IN THE NEWS
Yesterday's post took me longer than usual to write because I wanted the dividing line between conventional war and whatever it is we're fighting since 9/11 was clear. I also wanted to show that terrorists and guerrillas aren't interchangeable; the operational approaches for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism are very different.
I hope the list of things to do and not do is fairly obvious. However, I'll point out the occasional news items that illustrate the right and wrong ways to (1) defeat al Qaeda, and (2) win the war in Iraq. So, here we go...
A partial list of things not to do when fighting guerrillas:
- Use torture. Not only is it ineffective, but it undermines the legitimacy of any Iraqi leader who is willing to work with us.
- Block the investigation of the torture. The world is watching what we do now--including the Iraqis. Our own legitimacy and leverage depend on demonstrating faith in our own laws and Constitution.
- Kidnap the family members of "suspected insurgents" to put pressure on their relatives to surrender. Even if this tactic were to "work" (i.e., coerce people into surrendering to US troops), it'd be another sure-fire way to undercut any Iraqi regime allied with us.
- Turn minor enemies into major heroes of the resistance. It was the right call to step back from the brink of demolishing Fallujah and Najaf. However, the nasty boomerang effect of declaring Muqtada al-Sadr public enemy number one, then bungling his arrest, is obvious. Fallujah's new, Taliban-like government was exactly what we were supposed to prevent.
- Resist adjustments to the strategy. You can't plan a counterinsurgency operation the way we planned the D-Day invasion. We have to keep our ear to the ground, find out what's happening in the everyday politics of Iraq, and adjust accordingly.
- Act as though we can ignore politics. The theme that weaves in and out of these news items is, the United States is acting as though politics and war have no connection--which, of course, was the great mistake we made when we invaded a country without a plan for the occupation. Anyone involved in this kind of war--in Iraq, Vietnam, El Salvador, the Philippines, Afghanistan--has to live and breath the politics of the country where we're fighting. Political and military action must work, every day, in concert with one another. The only measure of success is the politics of the country itself, not Macnamara-esque body counts, or chest-thumping declarations of toughness.