I love it when I find an "expert" espousing positions that I've written here in the past. I had one of these joyous moments when I came across an article in this month's Harper's magazine by Edward N. Luttwak, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. It came with the catchy title, "Dead End, Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice." Who could pass that up?
Luttwak devotes the first several pages of the article to our Western misconception of the nature and mechanisms of insurgencies but I won't bore you with that. What I found most helpful were his concluding remarks under the subtitle "The Easy and Reliable Way of Defeating All Insurgencies Everywhere."
Defeating all insurgencies everywhere, everytime? Why then did the Brits lose the American revolution? Why did the French flee Indochina and Algeria? Why are the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan proving so hard to crack?
The short answer is that we are not prepared to do what is necessary to win. Our laws and culture, our very societies simply cannot abide the essence of victory. We are, at the end of the day, unwilling to turn barbaric enough to win.
Here are a few of Luttwak's observations:
"Pefectly ordinary regular armed forces, with no counterinsurgency doctrine or training whatever, have in the past regularly defeated insurgents, by using a number of well-proven methods. It is enough to consider these methods to see why the armed forces of the United States or any other democratic country cannot possibly use them."
Luttwak proceeds to draw upon two examples of successful counterinsurgency warfare - the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
"...whenever insurgents are believed to be present in any village, small town, or district - a very common occurrence in Iraq (and Afghanistan) at present, - the local notables can be compelled to surrender them to the authorities, under the threat of escalating punishments, all the way to mass executions. That is how the Ottoman Empire could control entire provinces with a few feared janissaries and a squadron or two of cavalry. ...A massacre once in a while remained an effective warning for decades."
Luttwak notes the Romans also used inducements such as public baths and free circus shows to "de-bellicize" unruly populations. Those who still refused were killed or, if captured, sold into slavery. Towns under seige could either surrender and be accepted as peaceful subjects or the town and all within would be utterly destroyed.
"...In the first two and most successful centuries of imperial Rome, some 300,000 soldiers in all, only half of them highly trained legionary troops, were enough to secure a vast empire that stretched well beyond the Mediterranean basin, today the territory of some thirty European, Middle Eastern and North African states. ...they relied on deterrence, which was periodically reinforced by exemplary punishments. Most inhabitants of the empire never rebelled after their initial conquest."
The author points out that, despite the myths of heroic resistance, the Germans were actually very successful in using terrible reprisals to occupy lands with very few troops. The key, argues Luttwak, is to develop a willingness to out-terrorize the insurgents, the very thing Western democracies are not prepared to tolerate.
"All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principled and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents, the necessary and sufficient condition of a tranquil occupation."
There it is - we're just too damned nice for our own good.