Fourth Generation Warfare

Trump badly miscalculated in Portland – and even he knows it

Trump clearly has no understanding of fourth-generation warfare theory, guerrilla warfare theory, or counterinsurgency theory. A basic rule of fourth-generation warfare is that you never let your opponents gain the perceived moral upper hand. Having black-suited stormtroopers shooting at middle-aged women, journalists, old men, and military veterans is always a no-no. This is a mistake the Israelis have consistently made, and has had as much effect as anything in turning much of world opinion against Israel.  A standard tactic of guerilla insurgents is to take actions that will provoke repression, triggering state overreach, which in turn will turn popular opinion against the authorities. Responding to incidents of vandalism and graffiti as though a Shining Path-like insurgency is taking place is stupid beyond belief. Trump essentially handed his Antifa antagonists a gift.

A major principle of counterinsurgency is that you have to weaken the insurgents by separating them from their popular support, and this separation has to be achieved on the moral level as much as on the physical level. “The people” have to come to see the insurgents as the bad guys, terrorists, criminals, etc. and the counterinsurgents as the good guys who are helping them. Counterinsurgency efforts that seek to remove an insurgent’s popular base through direct attacks on the popular base almost always fail, even if they inflict considerable bloodshed in the process.

The second paragraph of the article below also illustrates an important point about the Trump presidency. Glenn Greenwald pointed out a while back that Trump is too lazy to be a “fascist” and is hardly the calculating strong man his strongest critics make him out to be. He is simply a professional entertainer who responds to whatever gets applause from the audience, and his act is all improvisation. Therefore, when he is confronted with a real crisis or a situation where he has to make an important strategic decision, he has no clue what to do, so he either does nothing or overplays his hand hoping for maximum effect.

Cas Mudde

The Guardian

Opponents of Donald Trump often describe him as a “political genius” who has a cunning understanding of the anxieties and fears of American society, and is able to create and use crises to his favor. The current standoff in Portland shows, yet again, that this is not the case. While his alleged fight against antifa will satisfy some of his far-right supporters, it increasingly risks further alienating the so-called “moderate” Republicans – which seems mostly used to describe better-off pocketbook Republican voters – who are already feeling uneasy over his Covid-19 handling and the economic fallout of the pandemic.

An almost ignored aspect of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is that Trump failed to use it to push through his authoritarian agenda by increasing executive powers, weakening the powers of other institutions, like Congress, and marginalizing dissent, for instance by banning demonstrations. Almost all other countries implemented a more repressive approach to Covid-19, including those governed by progressive parties (like Spain), while most far-right governments used it to push through draconian repressive measures (such as Hungary and India).


2 replies »

  1. “Trump clearly has no understanding of fourth-generation warfare theory, guerrilla warfare theory, or counterinsurgency theory. A basic rule of fourth-generation warfare is that you never let your opponents gain the perceived moral upper hand.”

    Sorry, Keith, here we must disagree. I agree that SOMEBODY “miscalculated” in Portland, but it was long before the Feds showed up.

    The local Portland rioters were allowed to riot for 50 days, and gradually the local cops stopped showing up. I don’t recall the details and timing. But I think the Portland Government, by ordering the cops to stay away, “taught” the rioters that they would be tolerated: The rioters were being sent a message, as in “It is okay for you to riot. You won’t be arrested by the local cops. And we are going away.” When that happened, guess what? They apparently tried to storm the Federal Court building.

    Eventually, the Feds DID show up. Did THAT mean “the Feds miscalculated?” Or does it mean, “The local government and local cops miscalculated”. (I’m not excluding the possibility that BOTH screwed up, of course, perhaps in different ways.)

    See the difference?

    You also said:

    “Having black-suited stormtroopers shooting at middle-aged women, journalists, old men, and military veterans is always a no-no”

    Well, one reason is that the rioters were composed of many kinds of people, including those. And in part, that composition was due to the fact that the local Portland Government and Portland Cops ALLOWED them to riot, which sent a signal, “You are safe when rioting. Everybody can safely show up.”

    See how that works.

    In this era of TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome), it’s very easy to fall into the “Whatever happened, it must have been Trump’s fault!” rut.

    • But my point is that in fourth-generation warfare, perception is everything. Winning propaganda and psywar victories are just as important as winning on the battlefield. In the wider conflict between Trump and his opponents, Trump didn’t win on ANY of these fronts. He isn’t being perceived as the tough guy who quelled rioters. He is being perceived as a blunderer who overreached and crossed perceived moral norms, without even achieving his stated goals, and having the effect of escalating the unrest instead. It doesn’t matter from a tactical perspective what Trump’s intentions were, or what the factual narrative actually is. What matters is how Trump’s actions were perceived, and which narrative, factual or not, becomes dominant among the public mind.

      It’s same the point I made about the Israelis. The IDF is widely criticized for shooting and bombing children, teenagers, women, old people, etc. Zionists and other pro-Israel folks will say, “But those categories of people engage in terrorism, too!” and that the bombing is of communities that allegedly harbor them (the same argument that was used re Vietnam by those who said in guerrilla warfare there is no difference between insurgents and civilians). That may or may not be true. If true, pro-Israelis would say they are terrorists, pro-Palestinians would say they are “fighting for their country.” But in fourth-generation war, moral perception matters more than moral realities. When images are broadcast around the globe of dead Palestinian children and wounded teenagers or old people, the IDF ironically starts looking like the SS.

      The same thing is happening in Portland. People see the images and hear the reports and say, “Trump’s paramilitary forces are shooting some middle-aged mom in the face? Shooting journalists? Beating up veterans and old men?” The protestors gain a victory in terms of defining the narrative and claiming the perceived moral high ground. Strategically, it would have been in Trump’s interest for the protestors to burn the federal building down. Then he could blame the city and state governments of Portland and Oregon saying, “That’s what you get when liberals are running things! Terrorism! No law and order!” yadda, yadda, yadda. Then conservative-minded people, as well as moderates and liberals who are scared of civil unrest, might say, “You know, maybe I should vote for Trump so protestors won’t terrorize my neighborhood like they did with that ‘straight outta Applebee’s’ couple in St. Louis! #Walkaway!”. Even though the protests were only taking place within a small radius around the building. Portland was hardly “under siege” by some Shining Path-like group, lol. The problem from Trump’s perspective is that he wasn’t able to control the narrative. He exaggerated and exacerbated the situation in a way that made him look like an asshole to some and inept to others. That’s not the image a head of state running for reelection should want to present.

Leave a Reply