DUCKWALKING WITH HERMAN KAHN AND NEWT GINGRICHRodger Payne
at The Duck of Minerva
had a clever post " Ladder of Escalation
" that tied two colorful intellects, the late Herman Kahn
and the very alive Newt Gingrich
, to the stategic implications of the Terror War. On Gingrich's recent comments
, Rodger writes:"In any case, Kahn is known for a number of interesting ideas, including the so-called "ladder of escalation." Essentially, Kahn's term explains gradations of conflict, from "ostensible crisis" up 40+ rungs to "spasm" thermonuclear war.
Such a spasm is to be avoided, obviously.
While Kahn developed the ladder as part of his critique of the "massive retaliation" doctrine of the Eisenhower administration, the notion of "winnable" nuclear war-fighting took on a life of its own during 1970s and 1980s strategic debates.
I'm referencing Kahn because he also reminds us that crises, conflicts and wars can escalate -- perhaps in unexpected ways, though Kahn was a game theorist and wanted to think rationally about the unthinkable.
To some extent, Kahn was right. Leaders and scholars do have to think about the possible, not merely the probable.
...I'm not writing this to scare anyone, but I do think it is patently obvious that world leaders ought to be doing everything they can to try to de-escalate the current ongoing crises
De-escalation, incidentally, is a major tactical prescription of 4GW school of thought, specifically William Lind's
(I'll try to find the link), for states in implementing a defensive and isolating strategy against non-state opponents. I don't agree with isolation in the way Lind used it because it simply isn't physically possible or economically desirable, but political
isolation and de-legitimization of the enemy is another matter. As I remarked in the comment section at the Duck:"The statements are classic Gingrich; an important and substantially correct analytical perspective delivered in a rhetorically couterproductive manner.
Gingrich is 100 % correct that our bureaucratic response to the geopolitical crisis with Islamism is tardily done and is cognitively inadequate to the complexity of the task at hand. He's also right that we have an interrelated mix of state sponsors, societal substate sponsors within allied states and non-state actors that confounds our traditional approaches to war and diplomacy.
Unfortunately, the "WWIII" rhetoric that Gingrich is using to accurately denote the *magnitude* of the crisis to an American audience and get people's attention misfires overseas where we want to isolate and politically discredit the Salafi-Jihadi lunatics from even socially conservative, pious but peaceful Middle-Class Muslims. It is WWIII only in terms of difficulty or importance but not "Us vs. Them " like with the Soviets.
We need to light a fire under our own side without making our enemies look like the "good guys" to their home audience in the process. Escalate our strategic operational response while de-escalating their emotional response." Find another way to light the fire, but "WWIII" or "WWIV" terminology should be junked unless we think that energizing Osama Bin Laden's base for him instead of demoralizing it is a good idea.