Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 16, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

INSURGENCIES REVISITED....I've observed in the past that the post-WWII record of major military powers fighting overseas insurgencies is almost uniformly dismal: the French failed in Algeria, the United States failed in Vietnam, and the Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan. The only sizable exception is the British in Malaysia, and even that lesson is of limited use. The British used techniques in Malaysia that simply aren't acceptable to world opinion any longer, and even at that it took them a very long time to beat the communist insurgency there.

But is the record of insurgencies really that bad? The blogger formerly known as Praktike, emailing from his new perch as web editor of ForeignPolicy.com, says I should check out a piece by Donald Stoker on exactly this subject. Stoker says the surge in Iraq might work and points to history to make his case:

History is not without genuine insurgent successes....But the list of failed insurgencies is longer: Malayan Communists, Greek Communists, Filipino Huks, Nicaraguan Contras, Communists in El Salvador, Che Guevara in Bolivia, the Boers in South Africa (twice), Savimbi in Angola, and Sindero Luminoso in Peru, to name just a few.

Unfortunately, this really doesn't have much analytic power. Aside from Malaysia, only two of these insurgencies directly involved a big foreign power (South Africa and the Philippines) and they took place 50 and 100 years ago respectively. The others are all insurgencies that were defeated by local governments. Those governments may have had help from outside, but they did the primary fighting themselves.

Basically, since 1960, not a single major military power has had any success fighting directly against an overseas insurgency. Maybe, as Stoker says, this is just coincidence. But big military powers are 0 for 3 in the past 50 years, and Iraq is darn close to making it 0 for 4. (Afghanistan is still up in the air.) That's a helluva coincidence.

Kevin Drum 11:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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Kevin,

It is because our strategy (and the strategy of all failed foreign counterinsurgencies) is knocking down doors, rather than knocking on doors. That small and simple act right there is the deciding factor between the winner and the loser.

Posted by: Dan on January 16, 2007 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

More Defeato-crat talk from the usual source. Have you even read Stoker's piece?

Haven't you heard that the Mahdi army has agreed to lay low, to allow the surge to work it's effects? That leaves the main perpetrators of the insurgency dead-end Baathists and their ilk. Iraqis are tired of their socialism and their terror tactics. Once the populace goes over to the American side, the insurgency quickly loses its support.

This isn't going to be an overnight success, but Rome wasn't built in a day. What we need to put a stop to is all the defeatist rhetoric from the other side of the isle.

Posted by: egbert on January 16, 2007 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

Beg to differ.

Relatively small as they both are, so far it looks like the IRA has been overcome in Ireland and they're getting close with ETA in Spain.

In both cases the solution has a political base.

I'm not an expert, but I'm going to generalize and say that one of the preconditions of defeating an insurgency is separating the insurgency from their support, or bringing about conditions where their support among the people is withdrawn from the insurgency.

The problem with Iraq now is that it is marginally an insurgency and more importantly a civil war where there are 2 distinct factions -- not to mention all the subfactions -- which will each continue to offer support to their own insurgency/civil faction as long as they feel threatened by the other.

It's a much more complicated situation, but the answer still lies in the politics, not in the US forcing them to ground for a while; that's just buying (a short) time.

Posted by: notthere on January 17, 2007 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

egbert --

which side of what "isle" are you on.

Sure. If the US just go after the Sunnis and leave the Shias alone, or just Sadr's army alone, that'll really reassure people and win friends.

Just keep smoking everything on your Christmas isle 'til you can't get off.

Posted by: notthere on January 17, 2007 at 12:07 AM | PERMALINK

If you haven't already, check out David M. Edelstein (Georgetown), who has written a lot of comparative analysis on occupations, and has most recently written extensively on the occupation in Iraq in particular.

Posted by: Jesse on January 17, 2007 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

Of that list, how many were home-grown insurgencies and how many were being driven by outside forces? The Greek Communists were heavily supported by the Yugoslavs, Nicaraguan Contras were pretty much right-wing deathsquads with US backing, Che Guevara was leading a Cuban army in Bolivia.

Except for the Sindero Luminoso in Peru, which was pretty much indiginous, I'm not sure how many of these are just proxy wars backed by a larger power.

And the success of astroturf insurgencies goes back to the discussion a few threads down... Are they legitimate? If there aren't legitimate grievances, they won't be supported by the populace and they will lose.

Posted by: Wapiti on January 17, 2007 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

I think the more important question to ask is WHY the insurgents, who should be more properly called resistance fighters, are fighting the United States military. I strongly suspect that it may have something to do with the Iraqis wishing to fight against a country that is illegally occuping their land. Nir Rosen, writing in The Atlantic in 2005, said that the only reason that the Sunni Arabs, and the religious leaders who are in agreement with them, gave for fighting the Americans is one word: intiqaam, which is Arabic for revenge, revenge for the atrocities that have been committed against the Iraqis and the deaths that have been incurred by their families and friends at the hands of the Americans. As Rosen logically points out, "If the occupation were to end, so, too, would the insurgency. After all, what the resistance movement has been resisting is the occupation. Who would the insurgents fight if the enemy left?"

Posted by: Erroll on January 17, 2007 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

notthere >"...I'm not an expert, but I'm going to generalize and say that one of the preconditions of defeating an insurgency is separating the insurgency from their support, or bringing about conditions where their support among the people is withdrawn from the insurgency..."

Mao`s fish in the pond. Drain the pond and the fish die

notthere >"...It's a much more complicated situation, but the answer still lies in the politics..."

sound of hammer squarely hitting nail

"...playin with matches in a pool of gasoline..." - Swamp Mama Johnson

Posted by: daCascadian on January 17, 2007 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

The First and Second South African (Boer) Wars aren't even good examples. For one, the first phase of the Second Boer War was won by the British quite quickly, as it was fought conventionally. However, the second phase was a guerella conflict, and the Brits had to employ the use of CONCENTRATION CAMPS against civilian Boer populations - 40,000 Afrikaners died as a result. Does Bush really want to try it?

Second, even though the Boers officially lost those insurgent conflicts against the British, they won the country, as those Afrikaner leaders who lead the war also led the new Dominion of South Africa, and eventually seceded from the Commonwealth all together. Sure, the Brits beat them militarily, but the Afrikaners won in the long run.

The parallels with Iraq are not hard to see.

Posted by: Everblue Stater on January 17, 2007 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

Basically, since 1960, not a single major military power has had any success fighting directly against an overseas insurgency.

We did much better back in the old days, against the Indians.

I think the answer you are looking for is this: Conquering armies are only welcomed by the compromised few. As occupiers, they have all the vulnerabilities of armies trying to hold onto territory that they do not own, in lands where they do not belong.

No surge is going to change that.

Posted by: Buzzy on January 17, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

You're right, Stoker is full of shit. He cites an 8 to 11 year window but then implies somehow the McCain/Lieberman surge will be able to do this faster. Iraq is now a many on many war, where the US is the convenient unifying target. There's no way to stop it without genocide which is really what Stoker's "successful counter-insurgency" operations amount too. Let's get back to Wesley Clark's plan, diplomacy works. Condi could have stable relations with Syria if Team Bush had any interest in the low hanging fruit offered to them. For some reason they were willing to take the Libya weapon concessions, and yet they won't take the Syrian peace offerings. It's as if they already made their decision to wage a regional war.

Posted by: patience on January 17, 2007 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin is right to point out the diminished relevance of long-ago insurgencies. Between then and now one obvious and important thing has changed dramatically: personal weapons are far more plentiful, and far more lethal, than they ever have been before in human history.

This matters because the decisive asymmetry in asymmetric warfare is not the one that exists between an insurgency and the forces of an established government (or an occupying army). It is instead the asymmetry between the power of an organized, well-armed insurgency to inflict damage on the unorganized, less well-armed civilian population, and the power of civilians to resist. This means that insurgencies, once begun, are almost impossible to stamp out -- all the approved means of undermining support for insurgents by reaching out to the civilian population can be trumped by insurgents' resort to terror.

We are seeing now in Iraq, incidentally, that this asymmetry is relevant to more than just the occupation. Effectively, the Sunni Arab insurgency and Shiite militias are taking advantage of it, by conducting their war against one another in the form of repeated attacks against unarmed civilians. Neither can effectively protect the civilians on its own side, whose only recourse is to flee as far from the contested area as possible.

Aspiring counterinsurgents have a number of options before an insurgency gets organized. Our problem is that we are well past that point in Iraq. Eventually the contending factions will become exhausted, through depletion of their leadership and armaments and (for the Sunni Arabs) the departure of much of the population on whose behalf Sunni Arab groups are fighting. We cannot say when that point will be reached, and we have no way to bring Iraqis closer to it ourselves. The only way the new counterinsurgency program can succeed in Iraq is if we get very lucky.

Posted by: Zathras on January 17, 2007 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you're qualification "since 1960" is crucial to your point. The Nazis fought extremely successful counterinsurgencies throughout Europe, though we probably don't think of them that way because the uprisings were nipped in the bud so quickly - and brutally. The Nazis didn't really bother or care about "hearts and minds" nonsense. In occupied France, for example, where the Nazis were relatively nice, if one German soldier was killed by the resistance, then 5 French men were executed immediately, no questions asked. Or worse. Sometimes entire villages were executed. And the Nazis were much more brutal in other parts of Europe. Leaving aside the Jews, who the Nazis were planning to kill no matter what, the occupied populations across Europe were controlled extremely effectively. Why? Because the Nazis didn't care about hearts and minds.

So that's how you win an insurgency. The idea that a people's "heart and mind" could be won by a foreign military power is incredibly condescending. Why would any society allow itself to be ruled in this way? No, the only way to win a counterinsurgency is though extreme brutality. So unless we're prepared to act like Nazis in Iraq, we shouldn't kid ourselves any more. We should withdraw our troops and stop pretending that our contemporary moral standards (one hopes) would allow us to practice the cruelty necessary to squash an insurgency.

Posted by: Matt D on January 17, 2007 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

I've observed in the past that the post-WWII record of major military powers fighting overseas insurgencies is almost uniformly dismal

Typical that a lib doesn't remember the Birtish success in the Falklands....

Posted by: Disputo on January 17, 2007 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

Malayan Communists, Greek Communists, Filipino Huks, Nicaraguan Contras, Communists in El Salvador, Che Guevara in Bolivia, the Boers in South Africa (twice), Savimbi in Angola, and Sindero Luminoso in Peru,

If only we could name the enemy in Iraq.

Aside from Malaysia, only two of these insurgencies directly involved a big foreign power

Not only that, but the big foreign powers lost several of the other seven conflicts to local governments. Insurgency or counterinsurgency -- it pays to have local support.

Posted by: B on January 17, 2007 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

Does the Philippine-American war count as an insurgency? I'd think that eventually it devolved to that.

Posted by: Wagster on January 17, 2007 at 12:47 AM | PERMALINK

"...one of the preconditions of defeating an insurgency is separating the insurgency from their support, or bringing about conditions where their support among the people is withdrawn from the insurgency."

Two classic ways to bring about conditions where the "support among the people is withdrawn from the insurgency." is to either a.) buy them off, or 2.) make them answerable to the conditions.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on January 17, 2007 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

Though not disputing any atrocities as matter of fact, Matt D does not actually state the principles of occupation as considered to be viable in the long term as argued by the Wehrmacht, who considered civilian retribution as counterproductive.

So extreme brutality is not the only way to deal with the local populace. Unfortunately it's a little late for the US to change their spots for that is how they are now perceived.

But we don't begin to understand the locals. I listened to a colonel returned from Iraq who had been involved in training Iraqi forces. He learned before going never to tip his hand to one side or the other, not to shake hands first with one person, not to invite any one leader into his office, etc., etc. The administration, if they ever learned this, are pursuing a course that seems to favor the Shias. Maliki is plainly for revenge.

What would you be planning for if you were a Sunni?

Posted by: notthere on January 17, 2007 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

Disputo --

The Falklands war was fought between regular forces, and the Argentinians were good enough to keep the populace out of it.

Posted by: notthere on January 17, 2007 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

Donald Stoker: But it was not the mujahidin’s strength that forced the Soviets to leave; it was the Soviet Union’s own economic and political weakness at home.

Afghanistant wasn't important enough to commit the full will and power of the Soviet Union to the war; it was important enough for the mujahidin to make that commitment. That made--and makes--all the difference in the world. So yeah, the mujahidin outlasted the Soviets--which is the story repeated throughout history when it comes to insurgencies. What else is new?

In fact, the regime the Soviets established in Afghanistan was so formidable that it managed to survive for three years after the Red Army left.

Yes, "survive" is an appropriate term, since that regime didn't control much outside of Kabul. In any case, being a ruthless SOB may contribute to survival in the short term, but is no indicator of capability, legitimacy, or longevity.

But the strategy of “surging” troops could offer a rare chance for success—if the Pentagon and the White House learn from their past mistakes.

Rare is an understatement. There is no indication that it will either outlast the insurgency, or that it is based on learning from past mistakes.

But the administration has done such a poor job of managing U.S. public opinion, to say nothing of the war itself, that it has exhausted many of its reservoirs of support. One tragedy of the Iraq war may be that the administration’s new strategy came too late to avert a rare, decisive insurgent victory.

The administration has not rallied the country's commitment for the "long war". That is the same problem that has stymied virtually every counterinsergency effort.

In short, Stoker's added nothing new here, and nothing to suggest that this "surge" will produce a result different than a reading of history suggests. What he wants to believe is that with a full commitment of the US to Iraq, that we can prevail. And if that were the case, and if we had an administration that was capable of convicing the US public, we might very well prevail. But at best, he's engaging in wishful thinking.

Posted by: has407 on January 17, 2007 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting list.

Isn't it safe to say that the development of independent states and the phased withdrawal of big foreign powers was instrumental in knocking the wind out of the insurgencies in the Philipines and Malaysia?

And googling Louis Botha, I find out that a few years after last Boer war a Boer general and guerilla leader became the prime minister of Transvaal and then Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa.

Posted by: B on January 17, 2007 at 1:13 AM | PERMALINK

It strikes me that this thread is struggling mightily to homologize the various insurgencies discussed and discern a common manner they were "defeated". I would suggest that there have been many unique and different "insurgencies", stemming from many different motivations, and ending with many different results. I would also suggest that a careful reading of history lends the thought that insurgencies are only ever defeated if they are relatively minor in scope and power, and they are simply exterminated; rather the only true way to "defeat" a significant insurgency is to co-opt them and bring them into the political fold of the given situation and resolve their grievances. Northern Ireland is probably the best recent example. Furthermore, there is a big distinction between temporally suppressing and insurgency and defeating an insurgency. Poster Matt D, above, provides a pretty amusing analogy of this when he states that the brutality of the Nazis against the French "is how you win an insurgency". Obviously, that is directly contradicted by history. The French are still with us, the Nazis are not, and the French Underground Resistance played a significant role in that result. That is a prime example of a temporal suppression (at best; truth is the French Resistance was continuously active); not defeat of an insurgency. A true insurgency/resistance movement must be dealt with politically and sociologically not militarily.


Posted by: bmaz on January 17, 2007 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

Matt D: The idea that a people's "heart and mind" could be won by a foreign military power is incredibly condescending.

Winning "heart and mind" requires not being perceived as a "foreign military power". That is the essential difference between counterinsurgency "heart and mind" warfare and traditional "military power" warfare.

Posted by: has407 on January 17, 2007 at 1:59 AM | PERMALINK

Read the Wiki on the American occupation of the Philippines, grim stuff.

Insurgencies can be defeated and under certain unimaginably rare circumstances (think Alien Space Invasion, Bird Flu Pandemic with a mortality rate of over 50%) I'd probably countenance those measures and just say "Fine. After it's over I'll go to prison for ever." But that is not the case here. Not even a little bit. And a lot of those insurgencies did not involve many neighboring countries in a regional war where the greatest deposits of one of the two most vital resources on the planet is located.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 17, 2007 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

The others are all insurgencies that were defeated by local governments. Those governments may have had help from outside, but they did the primary fighting themselves.

As I understand it, the Iraqi government and a number of Iraqi troops are also participating in this conflict against the insurgency.

Posted by: harry on January 17, 2007 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

That's why there are 200 different countries in the Olympics these days.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on January 17, 2007 at 3:14 AM | PERMALINK

When is an insurgency not an insurgency ?

If we are to count Che Guevara in Bolivia, what about the red brigades in Italy, the Red army faction in Germany and the Simbionese liberation army in the USA ? One crazy guy can consider himself an insurgency and his chances of victory are low.

The question is how many insurgencies which are comparable to the Iraqi Sunni insurgency have won.
Actually, I would guess the number is zero. They are a minority. Even without the USA they can't defeat the Shi'ites. The only argument that they can is that they have the officers of the old Iraqi army. Given the performance of the old Iraqi army, I would count that as a disadvantage (they didn't know what to do with complete air superiority in the War with Iran).

The insurgency will be crushed. Probably not be the USA as means unnacceptable to the civilized world will be used (although when was the last time that we hesitated to do things because they are unacceptable to the civilized world. I would say September 11 2001, but some might say Jan 20 2001). My guess is that the Iraqi insurgency will be crushed starting as soon as US forces leave Iraq (July 2009).

The Communists in Malaysia were defeated partly because they were ethnic chinese and most Malaysians are Malays. Similarly the Africaners are a minority in the country they claimed to be theirs alone. Iraqi Sunnis really don't have a chance. What are they hoping for ? Support from Saudi Arabia ? You can't fight with petrodollars alone. They are outnumbered and had better deal while we are around to protect them.

Or is the insurgency in question the Mahdi army ? the historical record on success or failure of insurgencies which are already in power would be hard to comply given the logical inconsistency.

Counter insurgency is so 2005. That's not what is going on in Iraq. That would be a civil war, in which there is no risk that the opinion of the civilised world will interfere.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on January 17, 2007 at 4:24 AM | PERMALINK

"What we need to put a stop to is all the defeatist rhetoric from the other side of the isle."

Yeah, that should be about as easy as getting you to shut the fuck up, you nitwit.

Posted by: Kenji on January 17, 2007 at 4:48 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, and by the way, notthere, he's on the side of isle where the steaks are always high!

Posted by: Kenji on January 17, 2007 at 4:52 AM | PERMALINK

The British used techniques in Malaysia that simply aren't acceptable to world opinion any longer, and even at that it took them a very long time to beat the communist insurgency there.

It's worth noting that the US in Vietnam, the French in Algeria and the USSR in Afghanistan were all far more unacceptably brutal than the British in Malaya, and they still lost.(What about the Mau Mau? Another example of a defeated overseas insurgency.)

The problem is that there just haven't been very many overseas insurgencies in the last 50 years; there's not really enough of a sample.

(bmaz - the French Resistance was not militarily significant. The only significant WW2 resistance movements were the Yugoslav and Russian partisans and the Norwegian Milorg (by virtue of the Gunnarside attacks)).

Posted by: ajay on January 17, 2007 at 5:10 AM | PERMALINK

Relatively small as they both are, so far it looks like the IRA has been overcome in Ireland and they're getting close with ETA in Spain.

Well, neither the IRA in Northern Ireland nor ETA in Spain were strictly "insurgencies," that is, large, well-sustained guerilla forces engaged in outright combat with an occupying power. Both forces relied more on terrorism than on guerilla warfare.

Moreover, neither really involve a strictly "foreign" power -- while the Basque ETA consider themselves separate from the Castilian Spanish, the truth is that the Basque region has been part of Spain for hundreds of years. Similarly, Northern Ireland is legally and practically part of Great Britain, they speak the same language, and the British had hundreds of years of experience with Ireland to draw from.

Posted by: Stefan on January 17, 2007 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

Nir Rosen, writing in The Atlantic in 2005, said that the only reason that the Sunni Arabs, and the religious leaders who are in agreement with them, gave for fighting the Americans is one word: intiqaam, which is Arabic for revenge, revenge for the atrocities that have been committed against the Iraqis and the deaths that have been incurred by their families and friends at the hands of the Americans. As Rosen logically points out, "If the occupation were to end, so, too, would the insurgency. After all, what the resistance movement has been resisting is the occupation. Who would the insurgents fight if the enemy left?"

To put it another way, how many Iraqi insurgents were we fighting in February 2003, a month before our invasion? Zero.

Posted by: Stefan on January 17, 2007 at 7:06 AM | PERMALINK

But the strategy of “surging” troops could offer a rare chance for success—if the Pentagon and the White House learn from their past mistakes.

If the White House learns from its past mistakes? One may as well write "if pigs learn to fly"....So it "could" happen "if" something else which is never going to happen happens. Nice use of the conditional -- by that standard anything, anything at all, "could" happen. The question isn't whether something is possible -- it's whether it's probable. And we all know that the odds of the White House learning from its mistakes are approximately nil.

Posted by: Stefan on January 17, 2007 at 7:14 AM | PERMALINK

Poster Matt D, above, provides a pretty amusing analogy of this when he states that the brutality of the Nazis against the French "is how you win an insurgency". Obviously, that is directly contradicted by history. The French are still with us, the Nazis are not, and the French Underground Resistance played a significant role in that result. That is a prime example of a temporal suppression (at best; truth is the French Resistance was continuously active); not defeat of an insurgency.

No, not at all. The German loss of France was due almost entirely to German battlefield defeats by the Anglo-American armies on one side and the Soviets on the other. The French Resistance, while an irritant, was militarily insignificant, and in the absence of a two-front attack by the Anglo-Americans and the Soviets Germany would have been able to hold onto France indefinitely. There was simply no danger ever at all that the French Resistance would have been able to push the Germans out on their own.

(In Yugoslavia, by contrast, the Germans did have trouble with a well-armed and highly-motivated insurgency which eventually tied down over 40 Wehrmacht and SS combat divisions. Yugoslavia was eventually liberated not by the invading Red Army but by Tito's partisans -- which was the key reason why Yugoslavia never fell behind the Iron Curtain).

Posted by: Stefan on January 17, 2007 at 7:22 AM | PERMALINK

I see ajay already addressed the French Resistance and Yugoslavia issues. Apologies.

Posted by: Stefan on January 17, 2007 at 7:24 AM | PERMALINK

The others are all insurgencies that were defeated by local governments. Those governments may have had help from outside, but they did the primary fighting themselves.

The factor this analysis seems to be lacking is whether the insurgencies had any support among the populace. The Contras, just as one example, had precious little support that wasn't provided at gunpoint.

Posted by: Gregory on January 17, 2007 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Much beloved by CoIn enthusiasts as it is, the Malayan Insurgency was undertaken by an ethnic minority, the Chinese. You might as well speak of the Apache Insurgency. As bad as it was, the Apache were never able to threaten US rule in the Southwest the way an Hispanic insurgency would have, the numbers weren't there.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on January 17, 2007 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

One might consider the IRA in N Ireland to be an insurgency. The British made little traction fighting it militarily for years. It was only after Clinton broke the logjam and set up negotiations, that a political accomodation was reached.

Wars do not ever end with one side annihilating the other. Wars alwasys end with a political accomodation. Unfortunately we have an administration that equates diplomacy with appeasement so Bush continues to fail to reach a poltical solution in Iraq. Even our own American Civil War ended with a political agreement. Even then there were insurgent elements among the Confederates including criminal gangs like Jesse James and the Younger brothers and the rise of the KKK in opposition to reconstruction.

The best polticial settlements reduce the insurgency to a manageable level. Bad political settlements or no political accomodation (Iraq) lead to violence and potentially Civil War. The failure of the military-only strategy in Iraq is due to a failure to pursue a poltical settlement. Our failure to calm Iraq is a Bush political failure. The political failure in Iraq has created a dangerous situation for our troops and has resulted in many troop casualties. Bush will continue to fail until he supports our troops with a political accomodation. Iraq is a Bush political failure. The Bush failure to understand and use diplomacy has resulted in his failed presidency.

Posted by: bakho on January 17, 2007 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

It's interesting to me that no one has mentioned Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah forced Israeli forces out of the country and defeated Israel's Christian proxy militia (the SLF).

There is also the case of the Eritrean forces that gained independence after a 30-year war against Ethiopia.

And then there are the Sahrawis who have been fighting on and off again against the Moroccan government since 1975. And whether or not their campaign is ultimately successful against the Moroccans, they did succeed in forcing the Mauritanians to pull out of the Western Sahara (even if Morocco immediately extended their claim to include the southern part of the territory).

http://thehumanprovince.blogspot.com

Posted by: sean on January 17, 2007 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Hopefully we can win the Iraqi civil war, after we've dispatched the pesky insurgents.

Posted by: JR on January 17, 2007 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

One problem for Bush is that no Iraqi group supports the failed, Bush imposed political accomodation.

The Kurds would just as soon go their own way after running the Arabs out of Kirkuk.

The Sunnis have never agreed to any political accomodation. In fact they have been told by Bush that they are not wanted (no Baath need apply) and they still are not on board.

For the same reason, the secular Baath don't support Bush policy.

The Shia want to control everything and don't want to share power with the Sunnis. For the most part, they don't want a secular government and they want good relations with Iran. There is a move to protect Shia neighborhoods by forcing Sunnis out (ethnic cleansing).

The Sadrists don't support American imperialism and oil profits going to wealthy oil companies and not being used to help the poor.

No Iraqis want their country to continue to be occupied by US troops over the long term. They oppose the permanent bases Bush has built in Iraq.

Bush will continue to fail in Iraq if he continues to abuse our military to impose a failed political solution that has failed to receive support from any Iraqis.

Posted by: bakho on January 17, 2007 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

You guys are behind the curve on this. Billmon (RIP for his blog) turned me on to William Lind, who uses the term 4GW, which is conspicuously absent here.

Lind's archives are at
http://www.d-n-i.net/lind/lind_archive.htm

Good reading for those who want to learn.

Posted by: Bob M on January 17, 2007 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

As I understand it, the Iraqi government and a number of Iraqi troops are also participating in this conflict against the insurgency.

No, they're specifically fighting Sunnis. Many wouldn't lift a finger if the insurgency only targeted US troops. Moreover, the Shiite power brokers who support the government also operate militias which have and will continue to target US troops themselves.

Posted by: toast on January 17, 2007 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK
I've observed in the past that the post-WWII record of major military powers fighting overseas insurgencies is almost uniformly dismal: the French failed in Algeria, the United States failed in Vietnam, and the Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan.
I never realized the Russians had to cross an ocean to reach Afghanistan, silly me! Posted by: wahoofive on January 17, 2007 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Zathras wrote: This means that insurgencies, once begun, are almost impossible to stamp out

I'd add, by military means. The sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland seems to have simmered down, but you won't here the Brits saying they conquered the IRA. Which means, among other things, that the Brits are a hell of a lot smarter than Bush and his adherents in these forums like "egbert".

Posted by: Gregory on January 17, 2007 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

I think the analysis of insurgencies misses a middle category - there are successful insurgencies (Sandinistas) and failed insurgencies (those which we've never heard of) and those which persist for a while without succeeding in taking over - Jeff Goodwin at NYU has done some work on this, and he argues that free and fair elections bring an end to persistent insurgencies, while human rights abuses against the population make them persist. See his book 'No Other Way Out'

Posted by: Luther Vandross on January 17, 2007 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Wars do not ever end with one side annihilating the other. Wars alwasys end with a political accomodation.

The American Indians might disagree....

Posted by: Stefan on January 17, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

The surge is doomed to fail because of simple math. We cannot clear and hold an area the size of Baghdad with 20,000 troops. Period. Petreaus' own work on the subject specifies a ratio of 1:40 or 1:50 (troops:inhabitants). That ratio worked in Fallujah and it could work in Baghdad, but for a city of 6 million, you need about 150,000 troops, NOT 20,000. See http://www.idolator.net for my post on the subject.

Posted by: Jeffrey on January 17, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

The American Indians might disagree

Not to mention the Germans, the Japanese and the Confederacy, for Ford's sake. Wars end with a with a political accomodation when one side hasn't destroyed the other's ability to wage war. If they have, well, there isn't much "political accomodation" in "unconditional surrender".

(That said, you could certainly call America's decision to leave Hirohito on the Chrysanthemum Throne a "political accomodation," but I'd argue it was one of expediency, not necessity.)

Posted by: Gregory on January 17, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

You may well be right about insurgencies and foreign powers in general, but you are clearly wrong about Vietnam.

The insurgency in Vietnam ended with the Tet Offensive. After Tet, the Viet Cong - the guerilla force in South Vietnam - no longer existed in any meaningful form. Thereafter, all of the fighting was conducted by regular units of the North Vietnamese Army. You'll recall that North Vietnamese tank columns entered Saigon as the last Americans were airlifted out.

Posted by: DBL on January 17, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Reading that article was a complete and total waste of time. I have learned that insurgencies sometimes succeed, and sometimes they don't. Brilliant. How on earth did this 'journalist' get his job??
www.minor-ripper.blogspot.com

Posted by: MinorRipper on January 17, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

I've observed in the past that the post-WWII record of major military powers fighting overseas insurgencies is almost uniformly dismal: the French failed in Algeria, the United States failed in Vietnam, and the Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan. The only sizable exception is the British in Malaysia, and even that lesson is of limited use.
*************************************************

Sorry but you left off the list these failed insurgencies:

- Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya
- Tibetan rebellion against the Chinese occupation of that country
- Hungarian Revolt
- Ukrainian rebellion against Soviets after WWII
- East German rebellion against Soviet occupation in 1953

The record is mixed, not dismal

And an earlier commenter was right - South Vietnam didn't fall to an insurgency but from a conventional invasion from a neighboring country.

And Jonas Savimbi in Angola was mostly kept at by by Cuban troops.

Posted by: Campesino on January 17, 2007 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Note that "insurgencies fail more than they succeed" does not equate to "surges work," which would presume that all of the insurgencies listed failed because all the governments in question used "a short-term surge" to defeat them.

And in any event, the "surge" is not really a "surge" or even a legitimate counter-insurgency effort, since it does not meet at least one criteria for such a "surge", namely many, many, many more troops than Bush is committing.

It is like saying cancer fails to kill a significant number of people who undergo radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of the foregoing, so the doctor who prescribes two aspirin, a pair of leeches, and a hot compress as a cure should be given an opportunity to prove he's right, concluding "it may work."

BTW, Bush's call for a Democratic plan is like a physician (Bush) claiming he can bring back a person dead for two weeks by attaching watch batteries to each finger and ranting at his critics (the Dems) for calling his attempt futile while not offering any plan of their own to bring back the two-week dead patient.

Bush lost this war when he invaded with too few soldiers and no plans for the "post major combat operations" period.

Of course Bush deserves what he has wrought (though his victims, including our soldiers and their families certainly do not), since it was an immoral and ill-conceived war to begin with, not to mention based on Bush's own lies (an I include as Bush's lies those of his underlings for whom he is ultimately responsible - the buck stops at the top, regardless that the GOP would have us believe it flows downward and away from the country's leadership.

Posted by: Google_This on January 17, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

The comments here become much more readable if you substutitute the phrase 'magical love-me dust' for the word 'diplomacy'.

Example:

"Bush will continue to fail until he supports our troops with a political accomodation. Iraq is a Bush political failure. The Bush failure to understand and use magical love-me dust has resulted in his failed presidency."

Only problem is, no magical love-me dust has been shown to exist in reality. But that's no problem for some folks here, who only dwell in reality for a few hours a day, if that.

Posted by: Ryan Waxx on January 17, 2007 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

One question: If 'diplomacy' was really the fix-it-all wonder solution you claim it to be, then why didn't some past president wave his magic wand and make the problems of the middle east go away? How could terrorists have been be plotting 9/11 while the master of diplomacy himself, Clinton, was in office?

More importantly, there is a 100% chance that someone OTHER than the BushDemonManGoatPigNazi will not get elected to the presidency next time. So, what will be your excuse when the next president doesn't make the bad men go away with a botox smile and a slippery handshake?

More likely, you won't even bother to note your own hipocracy, forgetting the awesome, talismanic power you attributed to 'diplomacy' once the right party is in power.

Posted by: Ryan Waxx on January 17, 2007 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

As someone who spent much time in Nicaragua during the 1980s, I must contest the contention that the contras lost. They won. They forced an election that was won by the contra candidate, Violetta Chamorro, and lost by the Sandinista candidate.
This was how Nicaraguans understood it. As insurgencies go, that one was a brilliant investment of US dollars.

Posted by: J.J. Moon on January 17, 2007 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin writes Aside from Malaysia, only two of these insurgencies directly involved a big foreign power (South Africa and the Philippines) and they took place 50 and 100 years ago respectively.

The Philippine incident that the author cites is not the Philippine Insurrection led by Aguinaldo (1899-1901), but the Hukbalahap insurrection of 1946-1954. This was a Communist-led insurgency against the Philippine government that was stamped out with significant US assistance.

Posted by: Lurking Observer on January 17, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

Um, I'm no expert on this, but don't insurgencies typically happen because the ruling power has failed to understand the population well enough to run their takeover in a clever way?

Which would, like, lower the odds of success.

Posted by: erica on January 17, 2007 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK
It is because our strategy (and the strategy of all failed foreign counterinsurgencies) is knocking down doors, rather than knocking on doors. That small and simple act right there is the deciding factor between the winner and the loser.
Posted by: Dan on January 16, 2007 at 11:52 PM


Like these guys?

Posted by: Nobody Important on January 17, 2007 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

The British put down the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya in the 1950's. I'm shocked no one has mentioned Gaza or West Bank, but I'm not entirely sure who's point they make.

Posted by: DMT on January 17, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

How is the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan an "overseas insurgency"? The two nations shared a border:

http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/commonwealth/soviet_union_east_and_south_asia_1987.jpg

Posted by: sean on January 18, 2007 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

How about Tibet and Xinhuang Province

Posted by: Reader on January 18, 2007 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

Speculations based on imaginary counts of how many C/I efforts did or didn't succeed are crap, because the field was devloping in wildly different circumstances. In order to understand that history so you can evaluate it, read Michael McClintock's _Instruments of Statecraft_. Meticulous research, level-headed analysis, beautifully written, and REALLY interesting.

Posted by: someone on January 18, 2007 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

"The sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland seems to have simmered down, but you won't here the Brits saying they conquered the IRA. Which means, among other things, that the Brits are a hell of a lot smarter than Bush and his adherents in these forums like "egbert". "

Ummm...the main reason that NI has simmered down is nothing to do with us conquering the IRA and little to do with Clinton. It's to do with the fact that thousands of Americans in Boston, Chicago and New York finally worked out on the 11th of September 2001 that giving money to terrorists gets innocent people killed.

I think it was the Daily Telegraph, the broadsheet bastion of the Right in the UK, which published a reader's letter just after 9/11 suggesting that obviously we should take the American lead in dealing with the problem by inviting Osama Bin Laden to No. 10 Downing Street to discuss his view over tea and cakes.

Posted by: Al on January 18, 2007 at 6:14 AM | PERMALINK

Many insurgencies simmer on indefinitely. Muslims don't settle for occupation by an infidel army, especially if does not support their particular sect's fight against the other. Suppression of ethnic Chinese insurgents in a Muslim country (Malasia, Indonesia) is another matter. Urban Maoists aren't hard to pick out in Quechua villages, either. A dirty war against urban radicals might work in a Catholic Argentina. Most theories of counter-insurgency extrapolate from unique or inapplicable conditions: apples vs oranges. Iraq presents a package of conditions totally unlike post-WWII Europe or Japan or any situation supposed in the Petraeus edited textbook.

Posted by: Jkoch on January 18, 2007 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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