Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Dead End

I just finished an article from Harper’s Magazine from the February 2007 issue called Dead end: Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice. The thesis is that all current counter-insurgency doctrine is fatally flawed because it fails to account for the true terrain of a counter-insurgency – the people. Failing thus, it fails to solve the essential problem of counter-insurgency. The central problem is not at it’s core a military problem, but a political one. If the counter-insurgency fails to control (notice I did not say win over) the people, then the effort to stop the insurgency will fail. This has been amply demonstrated in Afghanistan (both now, 25 years ago, and 150 years ago) Vietnam, and of course, Iraq.
But here is the bite. There is a viable solution to an insurgency that requires (comparatively) few troops. The Romans used it to great effect, as did the Ottomans and the Nazis. That is to out-terrorize the terrorists. I say that it is viable because it is affordable (in the sense of outlay of treasury, troop deployment and lives of soldiers) and has been proven effective. To put it simply, the occupying troops utilize selective and total retaliation against the civilian population for any perceived cooperation with the insurgents. Pretty soon, the civilians stop shielding the insurgents. There is no profit in it. Without the skeleton and armor provided by the civilians, the insurgency crumbles.
This we will not do. Nor ought we. And here is our true failure.
Our failure is not that we fail to oppress civilians. Our failure is that we want to wage war without taking responsibility for the outcome. The end of the article briefly outlines one other option – military government. We have also opted out of this approach.

“That decision reflects another kind of politics, manifest in the ambivalence of a United States government that is willing to fight wars, that is willing to start wars because of future threats, that is willing to conquer territory or even entire countries, and yet is unwilling to govern what I conquers, even for a few years.

Recall the outcome of WWII, and you will realize that we actually RULED part of Germany, most of Italy, all of Japan for years. We made no bones about it. We invested and did it right and created from the ground up the infrastructure for democracy. Democracy cannot be merely planted, it seems. It must be planted and carefully cultivated for it to be able to take root. This is our failure. By looking for the quick fix, the weeds are choking out the wheat, and unwilling to take the mower to the whole lot, we will eventually have to abandon the entire field to the wild thistles, brambles and witchgrass.

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