Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bush in Disneyland

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George W. Bush's grand last stand to "win" in Iraq is unlikely to work, according to Juan Cole (who knows the history and politics of the region better on his worst day than W does on his best). For one thing, guerrilla fighters are more interested in provoking more violence than in holding territory:

... Bush is thinking in terms of a conventional war, where armies fight to hold territory. But if a nimble guerrilla group can come out at night and set off a bomb at the base of a large tenement building in a Shiite neighborhood, they can keep the sectarian civil war going. They work by provoking reprisals. They like to hold territory if they can. But as we saw with Fallujah and Tal Afar, if they cannot they just scatter and blow things up elsewhere.

The other problem: Clear and hold presumes a supportive, cooperative population that remains after the insurgents have been "cleared" out. This is not the case in Anbar:

The clear and hold strategy is not going to work in al-Anbar. Almost everyone there hates the Americans and wants them out. To clear and hold you need a sympathetic or potentially sympathetic civilian population that is being held hostage by militants, and which you can turn by offering them protection from the militants. I don't believe there are very many Iraqi Sunnis who can any longer be turned in that way. The opinion polling suggests that they overwhelmingly support violence against the US.

This strategy may have some successes here and there. It won't win the day, and I'd be surprised if it did not collapse by the end of the summer.

What Prof. Cole is talking about is the heart of counterinsurgency warfare; unfortunately, the U.S. military has very little experience in counterinsurgency, and has not to date shown much interest in learning.

Here is a summary of David Galula's Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.

According to Galula, there are four "laws" of counterinsurgency.

The first law is that the population is paramount. That is, the support of the people is the primary objective of a counterinsurgency campaign. Without the support of the population, it is impossible to root out all the insurgents and stop further recruitment.

Such support is most readily obtained from an active minority. Those willing to actively support a counterinsurgency operation should be supported in their efforts to rally the relatively neutral majority and neutralize the hostile minority.

Having attained the support of the population it is imperative to remember that this support is conditional. What you do matters, and support can be lost if your actions are unfavorable to the population.

The fourth and final law of counterinsurgency regards the "intensity of effort and vastness of means." Because counterinsurgency requires a large concentration of effort, resources,and personnel, it is unlikely that it can be pursued effectively everywhere at once. Rather, action should be taken in select areas, and resources moved as needed. Thus, according to the laws of counterinsurgency, it is important to continuously make efforts at gaining and maintaining the support of the populace in distinct areas by leveraging an active minority.

Cole's point is, It's way too late for any of this in Anbar.

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