Monday, April 14, 2008

Global Counterinsurgency

Leave it to me to decide to start a blog the very week-end that I have to travel halfway across the state for a Big Family Function (a cousin's Bar Mitzvah. To the parents' eternal credit, they provided an open bar, which was a mitzvah). So much for the “Be Sure To Write Something Every Day” advice for nascent bloggers!

While unwinding at the hotel and jacking into these here Internets on its complimentary wifi service (a splendid practice which I hope will become universal), I happened across this article (.pdf) on the Small Wars Journal Magazine. It deals with the nature of the global conflict in which we are engaged, and the methods which we must bring to bear in order to prevail in that conflict. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's a key graf:

The nature of the international enemy is not terrorism, but a globalized insurgency, which demands the methods of counterinsurgency to defeat it. Those methods emphasize not just military force, but the entire array of tools at our disposal. We must engage in the overhaul of our national assets and structures to defend our way of life. We must do so under a new national security and foreign policy paradigm: The Global Counterinsurgency.

The beauty of conceptualizing this conflict as a global counterinsurgency is that it implicitly recognizes the multimodal and flexible approach which that conflict requires. One of the central tenets of COIN doctrine as I understand it is the context-sensitive nature of its approach to the exigencies in the battlespace. Engaging with the host population on social, economic, cultural, and yes 'kinetic' warfare levels is the nature of the beast.

One of the indications that the COIN strategy and its accompanying surge in troops has been successful thus far in Iraq has been the degree to which coalition forces have been able to secure increased cooperation from the Iraqi population in combating Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), as illustrated by this graph of weapons caches secured (and thus, by implication, of Iraqi tips as to their locations).

The judicious use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the moving of troops from big, fortress-like FOBs into community stations in closer contact with the host population has proved to be of incalculable value in reassuring the Iraqis that we are allied with their fundamental wishes for a normal life and for the stability to ply their trades and raise their families and go to Mosque or Church etc., unimpeded by the forces of chaos and brutality. AQI showed itself again and again to be inimical to those hopes and wishes, and the Awakening movements among the Sunni populations, as well as their Sons Of Iraq organizations are living proof that Iraqis are fed up with the vicious and lawless vision offered by the Jihadis.

Therein lies the main value of reimagining the GWOT as a global counterinsurgency. In essence, we are implementing a strategy which views stable, rule-governed sovereign states as watertight compartments against global insurgencies like AQ, et al. Such a vision is very much in line with Thomas Barnett's view of shrinking the "Gap" by [re-]connecting lawless, chaotic, and disengaged regions with the Global, interconnected network of rule-set-sharing, politically and economically stable states which he calls the "Core." The theory is that, as people experience the benefits of being able to trade and otherwise reliably interact with the rest of the world, the attractiveness of militant ideologies begins to drop away. If you can rely on the State to enforce laws and contracts, to keep the peace and punish those who encroach on what you can, with a straight face, refer to as your "rights," then it makes more sense to go through the courts than to take up your trusty Kalashnikov against your errant neighbors. Say what you will about frivolous law suits and unscrupulous lawyers, but they betoken a society in which I would much rather live than one in which matters are settled by glorified gang wars.

Contrary to the claims that the "Bush Doctrine" is antithetical to the ideal of the sanctity of national sovereignty, a Global COIN doctrine is very much supportive of strong, stable States which hold a monopoly on the legitimate exercise of force. It is within such states that people can build their lives and rely on stable political and social and economic structures as the scaffolding for dealing with each other without the need to resort to violence.

Security also involves isolating the insurgency from external support networks. Strong borders are crucial to disrupting the insurgent communications and logistical networks. At the same time, we must recognize that unstable societies and weak states are contagious, regional threats. Where the insurgency finds safe-havens of chaos, instability and the lack of sovereign territorial control– such as Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan—threats against our security can metastasize. It is because of this need to contain and compartmentalize the movement of the insurgency, that the stability of remote and seemingly “insignificant” countries are relevant to America’s most basic national interest.

In this, I am reminded of a marvelous article by Ralph Peters in which he lays out the characteristics of failed or failing states. Here's the short list:

  • Restrictions on the free flow of information.
  • The subjugation of women.
  • Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
  • The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
  • Domination by a restrictive religion.
  • A low valuation of education.
  • Low prestige assigned to work.

To the degree we are able to shore up a society against the encroachment of these symptoms, we are making an investment in future allies against the spread of the radical ideologies which spring up like opportunistic infections in regions whose social 'immune systems' are compromised by these seven factors.

The upshot here appears to be striving to make the world a more lawful place in general, a kind of global "broken windows" doctrine. Much as you needn't be a Believer in Anthropogenic Global Warming to think it is a bad idea to dump immense amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere when viable options exist, so one needn't be a flaming Neocon to see the expansion of stability and liberty as a good in itself.

Such is the kind of society whose emergence we are currently engaged in midwifing in Iraq. And it appears that the contractions are coming closer together. It is vital that we see this new Nation through its turbulent rites of passage, and that we welcome it into a global community in which its vibrancy will spread like a vaccine through a world increasingly populated with such healthsome members.

I, for one, will drink to that!


Mr.Hengist said...

Regarding the article in Small Wars Journal by Morgenstein and Vickland, “The Global Counter Insurgency”: It’s an interesting article with which I agree in large measure, but I have a couple of problems with it. To start off with, this strategy is predicated on the implementation of all five of its pillars, and one in particular is unachievable.

“According to Nagl, an insurgency cannot survive without the “economic and political foundations” of discontent, suffering and/or oppression, present in the society. He advocates non-traditional military tools that neutralize these bases of support for the insurgency. Given the ability to “live as decent human beings” and assuming the presence of a “strong, just government,” popular support for the insurgency is seriously undermined. […]”
“We must pull the poor of the world from poverty.”

Firstly, the United States is the most affluent and economically powerful nation on Earth, yet we cannot pull the poor of the world from poverty because we’re simply not that rich. Moreover, a nation ruled by thuggish kleptocrats such as Zimbabwe or North Korea will systematically undermine and reverse this effort in order to maintain their foothold on the faces of their subjugated peoples. Regime-change is the answer here, either from within or from without, but unless I’m misreading it the authors allow for the application of military force only in the case of a direct threat to the United States.

Secondly, the authors fail to distinguish this pillar of COIN from an identical pillar of the Left; specifically, the redistribution of wealth. From Socialism to Communism, Leftist economic policies are noted not for their ability to create wealth but to destroy it. Perhaps if the authors had provided some examples we could extrapolate from them something less alarming, yet none are provided.

In their conclusion, the authors have this to say:

“We have spent too much time simply declaring ourselves as leaders without focusing on the mission and without focusing on caring for our friends. By re-building, and fertilizing strong alliances, we will make America stronger. Forgetting this has perhaps been the greatest mistake of the Bush administration: if we had remembered this principle, we might have pulled off the invasion and occupation of Iraq successfully.”

It’s been my observation that the world declares the United States to be the indispensable world leader at least as often as we declare or imply it ourselves. To listen to the Blame America First crowd, there are no problems on Earth for which we are not in some way responsible, either through our actions or lack thereof, and I read echoes of that in the above passage. We, the Daddy of the World, are expected to right all wrongs, and to make them right, at our own risk and expense, and of course, it’s never enough.

I would remind the authors that after 9/11, NATO granted the U.S. Article 5, the collective right of self-defense. To this day (six years later!) most of our allies have failed to fulfill the pledges of material support in Afghanistan, and many of those nations which have provided support have placed absurdly crippling limitations on their use. Afghanistan, the good and fully-justified war, has been grudgingly supported by our allies only in half-measures. How dare the authors suggest that we “might have pulled off the invasion and occupation of Iraq successfully” had we not “remembered” to care for our friends? In my view, it is the allies of the United States who have let us down – and I’m referring here to NATO governments; the citizens of those NATO allies marched by the millions to keep us from liberating Iraq from tyranny.

Noocyte said...

Good point, but I think you might be reading a meaning into the "poor of the world" line which I don't necessarily see as inhering in it. It may seem as though I'm quibbling over semantics, but the typical catchphrase of the socialist, redistributionist narrative is one of lifting the poor from poverty. By this it is typically meant that we will open the spigots of our voluminous lucre onto the parched soil of poverty, to more "fairly" distribute our wealth for the benefit of All.

You'll find no argument from me about the futility and counterproductiveness of such an approach (disincentivizing productivity and investment, creating a culture of dependency and infantilized entitlement, yadda-yadda). However, I think that by talking about "pulling," the article places the emphasis on fostering the conditions for societies to lift themselves from poverty. At some point I will complete a draft of an entry for this blog which looks at how starvation and poverty in the world are largely creatures of corruption and oppression, rather than any demonstrable dearth of raw resources. Yup. I'll get on that right away.

In positing a Global Counterinsurgency as a way to pull the poor from poverty, I submit that the authors are referring to the idea of addressing/correcting the societal conditions that perpetrate and perpetuate poverty, by "peacefully, but actively, promot[ing] the liberalization and
democratization of oppressive regimes… because only that will destroy the breeding grounds in
which the insurgency incubates and thrives" (pg. 9).

In my reading, this implies challenging the "thuggish kleptocrats" you mention, more than it does merely throwing our money at the problem. It implies putting pressure on the aforementioned thugs and kleptos which, given their resilient recalcitrance to reason, must keep the credible threat of force on the menu (which, after all, is the essence of diplomacy).

Also, keep in mind the context in which that quote appears: highlighting aspects of a Global COIN doctrine which will make it more palatable to Liberal observers (who, in a sad historical irony, can often appear to be striving mightily to defend the interests of the most illiberal forces in the modern world!).

At the end of the day, however, a Global COIN doctrine is a way of waging a war. One of the main weapons in that war is the credibility of Our Side as a potential guarantor of the good life for the mass of folks who have to decide whether to be allies, foes, or bystanders. It is they who will have to be shown that dropping a dime on the bad guys has the greatest chance of resulting to a good job, a full belly, an open school, and reruns of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."

So, I think the authors are talking about something more Marshall Plan than Great Society.

Noocyte said...

Oh, and as for our "allies," don't even get me started!

That whole paragraph about "caring for our friends" chafed me mightily. Seemed to come out of nowhere and really soured an otherwise very strong analysis.