Friday, July 6, 2012

“Good War” Counter-Insurgency Rx—Colonize or Come Home

“Good War” Counter-Insurgency Rx—Colonize or Come Home

By Kent Clizbe

Originally appeared in BigPeace; Sept. 8, 2010

President Obama on Tuesday declared Iraq a done deal.  Okay, he didn’t support the surge, back in the Bush days.  He and his anti-war pals in the Senate declared the war lost years ago.  His liberal upbringing won’t allow him to admit that a Republican president could possibly have been right.  And yet, the architect of the surge, and stability, as it were, in Iraq, is now Obama’s uniform in chief in the “Good War.” 

If one believed in omens, the future of our involvement in Afghanistan would not bode well.  General David Petraeus, before he was demoted to replace General Stanley McChrystal, collapsed during Congressional testimony on the Obama strategy.  Then General McChrystal was surgically removed by a left-wing media strike.  If it was his campaign, Alexander the Great might have reconsidered his course, and visited the Oracle in Siwa again. 

The President and his Progressive handlers declared our military efforts in Afghanistan “the Good War” to differentiate it from that numbskull Bush’s “Bad War” in Iraq.    After playing his anti-Bush card in the first weeks of his administration, Obama then called together all his geniuses to devise his Good War strategy. 

Obama’s geniuses developed a strategy that looks a lot like the Bush/Rumsfeld surge in Iraq.  Except the geniuses revealed their end game before they even sat down to begin playing.  Obama announced the target date for withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan, in the same teleprompted address that he announced the deployment. 

The Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and their allies must have been confused.  They surely must have thought this was some sort of elaborate ruse on the part of the geniuses.  It didn’t take them long to figure out, however, that the geniuses were not very good poker players.  They actually had revealed their final plan.  At least it appears so, up to today.  Maybe the good general collapsed after contemplating the lack of exits in the rat hole in which he is trapped. 

Obama’s genius seminar on Afghanistan strategy was described by a White House aide as an attempt to avoid a “rush to war.”  Maybe the geniuses didn’t notice that we had been at war in Afghanistan for more than half a decade before the thinker-in-chief was inaugurated. 

As the afterglow of the media’s near-orgasmic lovefest with Obama fades, it’s time for an honest consideration of our Afghanistan policy and strategy.  We are past the hunt for Osama.  We are past the point of destroying Al-Qaeda’s strongholds in the Hindu Kush.  The Obama genius cabal has announced its goals as:  “reverse the Taliban’s gains, and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government.” 

In layman’s terms, what they plan is counter-insurgency and nation-building.  Setting aside the difficulty of building a cohesive nation from the troubled ethnic mix within Afghanistan’s present borders, let’s just look at counter-insurgency. 

There are many examples of previous successful, and unsuccessful attempts at counter-insurgency.  An honest consideration of  our current goal in Afghanistan requires a review of both the successes and failures.  Let’s examine the common features of the successful counter-insurgencies, and the common features of the counter-insurgency failures.  There may well be lessons for our efforts in Afghanistan.  Southeast Asia offers a student of counter-insurgency at least three object lessons. 

The United States’ most striking success in counter-insurgency was the Moro Rebellion in the Philippines.  The US’s only long-term foreign colony was the island nation of the Philippines, seized from Spain after the Spanish-American war.  We occupied and ruled the Philippines as a colony from 1898 until after World War II. 

The Muslim population in the Southern Philippines (the Moros) rebelled against American colonial authority.  The Moro Rebellion was a classic counter-insurgency, with native fighters fading into the local population, and into the jungle, emerging to terrorize civilians and American soldiers alike.  The American army, steeled by the Indian wars in the western US, was familiar with this style of warfare.  They crushed the rebellion.  During the counter-insurgency, the Moro territory was ruled by American military governors and their staff.  Locals elders and chiefs were consulted and brought into the government under the Americans’ direct rule.

Total control of the civil, military, and economic reins of the Philippines set the stage for effective counter-insurgency operations. Total control, with relatively benign colonial rule, combined with harsh and punitive military attacks against insurgents, combined to convince the Moros to capitulate.  After more than 12 years of insurgency, the American military turned over control of Moroland to a civilian US colonial government.  And within a few decades, American colonial government came to a peaceful end, with an orderly transition to Philippine independence.  

A solid counter-insurgency drove communists from Malaya, a British colony now independent Malaysia, in the years after WWII.  Known in Britain and Malaysia as “The Emergency,” a Chinese-led communist insurgency threatened the soon-to-be-independent colony.   

The communists mostly ethnic Chinese were supported by Red China.  They operated from bases within the impenetrable jungles down the spine of the Malay peninsula.  They had scant support from the populace, and waged a terror campaign against the British and innocent civilians.

The British colonial governing infrastructure permeated Malayan society down to the smallest village.  Courts, police, governors, mayors, and all other reins of power were firmly in the hands of experienced British colonial administrators.  Fair and just, but firm and swift, British justice permeated the colony.  Military units, a mixture of British and locals, as well as units from other colonies, like the Ghurkas from Nepal, operated from  colonial garrisons. 

At the height of the insurgency, British and Malayan military units perfected the Special Forces model of operations the US military uses today.  Targeted by aggressive intelligence operations, quick strikes on unsuspecting rebels devastated the communists.  With total control of the country, the British colonials were able to stamp out any hint of localized support for the rebels.  Within twelve years, the communists were routed and soundly defeated.  The British turned over the colony to self-rule near the end of the Emergency. 

Another highly successful counter-insurgency occurred in Hungary in 1956.  Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Union after WWII.  After a typical communist charade of free elections, the Hungarian government became a de facto colony of the Soviet Union.  The USSR controlled the government and its economic and security policies.  After six years of crushing Soviet communist domination, proud Hungarians, prodded by American covert action, began demonstrating against the communists.  The demonstrations quickly spun out of control, and became a full-fledged insurgency, with fierce urban guerilla warfare.  The Soviets responded with an invasion in force.  Their total domination of the entire country, administratively, militarily, and economically, crushed the insurgency in less than two months. 

The American experience with counter-insurgency in Vietnam is an interesting negative example.  The US placed severe restrictions on its military operations against the combined forces of indigenous and foreign communist guerillas.  In the post-colonial era, the US was wary of  charges of neo-colonialism.  America allowed the South Vietnamese to run the government fueled by American dollars.  Much like today in Afghanistan, American advisors looked on in helpless frustration.  Corruption and in-fighting severely weakened social, economic, and military infrastructure throughout the country.  America’s counter-insurgency was doomed from the start.  Without control of the political and economic infrastructure, military operations were unable to gain traction. 

The Kennedys attempted to avoid the sure condemnation by the media  that would come with an overt colonial-style imposition of government on their Vietnamese client-state.  Instead, they tried to use covert action.  They approved a coup against the ruling Diem family, which resulted in the murder of the Vietnamese President and his family.  That bungled attempt at colonial power mongering spoiled the Kennedys’ appetite for further meddling.  A constant turnover of civilian and military rule in the Vietnamese government followed, with some governments lasting only weeks.  With no foundation to support itself, the civilian population was left to its own devices.  Although American military and civilian forces kept working to defeat the communist insurgency, the slow-motion collapse of the South Vietnamese government doomed the counter-insurgency. 

These examples of counter-insurgency operations reveal a broad outline of the requirements for success.  They also reveal the conditions that ensure failure of counter-insurgency operations. 

Full-blown colonial control of a country’s political, economic, and legal infrastructure provides a solid foundation to wage a successful counter-insurgency.  The campaigns against indigenous forces in Malaya, the Moroland, and Hungary demonstrate the requirements for crushing such indigenous enemies.  The template of requirements includes:  complete colonial-style control of the contested country and full control of the political, military, and economic infrastructure of the country. 

On the other hand, America’s war in Vietnam is a template for failure in operations against indigenous insurgents.  First, we did not maintain full control of the contested nation during the hostilities.  The American administration attempted to use covert action to cloak its hand in controlling the client-state’s government.  Finally, civilians placed severe restrictions on military operations against the insurgents and their masters in North Vietnam.  

Comparing these templates with  Petreaus’ dizzying task in Afghanistan reveals a near perfect match with the template for failure.  We do not control the government infrastructure.  President Karzai fired his pro-American Interior Minister, and intel chief.  We do not control the economy or military.  We have placed ourselves in a subordinate role, pretending that this is an Afghan problem, and we are just advisors.  We hide behind a “coalition” of NATO and other allies, which make up a tiny fraction of forces, but complicate the operations exponentially.  We have placed restrictions on our military actions (how about a medal for “courageous restraint”?).  We undertake covertly actions which the President loudly decried during his campaign (targeted killings). 

In Afghanistan, we stand at a crossroads—there are three possible paths ahead.  Annexing Afghanistan as an American colony will lead to success and honor in the long run, with short term international condemnation . Maintaining the current status quo can only lead to inglorious defeat in both the short and long runs.  Draw-down and withdrawal could also be an honorable conclusion, except for blame that will be heaped on us for the certain political and social failures that follow in the wake of our exit. 

With Obama declaring an end to Iraq, maybe his much-vaunted genius will come up with a solution to Afghanistan.  The choices are clear for anyone who examines the realities of COIN:  Full-blown colonial power; half-hearted attempts at politically-correct advise-and-equip; or cut-and-run.  Obama and his geniuses asked for the job.  The new Republican Congress, with hearings and oversight, should keep us out of too much trouble.  It should be an interesting two years.    

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