Military and political people would do well to heed the advice given Alice by the Red Queen: “If you want to stay in the same place, you’ve got to keep running. If you want to get anywhere, you’ll have to run twice as fast as that!”
This is exactly the situation we experience in the conventional military world, and it’s an area where evolutionary biologists could provide some counsel. Every military entity has to field its best team, so everyone must keep running just to maintain position. If we want our own force to achieve dominance over the other military entities (whether in combat or in deterrence) then we must work twice as hard. Yet, we all know that there is nothing more expensive than fielding the second-best team on the military chessboard. Cue the Cold War, for example.
Yet this is not simply and not only a conventional force problem.
Asymmetrical forces fight from a weakened (second-best) position, yet they have greater incentive to dominate because any loss (i.e. a misallocation of resource, intentionally or inadvertently) is proportionally greater than a loss for the force currently occupying the superior position, whether militarily, psychologically, or in whatever way or combination of ways that their war is being fought.
Thus, the friend of the second-best force seeking superiority is the will to endure. As long as they keep running, they maintain a fighting presence. As in British Afghanistan, as long as they keep going, they will (eventually) collect their ration of rum.
As the history of asymmetrical wars has demonstrated over and over again, the asymmetrical force shall achieve dominance how, when, and wherever their opponent has given up running – let alone running twice as fast.
This is what many political leaders fail to understand about the military forces they direct (if not actually command): Every battle is not only a battle of wills, but a battle of the *attrition* of will.
Islamist asymmetrical forces fighting against America, NATO, and other “western” Coalitions are prepared to their fight to take generations and centuries. If our politicians are not willing to allow our military more than 8 to 12 years in-theatre, then our politicians have already decided to sacrifice our military men and women merely to make the best of a loss. The old British way of keeping the rum in the van to ensure the soldiers kept running is nothing compared to the present-day Islamist way of keeping the Garden of Allah in the glorious future of marytrs, and the Dar al-Islam in the glorious future of the veterans, in order to ensure the terrorists keep killing.
Clausewitz famously wrote that war is a continuation of politics by other means. When brightly-attired soldiers made snazzy little squares, indeed.
Asymmetrical warfare defines politics as a continuation of war by other means… It’s time we threw out the Clausewitz and called in our Red Teams. It’s time our politicians stop looking at war as something outside of their experience and learn how to run, too.
We no longer have to run twice as fast as the Soviets, but that does not mean we stop running at all. As our recent history has shown, it means we sign up for the marathon.