Rich Higgins was a munitions expert who saw a need for his skills in Iraq, where Americans and their allies were being blown up by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). He has written a scathing book called “The Memo” about the denial of reality in the various American administrations he served in.
He put together an team to deal with the IED problem, and they went to Iraq. But:
“…we never had enough resources. Not enough people. Not enough equipment or the right equipment. We felt short-handed and under equipped, and we were always struggling to catch up. We did the best we could and we did very good and very important work. We did as much as we possibly could with what we had.
But we were just a few guys—seven of us on the team. We were working out of a garage behind the FBI building, driving around in a beat-up old pickup, and trying to get a handle on these bombs that are killing hundreds of Americans. We had no resources. Command wasn’t interested in us. It was still focused on the hunt for WMDs and spending, literally, billions on the futile search. They were like those generals on the Western Front in World War One, still dreaming of cavalry charges when the machine gun had changed war and was slaughtering their troops.
We failed to know our enemy. And we failed, for a long time, to appreciate and understand his weapon of choice.”
Rich Higgins says that it is important to identify who we are fighting. The name “war on terror” was misleading. Terror is a tactic”.
Under George W. Bush:
“The Official line from the Pentagon and the rest of the administration, including the White House, was that we were fighting “terrorism” in Iraq. That fallacy, again. Bomb tech training taught me to view any incident or attack through the eyes of the enemy. Hard to do when you refused to acknowledge him and didn’t respect him.”
But did it really matter what we called the war, or the enemy, as long as we were fighting him? Mr. Higgins says it was indeed important. He shows why:
“So the IED attacks were simply random acts committed by terrorists — specifically al Qaeda — and not an organized resistance. We were not, then, facing an insurgency and we didn’t have to create a plan and a structure for dealing with it. It might be necessary to come up with some better armor for our vehicles, so they could survive an IED blast. And we still needed to find those WMDs. But other than that …
Well, like I say, I knew that was wrong. … we had to understand what we were up against and the word for that is . . . “insurgency.” And what follows, logically, is that you adopt counter-insurgency measures and tactics. This means you become a lot more like a police and law enforcement operation and less like a military occupation. You begin depending on police tactics. You develop informers. You make arrests and conduct interrogations. You treat the locations where attacks took place as crime scenes and you mine them for evidence. You provide security for the local populations and develop relationships and rapport with people in the communities and you rely on them for information, which they will be a lot more willing to provide once they feel safe.
These are not the things that the American Army had been trained to do. It considered its mission to be war fighting at the heavy end of the scale and it had gotten very good at it. Success in the two wars against Iraq was testimony to that. But that was conventional, big unit warfare with an emphasis on firepower and maneuver. That’s what was meant by the phrase “shock and awe.”
That doesn’t work when you are fighting an insurgency. At least not when using tactics acceptable to Americans.”
He does say that the Marines have more of a history and tradition for this kind of warfare”. But they too took a while to catch on what was going on in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the IEDs kept going off and we were losing 80 Americans a month and a lot more Iraqis than that. And we were still looking for WMDs.
Our government has had plenty of experience in dealing with insurgencies and, as I have written, there is a counterinsurgency doctrine. But first you have to admit you have a problem and call it, by its right name.
Rich Higgins wrote up his recommendations, which were presented by his boss, Tom O’Connell.And as he was presenting the list, O’Connell used the word “insurgency.”
“Now stop right there,” he is told, by Doug Feith (Undersecretary of Defense). “We are not using that term here in this building.”
Higgins was very frustrated: “ all my work had been waved away, like an annoying fly, because ‘we don’t use that word around here.’
What happens when you are so determined not to accept reality that you won’t even call something by its name. Won’t use the name—in this case “insurgency’-‘—and are ordering people to use other words instead? Ordering them to say “dead-enders” instead of ” insurgents”?
What I witnessed was the creation at the Pentagon of a sort of fantasy world where people not only denied the reality in front of their faces but created a make-believe rhetoric designed to justify their own errors of judgment (to use the kindest description) and further their own agendas and careers. The other beneficiary of this reality denial was al Qaeda, who gladly accepted the credit for the ferocity of the insurgency mounted by Saddam’s former henchmen.”
On reading Higgin’s description above, I am somewhat confused myself. He says the Bush and Obama administrations refused to recognize that Islam has Jihad as a fundamental element, but he also says that they refused to see that the insurrection was of the loyalists of the Saddam’s Hussein’s government, who presumably would not be primarily motivated by religious concerns.
“What replaces reality is what I call ‘the narrative,’ though I wasn’t using that word at the time. It was a while before I came around to a complete understanding of what was going on and how it worked. Before, that is, I began to appreciate the reality of the Deep State. I wasn’t using that phrase, either, back then.
In those days, fairly early in the Iraq war, I still believed that if I could just make the right people listen, then maybe they would understand. But those people, who should have known better, believed in things that were way beyond unrealistic. They were fantasies. Some of those people were sincere in their beliefs. Maybe even most of them. But there was a lot of calculation and political maneuvering. And there were people who tested the wind and went whichever way it was blowing. Human nature is what it is and it doesn’t change.”
Higgins gives examples of huge wastes of money in Iraq, but adds “Meanwhile, I couldn’t get the funding we needed to stand up a task force to hunt down the bomb makers.
Eventually the strategy in Iraq improved, such as the decision to work with tribes who, in return for cash and protection, helped find and “neutralize’ insurgents.
An FBI agent called Rich Higgins to a meeting with other government types, any of them in law enforcement. The briefing started and a speaker said:
“Hey, this is who we are. We’ve been working counterterrorism for five years now. We believe we have a major issue. That issue is. . . we don’t understand the enemy and how he operates.”
I remember thinking, Well, yeah. I guess you could call that an issue.
“We don’t understand Islam. Not the reality. We are in a state of denial.”
First time I’d ever heard anyone put it right out front that way.
“We’re not training our guys adequately and this is causing a lot of problems. And we want to share with you what we’ve found inside our organization and ask you to share a little bit about what you’re seeing inside your own organizations. And we are going to have a couple of folks in here today to brief us on what we are dealing with and what we are denying.”
The briefers were all frustrated by the resistance they were getting from the top where the official line was still, “Islam is a religion of peace.”
Their response, in short, was, “No it is not.”
And they proceeded to explain exactly why.
I listened and as I did, things became very clear. For me, it was in a very real way, a “red pill moment,” like that scene from the movie “Matrix.” The one with the line that goes, “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
That briefing opened my eyes to just how deeply into the rabbit hole of denial we had gone. We had bought into a totally false narrative where Islam was a “religion of peace.” That it had been “hijacked” by radicals who were responsible for 9/11 and other acts of terrorism. And we needed Muslims to come into the Pentagon to explain this to us.”
Studying Islam led Rich Higgins to give a warning that got him into trouble but proved to be right:
“In late 2010, maybe early 2011, for instance, I was accused, in an official and threatening way, of being a racist, xenophobe, and a bigot. It started with an army private named Naser Abdo who went on Al Jazeera with a video in which he’s making all these statements that to the normal ear just sounded like he was complaining about life in the U.S. Army and how he wished it were more multi-cultural and all that sort of stuff. It could be passed off as just the usual soldier bitching but what I and a few others realized was . . . this guy was threatening to attack Americans just like Major Hassan had done at Fort Hood.
On Al Jazeera.
In his army uniform.
He was, straight up, a traitor.
I sent an email, through two channels. First, to the appropriate Pentagon office asking, “Who is this guy and why is he on television and who is his commander and why isn’t he doing something about it? And, oh, by the way, this guy is threatening an attack.” Second, to an email distro list I participated on that included some very influential national security people.
There was never any official response. The distro list response that came back basically said I was not just wrong, but I was making this stuff up because I was a racist and I should be fired for saying it.
Well, about four months after that e-mail exchange, then-specialist Abdo was arrested at Fort Hood, where he had gone to do another terrorist attack. An alert gun store owner caught on to him, and he is now in Colorado at the supermax prison.
The point of that story is that, unless you know Islam and you know what people like that are talking about—where, you might say, they are “coming from”—you can’t understand what they are actually saying. What they are communicating to you. “
So what are Rich Higgin’s recommendations now?
He’s for getting out of Afghanistan:
“The war in Afghanistan is a pure example of the Deep State in action. Whole careers were built on that war. Massive contracts were let out. We constructed all kinds of things in that country. Twelve thousand-foot runways, air-conditioned office complexes… twenty first century infrastructure in a nation where many, many people still lived in mud huts.
The war generated countless conferences, studies, and factfinding missions. We could have papered over the whole country with the reports that were written by all the experts. war was studied and analyzed almost as much as it was fought. It was good for the Pentagon and the State Department and the whole Deep State foreign policy establishment, what some now call “the blob.”
Not so good, though, for the American kids who got sent there to do an impossible job and got blown up and killed, or crippled for life or, even if they weren’t physically injured, came home with PTSD.
We went in there to fight al Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden. We broke up al Qaeda and we chased bin Laden into a hole. It took a while to find where he was roached-up and kill him, but we finally did it.”
“And.. .still, four years after bin Laden’s demise, we were stuck in Afghanistan”
Rich Higgins believes that given the doctrines and strength of Islam in that country, there was no way to win without killing huge numbers of people, which obviously Americans would not want to do. So the remaining option is to leave a hopeless cause.
Rich Higgins supported Trump. Trump wanted to get out of that war, and that was one reason for the support. Rich did not think much of Republicans (or Democrats): He says that Trump’s biggest mistake was not to staff the administration with people who were not on the same wavelength:
“It’s the Republican party that didn’t do the Obamacare thing he wanted. It’s the Republican Party that would not adjourn Congress the first two years of the Trump presidency to allow him to make recess appointments. It’s the Republican Party that fought him on a lot of his policy objectives on immigration, on the Islam issue, and on and on. Guys like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are a far greater threat to Trump’s MAGA agenda than Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer
And the most distressing part is that even when things started to go wrong, he didn’t understand why and he didn’t change. He kept going to the same old roster of conventional old political hacks from the permanent Washington establishment.”
I’m not sure this is completely fair. On Obamacare, for example, it was only three Republican senators that voted against Trump’s efforts to repeal it, the rest voted for him.
But then again, I wasn’t part of the U.S. government, military or president of a company dealing with National Security Threats”, and Rich has been in all three roles. The lessons in his book should be taken to heart.