Friday, February 09, 2007

Assigning the Strongest Armed Forces of the World to Occupation Duty

Is Committing Military Malpractice
My third epistle from the fine mind of Edward Luttwak is drawn from the current edition of Harper's Magazine. Against our experience in Iraq, his piece is a biting critique of America's evolving military doctrine as put forth in a draft field manual, FM 3-24 on counterinsurgency written by James N. Mattis (USMC) and David H. Petraeus (US Army).

Luttwak attacks as an underexamined proposition of the new doctrine that
. . .a necessary if not sufficient condition of victory is to provide what insurgents cannot: basic public services, physical reconstruction, the hope of economic development and social amelioration . . . a politics in which popular support is important or even decisive, and that such support can be won by providing better govenment.
Luttwak cites places such as North Korea, Lybia, Cuba and Syria where "government needs no popular support as long as it can secure obedience". He also cites Afghanistan and Iraq
where many people prefer indigenous and religious oppression to the freedoms offered by foreign invaders.
Such an altruistic offer is foreign to their experience:
The vast majority of Afghans and Iraqis naturally believe their religious leaders. The alternative would be to believe what is for them entirely unbelievable: that foreignors are unselfishly expending blood and treasure in order to help them. They themselves would never invade a country except to plunder it, the way Iraq invaded Kuwait, thus having made Saddam Hussein genuinely popular for a time when troops brought back their loot.
The second under-examined and facile assumption is that it is a simple matter of intelligence to distinguish 'insurgents' from the general population. A first-class, global power like ourselves tends to overrely on technology, entailing:
the use of ultra-sophistocated and very expensive F-15s and F-18s with the most advanced sensors to detect and track the man, the boy, and the donkey who may or may not be transporting an "improvised explosive device" to its intended emplacement . . . . the targets are always unstable, elusive, and low-contrast - even if identifiable as they are.
In the case of Iraq, insurgents are part-timers: part of the time they serve in our puppet government's army or police to earn some cash 'to put food on their family'; part of the time they sell their government-issued uniform and ordinance for the same reason; part of the time they place IED's, assumeably to earn security for their family. Whatever the market indicates, right?

Finally, nothing much really needs to be said about the profound deficit in human intelligence under which our occupation forces struggle, "with the astonishing linguistic incapacity" interms of Arabic- and Persian-speaking personnel. Our occupation forces have had to make do with 'sectarian-neutral' Iraqi "translators"!

So, the circumstances are piled high with these difficulties. Luttwak asks, why is the greatest fighting machine in the service of the world's greatest democracy frustrated in Mesopotamia? Especially since there is, he says, there an easy and reliable way of defeating all insurgencies everywhere:
Perfectly ordinary regular armed forces, with no counterinsurgency doctrine or training whatever, have in the past regularly defeated insurgents, by using a number of well-proven methods. It is enough to consider these methods to see why the armed forces of the United States or of any other democratic country cannot possibly use them.

The simple starting point is that insurgents are not the only ones who can intimidate or terrorize civilians . . . local notables can be compelled to surrender insurgents to the authorities under the threat of escalating punishments, all the way to mass executions.
That’s how the Turks held on to the Ottoman empire and the Romans their empire. An occasional “massacre” kept people in line for decades; killing everyone who resisted; selling those captured on the battlefield into slavery. The ancients relied on deterrence, periodically reinforced by exemplary punishment. Terrible collective reprisals allowed the Germans armed forces to cow entire populations of occupied countries with economy of force during World War II.

The success of insurgencies is based upon using this same viciousness against its host population. Thus, the Viet Cong had
its enthusiasts, “fellow travelers,” and opportunistic followers, but Vietnamese who were none of the above, and not outright enemies, were compelled to collaborate actively or passively by the threat of violence so liberally used. That is exactly what the insurgents in Iraq are now doing, and this is no coincidence. All insurgencies follow the same pattern. Locals who are not sympathetic to begin with, who cannot be recruited to the cause, are compelled to collaborate by fear of violence, readily reinforced by the demonstrative killing of those who insist on refusing to help the resistance. Neutrality is not an option.
After their Indochinese debacle at Dien Bien Phu, the French tried to match the NLF with terror, torture, and massacre in Algeria; the experience was so corrupting of their army and government that the 4th Republic fell amidst the stench of fascism. Luttwak writes,
By contrast, the capacity of the American armed forces to inflict collective punishments does not extend much beyond curfews and other such restrictions, inconvenient to be sure and perhaps sufficient to impose real hardship, but obviously insufficient to out-terrorize insurgents. Needless to say, this is not a political limitation that Americans would ever want their armed forces to overcome, but it does leave the insurgents in control of the population, the real “terrain” of any insurgency.
Luttwak concludes that the
ambivalence of a United States . . . 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 it conquers, even for a few years. Consequently, for all of the real talent manifested in the writing of FM 3-24 DRAFT, its prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and the blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principled and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents, the necessary and sufficient condition of a tranquil occupation.