Thoughts about Insurgent Warfare
By Brenda Cooper, 2004
Insurgents tend to win.
Look at the record. Although insurgent warfare is common, and seems to be an inevitable reaction to occupation, large-scale insurgencies are less common. Iraq qualifies. We have been in two other significant insurgent wars. The most recent was Vietnam, which we lost. The first was the revolutionary war. In both cases, the insurgents won.
“Although insurgent warfare is common, and seems to be an inevitable reaction to occupation, large-scale insurgencies are less common.”
We are at war with insurgents in Iraq. If we grant that President Bush?s declaration that the war was over in May, 2003 as the end of traditional army warfare in Iraq, and the beginning of the insurgency, then we lost 137 troops in the traditional war and 991 troops so far in the insurgency, for a total of 1128 American deaths. Iraq’s casualties have been far higher. Every life matters, every death is a tragedy.
How the war in Iraq ends will greatly affect our political and economic future. I predict that if we continue our current effort, which appears to be armed response to the insurgents — but with too few troops for an effective complete occupation, and no political will or world support for a complete occupation — we will lose. I’m not the first person to say that Iraq smells like Vietnam. The stakes are higher than Vietnam. The outcome will affect the entire region, and our access to oil, which we continue to cling to, dependently, as if it were our life?s blood.
So what can we do?
One choice, of course, is long term occupation with sufficient forces. There is no good exit strategy for that, and it’s fraught with bad things like long supply lines, lack of troops, and too much attention to one area in world full of uncertainties that exist on multiple continents. Not to mention a possible real draft requirement.
We used to largely ignore terrorists – to refuse to bargain with them, and to limit our military response to terrorism to small and often secret operations. This was effective in the past. There are, however, more terrorists now, and 9/11 was too big to ignore. I suggest that we return to ignoring terrorists without ignoring the causes and fears that breed them. And of course, without ignoring enhanced security, although we must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of our choices.
So here is one set of options to consider:
First, some assumptions. Education, basic services, and economic health breeds peace more than it breeds war. Look at the EU, at the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada for examples. These same things are probably a prerequisite to any form of representative government. Staying in Iraq the way we are now will not succeed (the insurgents will win – see above).
Simply pulling out, as irresponsible as it feels, is a viable option. If you accept that the current path has no possible win at the end of it, then why take even one more step?
Can we improve on simply pulling out? What if we leave Iraq, then create a large and brave coalition of helpers (American and international) who will begin with the safest places in Iraq and provide food, work on rebuilding, education, and health care using half the money we are now spending to keep too-few troops there. Some of these helpers would die, but the insurgents will have a hard time justifying killing unarmed people who are working for the good of Iraq. The process will take as long as the war is likely to, maybe longer, and may not result in a country under our control with our puppets running it. I contend that it would probably do more good and less harm to both Iraq and America, and begin to repair the damage we?ve done to our international reputation.
While we’re at it, reducing our dependency on oil opens choices in Iraq. It lowers the stakes and lets us care less about the outcome of Iraq’s struggles to become a functioning country.
Regardless of what we choose next, I believe our choice to enter Iraq at all, and the insurgents choice to keep fighting, creates a lose-lose situation. We need to think outside the box of our current path, and find a better future. For our sake, and for the sake of the Iraqi people.