Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Urban Insurgency

The Bix and I were talking about counter-insurgency today and whether it was a good idea to set a date for withdrawal. On the one hand, the citizens of a representative government demand, and I think it rightly, a timetable for the support of foreign adventures. On the other hand, by placing a timetable for withdrawal, it tells the insurgents that all they have to do is last until then, and they will be able to win. On the third hand, a fixed date for withdrawal can cut the legs out from under a nationalist insurgency, as we experienced in the Phillipines. On the fourth hand, withdrawal without victory is absolutely devasting to our troops--as John Kerry's one bit of eloquence put it, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"--which was illustrated by the crumbling of the American military during the withdrawal in Vietnam. On the fifth hand, without a set date, why should the local troops bother fighting. They have two perverse incentives: first, they do not want to be left hanging should the occupying power withdraw (so they won't get themselves noticed as major counter-insurgency players); second, they have no stake in victory. They can be quite confident that the occupying power will not throw them to the wolves, so they do not need to take risks themselves--in short, they'll fight just hard enough not be killed, and rely on the other powers to bear the brunt of the fighting.

How can we resolve this conundrum? We want to withdraw in order to appease the citizens at home and the nationalists abroad, but we want to stay for the sake of our troops, but we don't want to stay too much or the local forces will not rely on their own resources.

I propose that the best solution in Iraq is for the United States to pull out of the cities and leave pacifying the cities to the local forces, and meanwhile dominate the countryside, the small towns, and the borders.

1. This approach would get the United States out of the cities, and thus out of immediate contact with the majority of the population, making the U.S. presense seem much less present.

2. It would allow us to throw the local forces to the wolves--forcing them to rely on themselves--but it would not pull us so far out that we could not get back in if things went terribly, terribly wrong.

3. It would allow us to separate and contain the insurgency, so problems could not spread as easily from one city to another.

4. It would use U.S. power to its best advantage. We lack the language and cultural skills needed for pacification programs, but when it comes to smacking down the bad guys, no one comes close.

5. It would be a demostrable step towards withdrawal, without having such a negative effect on our troops (plus, it would most likely reduce our casualty rate).

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