July 30, 2006
KEVIN DRUM: “The fight against Islamic jihadism is essentially a vast, global counterinsurgency, something that the United States is lousy at. But we’d better get good at it fast, and the first step is to discard the fatuous notion that more violence is the obvious answer when the current amount of violence isn’t doing the job. History suggests very strongly that the truth is exactly the opposite.”
Well, it’s not so much a question of more or less violence as it is a question of applying the proper amount of violence to the proper people. And if, as Kevin argues, the current amount of violence isn’t doing the job, that actually isn’t evidence that either more or less would be better.
While I think that Drum’s comparison with U.S. and Israeli strategy today with Soviet strategy in Afghanistan — if that’s what he means, which isn’t quite clear to me — is wrong, I think that his reference to “casual genocide” as the preferred strategy of pro-war people is pretty clear, and pretty absurd. Yeah, you see that kind of thing in blog comments sometime, but I think most people support current U.S. military efforts because they fear that ignoring the problem is likely to produce more death and violence over the long term, not less. (Hence the frequent invocations of 1936 and 1938). That’s certainly my view.
In the 1990s, we followed the “ignore it and maybe it’ll go away” strategy. As I’ve noted before, I can’t blame people for that — it was the strategy that I favored, too, based on what I knew at the time, as I thought that if we waited Islamic Jihadism would collapse under the weight of its own idiocy. But it clearly didn’t work. I don’t know whether the current strategy is correct or not, though it seems to me that so long as we give Syria and Iran (and for that matter, Saudi Arabia) a pass, we’re never going to get much of a handle on this problem. But Drum’s post is notable for what it lacks — a specific proposal beyond saying that we’d better get better at this stuff fast. I agree, of course, but . . . .
Neither Kevin or I is a military expert, but I do know that counterinsurgencies, even the most successful ones, are long, drawn-out, messy, and often lacking in obvious signposts of success for most of their duration. So if this is a global counterinsurgency against terror, and it looks long, drawn-out, messy, etc., well then that’s hardly a surprise.
Still, so as not to fail at making positive proposals myself I’ll make one suggestion: The real problem in the war on terror, I think, is a relatively small number of terror-backers in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Why aren’t we waging unconventional warfare against them? They undoubtedly have toes we can step on in the form of business interests, overseas accounts, vacation homes, etc. Would we make more progress by targeting those sorts of things, rather than fighting their cannon fodder in the field? If I recall correctly, a shift to that strategy was what ended the Philippine insurgency a century ago.
But I’m no military expert, so there may be good reasons why we’re not doing this. Or we may, in fact, be doing it and it just may be under the radar, though I kind of doubt that.
UPDATE: I think that Hugh Hewitt is too hard on Kevin. I don’t think that Drum was ascribing ineptitude to U.S. troops, but rather disapproving of the overall strategy. But I could be wrong.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Kevin responds.
MORE: Related thoughts from Bill Quick. And a column on the general subject from Mark Steyn. “In Iraq, the leviathan has somehow managed to give the impression that what previous mid-rank powers would have regarded as a little light colonial policing has left it stretched dangerously thin and bogged down in an almighty quagmire. Even if it were only lamebrain leftist media spin, the fact that it’s accepted by large numbers of Americans and huge majorities of Europeans is a reminder that in free societies a military of unprecedented dominance is not the only source of power. More importantly, significant proportions of this nation’s enemies also believe the spin. In April 2003 was Baby Assad nervous that he’d be next? You bet. Is he nervous now?”