Sep 06

(To read the rest of our series on Band of Brothers, please click here.)

In the Band of Brothers episode “Replacements”, Easy Company cautiously approaches the town of Nuenen, having already lost a lieutenant to sniper fire. An old man leans out a window and shouts at them, “Get away, get away,” in French, giving away Easy Company’s position. Why didn’t the U.S. soldiers shoot him?

The Rules of Engagement.

At the end of the episode, the Allies bomb Einhoven. Why could they?

The Rules of Engagement.

Most importantly, for today’s post, starting at minute 31:00, the central character of “Replacements”, Big Sarge Denver “Bull” Randleman motions to Sergeant Martin to tell a British tank to fire a few shells at a civilian house. This could collapse the house on a hidden German Tiger tank waiting in ambush.

The British soldier demurs, “I can’t. My orders are no unnecessary destruction of property...if I can’t see the bugger I can’t very well shoot him, can I?”

Why didn’t the British tank fire?

The Rules of Engagement.

While Easy Company watched the bombing of Einhoven from a distance and the old man didn’t alert the Germans to the company’s position, the last incident hurt. The German soldiers, and especially their tanks, wreaked utter havoc on the British-American force. They destroyed two British tanks, killed multiple Americans, and eventually forced the company into full retreat. Easy Company lost the skirmish.

In other words, what a fantastic argument for the inanity of ROE. Isn’t this a perfect example of ROE in action, getting our soldiers killed unnecessarily and preventing us from winning wars? Some uptight sergeant can’t see a lurking Tiger tank in his looking glasses so he dooms the entire operation?

Hardly. Easy Company failed to take the town of Nuenen because they didn’t have enough men or tanks. The Germans held reinforced positions in a strong defense with armor for reinforcements. But forget all that: they had more men and the element of surprise.

I just re-watched this particular scene to make sure I understood it right. And based solely on this episode--not the actual history of this company-sized action--no one should draw the conclusion that ROE cost any soldiers their lives. Even if the British had started firing at the vague position of the Tiger tank, they probably still would have missed. (The British sergeant is right in one regard: it is exceptionally hard to shoot what you cannot see.) Even if the British tank had hit the building next to the Tiger tank, this wouldn’t have trapped or destroyed the Tiger tank, it simply would have bought the British a few extra second to try to shoot the Tiger first, which likely still would have survived the encounter. (And the editing is unclear, so I cannot tell if the Germans had additional tanks in reserve, at which point the entire situation is moot.)

Why debate the tactics of one specific battle in one episode of World War II? Because opponents of restrictive ROE use tactical situations like the one above to argue that ROE, not bad leadership, planning or even enemy action, gets our soldiers killed. Luttrell argued this in Lone Survivor. A dad in this Los Angeles Times article claims ROE killed his son. A congressmen says ROE kills our troops in Afghanistan. This Facebook page has article after article allegedly showing ROE killing our troops.

And just last week two parents at a rally at the Republican National Convention blamed President Obama’s ROE for their Navy SEAL son’s death.

Opponents of strict ROE look at this scene in Band of Brothers and say, “Look, it got our soldiers killed!” They hear a rumor from a friend whose son knew a guy who heard that soldiers in Afghanistan can’t shoot terrorists because of ROE. Frequently, the contemporary opponents of any and all rules of engagements--who treat it like a monolithic object it is not--claim that in, “Dubya Dubya two, we didn’t tie our soldiers hands behind their backs!

By watching this episode carefully, though, we see the fallacy of all those arguments. First, our soldiers in World War II fought under rules of engagement. And yes, it was less stringent than our current wars, but those wars were much more violent. ROE wasn’t the most dangerous thing in combat, moving was. Artillery was. Sniper fire was.

But go back to that German civilian who tried to wave the Americans away. Opponents of ROE would let American soldiers shoot the old man for trying to talk to them if they felt threatened. Not only would that have done nothing, it would have eroded the popular support for the Americans and the British. Losing popular support could have ruined the peace that has since lasted seventy years. Rules of engagement might not have helped win the war, but it helped create a lasting peace.

Finally, the sergeant in the British tank misinterpreted the rules of engagement. Destroying the house isn’t “unnecessary” if American scouts have spotted a German target. That’s a perfectly reasonable interpretation of his orders. So under the rules of engagement, the British tank should have fired. If we have to condemn all sound plans because someone misunderstands them, well, we have to get rid of all plans.

I blame Hollywood, partly, for ROE’s bad reputation. Just today, Eric C and I watched The Expendables II. (Which, in all other respects, may be the greatest film in film history.) In a throwaway monologue, Liam Hemsworth’s character retells a (completely unrealistic) story where all his buddies die in Afghanistan because they can’t get air support. Tight rules of engagement make the perfect villain: a bureaucratic rule that gets soldiers killed. Since it is such an easy villain, it pops up all the time.

As I have written before, tight rules of engagement help win wars, and Hollywood’s simplistic portrayal in movies doesn’t help that argument.

(Over the years, I've (Michael C) written about the rules of engagement plenty of times, including some of our first posts. I wanted to collect them all in one place. To read other posts about ROE, please look below:

Arcs of Fire

Dropped Weapons, Dropped Opportunities

Why Overwhelming Firepower Backfires

Operation Judgement Day

Why Leaders Make the ROE

ROE - Reducto Ad Absurdum

A 300 Page Ethical Dilemma

BTW, Insurgents Have Rules of Engagement As Well

If They Don't Fight Like Us, Why Do They Use Our Rules of Engagement?

Another ROE False Dilemma

Terrorist Rules of Engagement Pt. 2

 My Answer to Monday's Hypothetical

The Rules of Engagement Are Democratic, and Thank God for That

ROE Link Drop

Getting Around the Rules of Engagement: Observer Training

Guest Post: Rules of En"game"ment

Jun 21

I’ll repeat this post’s title:

Killing civilians pisses people off.

And I don’t mean it pisses off Americans. For the most part, Americans never realized how many civilians died during the invasion of Iraq, or died in Iraq since, or die in Afghanistan now. For some of those deaths, the U.S. deserves the blame. (It’s true.) And for the rest, insurgents, terrorists, criminals and others deserve the blame. (That’s true too.)

No, I mean that killing civilians (or innocents) pisses off the people (or “population” in military jargon) during counter-insurgencies. In “Join the Taliban...The Americans Will Kill You Anyways”, I described how rationally, the counter-insurgent should avoid killing innocent people. Kill enough of the wrong people, and everyone will join the insurgency. Why not? The Americans will probably come kill you soon enough. In that post, I deliberately argued why killing the wrong people will rationally persuade the unallied middle to join the insurgency. But what about all those pesky emotions and irrational motivations that I have harped on for the last few months?

Emotionally, killing the wrong people will convince a population to join an insurgency too.

I think the apt word in this case is “pisses off”. When a population gets “pissed”, it will react. Killing innocent people tends to do this.

Look at the American response to 9/11. Outrage. Hatred. Fear. To be clear, Americans justifiably felt outraged, the natural reaction humans feel when attacked.

The American armed forces should understand their emotions match the emotions of other people too. Kill/capture units need to understand how their actions could cause Afghans to hate Americans. Blowing up a house with one terrorist in it, but also ten children, will engender hatred. As one Pakistani student shouted at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we experience a 9/11 everyday. That is the emotional response of mainstream Pakistanis. Dispute that Pakistani’s rhetoric all you want, that is how he feels, and how he feels will motivate his actions.

There is also the corollary, what if you kill the right person, and the people believe him to be innocent? The insurgents will benefit. True, but that is why eventually a government must create a strong, and just, legal system.

While those who hate ROE say it hamstrings out troops, it actually does the opposite. As General McChrystal stressed in his counter-insurgency guidance, "the shot you don't fire is more important than the one you do...If you encounter 10 Taliban members and kill two, he says, you don't have eight remaining enemies. You have more like 20: the friends and relatives of the two you killed...If civilians die in a firefight, it does not matter who shot them, we still failed to protect them from harm.”

We do need to kill the right people in an insurgency. But the emphasis in the U.S. military is on the wrong word, “kill”. We need to focus on the “right”. And we need to elevate the role of emotions, of both the enemy and the population. Our military cannot aford to take the wrong lessons away from the last ten years of war. Emotions matter, and we shouldn’t piss off the people of an invaded country.

Jun 19

Since we haven’t had an “An On V Update to Old Ideas” in a bit, we wanted to link to one photo that captures the role of emotion in warfare.



We found this photo on TIME.com after the (alleged) massacre of innocent civilians in Panwej province. It puts a face, and an ironic twist on what we’ve been writing about these last few months, the terrible harm when our civilians die in warfare.

May 30

(To read the rest of "Over-Reacting to COIN (Again): On Cultural Empathy and 'Gratitude Theory'", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

I want to describe two scenarios in Afghanistan.

In the first, we have two brothers. Both drive “jingle trucks” to support their family. One spends his nights working for the Taliban; the other doesn’t. One fateful evening, while smuggling illegal weapons, a U.S. missile kills the Taliban brother. The family asks why; the government says, “He was Taliban.”

(A picture of a jingle truck)

The surviving brother has a choice: support the government or join the insurgency.

In the second case, we again have two brothers. Both drive jingle trucks to support their family. Neither has joined the insurgency. One fateful evening, a U.S. missile kills one of the brothers in a missile attack, unwittingly executing a tribal vendetta (after receiving bad intel from an unvetted source). The family asks why; the government says, “He was Taliban.”

The surviving brother has a choice: support the government or join the insurgency.

From the U.S. perspective, each situation played out the same way--intelligence led to an operation and a dead Taliban soldier. From the Afghan perspective, though, they couldn’t be more different. In the first case, the brother should rightfully fear for his safety. Unless he turns himself in, he will probably end up in a crater like his brother. In successful counter-insurgencies, fear of impending death sweeps through the insurgency, and it collapses in on itself like a dying star going supernova.

But consider the thoughts of the brother in the second scenario. He knows that U.S. forces will soon come for him too; they just killed his brother because of a spurious intelligence report. Wouldn’t they think he was Taliban as well? So if the Americans plan to kill you--even if you aren’t Taliban and even if your brother wasn’t--why not join the insurgency? You’ll die either way.

The arguments for a “combat focused” or “target-centric” approach to counter-insurgency--or against the idea of providing security to the population as the utmost priority--rely on the first scenario. Proponents of looser rules of engagement use the first scenario to buttress their arguments. They point to it--for example, its uses in Malaya--and say, “See violence wins wars!”

But, as a commenter said a few weeks back, we must “kill the right people”. I totally agree. I just emphasize the word “right” and most of the Army emphasizes the word “kill”. Too many thinkers emphasize the “kinetic” or “target-centric” or “killing”--whatever euphemism works--approach without explaining the drawbacks. While they sing the praises of killing more people, they avoid the consequences of killing the wrong people.

The logic for killing more insurgents makes sense. Kill an insurgent, then another, then another and soon word will spread that someday the the counter-insurgents will kill all the insurgents. Rationally, if you want to survive the war, you should stop being an insurgent.

But this same logic applies to the population. Kill an insurgent, then an innocent family, then capture another innocent guy and his brother. Soon word will spread among the population that someday the counter-insurgents will kill you too. Rationally, if you want to survive the war, you need to stop the counter-insurgents.

Remember that killing (or violence) has political ramifications. We wrote a few weeks back about humanity’s innate desire to avoid making decisions; killing the wrong people helps them make a decision...against the government and counter-insurgents. If killing the right people will help end an irregular war, killing the wrong people prolongs it. Pro-killing/target/kinetic-centric advocates--when pitching their wares in talks, blog posts, or op-eds--should always bring up the huge downside to killing the wrong people; it can lose the war.

This is why, as I have said before, accuracy is the most important value in an insurgency, not body counts or quantities or totals or anything else that sounds good leaked to reporters. And if people want more offensive operations--like kill/capture raids--fine. But stress accuracy over any other value. And warn door kickers that kicking down the wrong doors prolongs the war. (And costs U.S. soldiers their lives too.)

May 29

(To read the rest of "Over-Reacting to COIN (Again): On Cultural Empathy and 'Gratitude Theory'", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

I mentioned in our first round on “gratitude theory” that I absolutely despise the phrase, “I don’t care if they like me as long as they respect me”. Plenty of people disagree with me though. Take, for example, this comment:

“Essentially, they're [On Violence] working to show that the "I don't care if the population likes me, as long as they do what I require" attitude is flawed. (It's not, at least not when it's a third-party counterinsurgent who holds it.)”

That’s just one example. This unsourced article on West Point’s website writes that “popularity or likeability among the population is NOT a consideration [in an insurgency]”. It then advises that, “being ‘liked’ is insignificant.”

Insignificant?

Saying “likeability” is insignificant ignores the basic role of emotion in warfare, which I discussed back in December. Saying, “I don’t care if they like me” does not mean, “I don’t care if they hate me”. It is wildly significant if the population hates you. While you can lose an insurgency even if the population likes you, you can’t win an insurgency if the population hates you.

Think of the Russians in Afghanistan. By all regards, they tried to cow the Afghan rural populations into submission through carpet bombings and excessive force. The Russian Army did not care if the rural population liked or hated them, only if they feared them. As a result, they lost Afghanistan. (And I know, U.S. provided Stinger missiles and generally poor strategy also helped.) Conducting operations simply to inspire fear--another emotion ever present in war--also engenders hatred.

Hatred motivates insurgents and terrorists the world over. Hatred of the U.S. and Shia Islam drives Al Qaeda as much as their own love of Sunni Islam. Insurgents, from Iraq to Somalia to Afghanistan, absolutely hate foreign invaders, as we wrote about in “Everyone Hates Everyone Else’s Soldiers”. This has been true since the dawn of time. Hatred can motivate a household to store weapons. Or motivate a child to spy on U.S. forces. Or motivate a teenager to blow himself up in a suicide vest.

So while a counter-insurgent “doesn’t care if people like him”, he still must acknowledge the emotions of the population. It matters if the population loves, hates or fears the government...or the insurgents. Saying you “don’t care” is admitting you don’t care about a significant form of intelligence about the battlefield; you might as well say, “I don’t care if we win or lose here.”

Since we should use emotion to our own advantage in warfare, here are my tips to improve the use of emotion in counter-insurgencies:

1. Think about the emotional response of the population during planning. Specifically, I’m writing about kill/capture raids. Rationally, they could discourage an insurgent from fighting. Raids that detain the wrong person, or kill women and children, emotionally turn the population against the government. (Same with drone strikes.)

2. Security defeats fear, and creates confidence. Most criticisms of the fictional “gratitude theory” say, “It doesn’t matter if you buy people things if the Taliban comes at night to threaten the population.” In other words, a fearful population won’t support the government. The best solution isn’t reconstruction, it is more security. (Which means more troops, but that is a different issue.)

3. Care about your personal relationships. It is so much easier to do business with someone who likes you as opposed to hates you. So maybe I don’t care if the “population” (most of whom I never interacted with) “like” me, but I better have a good relationship with my interpreters, my government counterparts, and my Afghan Army partners. Those good relationships can filter down to the population at large.

4. Collect emotional intelligence. To be honest, eventually the Army’s human intelligence folks got good at conducting “atmospherics”. Unfortunately, the units with the most human intelligence collectors lived the furthest from the battlefield (isolated at Division and Corps headquarters). Battalion and Company commanders should work with their human intelligence and line platoons to measure the emotions of the population they work with. And the Army in general should push as many human intelligence folks to the lowest levels possible.

The big P, General Petraeus, lived these ideas. I don’t recall a lot of articles about General Petraeus in Iraq describing him as brow-beating people into working with him. In fact, he was/is famous for getting people to like and respect him, then getting work done. At the CIA, he reinvigorated the Open Source center to focus on global atmospherics.

I showed before Thanksgiving that people really do care if they are liked. They do, at least, among their countrymen. Every insurgency ever attempted started with two twin pillars: ideology and leadership. Leaders and ideologies rely on emotions to influence their followers. Love, hatred, respect, fear and gratitude are all emotions that can influence the population. We forget this at our own peril.

Apr 25

(To read the rest of "Over-Reacting to COIN (Again): On Cultural Empathy and 'Gratitude Theory'", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

A few weeks back, to help decide between business schools, I sat in on a class at USC’s Marshall School of Business. I thought it was going to be on marketing. Instead, got a lesson on counter-insurgency warfare and Afghanistan. The class was “Brand Management”.

The professor started his lecture by describing the three principles that guide all human decision making (the realm of marketing). The third principle, the topic of that day’s class, was “emotional predisposition.” He described how brands use advertising to create an emotional predisposition towards their products, specifically how those products can “enrich, entertain, or enable” your life.

Later in the class, he repeated the three major principles of marketing: “All humans are motivated by utility maximization, the minimum effort principle and emotional predisposition, in some measure.”

He used different terms than I did in December, but made the same point: humans don’t measure everything by utility maximization--some emotions override any cost/benefit decision. For example, one of our grandfathers, who fought in the Pacific, refused to think about considering even contemplating buying a Japanese motor vehicle. They could have given them away for free, but he wouldn’t have budged.

In other words, the professor described the exact model of human behavior I believe we need in counter-insurgencies. We cannot kill our way to victory because inflicting widespread death will have severe emotional consequences. (Which I will discuss more.) At the same time, we cannot simply buy things for the population if we haven’t established security for the population (I’ll discuss this straw man soon, too.). Instead, we need a population-centric approach that secures the population, reconstructs and builds a functioning government, and hunts down, detains or kills those who inflict violence on the government or population.

The professor added a key component to human nature that we had neglected. One of his principles was “the minimum effort principle”. While I haven’t specifically related this idea to insurgencies, plenty of other writers have. (Our post on management “Improve the Fighting Position” is about combating “the minimum effort principle” as it relates to your desk at work.) For example, a national security academic we hold in the highest regard made this point in an op-ed for the Daily Beast:

Populations, in civil wars, make cold-blooded calculations about their self-interest. If forced to choose sides in a civil war—and they will resist making that choice for as long as possible, for understandable reasons—they will side with the faction they assess to be the one most likely to win.

Yep, that is Andrew Exum, who I cited in “Getting Rid of the Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency”. While I rebutted his statement about “cold-blooded calculations”, that part in the middle, between the dashes, precisely sums up the minimum effort principle. The other book I recommend on this topic is A People Numerous and Armed by John Shy, whose thesis is that the American Revolution forced Americans to choose a side; it politicized the people leading to universal male suffrage.

So a psychologist with a Noble prize for economics, a marketing professor and The Economist have all said that our models of human behavior should include rationality, utility maximization, the minimum effort principle and emotional predisposition. Thanks to being the world’s foremost economic power, we can model and predict human behavior. Our Army could--hypothetically--tap into these vast reserves of marketing knowledge.

The question is, will we update our models to reflect that humans are rational and emotional, or will we just believe we can kill our way to victory?

Apr 23

(To read the rest of "Over-Reacting to COIN (Again): On Cultural Empathy and 'Gratitude Theory'", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

We’re taking a quick diversion from our series arguing against war with/in/around/about Iran to return to an old On V bailiwick, counter-insurgency theory. A few days after we published “Getting Rid of the Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency”, Gulliver of Ink Spots let loose a 6,000 word rebuttal of our post. An excerpt:

“The problem with On Violence's Gladwell-deep survey of behavioral economics is that bounded rationality cannot as yet meaningfully inform our models of human agency in conflict. We may recognize that rationality and utility maximization fail to perfectly explain all human behavior, but we have no better predictive model on which to base our efforts to influence the choices of others -- the most extreme of which is war....Until Kahnemann, Tversky, Thaler, Becker, et al can present a coherent, predictive theory of human choice that can be plausibly applied to economic and political behavior and which definitively falsifies the rational choice model...all this bleating about "humanity's underlying irrationality" is worse than useless...”

Then the Christmas double issue of the Economist arrived in the mail. I tore it open to read some of their special articles on “The East India Company”,“Religion in America: The faith and doubts of our fathers” and “The Amen break”, because who isn’t interested in 17th century international trading and Drum and Bass electronic music? I completely breezed past an article called, “Sex and advertising: Retail therapy”. Fortunately Eric C did not. He called and read me these two paragraphs:

“THESE are thrilling days for behavioural research. Every week seems to yield a new discovery about how bad people are at making decisions. Humans, it turns out, are impressionable, emotional and irrational. We buy things we don’t need, often at arbitrary prices and for silly reasons. Studies show that when a store plays soothing music, shoppers will linger for longer and often spend more. If customers are in a good mood, they are more susceptible to persuasion. We believe price tends to indicate the value of things, not the other way around. And many people will squander valuable time to get something free.

The sudden ubiquity of this research has rendered Homo economicus a straw man. Yet such observations are not new. Analysts have been studying modern man’s dumb instincts for ages. Sigmund Freud argued that people are governed by irrational, unconscious urges over a century ago. And in America in the 1930s another Viennese psychologist named Ernest Dichter spun this insight into a million-dollar business. His genius was in seeing the opportunity that irrational buying offered for smart selling.”

Homo economicus...a straw man?

A publication much more esteemed than us, the Economist--Michael C often calls the Economist the best weekly intelligence report, period--essentially doubled-down on our thesis. A new model of human behavior, one that embraces irrationality and emotion, may not explain everything, but the old, rational model explains less.

This Economist article single-handedly debunks the core argument of Gulliver’s 10,000 word rebuttal: he claims that we cannot model human’s emotionality. That’s wrong; American marketing executives do it every day. Gulliver thinks that, “Until Kahnemann, can present a coherent, predictive theory of human choice that can be plausibly applied to economic and political models...” his research is useless for the military. Well, since businesses use Kahnemann’s research everyday, couldn’t the military find something it could use too?

I could list all the possible advertisements and marketing ploys that play on our emotions every day--from luxury cars to trucks to clothes to fast food to beer--but one commercial captures the emotional pull of advertising better than any other, the iPod commercial.

This commercial used five words and a symbol (iTunes + iPod, Now for Windows) and sold millions of units, transforming the way Americans listen to music.

Does this emotional appeal apply to politics as well? Take a look at this Newt Gingrich advertisement and ask yourself, is this an appeal for “rational utility maximization”?

So we have increased the number of groups using Kahnemann’s (and many, many others) research from academics--as Gulliver would have it--to marketing executives (for every Fortune 500 company in America at least) and political operatives. We could also add in teachers (praising students for correct answers) and mass media (“Is something in the water going to kill you? Find out at 11.”).

In other words, all sorts of people use emotional persuasion in their modeling.

I am going to take Gulliver’s royal “we” from his quote more specifically than he intends it. I assume by “we” he means the U.S. military. (And the larger defense establishment. I have never met Gulliver, and his blog doesn’t list his name, current employer or biography. I assume he works somewhere in D.C. in some job  in national defense funded directly or indirectly by the taxpayer.) On that front, I agree with him: the Pentagon does not have a good grasp on modeling counter-insurgencies. He’s right, the U.S. Army needs more officers with MBAs, and when it gets them, it shouldn’t just send them to Human Resources or Operational Research/Systems Analysis.

Our whole series--and that post in particular--argued primarily one point: the very rational, very simplistic model of “kill enough bad guys, and the other side will give up” is just that: simplistic. Modeled using strict, utility maximization and survival-based rationality, it works. But humans don’t fit that model.

We need an approach to counter-insurgency that works off emotion and rationality simultaneously, providing security (feelings of safety), reconstruction (good will), good governance (respect), and kills the bad guy (survival and utility maximization).

You know, like population-centric counter-insurgency.

Apr 03

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

Though I don’t like writing too slangily on a topic this serious, Iran’s military sucks. Take Stephen Walt’s description:

Iran is not a very powerful country at present, though it does have considerable potential...But its defense budget is perhaps 1/50th the size of U.S. defense spending, and it has no meaningful power-projection capabilities. It could not mount a serious invasion of any of its neighbors, and could not block the Strait of Hormuz for long, if at all....

It’s hard to disagree with that take, especially considering this chart making the rounds on Twitter/blogosphere


   
So on one hand, I agree with Stephen Walt: Iran does not have the capability to strike the U.S. or project power in the Middle East for long. It cannot deploy troops or control surrounding bodies of water with its navy. It also lacks an air force capable of defeating its neighbors in an extended campaign.

Western arms embargoes have atrophied Iran’s advanced weapons capabilities, especially in air defense, conventional ships and aircraft. It has tried to develop an internal defense industry, but it still has a long, long way to go before its domestic arms production even resembles anything close the Western arms manufacturing.

As I’ve told many people in my life, though, size isn’t everything. Iran makes up for its resource deficits through wit, cleverness and initiative. The Iraqi army never truly embraced irregular and asymmetric warfare, but the most well-funded and trusted branch of the Iranian military--the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC, one of the few acronyms Eric C will grant me because, damn, that name is long)--has. The Ayatollahs hold the IRGC in the highest esteem and shower them (relatively) with money, kind of like America’s special operations folks.

The IRGC’s most trusted unit, the Quds Force (The closest thing Iran has to JSOC or CIA Operations branch, if CIA/JSOC supported terrorism. It’s like a bizarro world JSOC.) has operated for the last 30 years, and continues to operate, in countless countries around the Middle East, gaining experience fighting insurgencies, waging asymmetrical war and studying the United States military.

While Iran’s military “sucks”, they might be the best opponent the U.S. has faced since 9/11. Afghanistan barely had a military. Saddam never trusted his military, viewing it more as a threat to his power than an ally. Al Qaeda hide in caves in Pakistan. The Ayatollahs, comparatively, love the IRGC--its name literally means “the guardians of the revolution”.

Does this mean Iran will “win” in a war against the U.S? No. They literally don’t have enough planes, boats, soldiers or tanks to invade America. Iran can defend itself, though. Like an animal backed into a corner, Iran can lash out. That worries me. In my opinion, Iran could inflict a level of casualties equal to what the U.S. military has already seen since 9/11, and it could do so in matter of weeks.

Over the next few posts, I hope to convince my readers that war with Iran will mean dead U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Possibly thousands. And almost definitely thousands of civilians. And maybe the world economy. Will those costs outweigh the benefits? I doubt it.

We need to have this discussion in concrete terms before the U.S. or Israel goes to war. Let’s start it.