Tuesday, June 07, 2005

DeKlein and Fall

Phil Carter has links and commentary to a Naomi Klein piece.

I don't share Phil's enthusiasm for Ms Klein, who strikes me as a rather dreary, pious, joyless (but presumably not entirely sexless, as people of her ilk must be reproducing like rabbits judging by the frequency with which they pop up on BBC panel shows), knit-your-own-hemp-underwear sort, but a couple of bits did catch my eye. Klein makes references to the film The Battle for Algiers and the French experience in Algeria and draws explicit links between it and the American experience in Iraq.

This struck home to me up to a point, in that one of the key factors that I believe must be avoided in the development of a sustainable strategy for prosecuting the GWoT (or what you will) is the development of a French guerre revolutionaire mindset, which I am convinced would be a negative tipping point at every level - grand strategic to tactical. I do not believe that the people running American policy or the bulk of the US armed forces are afflicted with this rather unfortunate disorder but I do candidly see echoes of it in some of the coverage emerging from sections of the conservative commentariat.

On the other hand I think the broader thread of the argument is guff and is strongly tainted by the ideologically based and empirically barren conceit common among Ms Klein and friends that what happened in Algeria was an inevitability and will happen in all such situations. There is little evidence to support this (though various factors can contribute to it - dehumanisation of the enemy and the population at large, badly trained and led security forces, security forces comprised largely of conscripts etc etc etc). Counterinsurgency operations in Malaya, the Philippines and even French operations in Indo-China were absent of the sort of systematic brutality employed by the French in Algeria. The Algerian case was special largely because of an unfortunate blend of internal intellectual development within a section of the French armed forces, unsuitable force composition, domestic politics and pressures from an implanted colonial population.

The case of Kenya is instructive as a case study in which widespread abuse involving the security forces took place and was then cut out. Kenya is widely acknowledged as the most brutal of Britain's COIN campaigns and the nature of the abuses and miscarriages of injustice have been superbly and rigorously documented by David Anderson. However, abuses - and the tolerance of abuses - by British forces were reversed to a startling extent following the appointment of General George Erskine to command. Abuse, torture and the absence of due process were not only recognised by Erskine as counterproductive in practical terms, they were abhorrent to his professional ethics as a British officer. Although his influence was largely limited to British Army forces (and not the police and colonist forces), the rot was cut out, fast. There was nothing inevitable about the abuse - with sound leadership and a clear sense of purpose and practicality it could be stopped and it overwhelmingly was (and did nothing but good for the counterinsurgency effort). From numerous correspondences with US officers, serving and retired, I am confident - entirely confident - that the US Army has more George Erskines than revolutionary warriors.

Klein argues that there is no popular consent for a Coalition COIN presence in Iraq. This is not implausible at this stage. However, I am as suspicious of Klein's methodology on this matter as I am of the cheery anecdotage regarding various "Hidden Good News Stories" ("The children just flocked round smiling and the bazaars were bustling...") that tend to be the staple of sections of the "blogosphere". Consent in a COIN situation is not fixed and can ebb and flow depending upon how well a campaign is going. The support of the population is conditional and previous positive polls of Iraqi opinion tend to point to the idea that it can be won back, not in the form of love but in the form of a grudging recognition that it's better temporarily with us than without us. The fact that most people in the know are leaning toward the notion that the US can't actually get out fast enough also rather undermines Klein's assertions that it's staying with a gun pressed to the heads of the elected representatives of the Iraqi people.

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