Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The History of Insurgency

There has been a lot of chatter amongst the policy, academic, and political world about whether Bush's "escalation" can have a positive effect. The general consensus seems to be a resounding "no", but that doesn't stop the Right from producing their own sort of "scholarship". Today, an article came to my attention that is just the Right sort of obfuscation. In fact, I'm a bit shocked that this article was printed in Foreign Policy as I had thought that the magazine had slightly higher standards of peer review.

The author, Professor Donald Stoker of the US Naval War College's Monterey Program, strongly argues that the history of insurgent success is decidedly negative. That is, insurgencies may create havoc for a period of time, but generally are unsuccessful, as long as the military forces remain for 8-11 years. He cites this "history" as evidence that if the US "stays the course" that we can defeat the insurgents and create a stable, democratic Iraq.

To support his contention that the US can "win", Professor Stoker cites the history of insurgencies in Malaysia, Greece, the Philippines, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, South Africa, Angola, and Peru. Following with the conclusion, that:
If the current U.S. administration maintains its will, establishes security in Baghdad, and succeeds in building a functioning government and army, there is no reason that the Iraqi insurgency cannot be similarly destroyed, or at least reduced to the level of terrorist thugs.
It's a persuasive read until one realizes that he's comparing apples and oranges. Sadly, his list of failed insurgencies all have one thing in common: None of those examples included foreign occupying forces. All were domestic led political movements that used violence to achieve their goals. And yes, while failures, they have little in common with the case of Iraq. Quite simply, his "history" groups together two types of insurgencies: domestic led and foreign occupant. It also notably leaves out the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, although I think most analysts would consider that a draw.

The history of revolutions, or domestic led insurgencies, is ripe with successes and failures and there is a vast body of literature speaking to why they succeed or fail. But that history should not be mixed with the history of anti-occupation insurgencies. Those types of insurgencies are overwhelmingly successful primarily because the occupying power is unwilling to absorb the costs, the insurgent forces have ideology that allows them to absorb "unreasonable" costs, and military strategies without political solutions never solve the motivations for insurgencies.

The French experience in Algiers is one of the great examples of how insurgencies can effectively resist a foreign power, even with extremely primitive weapons. The Algerians used a variety of tactics, including the international media, to push the French out and in 1962 they "won" and the French booked it out of there. The costs to the French government was much lower than the costs to the US government in Iraq, but the reality was the same. As the insurgency dragged on, two things became clear: pacification was the only type of "victory" the French could hope to have, and the French public wasn't willing to suffer the long term costs (budgetary, perceptual, and of lives lost).

Some may see this example as demonstrating that the longer you stay, the better chance you have of "winning" against an insurgency. That may be true, depending on how you define, "winning". If winning is establishing a virtual police state that responds swiftly and forcefully to hostile insurgents and demands a permanent foreign military presence, then yes, we can "win" in Iraq. But if winning implies Bush's vision of a peaceful, integrated, and democratic Iraq as Professor Stoker describes, then the history is clear. We'll not have that as long as we occupy the nation.

Perhaps Professor Stoker should have consulted David Edelstein's excellent 2004 International Security article entitled, "Occupational Hazards: Why Military Occupations Succeed or Fail" (Vol 29, No 1, Summer). Sadly I no longer have a copy of this article on my hard drive, nor do I have the access required to re-read it. However, from memory, the basic conclusion is that in the post-WW2 era, the experience of foreign based occupations has been extremely negative for the occupiers. The US had Vietnam, the Soviets had Afghanistan, the French had Algiers, the Israelis have Palestine, the UK had India, etc, etc, etc. In all cases, occupations have failed. I see no reason why Iraq is different.

(Edelstein has since expanded his article to a full length book study which will be published in 2007.)

Further, Professor Stoker uses his selective version of history to justify Bush's escalation strategy in Iraq stating that "the strategy of “surging” troops could offer a rare chance for success". He believes that securing Baghdad is critical to beating the insurgency as long as the US military doesn't allow the insurgents back into "secure" areas. But this premise fails the lessons of history. Insurgent or guerrilla forces don't have territory, nor do they need it. Instead, they see to wreak havoc on the occupiers in whatever way they can.

Nor is it likely that "security" can stop an insurgency. The French had incredible security measures in Algiers including physical checkpoints (pat down searches), but the "insurgents" were still able to smuggle bombs into the French quarter and blow up civilians. The Colombians have military checkpoints all across the country, which, while improving the security situation in big cities, still can't stop the violence, as September's bombing of the Universidad Militar here in Bogota demonstrated. The Israeli's have perhaps the most extensive anti-terrorism security infrastructure in the world and they're no better at stopping the violence than anyone else. The history of insurgent violence leads most anti-terrorism experts to universally agree that security alone is not a remedy for terrorism.

In conclusion, I find Professor Stoker's article to be poor scholarship and poorly argued. A magazine like Foreign Policy should have higher standards of peer review if it wants to be taken credibly. Any thorough examination of the history of insurgency is sure to lead one to conclude that there is absolutely no hope in Iraq as long as the US remains an occupying force.



Blogger RoseCovered Glasses said...


USA Today reported on 16 January 2007 in its Washington Section that the CIA plans to utilize more open sources and blogs in its intelligence work and outsource more of its intelligence software development to commercial contractors in an attempt to re-establish itself as the premiere world intelligence agency.

The "Strategic Intent" is posted on the CIA public web site. Defense Industry Daily further reports that General Electric is gobbling up Smith's Industries for $4.8B.

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak. Let's look at this for a moment and do our patriotic duty by reading along with the CIA (after all, they have announced they are reading this blog)

1. The new CIA approach comes exactly at the formation of the agency’s new "External Advisory Board", which consists of the following:

* A former Pentagon Chairman of the Joints Chief who is now a Northrop Grumman Corporation Board Member

* A deposed Chairman of the Board of Hewlett Packard Corporation (HP)

* A Former Deputy Secretary of Defense who now heads up a Washington think tank with Henry Kissinger

2. Northrop Grumman Corporation and Hewlett Packard are two huge government contractors in the Pentagon and CIA custom software development arena. Their combined contracts with the government just for IT are in the multiples of millions. I wonder what the advisory board is filling the CIA's ear with?

3. Washington "Think Tanks" are fronts for big time lobbies, sophisticated in their operations, claiming non-partisanship, but tremendously influential on K Street. If a lobby cannot buy its way in, why not sit on the advisory board?

4. GE already has the military aircraft jet engine market. In buying Smith's, it takes one more major defense corporation out of the opposition and further reduces the government's leverage through competition. GE now joins the other monoliths such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon with tremendous leverage in the $500B +++ per year defense market.

5. Note the synergy that now exists between the Pentagon and the CIA. Note the influence by the major corporations.

6. Also note the balance in your bank account and your aspirations for the generations of the future. Both are going down.

7. The huge Military Industrial Complex (MIC) continues to march. Taxes and national debt will be forced to march straight up the wall to support it. Do you have any "Intelligence” to offer the Pentagon, the CIA and the MIC? For further inspiration please see:

12:38 PM  

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