Mar 13, 2008
The Long War - One Marine's View
The Long War: A Marine Perspective on the Global War on Terrorism
General Robert Magnus
Assistant Commandant, United States Marine Corps
Philadelphia, 11 Mar 2008
The Global Interdependence Center hosted Gen Robert Magnus at the University of Pennsylvania Tuesday evening.
Using the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a backdrop, Gen Magnus spoke about using various types of power in order to advance national security and the national interest. “Clausewitz said that you need to understand the war you are in,” Magnus explained, “war is an exercise of politics, but by other means.”
But having a ‘hammer’, as he described the Marine Corps and the American military, does not mean that the military should be the primary method of enforcing national strategic interests. There are many ways to utilize the American military, he explained, citing Marine efforts in training Afghan Police, reconstruction efforts in Ramadi, and the Provisional Reconstruction Teams in Iraq who are involved in job creation that ranges from opening shops to vaccinating cows. “If we don’t help them find jobs,” Magnus commented,” then they’ll go back to earning money by dropping an IED on our troops.”
Part of the utilization of national power, Magnus said, is that it includes making choices. Using the example of arms sales to Pakistan, he explained that while selling arms assists the American economy, and is cheaper than sending troops, it also takes scarce money out of Pakistan, who tends to fund arms purchases by short-changing their education budget and social services “Then the parents send their kids to the madrassa schools, with the obvious consequences.”
According to Magnus, there are five elements of national power, with their value depending on the country involved. “Military and Economic Power are the first two, as well as the most obvious”, he explained. “On one hand, kinetic power is good when we killed Zarkawi, but bad when we bombed an Afghan wedding. And while Adam Smith’s hand is invisible, its effects certainly are not- our GNP is $ 14 trillion annually and we’re the world’s hyperpower.”
Magnus listed Diplomatic Power as the third element, although he noted that this is usually the weakest element of the five. “When Abbas and Hamas and the Israeli’s stop negotiating, they fall back to the military option far too quickly.”
The remaining two are far more subtle, yet almost as important as the military and economic factors. Culture is vitally important, he explained,” Japanese kids playing baseball are now playing in the major leagues. I saw kids wearing Mike Tyson t-shirts when I was in Djibouti; like him or not, Michael Jackson is often seen as a representative of our culture. It’s a question of how we as a people are perceived.” Moral Power remains the final element, said Magnus. “It’s our ability to believe in our righteousness that helps rally the national will, and on the other side it either rallies others to our side – or forces them away.”
The moral element is extremely important, according to Magnus. Citing Clausewitz again, who wrote that moral is to physical as 3:1, he explained that people are more likely to be influenced by moral, instead of physical factors.
This is where the United States is too often lacking, Magnus said. “To change someone’s mind is a contest of wills, and the problem is that we don’t spend time or money on foreign affairs until there is a problem.” Using Hurricane Katrina as an example, Magnus noted that fixing the New Orleans levees before the hurricane struck would have saved billions of dollars in reconstruction costs.
Gen Magnus said that he expects the war on terror to be a generational struggle, and a 9/11 type terror attack could too easily be repeated “America needs a hammer; some of these bad guys don’t want to sit down and talk – you can’t negotiate with Nihilists.”
While globalization affects everyone, it affects everyone differently; while 50% of the Iraqi’s are literate, with many western-educated and following America on satellite TV; the remaining 50% are illiterate, and too easily influenced by the Islamic extremists teaching in the madrassas. “We need to think of the 26 million people who make up Iraq,” Magnus explained, “and how our strategic and tactical actions affect them” The problems are worse in Afghanistan, he continued, a country with a larger population and a larger illiteracy rate. The question, Magnus said, is that as a moral society, we need to decide how we want to influence the neighborhood.