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Friday, October 07, 2005

The guerrilla must move among the people as the fish swims in the sea.
Mao
With current troop levels, it's pretty clear that there is no way our troops can pacify Iraq, if pacification involves eliminating the insurgents from the cities. As happened in Vietnam, we are pursuing a losing strategy because no one is willing to accept the consequences of abandoning it.

A little while ago Slate recommended the "ink blot" strategy: pacify a small area completely, and then spread out from there. As you develop effective government and society within the pacified region, the people outside the pacified region start ot see the advantages.

The drawback is, you abandon the unpacified region completely. There aren't enough troops to keep a presence there and clean out the pacified region.

A more radical strategy, which has been effective in anti-guerrilla campaigns in the past, though no one actually likes it, is to create new population centers, and forcibly move people there. This is the "strategic hamlet" notion of Vietnam, which the British invented back in the Boer War. The "concentration camps" of that war were just that, camps where they concentrated the Boers, not extermination camps. Nonetheless, a lot of Boers died being moved by the British troops. On the other hand, the Boer insurgency lost, because they ran out of people to swim among.

It's not necessary to forcibly move people, though. Suppose you were to establish strategic hamlets and then let people apply to live there. Start with the troops themselves. Only Iraqi Army troops and their families are allowed to live there. Government officials and their families. People with a serious stake in the government winning the insurgency.

Then, slowly, build out from there. Rather than spending $70,000 to fill a pothole or two in Ramallah, spend $70,000 to build a house or two in New Medina, Iraq.

I'm talking gated communities where insurgents aren't wanted, where everyone knows everyone else and they're all on the same side. You're a Wahabist from Syria? Back of the line, bubbie.

What would happen, Ins'allah, is everyone who isn't actively against the government will want to move to safety, and eventually only the guerrillas will be left in the abandoned old cities.

Yes, it's expensive. But it's not as expensive as what we're doing now. I'm pretty sure you could rebuild every building in Iraq, aside from Saddam's palaces, for the $500 billion we've spent there. And Iraq has a lot of desert you could build on.

Of course, to do that would be to admit defeat in our current strategy. But sometimes in order to win, you have to admit you're losing.

2 Comments:

"Start with the troops themselves. Only Iraqi Army troops and their families are allowed to live there. Government officials and their families. People with a serious stake in the government winning the insurgency."

Mistake. It creates a big target for the insurgents to attack if you put all assets in one area - fenced in or not. Guarded or not.

"The good guys don't hide."

I don't have the answer on how it can be "won" except to say I think we need to fight the economic and social battle there more than the war.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 9:42 AM  

Everyone on our side already IS a big target. And we can't protect them.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:16 AM  

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