A Global Counterinsurgency

A GLOBAL COUNTERINSURGENCY….Apparently the latest chatter from our friends on the hawkish right revolves around the idea that the United States might be too squeamish to win any of the various wars we’re fighting at the moment. Perhaps a bit of casual genocide is in order?

Since it would appear that mere appeals to human decency aren’t going to carry much weight with this crowd, how about a practical objection instead? Here’s a reminder of how the Soviet Union fought its war in Afghanistan during the 1980s:

Although initially, Soviet operations were directed primarily against the mujahidin, once the Soviets realized the popular support for the resistance movement, they deliberately turned to a terrorist strategy of “migratory genocide” and “rubblization.”….Fighter-bombers and medium bombers hit targets deep inside guerrilla territory, seeking to destroy the village infrastructure supporting the mujahidin.

“Free-fire” zones were created along the main roads and extended back to the hills behind them, and the villages within these zones were “virtually obliterated.” In addition, field crops, food storage facilities, and the irrigation systems so vital to Afghan agriculture were bombed in the attempt to drive the people off the land. Soviet aircraft also deliberately attacked civilian caravans coming into or leaving the country, thus causing many casualties among women and children. Small bombs shaped as toys or other attractive objects were used with the intent to maim children, and these caused many livestock casualties as well.

….Since the war began, probably more than 200,000 Afghans have been killed and more than one-third of the population has been forced to flee to Pakistan, Iran, or the Afghan cities….There has been enormous slaughter of livestock….and the famine in places has been compared to that in Ethiopia.

I picked this description pretty much at random. You can find similar ones in dozens of places. I think three points are germane here:

  1. At the time, the United States was horrified by the Soviet brutality and genocide in Afghanistan. Remember?

  2. It didn’t work. The Soviets were defeated and left Afghanistan in 1989.

  3. The Soviet campaign led fairly directly to the creation of al-Qaeda and the international jihadist movement. It’s fashionable these days to suggest that the United States itself is to blame for the founding of al-Qaeda because we’re the ones who armed the mujahidin, but that’s far too facile. We may have helped things along, but it was the unimaginably brutal Soviet campaign that radicalized Afghanistan and rallied the jihadist community in the first place.

The fight against Islamic jihadism is essentially a vast, global counterinsurgency, something that the United States is lousy at. But we’d better get good at it fast, and the first step is to discard the fatuous notion that more violence is the obvious answer when the current amount of violence isn’t doing the job. History suggests very strongly that the truth is exactly the opposite.