Why Another Blog?

I've decided to set up another blog, (my other one is called Writer's Musings), because there are some topics just too weighty for that blog.

So here it is. In this space I'll explore more serious issues in more detail. I do not expect visitors to agree with me in all cases.
In this forum feel free to take off the gloves, grab a handful of mud and fight for what you believe in.

Simple rules, rather like cage-fighting in the blogosphere:
No direct name calling. No excessive profanity. No whining when smacked in the face with mud.
Sling inuendo. Feel free to ask leading questions even if in a snide tone.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Insurgency: A Primer for Those Who Watch From the Sidelines

Insurgency: a protracted political-military activity conducted by an organized movement seeking to subvert or displace the government and completely or partially control the resources and/or population of a country through the use of force and alternative political organizations. (Department of State Publication 11456, p.9, October 2007)

The operative and controlling words here are “protracted” and “political-military.” Here is where the American public is misled by both the current Administration and the liberal media. On the one hand, the Administration promises a “quick victory” given our obvious technical and tactical superiority. And I say that with no sarcasm intended. On the other hand, the media rails that “things are going badly” every time a car bomb goes off or we take casualties. In part, the media is speaking from ignorance, but the media also speak from their peculiar world view in which the United States is always the bad guy.

It is important to understand why an insurgency is necessarily protracted. The answer is quite simple. The insurgent, recognizing his limitations and relative weakness, has no choice but to think in strategic long-range terms. If the insurgent openly confronts the established authority, he risks destruction. Therefore the insurgent seeks to avoid open confrontation, choosing instead to pick fights he feels certain to win. He must live to fight another day, or his cause is lost. He is fighting for survival first, his long-range goals second. It is in the insurgent’s interest to prolong the struggle as long as possible.

The established authority, the Iraqi government, Afghan government, US and NATO, want to end the conflict quickly. They want to openly confront the insurgent because they have superior capability. An open confrontation will result in the enemy’s annihilation and an early end to the insurgency. Additionally, the established authority is not immediately at risk. They are not fighting for their immediate survival. Hence they often fall into the mistake of taking expedient measures that entail risk or are counter-productive in the hopes of bringing about a quick resolution.

What happens then is that the insurgent, because he has no choice, is planning and thinking long-term and strategically, but also acting tactically. The established authority is only thinking near-term and tactically, giving little thought to the strategic. If the established authority manages to get the insurgent into the open so he can be defeated, that works fine. But far too often the insurgent is too smart to allow this. After all, at the tactical level, the insurgent is fighting for his immediate survival. For the sake of his cause, he must live to fight another day.

The political-military aspect of the definition lies in both the goals and means insurgents employ. A critical differentiation between a pure terrorist and an insurgent lies in the desired end-state. An insurgent seeks to replace the existing order with something else. A terrorist does not necessarily seek to replace the existing order with a different system.

The order of the words in “political-military” is also instructive. An insurgency is, first and foremost, a political movement. The military half of the term is just one of the tools used by the insurgent to accomplish the political goals. Insurgent activity is designed to weaken government control and legitimacy. Methods for weakening government control include guerilla warfare, terrorism, and political mobilizations, propaganda, recruitment and training, front and covert party organization, and international activity. Note that the majority of methods are not violent. Violence plays a role, but that violence is in support of the political aspects of the insurgent campaign.

Therefore fighting an insurgency must be first and foremost a political act. The authorities must recognize the need to think long-term and strategically. The expectation from the outset must be that the conflict will be protracted. It will take time. Too often, the authorities set the expectation that the fight will be short. When it then becomes protracted, the government’s credibility suffers. The Bush Administration comes immediately to mind.

The Bush Administration was correct in saying that the conventional fight against the Taliban government and the Saddam regime would be quick. Neither regime had a chance to against US forces in modern conventional warfare. As things proved out, that portion of the conflict was quick and with minimal loss of life. However, the assumption that neither enemy would resort to insurgency or that any resulting insurgency would be short-lived was ill-advised. The only way to have prevented the insurgency in Iraq would been to properly prepare for it prior to the invasion. We did not.

Once the insurgency in Iraq began, we reacted with short-sighted policy and ill-advised tactics because there wasn’t an understanding of the cultural and political forces in play on the ground.

The same is true, though to a lesser extent in Afghanistan. We benefited from the fact that the Northern Alliance did most of the work on the ground. It was Northern Alliance tanks that first entered Kabul, not American tanks. Although our airpower was in play from the beginning, our ground power was not. Therefore the arrival of our ground forces was seen as supporting, rather than replacing the Afghan authority. And that is how counter-insurgency should be fought. Let the locals do it.

In the words of T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia (I may not have the quote exactly, but it is one of my favorites): “It is better to let the locals do it in their imperfect way, than for you to do it for them in a perfect way. After all, it is their country and your time is short.”

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