Sebastian Gorka: America and Irregular Warfare
August 28, 2013
6729 Curran St., 7:30-8:45 pm
About the speaker
Dr. Sebastian Gorka is former Deputy Assistant and Strategist to the President (2017) and author of the best-selling book, Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War. His new book is Why We Fight: Recovering America’s Will to Win.
Former Kokkalis Fellow at Harvard, he has taught at Georgetown, was Associate Dean at National Defense University and held the distinguished chair of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University.
Sebastian was born in the UK to parents who escaped Communism during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He is an internationally recognized authority on issues of national security, irregular warfare, terrorism and democratization, having worked in government and the private and NGO sectors in Europe and the United States.
After September the 11th 2001, he spent four years on the faculty of the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall Center in Germany and has been involved in the training and education of 1,600+ counterterrorism, special forces and intelligence officers and still teaches at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (Fort Bragg), home of the Green Berets. He has briefed the CIA, DIA, ODNI, the US Navy SEALs, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the President.
My area of interest is the intersection of grand strategy and non-state actors, so if you’re expecting a lecture on the strategy of Iran or China, you’re in the wrong room. I’m interested in understanding groups like Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, AQAM, AQIP, how they think, what their strategy is, what their strategic culture is, and how to destroy it.
What I’m going to do today I’m going to give you a summary of what is usually a 15-week course on the anti-threat doctrine of Al Qaeda. I usually get three hours to do this. Now, I’ve got two hours to do this, so with seatbelts on, I’ll be quick. We’ll have a break in the middle. Please stop me if at any point there are some issues you want me to clarify.
Before I say anything, I am required to make the following statement. Nothing you’re about to hear necessarily represents the views of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or any other government agency. Hopefully, in the future it might. I was checking if you guys were awake.
Alright, so in good PowerPoint tradition, DOD tradition, what I’ll do is I’ll give you the whole lecture on the next slide. So I’ll tell you everything I want to tell you on one slide, then I’ll talk for two hours, then I’ll remind you of what I just told you. So, if you had one cookie too many, then pay attention for five minutes and you’ll get the message.
So, what’s the message? Very simply, the first thing is that twelve years into this war, we still do not adequately understand the enemy and that’s a problem. You can, in this city, DC, you can go to half a dozen events every day where you’ll have scholars, practitioners like yourselves, academics, policy wonks argue about who’s the enemy, what’s al Qaeda. We’re in the twelfth year in the war and we’re still debating it. That would be like in 1944, arguing over who Hitler is and what the Third Reich is. If we didn’t do it then, why are we doing it now? We’ll talk about that in a second.
The second bullet I’ll explain and unpack a little bit later but I’ll just give you the one sentence cliff notes now. In the last twelve years, what we can see in the military art of Al Qaeda and associate movements is a shift from a Guevarist conceptualization of irregular warfare, focoist concept of irregular warfare, to a Maoist one. The enemy is learning and they are drawing the right conclusions from events such as the Arab Spring. I’ll unpack that as we go along.
Thirdly, we’ve got to stop seeing war the way Clausewitz understood it to be, as something functional. Clausewitz was a master of strategy but what was he writing about? He was writing about countries fighting countries. Right? That’s what his book is about. It’s about understanding how a government goes to war with another government. That’s not our problem today. Our problem is primarily non-state actors and they do not follow Clausewitz.
Penultimately, and this is very, very difficult for us to do in DOD is we’ve got to stop obsessing on the kinetic. You guys are masters of the kinetic, right? I’m sure you all are very proud of your shock groups on range 37, right? You know how to apply force very accurately. That’s a great thing. That’s a very important thing. However, the enemy is not just about kinetic victory. They can do things in the non-Kinetic, indirect domain that could be just as harmful to the United States and her Constitution and we need to appreciate that. We need to focus. We need to stop focusing predominately on the kinetic attack.
And lastly, we really have to understand the enemy threat doctrine of Al Qaeda. Yeah? If you’ve studied the Cold War, one of the marker points for the beginning of the Cold War is George Kennan’s Long Telegram. Right? The three thousand word, classified cable he wrote from Moscow back to DC, explaining what is the Soviet Union and what they want. We still don’t have an equivalent for George Kennan’s Long Telegram, explaining in just a couple thousand words what is the enemy’s strategic culture, what’s their threat doctrine, and how to defeat it and that’s a problem.
Okay, so, that was my lecture. Did you enjoy it? Okay, so let’s unpack it a little bit. Let’s look at the approach we’ve had in the last twelve years.