Flip a COIN
With the apparent (and horrifically bloody) demise of the Tamil Tigers it’s worth I think reviewing the context of this whole counterinsurgency debate. Basically as Nir Rosen says there are two schools of counterinsurgency.
2. what Rosen calls the Russian approach: go in and absolutely obliterate the enemy and any civilians who happen to be in the way. Usually followed by installing a ruthless strongman dictator in the wake of the destruction. Called The Russian Approach after the Russian campaign in Chechnya.
The Sinhalese of course practiced most awfully the second approach. They took no account of Tamil civilian life, of trying to separate insurgents out from the population. It was blank check, open season on anyone, anywhere.
School #1 generally points to The British campaign in Malaya as proof of the success of their philosophy. This case is as Fabius Maximus has it, much grayer.
Generally, the dirty little (god-awful) secret is that COIN Style #2 is typically more successful.
Mercifully, whatever Neo-Marxist anti-imperialist tirades still exist, the US is not as evil as to practice #2. Even the British in Malaya and Kenya during the Mau Mau Revolt publicly hung criminals. [This is not an apology for US torture/rendition programs since 9/11, only that in relation it could even be worse than the horrific it already is].
The “success” of COIN style #2 (The Russian style) highlights a question as to the viability of #1. As I said yesterday in my piece on the Mafia-Taliban, the FATA of Af-Pak is the Wild West of the US 19th century–an analogy specifically used by Thomas PM Barnett. Victory there, in US history, was more Russian style #2 COIN: in short ethnic cleansing of the unwanteds.
School #1 might point to Iraq as an example of their COIN successfully being implemented. But that I think would be a mistake in large measure. The success of the counterinsurgency in Iraq was basically a factor of buying-0ff the Sunni insurgency. The so-called al-Qaeda in Iraq threat was nothing more than a small (but at certain points lethal) group of non-Sunni Iraqis (mostly non Iraqi Arabs) who the Sunni insurgency used as long as they had a common enemy, but the second the US started paying them off had no reason to stay aligned with the wacko Caliphate seekers, and took care of business.
What the “surge” element (i.e. adding more US troops) actually did do is allow the Shia Army and the soft-rising dictatorship of Nouri al-Maliki to clamp down on their domestic rivals (i.e. Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and The Mehdi Army). It also consolidated the Shia victory of Iraq and will keep the Sunnis for a long time to come (if not forever) in an oppressed, economically marginal area lacking in development.
It could be argued that the US backwards stumbled into a de facto slow-motion COIN #2 in Iraq–with the non-COIN that was practiced in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Baath dictatorship, the Shia cleansed Baghdad of Sunnis and essentially won the war. Maybe it’s more like COIN 1.5 I suppose.
This explains why even Gen. Petraeus admits Afghanistan/Pakistan is not Iraq. The Taliban are not like al-Qaeda in Iraq. They are locals first off. They have much deeper roots in the Pashtun community and cannot be so easily ejected as was AQI. And while undoubtedly The Taliban are extremely violent (even psychotically so at points) and terrorize their own populace (Mafia-style), there is a strong anti-occupation history in that region. Not to mention that the US cannot bring troops into at least half of the equation–i.e. the Pakistani side. Nor do they have anywhere near the number of troops in Afghanistan that we do in Iraq.
Speaking of COIN 1.5s, with President Obama meeting with Israeli PM Netanyahu and questions about the Peace Process (or lack thereof) being possibly restarted, what about the Israelis? Well contrary to a kind of analysis that calls the Israelis Neo-Fascists or whatever, they have not practiced full-on Russian style (#2) COIN. Not consistently. What they have done is what Barnett calls “It Takes a Tank to Raze a Village”. Namely they go in heavy, blow stuff up, and then leave. Like just happened recently with their incursion into Gaza. It’s like their foreign policy is run by multiple voices in their head. Like The Powell Doctrine on meth.
Another dirty (horrible) secret is that the Israelis could wipe out the Palestinians, Chechnyian style. Or now sadly Tamil-style. The Arab countries would holler and moan, Hezbollah would launch some devastating attacks, but it would happen. That window of such regional dominance however is fast closing as Iran comes closer and closer to near-power status with Israel. Or at least de facto deterrence if not actual nuclear weapon deterrence. Netanyahu (and before him Olmert) wanted attacks on Iran to keep that flickering candle alive as long as possible. Until Israel has an actual competitor in the neighborhood, then the Peace Process has no real chance I think. Not because the Israelis are inherently evil. And hear the realist (cynic?) in me speaks: but because they are just like everybody else. They won’t deal until they are threatened existentially.
Which brings us back to the Palestinians and COIN style #2. Where the ‘a’ word (apartheid) or the ‘e-c’ word comes up (ethnic cleansing) is regarding their Accidental Empire. The “settlements” (notice the 19th century Wild West frontier analogy again) in other words. The Israeli military outposts in the Westk Bank are “population-centric” no doubt, just not in the way the advocates of school 1 would approve. But the economic squeeze on Gaza and the system of blocked territory in the West Bank could be seen as a slow burn version of the Checnyian experience. Hence the 1.5.
It is at this point that I confess to my general skepticism of the effectiveness of style 1 and my revulsion at style 2.
Better, if any such interventions are to be undertaken (as I imagine they inevitably will), would be to have the force follow in on the backside of the war phase. The example of Bosnia and Kosovo are perhaps the only examples of this done more or less successfully. Otherwise you have invasions with no followup just destruction (see every Israeli incursion since 1980) and potentially leaving at the first real violence experienced on your side (see US in Haiti, Somalia 90s), which creates a backswing against any such incursions leading genocides that could have easily been prevented (see Rwanda), which then to look tough you try to overcome by going in and staying but having no plan or structural effective force and then bleed out over a long period (see Iraq, Afghanistan). And when that doesn’t work you just then use your Air Force to try to kill the bad guys from the sky to hugely negative effect (see Israeli war against Hezbollah 2006 and US predator drones in Pakistan.)