Thursday, June 23, 2005


Why US Counterinsurgency Strategy in Iraq Will Fail

As a committed Christian, I have set aside violence as a solution to anything. But like most of us, I can't help but be fascinated by the worldview of those who live by the sword. World War II is the counterexample everyone gives. "The Good War", as Studs Terkel might say. It's hard to argue with Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, as a Christian in Nazi Germany, confronted evil head on and concluded that sometimes you just have to shoot the son of a b---h. Still, how many chances were wasted in preventing the rise of extremism in and the rearmament of Germany? And more important, how do these issues play into dealing with Iraq, in which we are centrally involved in committing violence ostensibly to prevent more violence? The Bonhoeffer dilemma is always before us. The more I look at the results of attempting to solve problems by violence, however, the more it seems to me that non-violence is far more powerful. There have been two articles recently that are worth reading. The first is by Peter Maass in the NYT Magazine. This presents a largely positive view of counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq, in which a tough ex-Baathist leads brutal but effective repression under American guidance. The Salvador option. Terrorize, kill in battle, and assassinate until the opposition becomes exhausted. Hope and pray you don't become exhausted first. The key paragraphs: Paramilitary forces have a tendency to become politicized.... In the Middle East and elsewhere, they often serve the interests of the regime or of whatever faction in the regime controls them. ... In a country as riven as Iraq — with Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Turkmen vying for power — a paramilitary force that is controlled by one faction can be a potent weapon against others. That is why the commandos are a conundrum — in the country’s unstable military and political landscape, it is impossible to know where they are heading....Arriving at the correct calibration of military force and political compromise is excruciatingly difficult. Historically, insurgencies have lasted at least 5 to 10 years..." The second article is an inteview of Dick Marcinko, a former SEAL who trains mercenaries. He has a website here. Some key comments from there: But establish a rapport, and work on the hearts and minds in the inner city, and use the Iraqis to do the purging. ... I can see us there in 2010 – just for conversation's sake – with two major installations that would basically be USA fortresses with infirmaries and Mickey D's and those kinds of things." This presents the same vision of counterinsurgency: use locals to do the ugly work, leaving Americans to be at one remove from the actual trigger pulling, and to pet the heads of the colored kids "in the inner city" for good public relations. Americans remain the de facto power and the political system essentially remains a military dictatorship. The counterinsurgency in Iraq will fail because there is no real vision for the emergence of a pluralistic and democratic society. Granted, Marcinko is a soldier and Maass's piece is based on interviews with military. These guys are focused on suppressing violence through the use of even greater amounts of violence, not on "nation building." But the absence of any larger vision is shocking. As any corporate leader can tell you, if you want to know what your company is about, don't ask the vice-presidents. Ask the clerks and the receptionists and the salesmen, because they are the ones that the public sees. The soldiers believe they won the Central American war because the Salvadoran guerrillas were not able to defeat the regular army, because Guatemala remained under right-wing control, and because the Sandinistas were ousted in Nicaragua. But anyone with vision would see these as terrible failures, traumatized societies that will probably remain incapable of significant development for the foreseeable future. Societies which retain long memories of atrocities committed with American complicity, lacking only a bin Laden-like figure to become perfect recruiting grounds for terrorism. The CIA has concluded Iraq has become both a recruiting ground and a training ground for terrorism. The point is that soldiers can never seem to see beyond the battlefield, never able to see that insurgent movements are only really defeated when people are offered a better vision of the future. As in the Balkans, they can smolder over centuries. How many more such battles can we "win"? US bases dominating a puppet regime just don't cut it as an alternative vision. BTW, I did offer a reasonably detailed plan for genuinely winning in Iraq. The one thing it doesn't include is the US dominating Iraq. That's why it will never be tried. Read what the soldiers write. Understand how they see the world. Respect them as having bravery in the face of death. They are, I believe, profoundly wrong. But I say that having done my best to look at things through their eyes.
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