Thursday, June 22, 2006

Of the people, for the people

I was listening to the radio this morning and heard an interesting comment. To paraphrase, the comment was that you cannot win against an insurgency that has the support of the people of a region.

Although the comment was in the context of lessons learned in Vietnam, I wondered if there were any examples where an insurgency was able to be eliminated by the use of force.

Vietnam - certainly not. Afghanistan - ask the Soviets, who spent ten years trying to use force to supress the "Afghan rebels" (and who have spent the last seven years trying the same thing in the Chechen Republic).

Going back in history, I can find times where an insurgency has been supressed for a period of time, but it always seems to emerge immediately upon any perceived weakness on the part of the stronger force. Examples are the French during the Nazi occupation, Palestinians during Israeli occupation, Bosnians during Serb occupation. It appears that only in extreme examples where genocide is used does it appear the the user of force can win against an insurgency that has taken hold among a local population.

In fact, it seems that the longer force is used in a region against the people of that region, the stronger the backlash grows until eventually one of three outcomes is reached:
  • The outside force leaves the region, leaving it to the (now extremely pissed off) insurgent population.
  • The outside force causes such a population reduction that the insurgency is no longer viable (ie, genocide)
  • The outside force and the region's insurgents reach a political compromise in which both parties resolve future disputes via non-violent means (multi-party governing structures or diplomacy).

The primary question for Iraq, then, is whether the insurgency has taken hold among the local population, or whether it is largely fueled by fighters imported from outside the region. If the insurgency has indeed taken hold among the local population, then there are only three choices for US policy:
  • Leave, and let the insurgents take control
  • Keep killing until there are no insurgents (no local population) left to speak of
  • or attempt to find a political compromise that would allow the insurgents to participate in a multi-party government

This last option was actually used earlier in Iraq to overcome the insurgency of Bani Sadr, so there is at least precedent for it in the region.

The only way to ignore the hard choices above is to convince ourselves that the local population of Iraq actually loves us, and it is just imported fighters that are killing our troops.

The sad thing is, I think this may have even been the case very early on in the occupation. But the longer an occupier uses force in a region, the more likely that inadvertent civilian casualties occur. I think the US troops have been remarkably careful to try to avoid civilian casualties, but if bullets and bombs are flying around, "collateral damage" is unavoidable.

The more civilian deaths occur, the larger the number of civilians who hate the US and want revenge. The more civilian deaths occur, the more the local insurgency grows. (This is known to the insurgents as well - it has been reported by some that the recently killed insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would cause local civilian deaths as a way to incite the local population. It doesn't even matter whether the deaths are directly caused by the US. If the population believes that the deaths are occurring because the US is present, then they will want us out and at least partially blame us for the fact of the deaths.)

So even if the insurgency didn't start out as a locally supported one, it inevitably has become more so as time - and civilian casualties - go on.

I don't disagree that there needs to be the presence of US force to help bring insurgents to the negotiating table. Without any counterforce, there is no reason for the insurgents not to just take charge of the country militarily. But without negotiations, the insurgents will only get stronger over time.

The insurgents are now part of the indigenous population. They are "of the people." And our style of government is supposed to derive it's authority from the people. It is supposed to be "of the people, for the people." Whether or not we agree with them. Whether or not they all agree with each other. It is their country.

It's time to start to negotiate a political solution with the insurgency. Or else our troops will keep on dying, only to get to the day where the last of the Americans are being evacuated on the last helicopter to leave an overwhelmingly hostile Iraq.

1 Comments:

At Friday, June 23, 2006, Blogger Art said...

Ran across your press release! Nice...

 

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