Email Our Editor

Join Our Mailing List

View Our Archives

Search our archive:

The Last 20 Days' Editorials

Email This Article  Printer Friendly Version

Politics Mondays: Exclusive Q & A With Bevin Alexander, Author, "How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules Of War From Ancient Greece To The War On Terrorism"

There are few people closer to the nexus of the history of warfare and cutting-edge military tactics and strategies than Bevin Alexander, author of How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules Of War, Ancient Greece To The War On Terror. Mr. Alexander is the author of seven books of military history, was an advisor to the Rand Corporation for a recent study on future warfare and was a participant in a recent war game simulation run by the Training and Doctrine Command of the U.S. Army. His battle studies of the Korean War, written during his decorated service as a combat historian, are stored in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Beginning last month and concluding yesterday afternoon (after the October 12th suicide bombing of a Baghdad hotel), Bevin Alexander granted an exclusive in-depth, and wide-ranging interview to regarding the nature of warfare; history's greatest military commanders; the Bush Doctrine and the war on terrorism; the relationship between guerrilla warfare and terrorism; and the complicated situations in the Middle East, Kashmir, and North Korea. The discussion revolved around Bevin Alexander's new book (available in the bookstore at: and the "13 Rules" of warfare that Mr. Alexander has identified as consistent in warfare - historical and modern.

**** In your opinion, Mr. Alexander, is warfare a science?

Bevin Alexander: Oh, by no means; it is an art and it is an extremely complex art. It is not a science at all. It has scientific attributes but the real application of warfare is in the artful use of the rules of war. And the rules of war apply in specific situations and they change as the military situation changes. So no, not scientific, art. You have 13 "rules". And that word - rules - encourages people to think of maxims and postulates and things in the realm of science...

Bevin Alexander: Yes, that is true, but the rules that apply are rules that set up the conditions, that you can use, in the particular situations, that a particular commander encounters. For example, Napolean Bonaparte in any situation could have chosen three or four of these maxims or principles of warfare. He chose the one that suited his situation best. For example, the first campaign he ever fought in Italy he decided to go into The Central Position (Rule Number Six) and that is where he put his army between the two enemy armies. Well, he could have done a number of other things in that circumstance but he chose the central position because he realized that he could knock one of the enemies out of the war very quickly and then he could turn and attack the other one. So there is one example of thousands where you can show how war is dependent upon the circumstances at any given time. So the bottom line is that the 13 Rules are not laws because they are all conditional.

Bevin Alexander: Yes. They are not laws they are conditional to the circumstances. Could you describe more of your interaction, in an advisory capacity or as a consultant to the Rand Corporation and the Training and Doctrine Command of the U.S. Army?

Bevin Alexander: Yes, I was asked by the Rand Corporation a couple of years ago to advise them and work with them on new theories or doctrines of organizations of military forces. And that was an outgrowth of a book I had written prior to this one on the future of warfare. And the theory that I was working on and which the Rand Corporation ultimately came up with, was the idea of "swarming", and that is small units that would move very quickly by air and by ground to a particular enemy position - they would quickly surround that position on all sides and then destroy it. Now that is very similar to what has been done in warfare for 5,000 years. In fact it was the way that the primitive people in the Stone Ages fought their wars. They would go up to the enemy surround him and kill him. So there is nothing absolutely new about this, it is just the application of it that is new. If you think about it that is what they are doing in Iraq at the moment. You see these 'search-and-destroy' outfits that are going out trying to find the terrorists in Iraq, are doing exactly that. If you watch the television you notice that they are precisely using this concept of swarming. They will come up on a particular enemy position, or group of terrorists that they have located, and they will simply surround it at all points. Often times they will use helicopters, or tanks in some cases. But in all cases they simply surround the outfit and destroy it. Now that is just the application of an ancient rule, there is nothing dramatically new about it, but that is probably the way that warfare is going to be fought in the foreseeable future because we no longer have battle lines nor main lines of defense that people were used to in the Korean War and in World War I and World War II. And your involvement with the Training and Doctrine Command of the U.S. Army?

Bevin Alexander: Well, that has to do with the same principles. They have been steadily coming up with new methods of applying these rules of warfare and they used them in Iraq and Afghanistan in excellent fashion... Do you think that they utilized your material?

Bevin Alexander: Well I hope that they do but I don't think I want to claim that. What I would like to say is that the information that I came up with and that I have written about is information that intelligent people that are in this field know. I put it in a form that I think is accessible to the public and coherent in the sense that the people who read it will understand what it actually means. But the idea that I have come up with something that nobody else on earth has come up with is not true. Warfare is something that has been going on since human beings have encountered each other and I don't want to assume that I have any great knowledge that existed entirely with myself. I have picked up knowledge from my own experience over a long lifetime. But I have also studied other people's works and I believe it is all a great single body of knowledge. What have been some of the great works that have influenced your thinking on warfare?

Bevin Alexander: There have been a number of them. There was a British colonel who wrote about Stonewall Jackson. GFR (George Francis Robert) Henderson was his name, and he brought out the unique contributions that Stonewall Jackson - the Confederate Commander in the Civil War - made to warfare. Stonewall Jackson was really one of the great military geniuses of our time and Henderson was the first person to really put his finger on it - about a century ago. Carl von Clausewitz, who was a Prussian who wrote right after the Napoleonic Wars is quite famous for his analyses of war which have given rise to much theory. They are very good. I don't believe they are applicable much today, but he did influence a great deal of thinking. Another one who everybody should know is Admiral Mahan who wrote a book in 1890 which was, The Influence Of Sea Power Upon History. And he showed that a superior Navy will drive an inferior Navy off of the sea. And that is because you cannot divide the sea. Now, you can divide land. For example, there are mountains and rivers that will divide land into segments. But not the sea. The sea is all one unit and therefore a superior fleet on the ocean will always defeat an inferior fleet. And that is why the British Royal Navy was able to dominate the world for two-and-a-half centuries and build the greatest empire on earth. And Mahan figured that out and basically put it in the form of a doctrine which has changed the entire nature of our understanding of warfare. But Sun Tzu, author of The Art Of War is the greatest writer of them all because he puts the rules of war in coherent, straight forward and simple terms. And the chances of being able to understand warfare by reading Sun Tzu are much better than most of the other books that I have referred to. Sun Tzu looked at the overall situation, beyond confrontation, and how you actually win an engagement and he is the world's greatest writer on the subject of how you solve problems without confrontation - how do you win a war before you get into conflict. You see, the last thing that a military commander should want to do is get into a dogfight with an enemy. He should have already beaten that enemy in detail before he ever gets to the dogfight. And so the great generals will not actually kill very many of their enemy. The poor generals are the ones who kill soldiers. Yes, we noticed the attention you paid in your book to the concept of a military leader preferring to cut off one finger than all of them.

Bevin Alexander: That's right. And that is what Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung) said and it is true because if you scare one guy or group of the enemy you might scare the entire army. And you might change the way the opposing general is thinking. And so Sun Tzu was the great master of that and I would recommend that his writings be read. Now before we jump into a more narrow discussion on the war on terrorism, we have to ask you this 'big' question.

Bevin Alexander: Sure... In your book you speak very highly of, or express great respect for certain individuals and the moves they have made. Here they are: Napolean, Genghis Khan, Stonewall Jackson, Alexander The Great and Hannibal. So, the question is obvious - who has impressed you the most?

Bevin Alexander: (laughter). You are asking me to be objective about a very subjective matter. OK, let me put it to you this way - Alexander the Great was probably the greatest commander in history. He did things that no other commander has ever done. He destroyed the Persian Empire with a little army that was pitiful in terms of size. So what he did and the way he did it was absolutely masterful. Napolean also was one of the great commanders in history because he was also able to use his brain to figure out how to win battles and not to do it by means of force. That was in his early stages. But as he got very successful he began to use force; and oddly enough that is what brought about his demise. All the time that he was using his brain he was never defeated. Stonewall Jackson is quite unique in our history because he was a true military genius and could have won the Civil War for the South but because of the nature of the structure of the South - with the aristocracies running the South - there was no chance that he would become senior commander so therefore he was never put in a position where he could have won the war. But he could have done it. He was one of the true great commanders in world history. Hannibal also was a great commander but he was tied to a state that was extremely weak that had not enough power to overcome Rome, so in the long-run he would never have been successful, but his use of cavalry in a region that had never used cavalry very much was revolutionary and this is what gave him the great power that he had. Hannibal was a tremendous innovator in world history. He came up with the idea of what I talked about earlier - surrounding an enemy. He did this at Cannae, which was one of the great battles of total destruction in world history. He developed the idea of "swarming". It had occurred before but he just used it properly. Now what about Genghis Khan?

Bevin Alexander: Genghis Khan and his senior commander, Subedei Bahadur, were two of the greatest commanders in history. They were able to see on a continental-wide scale how to defeat enemies. And this is not very common among military commanders. They usually see things more or less in front of them. And Genghis Khan was able to see how to defeat an enemy over literally millions of square miles. And Subedei was also able to do the same thing. Genghis Khan was so famous because, for example, he was able to put a force 400 miles away from where his main attack was going to come and the enemy simply could not see that, and as a result he was so incredibly successful. On page 11 on two succinct paragraphs you pretty much sum up where we are now. If you want we will summarize them for you. You say that "Two unrelated developments have fused to produce a true revolution in warfare. The first is highly accurate and extremely powerful weapons. The second is the discovery that modern conventional armies can be defeated by guerrilla methods....There will be less distinction than in the past between orthodox military operations, guerilla methods, and terrorist strikes."

So in light of that, has President Bush accurately defined the war on terrorism in a way where the objective is winnable and sustainable?

Bevin Alexander: Yes, I think he has done extremely well. I think definitely yes. I think he and we all were surprised by the attacks by the Iraqis around Baghdad and in that particular region. But that is simply a form of localized guerrilla warfare that carries out what I say in my book, but it doesn't invalidate any of the efforts that President Bush and the Defense Department made both in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fundamental situation that we now have in the world is that the American Army, the American military, the American Air Force has weapons, that because of what is called Global Positioning of Systems - the same thing that allows us to know where we are when driving a car, GPS - that system permits a bomb to be dropped within 2 to 10 feet of any place on earth. Because we can locate exactly where we are going to drop a bomb and we can also locate because of the incredibly high level of resolution we have of the earth from satellites, we can actually drop a bomb anywhere on this earth. We have air supremacy. That means that we have an Air Force that nobody else can touch, can knock down, hurt or destroy. If we see a target moving we can destroy it. That is happening in Afghanistan and you have probably read about it, where even ordinary guys running on a highway - we can knock them out by means of one of these bombs. That means that no enemy anywhere can mass his forces against us. He can no longer put any forces in any kind of strength anywhere because once they appear on a screen they can be destroyed. This happened in Afghanistan and it happened in Iraq and it is the fundamental reason why the Iraqi Army ceased to exist in a matter of days. They simply could not mass and if they tried to mass then they would be destroyed. And you will remember that the incredibly fast movement of the U.S. Army into Baghdad is because of that. In terms of guerrilla or irregular warfare, how is the current situation over there like Vietnam?

Bevin Alexander: Well, it is not exactly the same. Let me tell you what it was like in Vietnam and then we will see how it is in Iraq. In Vietnam we had a classic example of guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla warfare, to be successful, has got to have the support of the people. Now that goes back to the Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedung (or Mao Tse Tung). Mao Zedung said that the guerilla soldiers will swim in the water of the people. This is sort of like a fish swimming in a pond. They cannot be seen, if they are supported by the population. So a guerrilla soldier can be working in a field one minute and take his gun and kill somebody the next minute and go back in his field the third minute. That is the way it was done in Vietnam. The population as a whole supported the insurgent movement in Vietnam, so we could never find the enemy. That is a classical example of guerrilla warfare. When we move over to Iraq, we have a case where obviously we are getting our people killed and that is most unfortunate. But they seem to be getting killed in places where there is a lot of support for Baathist Party and not in the country as a whole. In the regions where there is support for him, he is getting the support of the people. So these people who go along, and we hear everyday that someone is shot in an ambush on a road or that a bomb is planted in a road and blows up one of our vehicles. Well, the people who do that can disappear in the population within the region where they are getting support. But this support is eroding very rapidly I believe, and it is only in a small part of Iraq, it is not in the country as a whole. The way we will get rid of the support of the guerrillas in Iraq is get the infrastructure, the electricity, the water and all of the other factors that create a happy environment for people - get those up and running and then the support for these guys will diminish. So that is not parallel to Vietnam. We are glad that you brought up Mao Zedung because to us this is the crux of where we are right now. On page 30 you write, "The primary aim of Mao's system was to direct small but frequent violent attacks against enemy towns, bases, depots and lines of communications. Attacks occurred in many different places at unexpected times. The goal was to force the enemy to disperse his forces widely and in small detachments to protect vital points."

Bevin Alexander: Right. Now, in light of what has been happening over the last couple of weeks, and what Mao's primary aim was, as you describe it, doesn't that make the case that there may be a need for more U.S. troops as the troops become more dispersed?

Bevin Alexander: I don't think we need more troops. I think that we have got to put our troops in positions where they are not being exposed to attacks so much. I think that what is really needed is for us is to get an Iraqi police force on duty in places where these attacks can occur. For example, there have been a number of cases where and I am sure you have heard about them, where there was a soldier who was killed when he was going to get a Coca-Cola at a university in Baghdad. Well, we should never put our soldiers where they are in a group of people where a single enemy can come up and attack them. I mean this could happen in the United States where somebody could go up and attack somebody in an ordinary dormitory anywhere in the street. We don't want to expose our soldiers like that . They should be back, and not guarding particular installations where they are sitting ducks to be attacked. I saw one example just the other day where they have got some Abrams tank guarding some particular Iraqi government building. Well that is not right. They shouldn't be doing that. An Abrams tank would be awful hard to blow up I admit, but you shouldn't be using a tank to protect a building. You should have Iraqi civilians protecting buildings. Look at Washington D.C. You don't see any soldiers guarding the buildings in Washington D.C. - there are ordinary policeman doing that. That is what we have in this country and it should be done everywhere. So that is one of the things that is wrong with the situation. So I don't see that there is a need for more military people there necessarily. In fact I don't see any need for more military people. What I see is a great need for more police-types to be guarding the facilities. Now that is one way to improve it. The other thing is that I don't think soldiers should be running up and down highways in convoys in Iraq. I think that they feel that they have got to do that but it is not safe to be running ordinary convoys up and down places that are not patrolled. The way to avoid that is that if you have got to run a convoy you clear the decks on either side, as a classic military way to solve the problem. For example, you are going down a particular road and you could be attacked by some guy sitting in a building beside it or in a little ditch somewhere. Well, you prevent that guy from being there because when you send a convoy down a road you should clear the road on either side for some distance. That is how you solve that problem. Now, it is hard to do in a highly built-up region like Baghdad. But you can stop using convoys as much as possible by using police in those areas. As a concept Mr. Alexander, what did you mean when you wrote on page 24 about the "ultimate irrationality of the terrorist campaign" as well as its "intrinsically unattainable goal - to alter the political behaviour of a foreign land by skulking attacks on its citizens"? What is it that you think is so irrational or unattainable about what terrorists often want.

Bevin Alexander: Terrorists do not have the support of the population. A terrorist operates by definition, almost on his own. He operates in a cell. He is not a guerrilla in the sense that we just talked about in terms of Mao Tse Tung and "swimming in the water of the people". He (the terrorist) is essentially like a criminal in our country today. A man who is going to rob a bank for example, he operates with a bunch of confederates, but he doesn't have the support of the population if something goes awry. He can't just disappear into the population if the bank robbery goes awry. And that is the situation with terrorists. They cannot go out and plan what they are getting ready to do and if it doesn't exactly work out today, they can disappear into the population and make it work tomorrow. Guerrillas can do that forever. But terrorists cannot do that. That is why they are ultimately going to be destroyed, because they are isolated within the community or area in which they operate. The other factor that relates to it is that these terrorists are not natives to the region in which they are operating. The terrorists that attacked the United States were from foreign countries. They stand out like sore thumbs in our countries. Therefore they will always be open to be seen and to be reported and to be knocked out. When you say that ultimately they will be defeated we certainly understand your point, but in a sense we don't know how many people really look at terrorists in a vacuum - meaning people realize that the terrorist's work actually has the effect of a virus. Think of how HIV works, for instance. It is not the HIV that kills you but what it opens you up to.

Bevin Alexander: Yeah sure. So in that sense aren't the goals of the terrorist very obtainable in terms of the expulsion of a foreign military from a land that they deem to be holy or their own? For instance wouldn't what happened in Lebanon in the 1980s challenge your point?

Bevin Alexander: No, get back to what I said originally. If you are operating within your own country and you have the support of your population, you can operate a guerilla warfare for ever and successfully and you will ultimately drive the enemy out because he cannot defeat you so long as you are operating within the population and the population supports you . And that is why I say that Vietnam was a success for the Vietnamese and a failure for us. But now a terrorist is not operating that way in the United States... No, we mean in the foreign lands and places where the United States is operating...

Bevin Alexander: In other words Iraq... Iraq or Lebanon...

Bevin Alexander: ...or Afganhistan Saudi Arabia

Bevin Alexander:...yeah, Saudi Arabia would be one. The closest example that we could give at this moment would be Afghanistan. We are getting a lot of opposition from the Taliban. And the Taliban still are an indigenous group of people who have a lot of support in certain parts of Afghanistan. Now that is still a true guerrilla warfare and that particular element of what I've said does apply to Afghanistan. Because those Taliban, as far as what I can determine from reading the papers, are operating within regions that has the support of the Taliban and those people will harbor them and keep them safe if an attack group comes from the United States or somewhere else. There appears to be some cooperation between groups you would describe as "terrorists" and those you would describe as "irregular fighters" or "guerrilas". Here is how Reuters described yesterday's suicide bombing:

" It was the latest in a string of attacks on Western targets in Iraq, which the United States blames on Iraqi and foreign guerrillas resisting the American-led occupation. It also coincided with the anniversaries of two major international attacks by Muslim militants on Western targets -- in Bali last year, and off the Yemeni coast in 2000. Iraq's police chief said it was probabaly masterminded by Al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein loyalists.".

We discussed why it is you think terrorists are not able to be as successful as guerrillas; but what happens when they collaborate with guerrillas? Are they then able to swim in the sea of the people like Mao said? In other words, do the guerrillas provide the terrorists with the ability to blend in among the masses? Lastly, in light of your distinction between the two groups, why would guerrillas partner with terrorists, if, as you say, the aims of the terrorists are "irrational" or "unobtainable"?

Bevin Alexander: The question first of whether terrorists can swim with guerrillas inside the water of the people. My answer to that is only if and so long as they reflect the goals of the guerrillas themselves. But in Iraq there is a substantial union of purpose between the Al-Qaeda terrorists and the guerrillas. The guerrillas are trying to prevent a stable successor government from being established in Iraq. The terrorists want to harm the Americans in any way that they can. Thus the two have a common purpose. The guerrilla movement is limited to the Sunni triangle (Baghdad, Falluja, Tikrit), and within this area there are enough Sunni supporters of Saddam Hussein that individuals can emerge from the population, do their damage, then slip back into the population with some assurance of safety. But you must keep in mind that the ultimate aims of Al-Qaeda terrorists and Saddam Sunnis are different, and the terrorists' support base is fragile. Of course it is much stronger in the Sunni Triangle than in, say, New York City! That's why, in my opinion, the terrorists are going to Baghdad. They can strike at Americans and they can be reasonably protected. I am inclined to believe that the attack on the Baghdad Hotel on October 12 was the work of terrorists, because of the way it was carried out (bomb-laden vehicle driven by a suicide bomber). The guerrillas want to drive out the Americans and prevent an Iraqi government that would prevent Sunni (or Baathist) control of the country. Thus the aims of the terrorists are not "irrational" to the guerrillas. The juncture of the goals of both groups causes me to believe that there is little to distinguish terrorists from guerrillas at the moment in Iraq. The situation in Iraq is similar but not identical to the situation in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. In Afghanistan the aim of the Taliban to take over and reorder the country in their own image was supported by Al Qaeda, since both pushed extreme fundamentalist goals. Therefore, the Taliban supported Al Qaeda and vice-versa. In Iraq, the Baathists are secular Muslims, and will endure the Al Qaeda terrorists only so long as they can use them to drive out the Americans. If that ever happened (and I do not believe it will), then the Baathists would make short work of the terrorists. Well let's pin you down on this to be clear. Are you saying that a guerrilla can be a terrorist that has popular support?

Bevin Alexander: Yes. So is Al-Qaeda an...

Bevin Alexander: It is very doubtful to me that Al-Qaeda is a true guerrilla force anywhere. They represent a radical element of the Muslim World and something that is not orthodox anywhere. And of course there are certain parts of the Muslim world where they would be considered orthodox but that is only a small part. In the region where they might be considered orthodox, then yes, that person might be able to survive if he got the support of the population. But that would be small and isolated. What about Hamas and Hezbollah?

Bevin Alexander: I feel that Hamas and Hezbollah are criminal organizations for the simple fact that they do not want to have an Israel at all. They want Israel to be driven into the sea. And therefore there is no accommodation on their part, as far as I have been able to determine to ever agree to a separation of Palestine into Israel and a peaceful division of that land. Now, then the question arises of how many of the Palestinian people agree with the Hamas or Hezbollah position? And I have no evidence that I can put down from a statistical point of view but I cannot believe that the Palestinians, as a whole, believe that this is the way to solve the problem. I don't believe they do. I believe that these people are an isolated minority group within the Palestinian population and that they could be isolated and destroyed because they are essentially working against any solution to the problem that they have in the Holy Land. The only way the problem in the Holy Land is ever going to be solved is to divide that land into two separate countries, and unless that is done and both sides agree to it then there is never going to be any peace there. Now some people have criticized the Bush Doctrine on the grounds that it is too broad of an analogy and even the administration admits this indirectly, in how it does not desire India to apply the Bush Doctrine to Pakistan and how it does not want Israel to apply that analogy to the Palestinian Authority. Do you agree with that criticism? Do you agree that there is a breakdown of the Bush doctrine when other nations seek to apply it to their struggles?

Bevin Alexander: Well, I think that in the case of Israel we have such a militant and fearful position by Israel towards what has been happening to them that Israel is responding in an incredibly rapid fashion. I must say that I think that as much as I think it is terrible what is happening there; I suspect that we would do the same thing if it were happening to us. We would want to strike back very hard. The problem I think we face with the Holy Land is that this is a decision that is absolutely gut-wrenching on both sides. And I will tell you why. The Jews went into Israel in 1948 over the opposition of the Arabs and Muslims in that region - absolutely over their opposition. The Arabs had controlled that part of the world for 2,000 years. The Jews had been gone largely for 2,000 years. And then they came back. And therefore the local population would be guaranteed not to like the idea but the world in 1944 to 1948 had seen the Holocaust and the terrible things that had been done to the Jews and therefore the world, as a world, thought the Jews needed a home and so you have a situation there that is not reconcilable at all except by agreement. It has got to be an agreement between the Jews an the Arabs that they will divide that land amongst themselves. And so far we haven't gotten that agreement. So that is why I say that the situation is different in the Holy Land than say, Afghanistan. Now, the situation in Kashmir... I don't quite understand what you mean when you state that we don't want India to apply the Bush Doctrine there... Sure, here is exactly what we mean. In January of 2002 and this has actually happened a few times at State Department briefings, where Indian reporters have questioned State Department Undersecretary John Bolton and others as to why they would not approve of India striking as hard against those individuals and groups in Kashmir, committing acts of violence - supposedly with the support of Pakistan - as the United States did against the Taliban. They make that analogy. That has been the exact way the question has been presented. And every single time...

Bevin Alexander: What kind of answer did it get? The United States would hope that India would exercise restraint - very similar to the answer Israel gets when it poses that question to America.

Bevin Alexander: Well then I think that situation too, is exactly as I said, you have at the moment, an almost unsolvable division of the two parties. It is not as if you have just a bunch of terrorists running up and down the hills and valleys of Kashmir. You have Pakistan sitting next door that is supporting them. So you basically have an argument between two states. And when you start attacking terrorists or what they say are terrorists on one side and freedom fighters on the other; there is a strong chance of this becoming a shootout between two countries. And that is what the State Department is looking at when they say they want an exercise of restraint. So wouldn't that mean that the Bush Doctrine really only applies in an asymmetrical conflict, because it appears to us that whenever there is fear of a nuclear war or the two sides are pretty evenly matched and the destruction could be great - the administration pulls back from the Doctrine. So, do you require a mismatch for the Bush Doctrine to be applicable?

Bevin Alexander: Well, it goes back to what I said about Napolean, I guess. You have to apply the rules of war to the situation that affects you and I think that what we are doing in the world today is precisely that. We are trying to apply the rules of war to the situations that apply. The situation that applies to Palestine and Israel is peculiar to all of the history I went over with you. The situation that applies in Kashmir relates to the fact that since 1947-48 there has been this dispute. In both cases they are trying to solve it. Now let's fast-forward to North Korea. We have a situation that is at least as intolerable, in some respects, to anything that Saddam Hussein has done. And yet we are deciding to handle it in a different sort of way. Why? Because the situation there is different than it is in Iraq. It certainly is different than it is in Afghanistan. And so we are saying to the whole world that the only way that we are going to solve this problem is for the powers in East Asia and work out something and keep this wild guy, Kim Jong-il, quiet. Here is a country that is absolutely starving to death and they are are spending about a third of their national product on an army. This is absolutely absurd. And therefore it cannot continue because North Korea is self-imploding and it is going to become an incredibly dangerous place. But you can't treat it like the Al-Qaeda. They are not like the Al-Qaeda and they are not like the Taliban. They are like the peculiar circumstances that developed in East Asia with the division of Korea in 1945. That is what that is called. Therefore, it has to be solved in an overall East Asian basis. I think that is the way to handle it. We certainly don't want a war in North Korea because a lot of people are going to be killed if a war erupts in North Korea. We will win it but a lot of people can be killed before it would happen. That is why we raised our eyebrows when we saw what you suggested as a possible use of Rule Number Thirteen, "Maneuver On The Rear". At the very end of your book, although it is not obviously your first choice, you actually do outline a small scenario by which the United States would come up on the rear of North Korea...

Bevin Alexander: Oh, I remember, you have certainly read my whole book (laughter). Yeah, you are correct. What you are referring to is what I wrote about how you could come up on the rear of North Korea by simply denying them the opportunity to trade and sell their stuff... Kim Jong-il has already said that would be interpreted as an act of war...

Bevin Alexander:...yeah it would be. The better way is to try and get these guys in East Asia to agree to handle the problem. And the only way you are going to get North Korea to agree to a peaceful solution is to get something down where everyone in that region has a stake in it. China, for example, would love for this situation to be handled entirely by us and for us to take all of the guff if things go bad because they come out looking great. But China can't allow that because they are as much a party to this problem as we are. And they are going to have to take the responsibility and be a true guarantor of the dangers of the situation and the peace in East Asia. And unless they do that we are not going to have a permanent peace in East Asia. So we are doing a tremendously great political job in my opinion, of dragging the Chinese into this thing, kicking and screaming. And I also hope we get Japan active in it. If we get Japan and China into it then maybe we can stop these North Koreans before they do something really stupid. And what is really so stupid about the North Koreans - and that is why you have to be so careful about this stuff - is that they are perfectly capable of doing something totally outrageous like attacking South Korea. I think we have to accept that they are capable of doing that because they have done it in the past - in 1950 - when they didn't have much chance of winning and still went right ahead and did it. And they have been attacking left and right, ever since; they went into Burma and killed some South Koreans about 20 years ago. So they are dangerous people and they operate at the very edge, and beyond, in what is acceptable in human behaviour. They are an incredibly dangerous country and the only way to stop them without them killing other people is by putting them in an arrangement where the whole region forces them to behave and I really, sincerely think that can work. And I think that President Bush is correct in his evaluation of the situation. And the North Korean people, I believe, if given a chance of having food, and a job and a prosperous life would choose that over war, if they had the chance. We saw some sports analogies in your book. Is sports a useful metaphor in relation to war. And how have you linked the two?

Bevin Alexander: We had for the long while in the United States the idea that we would fight our tactical battles - battles between small units - like you play football. It is not parallel for a couple of reasons. Football is straight-forward sport. It is a sport where you are attacking somebody head-on. The amount of deception in football is somewhat limited. And what deception there is makes a great football game. But the overall effect of football is a head-on attack. Now baseball is an animal of a different color. Baseball is full of all kinds of subtleties and ploys. But you can't make a case in warfare about baseball can you? Because we don't think of baseball in those terms (laughter). But in football we do because most of the time, most soldiers think about attacking the guy directly ahead of him and so we built up this analogy that war is often like playing football. All flat-out totally wrong. Because the way you win wars is not by force but by outsmarting the other guy. But that is exactly the way you use the sports analogy in your book.

Bevin Alexander: What did I say? In Rule Number Eleven, "Stroke At A Weak Spot"

Bevin Alexander: Well, that is the only way that you can use it in football in any reasonable sort of way. You have to hit a weak spot in football but the overall pattern of a football game is that everybody knows that it is going to have to come in one, or two, or three different places. A weak spot in football is off left tackle or off right tackle or maybe the guy sneaks around left end and nobody notices it in time. That is only in the parameters of a very offensive-minded straight forward game. Real warfare, that really wins doesn't even get to that stage. You are beaten before you even go to the battle. You mentioned Hannibal. Hannibal had won the battle of Cannae - which was the greatest battle of destruction in world history - before the Romans even came onto the field. Because he knew how they were going to operate. He knew they were going to come head-on. He knew he was going to surround them and he knew he was going to win. Do you believe that the presence and nearness of neo-conservative ideologues like Richard Perle from without, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz from within the Bush administration, has been helpful or harmful in the backdrop of September 11th? Have they helped to provide badly needed clarity for U.S. foreign policy or have they been too quick to advocate war against rogue states and terrorists around the world?

Bevin Alexander: I have never felt that dissident or alternative voices were ever a disadvantage to any government. The benefit of different opinions is that they require an administration to defend, and therefore justify, its policy. The advice I may seek from a friend can help me in many cases to avoid mistakes in my life. Perle and Wolfowitz may well have advocated policies that were contrary to that proposed by other officials. The task of any government is to weigh these varying opinions and come to a rational synthesis. I believe both individuals serve this purpose. I do not believe their recommendations are accepted by the government without question and without analysis. I believe the decisions our government has been making in the war on terror have been, on the whole, well balanced and correct. No, we did not anticipate the guerrilla warfare that erupted after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Nor did we understand sufficiently that the Iraqi infrastructure was already on the verge of breakdown. These were errors, but they were not caused by the decision to go into Iraq in the first place. They were caused by failure to analyze possible consequences fully. In the case of infrastructure, our mistake was to promise too much too fast, before we had a chance to find out the true state of the power grid, roads, water lines, oil pipelines, etc. A guerrilla struggle---though I think we could have expected it more than we did---cannot be planned for in advance. It is generated by opponents after an occupying army has arrived. Yes, it's connected to the infrastructure (people with electricity and water will be more favorable to an occupying army), but the real reason for guerrilla war is that an opponent has decided to fight us in this manner. It is, in this sense, another method of warfare, and represents in the Iraqi context, merely a continuation of the Iraqi war. By comparison, the Vietnam War became a guerrilla war after the Vietminh realized in late 1946 and early 1947 that they could not confront the French army on head-to-head terms, and could only meet them using guerrilla tactics. I think this is what is happening in Iraq. Did Saddam plan it this way all along? Probably. But we had no way of knowing this in advance. Now it requires a different approach. We must understand that no outside power can win a guerrilla war if a substantial portion of the civilian population supports the guerrillas and harbors them. Thus in the Sunni Triangle we may be saddled with a guerrilla war for some time, though I do not believe we will have such a war in the Shiite or Kurdish regions. Long answer to a short question---you can't blame one or two guys for the consequences of a major decision like going to war. They only share the blame at the outset, and no one can anticipate fully what is going to happen down the road. Do you think that there is any merit to the talk that the United States, militarily or otherwise is headed down the path of the Roman Empire, for worse?

Bevin Alexander: U.S. headed down the road followed by Imperial Rome? No, I do not think there is a parallel between the U.S. and Rome. Rome was intent on acquiring subjects and the goods of the subjects. It wanted to possess the lands it occupied. The U.S. has an entirely different motivation. It wants to end the danger of damage to American society and death to our people. We have no interest in possessing Afghanistan or Iraq. We want to root out the terrorists and get out. We have been saddled, in the process, with a job we did not want---nation-building. And perhaps we can foist this job off on the United Nations one of these days. But no, America is not interested in empire. It is interested in stopping the carnage to its people. In the best-seller, "The Mission," author Dana Priest writes the following: "part of Rumsfeld's dislike for international hand-holding had more to do with his vision of the United States as it entered the twenty-first century. For the first time in history, the United States was a superpower without military rival. Maybe it didn't need all these entanglements to remain on top. The word 'empire' had begun cropping up. The secretary's office had sponspored a private study of the great empires -- Macedonia under Alexander the Great, Republican Rome, the Mongols -- asking how they maintained their dominance. What could the United States learn from the successes and failures of ancient powers?"

And Mr. Alexander, the book, in its footnote section, contains the following excerpt of that private study of past empires, sponsored by the Secretary Of Defense called "Sustaining Military Dominance: Examples From Ancient History":

"Military doctrine and forces are created in the image of the economies that spawn them: Military forces, although multi-purpose by nature, are formed around a core set of threats that they are designed to defeat; Asymmetric confrontations tend to be exhaustive." The panel's key findings: "Decisive military advantage begins as an asymmetric tactical advantage; Operational advantage is based on information and control resting on a bedrock of tactical advantage; Strategic advantage rests on superior resources and the ability to engage the enemies' center of gravity; Tactical advantage without strategic advantage tends to be temporary in nature." Panel chair Enders Wimbush said the group also concluded that "military power by itself is never enough to sustain your predominance....The U.S. cannot avoid history. We aren't going to be an exception. All predominant states thought their predominance was eternal. All failed."

Mr. Alexander, are you familiar with this study, or any similar to it (that you may have worked on)? And, do you think that its conclusion is correct?

Bevin Alexander: I think I can answer the gist of your question by pointing out that, yes, a superior military power can be defeated if it is approached in a way that it cannot use its most formidable weapons. The example of the U.S. in the Vietnam War is to the point. We had by far the greatest military power on earth, expressed in jet aircraft, attack helicopters, heavy artillery, tanks, and armored personnel carriers, among others. But the Vietcong did not challenge these weapons because they knew, if they did, they would be beaten. Instead, they opted for a war in which they attacked small outposts or American forces, convoys, bases, supply dumps, airfields. These were spread all over the map, and, to defend them, required American forces to disperse greatly. And more, the Vietcong, since they could decide when, where, and in what strength to attack, possessed the initiative, whereas American forces, having to respond, became passive. This is the fundamental reason we lost the Vietnam War. In like fashion, Imperial Rome commenced its decline to destruction when, in the battle of Adrianople in 378 A.D. Rome found that its superior weapon no longer worked. This weapon was the legion with its legionaries wielding a short sword that was deadly in the close-in infantry fighting of the Mediterranean. Rome had ignored the armored cavalryman mounted on a heavy horse and armed with the lance and sword. This weapon had developed on the Eurasian steppe and had reached full bloom by the time the Romans collided with the Goths at Adrianople. With no way to counter the mounted soldier with a lance, the Roman army disintegrated, leading in time to the collapse of the Roman Empire. But that is the problem of all armies---being able to fight the kind of war in which its weapons are effective. Rumsfeld has already seen that the heavy divisions the U.S. Army possessed to fight the Russians on the plains of central Europe are totally out of date, and is moving to a lighter, faster army. In other words, the U.S. is transforming itself to fight the kind of war it will encounter today. By no means is the United States locked in the hopeless position of Rome at Adrianople---unable or unwilling to change itself to survive. Did we make a huge mistake in Vietnam? Yes. Did we wait too long to change? Yes. Did we wait so long because we continued, until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, to plan to fight a heavy Russian army? Yes. Have we learned our lesson? I hope so. Thank You Mr. Alexander for your time, we appreciate it.

Bevin Alexander: Great, I have really enjoyed talking with you and can see that you all actually read my book (laughter). I am very impressed. You have asked a lot of questions that not many people have asked me, by the way. You have facilitated a very good interview because with most publications and journalists, especially on national television they already have the answers in mind that they want, before they ask the questions. Not so with you. I really appreciate that. We thank you and there is no question that you have written a very important book with a broad application and utility. We will stay in touch and look to continue to have your opinion and views of warfare.

Bevin Alexander: I look forward to that.

Bevin Alexander's book, "How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War - from Ancient Greece to the War on Terror"
can be ordered at: in the Black Electorate Bookstore

Monday, October 13, 2003

To discuss this article further enter The Deeper Look Dialogue Room

The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

Copyright © 2000-2002 BEC