both Hamas and Hezbollah see themselves as social benefactors for their communities, but there are punishment beatings for those who step out of line. Indoctrination is a usual device. Whether it is readings from Marx or the Koran, it is necessary to commit your own side to one world view.
The media are the most important arm of the terrorist. I don't think that Western governments have caught on to this yet. We proudly display our independent, uncensored media, but the enemy has no such compunctions. They say, "Telling a lie is not a sin if it helps our side this war to win." The enemy has infiltrated our mainstream media. Try to discover how many at the BBC are Muslim converts. The American media lost America the Viet Nam war. The Somalia debacle and the Beirut bomb were designed to play on American television. In Iraq and Afghanistan the media are playing the same "troops out" card. Governments must be much smarter at using the media.
Are we losing the war? Not yet, but we are not winning it. We need some thinkers on duty. I have been listening to a few military strategists over the last few days. I have become convinced that at last we are putting some good minds on the problem.