29 Aprl 2015 Buena HS Sierra Vista AZ

Guest lecturing at Buena High School

This past Thursday at Buena High School I spoke on the subjects of US Border Security, The Ongoing Conflicts in the Middle East, Asymmetrical Warfare, and the Vietnam War. The lively exchanges among students, the passion and insights, and the eagerness to learn make these type of events as rewarding as any.  They are just a lot of fun.

I was particularly glad to have had the chance to talk about the Vietnam War given the very day of the fall of Saigon occurred exactly 40 years ago on 29 April 1975. There are many lessons learned from that conflict, and these lessons should be passed along to another generation.

Special thanks to the faculty, staff, and students for participating in the event.


HARW Speech 10MAR2015 Sierra Vista AZ

HARW Speech 10MAR2015

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to speak at the Huachuca Area Republican Women’s Club in Sierra Vista, AZ. I was very happy to present my PowerPoint: The US-Mexico Border: A Strategic Problem. I underscored that this subject is far more important than a local issue of security and affects the entire country.

Here is a link to the presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/martincatino/us-mexico-strategic-border-insecurity-14-mar2015-copy

The people of Arizona, particularly those Arizonans living in the Tucson Sector, are being unfairly criticized for their opposition to the illegal invasion and cartel activity on the border. But the problem is very serious and understood well by many who are not only living here but seeing first hand the violence, cartel control, penetration of our border security, and movement of special interest aliens (SIAs) from the Middle East.

Catino_Assessing Iranian Security Capabilities

The Middle East Dialogue 2015 this past February in Washington, D.C was another year of interesting papers, discussions, and individuals shedding light on the developments in this critical region. I was happy to present my paper: “Assessing Iranian Security Capabilities: The Case of the Green Movement.”

The thesis of my paper is:

This paper will assert that the defeat of the Green Movement occurred as a result of more than “brutal crackdowns” by Iranian security forces.  Rather, the Iranian regime demonstrated strategic security capabilities including cohesive institutional backing of the state, comprehensive operational skills, mass tactical ground support, and ideological strength exploited by Iran’s senior leadership, which effectively mobilized large segments of Iran’s population against the reformers.   Moreover, the potency, depth, range, and reach of Iran’s security forces indicated a preponderance of power over the opposition, an advantage not likely to diminish in the short and medium terms.

Here is a link to the presentation:


The paper’s conclusions:

  • The Islamic Republic of Iran possesses strong state and security structures able to withstand severe opposition.
  • The Islamic Republic is likely to resist effectively similar political challenges it faces in the near and medium terms.
  • The tactics of civil disobedience used by the opposition are likely to prove ineffective against a regime which possesses strong security capabilities operating effectively across broad geographical areas of Iran and with significant mass support.
  • The regime’s ability to anticipate, organize, and posture against “soft power” threats is one of its striking features or capabilities.

If the United States is ever going to successfully promote regime change, and encourage the Iranian people to achieve their extraordinary potential, far more insight, effort, and planning will have to occur than simply standing back and watching a radical and tyrannical regime devour its best hopes for a future.


Setting up the projector for my PowerPoint: “Securing Our Future: The US-Mexico Border.”

It is not often that I get to lecture at a bar room, but this last speech at the gathering of Arizona ranchers in Douglas, AZ was among the most enjoyable efforts I undertook in a while. The bed and breakfast setting which dates to the early 1900s was an appropriate piece of historical background given that these ranchers and their family lines extend to that period, and much earlier. The group consisted of Ed Ashurst, John Ladd, Roger Barnett, and many other well-known ranchers who are seeking to increase their security given the mass invasion of illegal aliens whose entry into the US is organized and structured by an increasing presence and sophistication of MDTOs (Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations), commonly called cartels.

I have had the pleasure of meeting many of these ranchers during the last six months while I conducted field research along “the line,” the US-Mexico border. These patriotic cattlemen are the very human terrain encountering the illegals and the criminal trail associated with these movements.  The Morning Call  newspaper was kind enough to publish a short article I wrote on the cartel activity that I noted during my recent field research. The link is here: http://www.mcall.com/opinion/yourview/mc-illegal-immigrants-border-safety-catino-yv-1031-20141030-story.html

The problem is indeed serious, and does not get the attention it deserves, much less the action required to secure our borders. Mr. Ashurst is organizing the ranchers so that their views, concerns, and security issues will gain this visibility needed along with the will, resources, and manpower.  His website is here: http://www.federalobserver.com/

Conferences and Events 2014

November 13, 2013

Middle East Dialogue Conference, February 2014, Washington, DC

Catino_MED Conference


This past month in Washington, DC, during the Mideast Dialogue Conference, I had the pleasure to deliver my paper: “A Sectarian Spring: The Continuing Struggles in Bahrain.” The link to my presentation is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1piwIwA05gM

As I noted in the previous blog article, the topic of Bahrain is critical to US and regional security. What is at stake is a potential Iranian-inspired insurgency dominated by Al Wefaq overthrowing the Sunnni monarchy of Hamad Al Khalifa, who is a key “non NATO ally.”  The consequences would be significant for not only the security environment but also for human rights, creating a situation similar to southern Lebanon where Shia extremism thrives while obstructing freedom and exporting terrorism globally.

This topic of the insurgency in Bahrain suffers from much misinformation, particularly due to the poor methodology underpinning current studies.  Among the chief reasons for the lack of quality analysis of Bahrain is the deficiency of the academic community’s research on the subject. This complex insurgency in Bahrain requires trained, skilled, practiced military and intelligence analysts who can elucidate the strategy, operations, objectives, and TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) of the Shia opposition.  Analyzing the Shia leadership, training, capabilities, organizational structures, lines of operations, denial and deception tactics, and phasing of operations are all critical for revealing the character of this political-military organization that differs little in substance from Hezbollah, howbeit the Bahraini version of Shia insurgency is more complex and concealed. Understanding key aspects of military science is therefore vital for analysis: planning, logistics, operations, cover, posture, orientation, environment, adaptability, and effects.

A quick examination of the leading scholars writing on this topic reveals that they lack most or all the aforesaid requisite skills and venture into this context of urban insurgency in Bahrain without direction and understanding of these critical variables or characteristics. Having a vast community of like-minded scholars, human rights activists, journalists, and other supporters who simply recycle these studies we find that error becomes accepted truth on the subject. When I discuss these issues with the scholarly community, as politely as I can, I find that many have not even studied an insurgency in depth or can give a brief explanation on the main characteristics of an insurgency.  Relying on linguistic skills these scholars follow the tongues and not the feet of the insurgents, and thus are led to believe the propaganda rather than the key events that characterize the subject.  Moreover, these academics have little concern for security, and often view the subject with contempt, and thus demonstrate a lack of humanitarianism, the very subject they claim to champion.  Attention to security issues is far more than a defense of US interests, and involves a defense against terrorist and oppressive regimes (like Iran) spreading their influence, ideas, and networks.

Adding to this problem is the fact that the military-intelligence community has not given enough attention to the home of the US Fifth Fleet. Iraq and Afghanistan have dominated our research efforts, and Africa and Latin America account for increased regional focus and studies. Also, the Arab Spring has redirected US military focus on North Africa, the Levant, and particularly Egypt, which is an important subject in its own right. Iran, Syria, Yemen, and resurgent Al Qaeda activities in Iraq also draw in many qualified military analysts. In general, Andrew Molnar’s scholarship on insurgencies and their passive resistance and crowd manipulations tactics, a scholarship that so richly contributed to the study of insurgency during the 1960s and 1970s, has been overwhelmed by population-centric COIN approaches and the analytic energies needed for countering the crises of the moment.

Military historians and military science experts could contribute significantly to our understanding of regional security if they addressed this Gulf island and it current unrest. Without a significant inclusion of the military science community and their expert analysis of insurgency, the subject of Bahrain and its unrest will remain in the murky discussions of academics who are unqualified for analyzing a conflict zone. More importantly, the strategic and tactical changes occurring in Gulf will not gain the attention they deserve.


International Studies Association Conference,

St. Louis, MO.

8-10 November 2013

St Louis MO

11NOV2013_Scott at the Seven Gables Inn_StLouis_MO

Lisa and I were in St. Louis this past weekend, when I attended the International Studies Association Midwest Conference. The accommodations, panels, and presenters were excellent. I chaired one panel, served as a discussant on another, and presented a paper: “Diving for Pearls: The Aftermath of Protest in Bahrain.”

Since serving as a US Fulbright Scholar in Bahrain (2007-2009) the subject of Bahrain has been dear to me. The small island monarchy made international news on February 14, 2011 during its “Arab Spring.” Although Bahrain received less international attention than Egypt and Libya, the events on this Gulf island are very important for regional security and US interests. My research paper on Bahrain is, to my knowledge, the only study to analyze the strategies, tactics, and objectives of the Shia opposition. Moreover, the Western media has not given enough attention to or analysis of the Sunni population of Bahrain.

The many coffee shops, restaurants, sites, and things to do in St. Louis made this conference one of the most enjoyable that I’ve been to.


Vietnam Experience Conference, Victoria, Texas. 

13 June 2013, Thursday

Vietnam Experience Conference

Ready to Speak

Ready or Not–Time to Speak!

It was a pleasure this past Thursday to present my paper: “Ho Chi Minh: America’s Most Capable Foe.” The audience at UHV was comprised of many Vietnam War era veterans, scholars, and others who have an interest in the subject. The discussion during the sessions was lively. Dr. Beverly Tomek and the University of Houston-Victoria did an excellent job organizing and running the conference. 

Several young scholars were present and gave excellent presentations on topics ranging from battle analysis, to psychological operations, to the Phoenix Program.

Special thanks to Mr. Steve Sherman, an expert in the field and Vietnam Veteran, for attending and providing support and a wealth of information on subjects that helped me and others. Steve’s website is outstanding. Here is the link: http://www.viet-myths.net/

=========================================================File:Bruce Crandall's UH-1D.jpg


Featured Speakers Include:

**R. J. Del Vecchio

**Phillip Jennings

**William Laurie

**Steven Sherman

**Hoi B. Tran

*Hosted by Dr. Scott Catino, Instructor, Graduate Military Studies, American Military University


Excellent conference and participation by faculty and students.  


Barnes Conference pic

23 March 2013, Saturday, Barnes Graduate Student Conference, Temple University.

I was happy to participate, and Chair a panel at this conference. The panel was called “Battlefields” and had two graduate student presenters. Both students did an excellent job delivering their papers.

Steven Elliot, a Ph.D. student at Temple University, presented first, a paper on “Rethinking Twentieth Century Warfare: Infantry, Artillery, and the Mechanized Battle of Attrition.” The paper called attention to several key issues, particularly the over generalization of the term “maneuver warfare” as a distinct characteristic and change from World War I. Elliot noted the primacy of firepower and frontal assaults in World War II, and that occurring across its diverse theaters.

Scott Manning, a Master’s Degree student from American Military University, presented second. His paper, “The Battle of Falkirk (1298): A Case and Method for Making the Messy Historical Process More Accessible” was as interesting as it was informative. Manning called attention to the problems of historical methodology on the Battle of Falkirk, but in a larger sense the same problems in historical research on ancient military history.  I thought his valuable points could also have value and application in modern military studies.

Both student papers generated questions and comments from the audience, which likewise enjoyed the papers.

Kaete, Tom, and Pat, the student organizers of the conference, deserve a lot of credit for making the event a success, and for coordinating the panels, lunch, dinner and other activities.

Panel Battlefields



DSCF3954 - Copy

South Carolina Historical Association Conference. Clinton, South Carolina.  16 March 2013

Lisa and I had a fun time at the SCHC conference this Saturday. I presented a paper on “Tribal Capabilities and Warfare: The Case of Ancient Israel.”  The paper abstract is below. One of the best aspects of the conference was to see some old friends from South Carolina, like Dr. James Farmer from the University of South Carolina Aiken, and to see the graduate students present their papers–very impressive. There were interesting papers on the Civil War, Southern Women, South Carolina history, and too many other topics to list here.  Likewise it was a pleasure to meet some new folks.

Saber and Scroll Jounral published the article this past winter, and the article is available online at: http://digitalcommons.apus.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=saberandscroll

My abstract on Tribal Capabilities:

The Old Testament history of the ancient Jewish tribes presents ample evidence for not only the study of military leadership and tactics, but also the social and cultural behaviors animating, structuring, and strengthening the military culture of these Hebrew peoples during the period of early conquest and settlement (circa 1300 B.C.). Current historical scholarship has called attention to Israel’s military leadership and war councils, flexible tactics, weaponry and emerging technology, terrain analysis–and the force capabilities and posture of Israel’s opponents (both local and regional), particularly the absence of large aggressive empires like Assyria and Babylon operating in Palestine, which emerge later in time and defeat both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, respectively.

The research methodology of the proposed paper utilizes historical analysis of primary sources to analyze an unexplored aspect of tribal warfare: “tribal capabilities.” Tribal capabilities are the unique cultural norms, values, and behaviors that shape a tribe’s ability to conduct war, and affect the conditions that determine the outcomes of war.  Tribal capabilities, in its most basic form, are the abilities of a tribe to sustain life during periods of war and thus affect the battle space.  The concept of social “capabilities” is discussed in current US military doctrine [See Manual, Field. “Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency.” Department of the Army, Washington DC (2006)].  Utilizing a study of the ancient Hebrew text [translated by Robert Young, Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (Edinburgh, n.p. 1898)], and traditional accounts of Israel’s tribal warfare such as the The Works of Flavius Josephus, the paper will assert that tribal vitality rested not only in the leadership, the heroic judges that act as champion-saviors, but also in a complementary socio-military force emanating from the population.  Leadership in depth (emerging from broad demographic groups), potent master narratives, and a vibrant military culture operationalized by a practical military art synergistic with religious practice created this “bottom up” force structuring and supporting senior military leadership. Potent tribal capabilities were therefore instrumental to the survival of ancient Israel during the period of the Judges, and by extension are critical to the structures and viability of tribal warfare in the modern era.

The significance of this study transcends historical analysis of the tribes of ancient Israel. As the United States continues to engage in asymmetrical conflicts that devolve to the tribal level of society, understanding tribal capabilities will be essential for effectively stabilizing the operational environment. The detailed case study found in the ancient Hebrew text is not comprehensive but is indeed highly informative and rich in information on the neglected subject of tribal dynamics shaping military conflict.  Understanding and influencing these tribal capabilities will be critical for military decision making in future asymmetrical conflicts in developing societies and nations.


Bahrain: Are You Confused?

August 13, 2012

Bahrain: Are You Confused?

Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.

March 25, 2011

Unrest in Bahrain, 2011

For approximately 16 months while serving in Bahrain as a US Fulbright Scholar (2007-2009), I watched Shia extremists foment an insurgency on this small Gulf island.  Few in the United States, the expatriate community, or the West understood the problem or the strategic importance of this home of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.  Bahrain was simply too small, too insignificant, and too confusing.  And like many early stage insurgencies, the actors were too clever.  Radical Shia Imams parading as caring pastors mixed with Shia malcontents, human rights activists, the intelligentsia, and the young and the restless who moved about in abayas and dishdashas at schools like the University of Bahrain, where Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Iran’s Ali Khamenei were deemed champions of the world’s oppressed, and of course, of the Shia of Bahrain. These very people and groups are now key players of the insurgency taking place in Bahrain.  Yes, Bahrain is experiencing an insurgency that is using the guerrilla warfare tactics one can find in Palestine, Iraq, or Afghanistan, where analysts witness daily the same tactics used by insurgents to achieve their violent dreams.   In this short essay I will try first to explain the activities of the major groups active in the current strife, and second, try to explain why the situation in Bahrain is so confusing.

It is Good to be the King: Or Maybe Not?

     King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain, is a powerful man, whose whit and ability to maintain control is admired, envied, and despised by the various sectarian and racial groups that walk the streets of places like Manama, the capital of Bahrain.  The King is brilliant, and holds the reins of power with an ease and finesse that baffles his opponents. His ability to manage easily the diverse interests of the Sunni Arab world, the shifting sands of international economics, and the many South and Southeast Asian migrants that inhabit his island involves subtle skills that he uses confidently, grasping intangible power structures as easily as one could grasp the steering wheel of the family car.  He understands every Middle Eastern leader’s most cherished secret: the most important fight is the one to stay in power. So he offers much more than crackdowns:  free schooling, subsidies to the poor of his country (Shia included), and business freedoms in the local markets. In fact, the Ajam, the enterprising Persian business class of Bahrain, embrace this freedom. But more importantly they embrace the freedom to stay out of politics, which dampens the delights of the dinar.

The King is certainly no tyrant, no Louis the XVI or George the III. The progressive reforms of the Sunni Monarch move forward, howbeit at a disappointing pace for many, and at times with grudging smiles to Western faces. But neither are his policies equal.  Discrimination against the Shia class (as well as the South and Southeast Asian) is visible if not openly insulting. The King surrounds himself with loyal Sunni security forces, Gulf and Western security assets, Western technology and economic partnerships, and masses of South Asian migrants that he wears like his elegant gold sash, an apolitical girding of workers caring not for revolution, but for a daily wage wired back home. This is indeed a comfortable security belt, one that will not pinch him with a worker’s strike that could paralyze his kingdom.  Supporters of the King would argue that this unequal policy is necessary to maintain security and progress amid a radicalized population, a point that outsiders may find difficult to accept given the Western penchant for demanding equality, and urging its implementation immediately and without qualification.

The (Not So) Innocent Shia of Bahrain

          Nonetheless, such a glaring inequality in this Sunni kingdom leads the innocent heart to yearn in naiveté and yield to the simplistic impulses that embrace naturally the dishonored and the disfranchised.  The many sincere Shia, who want equality, a better life not for themselves but for their families and posterity, are in abundance. But satisfying those pangs for justice comes at a cost, the readiness to follow uncritically the Shia propaganda that litters the country, the images of Nasrallah sold in malls, the Hezbollah flags waving defiantly in the town of Ali in southern Bahrain, and the many vitriolic sermons of Shia imams that bellow out from mosques too simple and too rustic to raise international concerns.

Joining the innocent and aggrieved is another group, or perhaps an overlapping dimension of personality within the same group. These are the not so innocent of the innocent. These are Shia who upon closer examination reveals a level of bitterness and hate not easily discernible amid the pillars of black smoke rising from the crumbled remains of the Pearl Roundabout.  These followers of Ali (cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad) all have valid complaints, and amid the complaints a motive of revenge formed from collective emotions heated by injustice, and stirred in the black cauldron of Shia imams and their political counterparts.

Zaynab [not her real name] is an example. Her attendance in my classes at the University of Bahrain came from a stuttering courage revealing her innate shyness, her Islamic views of submissiveness, and a contradictory impulse to swim upstream in a workforce whose source was patriarchal.   I admired Zaynab. Her love for her husband, her children, and her academic success in the classroom underscored her character, revealing gently her humanity adorned in her flowing black abaya.

When her embittered diatribe against the King poured out one morning in class my initial reaction was one of fear for her safety.  “Zaynab, please be careful. Your words could provoke a strong reaction from supporters of the King,” I counseled her. Her rage against the king, her contempt of his alliance with America, and her frustration with the failed plight to obtain democratic rights for the Shia community all find solace in the person of Nasrallah, the embodiment of the “heroic fight of Hezbollah against Jews, the West, and America,” she told me. Her contempt for America (but not me, for I was one of the “good ones”) was also disturbing. How youthful innocence and gracefulness could abruptly disappear in an eruption of hate still alarms me.  Her dismissive attitude toward the brutality of Hezbollah, the lack of democratic rights of the South Asian population in Bahrain (which constitutes nearly half of the population there), and the many efforts of the Government of Bahrain to help the Shia community was indicative of the level of agitation achieved by Shia religious and political leaders.  In sum, my questions regarding the validity of her views slid off her icy disposition as easily as Arab skaters enjoying the oddity of ice-skating rinks in Dubai.

The Shia leaders of Bahrain are well of aware of the Zaynabs. They understand her emotions, her passions, and her misguided dreams of a Shia awakening.  They understand these emotions because they have violated them often—an invasion of mind as well as soul. Experts on terrorism and insurgencies would be quick to indentify the tactics that create these outcomes: agitation, provocation, organization of youth, information dominance (of public attention and media), and relentless pressure on the Government of Bahrain while justifying mob violence exercised by proponents.   All these tactics effectively shaped the emotions and the will of the Shia of Bahrain. This was Bahrain prior to the present upheaval.

“Pieceful” Demonstrations

The protesters who gather now in the streets of Bahrain have claimed repeatedly that they are “peaceful.” The media generally depicts them as such, highlighting contorted faces suffering in tearful pains under a one-sided royal crackdown allegedly overreacting to their bloating presence.  The fact of the matter is that these protesters are not peaceful but “pieceful,” systematically targeting the pieces of the state critical to its existence while executing pieces of a well contrived insurgency plan.

Like many insurgencies, the recent unrest in Bahrain started with the youth of that country, a group more radical and energetic than other segments of society on the island, one that could seize the initiative and create the momentum necessary to topple a well-established regime. These youths, assisted in the planning stage by opposition political party Al Wefaq, quickly ignited the angry masses of Bahrain. The organizers created visibility through agitating large numbers to protest, through the centrality of the location of protests at the Pearl Roundabout, and through drawing in the media. Having achieved these initial pieces of the plan, the angry protests moved next on three fronts: seeking to provoke a major escalation from the government, disrupting key transportation routes and nodes, and finally paralyzing the government by obstructing the financial district in Manama, the economic heart of Bahrain. The last major piece of the first stage of the plan involved creating mass unrest throughout the entire Island, hoping to completely unseat the government by creating widespread confusion and instability.

While the international media often reported a sweeping government crackdown on the protesters, a far different picture emerged from the streets of Bahrain. The Shia mobs unleashed their plan of violence throughout the country, attacking Sunni neighborhoods, public universities, the Bahraini security forces, and the south Asian migrant community (the main labor force of Bahrain).   The Salmaniya Hospital served as a sanctuary for revolutionary activity much as the Palestinian Authority used hospitals against the state of Israel.  Rather than victims of state aggression, the protesters were the aggressors. A friend from Bahrain sent me the following email describing in detail the violence.

          I don’t know where to start.  We are living in fear and chaos.I am scared to death.  My neighborhood was attacked by opposition party and they started  to attack all Sunni  houses.    Civilians were attacked.  Why is it called peaceful protest when unarmed policemen were deliberately run over by protester’s cars!

Protesters earlier took Salminiya hospital and operated their violent attacks from there. They went to the extreme to only treat the Shia sect.  A lady died while bleeding during delivery waiting for the ambulance.  A young girl of the age of 15 died as well waiting for the ambulance.

Protesters started to violate children’s rights by using them in protesting and creating chaos at schools. Teachers misled student to attack Sunni students.

Located at the Pearl Roundabout protesters started to provoke the Shia street by spreading more lies and pretending to be victimized!

The peaceful protesters attacked the University of Bahrain and demolished the buildings [meaning rooms in the buildings]. They attacked students and stabbed them with white weapons [a term used for the makeshift weapons used by the protesters].

We are living in great fear.  My cousin was attacked by a sword and lots of unarmed policemen also were injured by white weapons. We can’t drive around or leave the house due to the lack of safety. Now protesters started to attack mosques and houses. The protesters started using Molotov cocktails and automatic weapons in their attacks. They even started to attack expatriates and two Indian workers were killed. More Asians were injured and toured [sic] by angry protesters.

In the past two days the opposition leaders were arrested but their follower started to be more violent and vengeful.

Please pray for us and talk about the situation as the opposition was smart in using media in delivering fake reports!

Indeed, the situation in Bahrain is confusing because the roots of the conflict stem from a Shia leadership that has worked covertly for decades to undermine the Kingdom of Bahrain, stoking deliberately and consistently a flame that has grown to a conflagration. The shortcomings of King Hamad al Khalifa, although critical to the issues, deserve honest, sincere, organized redress from Shia groups embracing not a radical agenda but the difficult and peaceful path of reform through dialogue and parliamentary deliberation.  The Shia leaders have dominated the media messages about Bahrain, but have not matched the goodwill and the high sentiments given to their cause, and thereby have obfuscated the key issues rather than beginning to solve them.

“The Red Line” declared by the government of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the line in the sand that Shia radicals must not cross, has been transgressed a long time ago, and current events are merely the open evidence of that violation.  The irony of these Shia protesters is that they already have achieved their vision without realizing it. The world created by their heroes in Iran and in southern Lebanon has brought nothing but misery and suffering, and now Bahrain has seen the same.

Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D., is a US Fulbright Scholar and teaches graduate military studies at American Military University.  He has served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent American Military University and are completely my own.

In the Midst of Wars

June 3, 2011

Colonel Edward Lansdale entered the post-World War II era with a determination and grit that later would make him famous. Although vilified as the “ugly American” by an anti-war generation resenting Cold War commitments, he nevertheless remains a hero in military circles, which honor his sacrifices and his understanding of insurgent psychology. COL Lansdale is a historical monument to the character necessary to  defeat guerrilla movements. His development of psychological operations in the Philippines and Vietnam made history, but his inflexible resolve against Communism demonstrated the clarity and firmness of mind necessary for all leaders who face similar fights into the future.

But even COL Lansdale would have been taxed by the diversity and complexity of revolutions and insurgencies taking place in the Mideast today. In the Midst of Wars, the Colonel’s insightful account of his service, aptly frames the outbreak of “wars of national liberation” (Communist insurgencies) that occurred like a virus, plaguing not just the “third world” but also Europe and nations on the other side of the Atlantic. Even the United States had to fight at home (dare I say counterinsurgency).  The Black Panthers, who embraced Maoist Communism and urban insurgent tactics, violently challenged “the man,” calling for an armed black community to repel the police who entered these communities “as an occupying foreign force.” The not so Ugly American knew that these “popular revolts” of his era were not popular, but orchestrated and agitated by Communist tyrants who had honed their tactics to a science during World War II.  While serving in Vietnam he noted the commonality in the insurgencies he had seen:

 “I had only a smattering of French so I relied heavily on interpreters, sign-language, and a pocket dictionary.  The people were strikingly different from the Filipinos, but the guerrilla methods of the Communists were all too familiar. . . .” (Edward Geary Lansdale, In the Midst of Wars, 373-373).

However, there is no commonality in the unrest now erupting in the Mideast (Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere). United States political and military leaders currently find themselves in the midst of wars without any central tendencies that would allow an easy paradigm of understanding. The conflict and unrest occurring the Middle East at present demonstrates a variety of motives, leadership, political ideology, and organizations. And understanding these differences will be the key to understanding the very nature of these conflicts, the implication for US security, and whether intervention is an option.

Nevertheless, United States foreign and security policy leaders should not jettison the Cold War lessons learned from COL Lansdale’s era but find flexible ways to apply them to current conflict scenarios.

Here are some lessons learned from Lansdale’s era that are relevant for today.

1. Avoid the rush to  intervention and only act when it is in America’s interests. Often global opinion has no regard for America’s national security needs, or economic interests. Many people (including leaders) the world over think the United States is omnipotent and self sufficient and thus without any legitimate interests. These international pressures force America into the role as giver and never taker. Therefore the responsibility of advocating for America’s legitimate interests falls directly on Washington. That responsibility must be clearly understood and undertaken in international affairs. America’s role as humanitarian and leader of the free world must be balanced against its role as protector and advocate of the American people.  If US policymakers are not cognizant of this fact, they can easily be led into every major conflict that occurs across the Mideast or elsewhere, or into too many conflicts, and thus exhaust our strength and weakening our power for when it may be needed most.

2. Manage the  conflictive global pressures regarding intervention and non intervention.
Intervention is never an easy or light path to take. Global opinion chides the United States for imperialism when it intervenes, and chides again when the United States does not intervene, calling the world’s only superpower “cold” and “irresponsible.” This was the case during the Rwanda genocide of 1994. US policymakers must carefully examine when we should intervene. And once we commit to that difficult task, expect and brave the hardships until the mission is complete.

3. Remember the first rule of warfare: Wars tend to escalate. Carl von Clausewitz, the famous Prussian military theorist, aptly summed the chief dynamics of war:

“War is an  act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force.  Each side, therefore, compels its opponent to follow suit; a reciprocal action  is started which must lead, in theory, to extremes…To introduce the theory of moderation into the theory of war itself would always lead to logical absurdity.” (Clausewitz, On War, 76.)

The temptation to intervene militarily in areas  that appear to be no match for American or NATO forces (i.e., Libya) could be problematic. Even if a Western victory is all but assured, an escalation of conflict is likewise certain. Unless the United States is ready, willing, and able to face the escalation, it should not intervene. The cost of a precipitous  withdrawal need not be amplified here. But the lessons of early withdrawal from Vietnam and Lebanon should be remembered.

4. Remember that home front support is essential for victory and must be cultivated actively. The laissez faire approach to home front support is a sure road to defeat. A major lesson learned from the Vietnam War was that the American people were not aptly informed, instructed, and reached with the news and information regarding that conflict. While North Vietnam  and its Communist supporters sought to exploit every opportunity possible to  dominate media information, the United States leadership did little. For example, Washington should have brought Ngo Dinh Diem and other Vietnamese leaders to the United States to state their cause to the American people. The failed opportunity left and information gap that the radical Left, as well as the Communist forces, aptly exploited. The erosion of public support for the  Vietnam War was related directly to the misinformation and disinformation generated through the Left. We cannot afford another mistake of this nature.

5. Remember the financial costs of warfare and be ready to address them.  The high costs of wars have bankrupted empires and nations, and serve as pivotal lessons for the United States. Acting from false guilt and a fear of appearing imperialistic, the US has undertaken the costly task of nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet refuses to take compensation from these countries. In the future, Washington will not have the luxury of such a course of action.  Either countries that need American intervention will have to give of their natural resources as payment (i.e., oil and minerals) or will have to face their problems on the cheap, without American intervention.

6. Support our allies and keep our global commitments.
American policy leaders should not allow our soft power incentives to become more beneficial than those given to our allies. Another lesson from COL Lansdale’s era is to remember to support America’s allies and to keep one’s commitments. The foreign policy aim of using soft power (i.e., economic investment, trade incentives, foreign aid, and market access) to sway belligerent and alienated nations to soften or embrace the West has limits. Too often economic incentives harden rather than soften a belligerent’s resolve and lead the United States into the trap of giving more attention, support, and aid to its enemies than its friends. Case in point: the best way to gain billions of dollars in American aid is to foment conflict while appealing to US intervention. We, as Americans, should not make belligerency a profitable undertaking.

Had General Lansdale (he was later promoted to the rank of Major General) lived to see our day, no doubt he would have seen the increased complexity of modern insurgencies. His understanding of the nature of insurgencies would have to change in order to keep abreast of the flexible tactics and complex background of each conflict.  Yet the principles he and other Cold Warriors embraced would remain relevant and useful for the present.

The United States and  West won the Cold War and defeated global insurgencies because of many strengths.  The principles of warfare were among the most important strengths and remain timeless in their application.

Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D. presently serves as a senior military adviser in Afghanistan.

Martin Scott Catino, Ph.D.

23 May 2011

The comforts of Safi Airways disappeared rapidly in the anxious steps that led me to down the ramp and across the tarmac of Kabul International Airport. I had arrived in Afghanistan in mid-January, and the mountain peaks capped with snow competed with the pungent smell of burning tires to win my attention. My POC (point of contact) met me in the “Land of the Brave,” shaking my hand and welcoming me to my second counterinsurgency effort. “Hello, Dr. Catino, how was your trip?” “I am fine, Sir, and am looking forward to serving here.” “Have served in Iraq and am happy to be here for this ride, ” I replied. He responded, “Forget Iraq.” “This is nothing like Iraq.”

Indeed, as I approach mid-tour, I could not agree more. There is much more here than differences in language, landscape, history, and culture. Even the mixing of French, Italian, Croatian, Mongolian, and Turkish armed forces in our camps is not the defining difference in this experience from other conflicts I have seen—including Iraq. The War in Afghanistan pits the United States and our allies against an insurgent culture that extols nearly all human passions and behaviors condemned by my American upbringing, and the longer I serve here the more apparent that becomes. Although there are similarities to Iraq, the issues here are deeper, more severe, and more prevalent. The differences that separate our sides—Coalition Forces versus the Insurgency—is wider than the deep and vast valleys that separate this rugged mountainous terrain.

First, this war is a religious war—not ours but theirs. The Taliban and other insurgent groups openly declare their hatred for “Jews and Christians” and work hard to make this a religious war. Target killings by the enemy focus on “avoid[ing] agents who are the servants of the Crusaders and begin first with the Jews and Crusaders and confront the Ummah with its foreign enemy who invaded the land and replaced the sharia.” (Al Qaida’s Doctrine for Insurgency,109). Their messages manipulating Islam, fomenting religious hate, and vilifying Christianity and Jews bellow from mosques and markets and find too many ready ears. The message of religious bigotry is the insurgent’s most potent weapon, measured by the fact that they rely on it most often and use it to achieve their most cherished objectives.

Second, this is a war against crime. On another level, Islam has nothing to do with this conflict, that is to say, the honest and dedicated agenda of Muslims to uphold Islamic values. The insurgents care nothing about Islam outside of its ability to achieve their aims: power, money, subjugation of their enemies, and dominance of women. Behind the cloak of Islam lurks the real life of the insurgency: control of the drug trade in Afghanistan; control of the people through murder and intimidation, (note this week’s attack on the military hospital); kidnapping; extortion; sexual enslavement of children (Bacha bazi); control of the lucrative trucking routes from Pakistan; and a variety of black market trades and networks that cover the region like a spider web.

Third, economic warfare is at the basis of the insurgent’s fight. In the United States, when a new and creative business enters one’s town, others are forced to compete, change, and adapt, otherwise they perish. In Afghanistan, when another business enters the market, there is no competition as envisioned by Adam Smith’s model of capitalism. Warlords and powerbrokers use their militias and the insurgents to kill the competitor and destroy (literally) the venture. Economic competition is settled often by violence, and the insurgency is part and parcel of this solution. Our efforts to establish the rule of law, fair business practices, and market capitalism are directly opposed to the business practices of the insurgency; and they will fight to maintain their way.

Fourth, this is a war for civility. Our American sentiments that glamorize “the people” are useless in Afghanistan. Corruption, deceit, duplicity, and treachery are rife in Afghanistan and that at the local level. Everything in the average American does not want to believe that. Our political and cultural values taught to us from childhood have conditioned us to lionize the average human, believe we are equal culturally (in moral and social development), and thus we are victimized by our own ideology. Cultural relativism wreaks a foul odor in the valleys of truth, and how much more in the valleys found here in Afghanistan, where acts of charity are often viewed as a sign of weakness, and billions of dollars of aid have created as many enemies as friends, or at least, created instability and not the reverse.

Let me be clear on this subject: there are plenty of Afghans who can make the difference and carry the torch of progress. There are plenty of Afghans ready to take charge of their country. But alongside this heroic nationalism is a public bent running counter to the progress, a problem that must be addressed. And the insurgency feeds off of the corruption, the lying, the duplicity, and the treachery found in abundance. The goals of transparency and good governance are at the heart of the mission of Coalition Forces. That mission runs roughshod over that of the enemy.

Finally, this is a race war, not ours but theirs. The Taliban and their fellow thugs are working hard to make this a Pashto war against other races (call them ethnics if you like). This is a land where Tajiks, Hazaras, and others have been slaughtered by Pashtuns. And Pashtuns have been slaughtered in a cycle of revenge and counter-revenge that baffles pundits who get lost in philosophical inquiries into who started the strife. The main aim of Coalition Forces is to stop the racially motivated hate that leads to ethnic cleansing and retributions—no small feat.

So at the end of the day I remember that this war in Afghanistan is for a cause for more than the noble goal of creating regional and international security. It is that, and much more. I end my days looking across the valleys that divide us from the enemy, and know the efforts are worth it.

“And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” Luke 16:26