Monday, March 5, 2007

The Fear Factor

Harper's just posted an Edward Luttwak article from the February print issue on its website. Titled "Dead End: Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice", it makes the case that the Army's new counterinsurgency manual authored by Gen. Dave Petraeus, of Baghdad Surge fame, is basically a crock.

Luttwak agrees that counterinsurgency is a political struggle. But he takes issue with Petraeus' reliance on the received wisdom that better governance can drive a wedge between an insurgency and the general population that sometimes actively, but more often passively, harbors it:

The hidden assumption here is that there is only one kind of politics in this world, a politics in which popular support is important or even decisive, and that such support can be won by providing better government. Yet the extraordinary persistence of dictatorships as diverse in style as the regimes of Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Syria shows that in fact government needs no popular support as long as it can secure obedience.

Luttwak argues that historically, insurgencies have been most effectively denied safe harbor through the adoption of the very tactics used by the insurgents to intimidate the local population into silence or cooperation. Specifically, collective punishment, random retaliation, and the occasional massacre. Tactics used by the ancient Romans, the Ottoman Empire, the Nazi Germans, to mention only a few:

Occupiers can thus be successful without need of any specialized counterinsurgency methods or tactics if they are willing to out-terrorize the insurgents, so that the fear of reprisals outweighs the desire to help the insurgents or their threats.

(It is also, not coincidentally, the method used by Saddam Hussein in the Shiite town of Dujail, for which he was sentenced to death, although Luttwak makes no mention of this.)

For Luttwak, the conclusion is self-evident:

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.

He holds out some hope for the use of mandatory administrative functions (licenses, permits, travel documents, etc.) as a means of coercing the general population into cooperation, but concludes by condemning,

...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 it conquers, even for a few years.

All in all, a pretty scathing indictment of the philosophical underpinnings of what amounts to our last chance in Iraq.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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