Tuesday, July 22, 2003

The Left Fails(?) its Rorschach Test

Steven Den Beste's article on the Bush administration's justifications for going to war is comprehensive enough, but the substance behind it can be summarized as Bush & Co. being audacious enough to use the classical counter-insurgency tactic of "inkblotting" on an international scale:

Not all U.S. COIN efforts failed outright or succeeded through barbarism. U.S. Marine Corps forces in the mountainous northernmost area of South Vietnam, for example, pursued a COIN strategy combining local and highly motivated (but poorly trained and equipped) villagers with direct support from U.S. Marine combat platoons. These combined action platoons (or CAPs) operated on an "inkblot" principle: Secure a village or hamlet, then patrol out in widening circles until intersecting with another CAP's secured area. The strategy had two major disadvantages, however. First, although it protected South Vietnamese citizens from immediate danger of terror attacks by VC guerrillas, it could achieve success only in the long term--and time favored the VC. 74 Second, although militarily effective, CAP success only highlighted the inability of the South Vietnamese government to protect its own citizens. "How the Weak Win Wars A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict" Ivan Arregui'n-Toft International Security 26.1 (2001) 93-128

This is the counter-insurgency strategy that has historically paid some of the highest dividends. (cf. our experience in Latin America in the 1920's and 30's, the British in the Malaysian emergency of 1948-60) It relies on undermining the enemy's base over the long term, and convincing the majority in the affected area that the irregulars are a more of a long-term threat than the regular forces. As Arregui'n-Toft notes above, if the population does -not- get the impression that there is hope at the local/national political level, then the strategy fails. The successful example of Malaysia backs up his point.

By flanking hostile powers (Iran & Syria, with Saudi Arabia as a bonus) with the secure bases in Iraq and Afganistan that we have won at comparatively little cost to both ourselves and our foes, we have laid down the political and military groundwork to really deal forcefully with our jihadi enemies. The question remains as to whether or not the Bush administration can maintain the pressure on the Islamic theocrats abroad via an activity (nation-building) it professed abhorrence for pre-9/11, not to mention the historically strong ties between the House of Bush and the House of Saud which act as a counter-balance to the anti-terrorist effort. The terrorists have been beaten back into Saudi Arabia, and the devil's bargain that the ruling dynasty has made with them shows definite signs of coming apart. Sensible reporting on the region indicates that the problems that the media is currently whining about were anticipated and progress is real, but slow and not "media-sexy." At home, the domestic opposition has squandered its credibility attacking a vague intelligence statement about possible attempts on Saddam's part to purchase African uranium rather than make substantive criticisms of the failure of American intelligence to deal with 9/11 or the hopelessly bureaucratic idiocies of "Homeland Security." Such raving anti-war figures as Mark Steyn and Glenn Reynolds have had to bring these concerns to the fore.

It is understandable that the Democratic party is loathe to follow Reynolds's suggestions, since that would involve them taking some mature measure of responsibility for Clinton's sleepwalking through history, as well as criticizing one of their reliable voting and fund-raising groups (government employees). It is also not surprising that the bulk of the trendoid anti-war left is so adamantly wrong about the nature of the "inkblot" strategy, given their abysmal ignorace of what they profess to protest, namely the history of war and the military. I must be pardoned some cynicism if I state my suspicions that the more clued-in members of the Left are, at heart, upset at the prospect of the U.S. military actually rolling back not only communism but also the "lesser evils" that US policy tolerated and/or aided during that struggle. It would show an adaptability in the face of error that the modern epigones of socialism have never been able to muster in confronting the realities of power politics, actual economics and human nature.