Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Small Wars: Religion in Warfare I

Before we begin, I recommend reading, if at all possible and previously not accomplished, the following to catch up on the subject:

Kilcullen on Luttwak's Critique of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual

  • Luttwak's basic points drill down to "kill them all and let God sort them out". Or, in a phrase we've used here - total war. He's recommending it right as an approach right now, while we are in theater, after we have proclaimed the liberation of Iraq. That presents several huge problems to me which I address here:

  • the Middle Ground: On Total War II
  • In my response to Luttwak, I argue that his historical references are incomplete and inaccurate. I believe that he deliberately misrepresented them in order to re-enforce his central thesis, not because they were literally correct. Thus, making his suggestions far from appropriate to consider in a counter-insurgency.

  • The Middle Ground: On Total War I
  • This is my response to another author who also wrote to suggest that we should use or should have used Total War methods in defeating this enemy. Basically, I believe what he was asking was not to fire bomb Dresden, but destroy occupied Paris; or, instead of fire bombing Tokyo or dropping the A-Bomb on Nagasaki, we should have obliterated the Philipines. That is what his suggestions amount to. Note the difference in the places that we laid total waste to compared to those we wage or are prepared to wage street to street battles in. In brief, you destroy the enemy that has declared war on you and you liberate the people who are your allies.

    I am making this point on Luttwak as well. Our entire premise for war is that Saddam was an evil tyrant, an occupier if you would, oppressing his people and we were liberating the people of Iraq from his tyranny. You do not fire bomb the people you are liberating. The time for deciding what and how we would fight this war was at the beginning. We set our posture, now we have to deal with it. We can't even change our minds because we have been declaring the Iraqi people our friends for four years. Now we should murder our friends? It would be Stalingrad or the Warsaw Ghetto except this time with 24/7 media.

    This is not happening.

  • Frank Hoffman, Small Wars Journal: Luttwak's Lament

  • Of course, I like it because it agrees with my original post and comments that I left at Small Wars on Luttwak's lack of historical grasp. Here, though, is where the first real question regarding religion in warfare emerges from beyond the question of "total war". Hoffman extracts it and indicates that it should be addressed as an important aspect of counter-insurgency, which opens up a new can of worms. A basic question is asked: why are we reluctant to address it when it appears to be so strongly entrenched in the enemy?

  • Kilcullen Responds: Religion and Insurgency

  • Kilcullen believes that religion is no more important than other aspects of the insurgency, particularly the political make up, the drive for power and wealth as well as common power structures within local or greater societies. He believes that religion is a cover for the political and geographical desires of the insurgents, whether it is the local variety or the global Islamist variety.

    Frankly, I agree with him in many ways and believe it is important not to get too caught up in the language and ideas of religion. You lose site of what is really at stake and you put yourself in a position where you are arguing with the insurgents' points, some of which are closely held or very close to the faith and opinion of millions. Thus you place yourself in a position to inadvertently call many more the enemy when they are not.

  • Bing West Responds: Quick Note on Religion and Insurgency (with comments from Kilcullen)

  • Bing argues that the religious nature of the enemy makes them, if not, undefeatable, implacable. Possibly, even to the point of requiring, if not "total war", much more robust and violent response. Kilcullen responds that not giving the enemy an "out" makes Bing's predictions self fulfilling: ie, fighting to the death, and ignores the importance of wealth, power, etc outside of religion no matter how devout, that often informs part of the opinion and power base of the insurgents.

    Since all politics are local and counterinsurgency is the practice of pealing off layers of support, not destroying entire communities, it seems much more practical to address the political nature of the enemy.

  • Captain's Journal: Response to Kilcullen

  • The Captain believes that Kilcullen is unnecessarily dismissive of the impact of religion in war in favor of the political language for various reasons -ie, power, wealth, etc- he believes that our current attempts inter-armed forces to be politically correct, not emphasize religion, it's practice or study, puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with religiously driven enemy.

    He contends, more robustly than Hoffman, that we are missing at least half of the war effort because we are inexplicably ignoring it. Which comes back to Hoffman's point regarding whether we are simply too nervous or too socially ingrained with the idea that religion and others' faith is an untouchable to fight a religiously motivated insurgency with any success.

  • I responded to the Captain that I agreed largely with Kilcullen's take that counterinsurgency is largely about politics, that counterinsurgency is the act of pealing away parts of society from supporting the insurgents, and that the importance of religion is based on where it sits in importance within the local power structure:

    And, as Kilcullen points out, it is about where religion sits in the over all power structure of individual societies. In that, I mean, not on a national or ethno-religious basis, but in local society like rural tribes, rural towns, suburbs and cities. In all of these, the importance, position and power of religion depends on the local power structure. For instance, does the Mosque sit above, beside (in tandem or cooperation with), or below the power of the tribal sheikh or town mayor or other power broker in the area (ie, does the mosque exist at the pleasure and with the economic support of this power broker, much as churches of the medieval period were sometimes supported by and financed by the local feudal lord)?

    Thus, our emphasis and approach to attacking the ideology or insurgency on a religious basis is dependent on its position in the social setting we are operating in.

    I have much more to say on this subject, but please start with reading these for the basis of the argument at hand.

    Do you recognize the enemy's religious nature or do you ignore it in favor of the political? What advantages or disadvantages do we suffer?

    One point made over at Small Wars is from a reader who wrote about attacking the pseudo-religious scam of al Qaeda in language.

    Barnett is in favor, I believe, of totally ignoring the religious aspects, but goes on to say that trying to turn the counter-insurgent battle is a dollar short and a day late.

    Additional thoughts on religion in warfare will be forthcoming.

    No comments: