How To Win In Iraq — And How To Lose

For those following the War in Iraq and for those interested in contemporary warfare and strategy generally, this is one article you simply can’t miss.

Arthur Herman examines the one historical conflict that must be examined if we hope to learn how to defeat an insurgency — the Algerian War of Independence.

…As he had learned from watching the British mount successful counterinsurgencies in Malaya and Greece, neither heavy casualties, nor the loss of weapons and bases, nor even the loss of leaders would stop the rebels. Ultimately, indeed, “military action [was] but a minor factor in the conflict.”

What then? Essentially, Galula grasped that the new form of warfare had reversed the conventional relationship in war between combatant and civilian. No longer bystanders or useful adjuncts to the war effort, as in World War II, civilians were the critical determinants of success or failure. Without the help or at least the passive acquiescence of the local population, the government would be doomed. In a crucial sense, it did not matter how many guerrillas were killed, or how many regular soldiers were on the ground; the center of gravity was the opinion of the local community…

….Galula’s approach boiled down to three stages, each with its own lesson for Iraq today…

Really, you want to read the entire thing. That’s not something I will say often. (Usually when I do, it’ll be in reference to a Jack Handey short)

Make no mistake about it. We the West–I use the word in the broadest sense; Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, you’re with us too!–must master counterinsurgency and counterterrorism sooner better than later. How to fight bastards who with their IEDs hide among civilian populations is something we were going to need to learn eventually. Even if the present Iraq enterprise fails, even if there had never been an Iraq enterprise.

Related reading: TJ explains why more boots on the ground does not necessarily make your war effort go smoother. It’d be nice if I could believe a sudden burst of wisdom to the above was the reason Harry Reid and pals reversed their positions on sending more troops to Iraq so soon after the Bush administration had decided to do exactly this.

(via Austin Bay)


7 responses to “How To Win In Iraq — And How To Lose

  1. Good piece and a good historical lesson. But I have to ask: are folks willing to do their homework?

  2. We can’t force them to. I guess all we can do is show them every reason that they ought to.

  3. Well, some of the reason that we dropped two atom bombs on Japan is that every “civilian” would have fought the Americans, with their lives. We knew that we were not fighting just the militia.

  4. True that the line between civilian and soldier is not clear-cut and in that particular war it was downright fuzzy. We were a whole lot less concerned about it back then, also.

    Ironically one of the areas where our military gets the most criticism today is over “collateral damage” despite the rather unprecedented amount of care that is taken to minimize this. We recognize that the distinction between civilian and soldier, while not always easy to define and impossible to adhere to perfectly, is a thing worth preserving. In a nutshell this recognition is what separates us from the terrorists.

  5. Never underestimate the amount of mischief a group of people who don’t care if they die and how many they take with them can incur.

    In the end this will be Iraq’s fight, and it will be up to their citizenry to fight it. Sadly, they may be undercut before they are ready to do so.

  6. As the Senate proved today, we don’t have the guts even to finish up wars we’ve won. America’s fundamental weakness is exposed to all its enemies, who have had their fundamental assumption — that they can outlast the Americans on the moral battlefield — proved right again.

    Thank God, for some reason we sometimes win despite ourselves. But can we ever count on it? I’m afraid of the answer.

  7. Great article from Arthur Herman. I posted it on my blog, with a H/T to you.

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