Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Middle Ground: On Total War II

Following up yesterday's post regarding Total War in Iraq, Small Wars Journal posts a response from Col. David Kilcullen, currently serving on Gen. Petraeus's staff in Iraq, to an article in Harper's Weekly- Dead End: Counterinsurgency as Military Malpractice.

Col. Kilcullen necessarily and briefly focuses on the complaints Luttwick has regarding the newest counter-insrugency manual, FM 3-24, refuting several by pointing out that Luttwick was reading the "draft" version and several of his complaints had already been addressed.

In reading Luttwak's piece, the first issue is that Luttwak, who has many things to his credit, but fighting an insurgency is not one of them, tends to state things in a very affirmative manner. One such statement:

But while they are willing to wear the uniforms and accept training up to a point, Sunni Arabs are naturally disinclined to help capture or kill insurgents who are fighting to restore the Sunni Arab ascendancy over Iraq. Besides, their families would be in deadly peril if they were suspected of loyalty to their government, and by extension to the Americans. Some of those policemen and soldiers know much about the insurgents and where exactly they might be found, but are still of no help in finding them, precisely because they are insurgents themselves.

This totally ignores current trends in al-Anbar and the surging "Awakening" or "Salvation Council" who have certainly have been fighting al-Qaida. But, more profoundly, he tends to label all he surveys as thus: "Sunni Arabs are naturally disinclined to help capture or kill insurgents who are fighting to restore the Sunni Arab ascendancy over Iraq".

I believe this premis is exactly what leads Luttwak to his conclusions that, since ALL are insurgents, why fight a "counter-insurgency"? Why not simply declare them all the enemy and fight the war in that manner?

In short, he is advocating the same tactics as this previous author, but under a different guise:

The simple starting point is that insurgents are not the only ones who can intimidate or terrorize civilians. For instance, whenever insurgents are believed to be present in a village, small town, or distinct city district—a very common occurrence in Iraq at present, as in other insurgency situations—the local notables can be compelled to surrender them to the authorities, under the threat of escalating punishments, all the way to mass executions. That is how the Ottoman Empire could control entire provinces with a few feared janissaries and a squadron or two of cavalry. The Turks were simply too few to hunt down hidden rebels, but they did not have to: they went to the village chiefs and town notables instead, to demand their surrender, or else. A massacre once in a while remained an effective warning for decades

Apparently, the only successful counterinsurgencies that Luttwak has found were those committed by the most brutal oppressors simply because they were brutal and did not care about public opinion. In fact, he starts out with the successors of Ghengis Khan who equally used "terror" (40,000 heads at the gates of the city) in order to instill fear and quail the population, often before he even arrived.

He goes on to talk about the Romans and their use of "sticks and carrots", but largely focuses on the "sticks". He completely misses, or breezes by, a central point, even in discussing Ottoman rule: the people who don't resist are not necessarily cowed by all the violence, but may, indeed, have eventually accepted the rule of these two empires because there was a political or economic advantage. Or, at the very least, did not significantly change their way of life. For instance, he touches on religion and its influence over people, uniting them for war. There is a historical precedent for Rome trying to inflict its religion on the masses it had conquered, particularly in later years, worshipping Caesar as a god. However, provincial governors were notorious for paying this concept lip service and allowing the masses to practice their religion largely unmolested.

A good example of this is actually written in the bible in the story of Pontius Pilate, the Pharisees and Jesus. While some see Pontius Pilate as having abdicated his responsibilities as a just adjudicator and allowing a wrongly accused Jesus to be crucified, his symbolic "washing" of his hands, interpreted as washing away his guilt by modern Christians, was in fact persuing the usual provincial practic of staying well out of the religious affairs of the subjects. As long as the ruling religious party was satisfied and rebellion turned away. Historically, Pontius Pilate went back to Rome, if not exactly disgraced, hardly a distinguished governor covered in glory and wealth. His governance was plagued by many little uprisings which he put down alternately with political cajoling and, as Luttwick notes, some harsh punishments.

But, the most important aspects of Roman rule were not actually its relying on harsh punishments. It was because these provinces benefited from their interaction with Rome through security and economic development. Traders of silks and spices from the far east would not have seen the small Roman outposts along the infamous Silk Road as an oppressive presence, but a source of security that allowed them to trade and flourish. Roman ships going in and out of ports in the Mediteranean, such as Constantinople and Alexandria, bought and sold goods that fueled local economies.

That is not to say that every subject was happy under the yoke of Rome, but it is quite fantastic to believe that it was simply the fear of reprisals that kept many of the subject nations deferential to the empire. Particularly, as Luttwick notes, since Rome had, in all actually, few legionnaires in comparison to modern armies, covering a very large territory. If, in fact, it was simply reprisals that kept the populace cowed from insurgency, the Romans would have needed a much larger force.

One other problem that Luttwick necessarily breezes over in order to make his point is that, while Rome itself might have had a bare 300,000 legionnaires, the local populace actually formed its own constabulary and local auxillary forces, not inlcuding the legions that were raised out of these subject nations. Many of whom joined for the exact reasons that Luttwick disdains: the benefits of pay and citizenship.

Rome, nor the Ottoman Empire, could exist for hundreds of years simply on the prospects of putting down insurgencies over their entire empires with only exemplifying punishments.

That is not to say that crucifying 6,600 slaves along the Apian way was not an effective deterent to future insurgencies. However, not many years after Pompey ended the last dregs of the insurgency, Gaius Julius Caesar returned from battle, fought a civil war and, during its years, literally bought off many would be resisters. Including an attempt to abolish the use of slaves in businesses in order to provide work for common Roman citizens. He understood the idea that Romans may be attached to their republican ideas and ancient ways, but could be brought to his side by succombing to its benefits. This order was later rescinded, of course, because his wealthy supporters bulked, but the attempt at socio-economic engineering to purchase support should not be ignored. Neither should his rather astute reversal. One could even call it a "political solution".

Again, Luttiwak dismisses this important aspect of "counterinsurgency" in ancient empires in order to make his central point: insurgencies are won or "countered" by equal amounts of "terror", "reprisals" or "collective punishment". The fact that we are politically and ideologically undesiring and incapable of enacting such "terror" on the populace is seen as ceding the entire populace space to the 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. Of course, the ordinary administrative functions of government can also be employed against the insurgents, less compellingly perhaps but without need of violence.

He says there is a way to obtain information on insurgents through natural association with citizens and the government, but he believes this is also ceded because, unlike post World War II Germany and Japan, we did not institute a military governance and take over the day to day activities that would place us in control of those spaces and information. Again, he dismisses the entire purpose of having "joint security stations" or "combat outposts" or "civil affairs patrols and projects" without nary a mention of the increased contact, control and security for the population which necessarily leads to this "intelligence" being shared.

Again, all to get to his central thesis:

All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and 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.

In otherwords, because we are unwilling to kill hundreds of thousands and then press home this advantage over a subjugated nation through tough military governance, Luttwick is declaring counterinsurgency as a complete and utter waste of time and people.

The big "loss".

One point Luttwak makes which has some basis in fact is that, regardless of the political ideology that is being implemented, people can and will fight against what others may see as their "own best interest". It would seem that democracy and freedom are by far more beneficial than living under a tyrant such as Saddam. Yet, as Luttwak points out, the removal of Saddam did not benefit the "Sunni", but tossed them from power. He also points to their co-religious status with the "foreigners" to indicate that this is a stronger bond than any idea on freedom or democracy.

However, I believe that this is a failed evaluation of the Iraq insurgency as well. Not taking in all the permutations of the "insurgency", he fails to comprehend the things that make people fight and the things that, ultimately, separate them from other groups or members of the insurgency as well as provides the wedge by which they can be and are being split from each other politically, materially and militarily. He also fails to recognize that, regardless of how strong an ideology is perceived to be in the general populace, the same things that would make the citizens and government of the occupying country give up the fight, are at work on the insrugent supporting populace of the occupied: casualties, exhaustian, severe economic depression and political in fighting.

Another historical, let us call it, incompleteness, is his reference to Joseph Bonaparte's rule of Spain and the ensuing insurgency:

The very word “guerrilla,” which now refers only to a tactic, was first used to describe the ferocious insurgency of the illiterate Spanish poor against their would-be liberators, under the leadership of their traditional oppressors. On July 6, 1808, King Joseph of Spain presented a draft constitution that for the first time in Spain’s history offered an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and the abolition of the remaining feudal privileges of the aristocracy and of the Church. At that time, abbeys, monasteries, and bishops still owned every building and every piece of land in 3,148 towns and villages, which were inhabited by some of Europe’s most wretched tenants. Despite the fact that the new constitution would have liberated them and let them keep their harvests for themselves, the Spanish peasantry failed to rise up in its support.

He goes on to say that this was because the church used the central thesis that Bonaparte and the French were out to destroy the Catholic religion and, of course, because the occupier of the throne and alleged "liberator" was not Spanish. A central reason why Bonaparte could not rouse the peasants to overthrow their traditional leadership in favor of this grand republicanism. While Catholicism and nationality may have been over-arching ideologies that tied the insurgency together, Luttiwick takes in the "grand scheme" and totally dismisses the reality of an occupying French Napoleon army.

This army did not come into towns and immediately set up provincial, indigenous governments or institute elections. Its first actions, being a foraging army, was to literally steal or demand food, clothing, wine, horses, transportation, etc from the local populace. It raped and pillaged (not quite in the medieval manner, but attrocious none the less) its way through Spain. There was no economic benefit to the occupation and certainly no direct or local presence or shift in ideological governing, thus, no immediate benefit to the local populace.

What good was freedom of the press if the French Army drove by and took all your recently harvested produce and livestock? What good was an independent judiciary if you could not feed your family?

These are the basics at work in Iraq. It is not only survival against the potential murderous actions of the insurgents, but a deep instinct of personal survival against the deprevation of basic needs. One might also add that, had the Spanish Catholic Church instituted the second Inquisition against its own followers in the middle of a rebellion, it would be suffering the same fate as Al Qaida as it kills "apostates", "heretics" and "spies": feared and reviled.

There in lies the truth about insurgencies. For all the ideological ties that bind, a population can and will determine when remaining with the insurgency is no longer beneficial.

In short, incomplete or inaccurate history does not a failed counterinsurgency make.

I'll let Kilcullen reference the Field Manual issues Luttwak degrades.

H/T Mudville

Cross referenced at the Castle

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