Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Threat Of Protracted Conflict

It's a bit long, but if you have the time and inclination, give Steven Metz's monograph, "Rethinking Insurgencies", a read. It's a brilliant analysis of how 21st century insurgencies differ from 20th century ones, how America's post-9/11 counterinsurgency models are all based on the latter rather than the former, and what an effective response to today's insurgencies would look like.

Metz claims that various historical pressures, including globalization and communication advances, have weakened states' ability to provide security and a cohesive identity to their citizens, as well as meet rising economic expectations. This has in turn created a proliferation of power vacuums. So whereas "old" insurgencies sought to seize areas controlled by the state, "new" insurgencies compete for uncontrolled spaces that the state has been forced to vacate.

Another distinction: old insurgencies were usually binary (the rebels vs. the state) with support from outside sponsors, whereas new insurgencies exist in complex, multi-party environments (militias, criminal organizations, multi-national corporations, ngo's and international media) that Metz compares to violent markets. It's not surprising then that the goal of total victory represented by marching through the capitol city and seizing the reins of state power has now been replaced by that of simply dominating the competition (ie. market share).

Because insurgencies often do mutate into economic enterprises, in particular organized crime syndicates (see Colombia), there are often incentives for maintaining them as a perpetual status quo (see Colombia). But Metz argues that the prolonged violence and breakdown in order they provoke poses a much greater threat to American interests than integrating insurgents into a sustainable power-sharing arrangement:

Given this, the U.S. goal should not automatically be the defeat of the insurgents by the regime (which may be impossible, particularly when the partner regime is only half-heartedly committed to it), but the rapid resolution of the conflict. In other words, a quick and sustainable outcome which integrates most of the insurgents into the national power structure is less damaging to U.S. national interests than a protracted conflict which leads to the complete destruction of the insurgents. Protracted conflict, not insurgent victory, is the threat.

Metz goes on to identify economic development, job creation and women's empowerment as key aspects of an effective counterinsurgency campaign. But he acknowledges that what he's proposing resembles social re-engineering more closely than war. Which is why he warns that "...the United States should only undertake counterinsurgency support in the most pressing instances."

This kind of analysis would have come in handy four years ago, before the start of our misguided Iraq debacle. But it's still pretty timely in light of this Robert Dreyfuss article in The American Prospect describing a broad "Iraqi nationalist coalition" that's in the formative stages right now. If Metz is correct, it might well be our best chance to limit the damage we've done there.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   

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