Global Counterinsurgency Revisited

GLOBAL COUNTERINSURGENCY REVISITED….The George Packer article that I mentioned yesterday is now available online. It focuses on an Australian anthropologist and counterinsurgency expert, Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, who believes that our fundamental approach to the war on terror is wrong. In fact, as many other people have pointed out, he believes the problem starts with the very phrase, “war on terror”:

A war on terror suggests an undifferentiated enemy. Kilcullen speaks of the need to “disaggregate” insurgencies: finding ways to address local grievances in Pakistan’s tribal areas or along the Thai-Malay border so that they aren’t mapped onto the ambitions of the global jihad. Kilcullen writes, “Just as the Containment strategy was central to the Cold War, likewise a Disaggregation strategy would provide a unifying strategic conception for the war — something that has been lacking to date.” As an example of disaggregation, Kilcullen cited the Indonesian province of Aceh, where, after the 2004 tsunami, a radical Islamist organization tried to set up an office and convert a local separatist movement to its ideological agenda. Resentment toward the outsiders, combined with the swift humanitarian action of American and Australian warships, helped to prevent the Acehnese rebellion from becoming part of the global jihad.

….Crumpton, Kilcullen’s boss, told me that American foreign policy traditionally operates on two levels, the global and the national; today, however, the battlefields are also regional and local, where the U.S. government has less knowledge and where it is not institutionally organized to act. In half a dozen critical regions, Crumpton has organized meetings among American diplomats, intelligence officials, and combat commanders, so that information about cross-border terrorist threats is shared. “It’s really important that we define the enemy in narrow terms,” Crumpton said. “The thing we should not do is let our fears grow and then inflate the threat. The threat is big enough without us having to exaggerate it.”

….At the counterinsurgency conference in Washington, the tone among the uniformed officers, civilian officials, and various experts was urgent, almost desperate. James Kunder, a former marine and the acting deputy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, pointed out that in Iraq and Afghanistan “the civilian agencies have received 1.4 per cent of the total money,” whereas classical counterinsurgency doctrine says that eighty per cent of the effort should be nonmilitary.

The entire article is worth reading, though it’s inevitably a little fuzzy on details. The biggest takeaway, though, is Kilcullen’s belief that we’re trying to force a hundred little propaganda wars, each of which requires a media and intelligence strategy all its own, into the more familiar straitjacket of a single broad-based military war (the “war on terror,” “Islamofascism”). But that broader war is a chimera, and refusing to acknowledge this in a serious way is just making things worse.

I want to digest this a bit before I decide what I think about it. In the meantime, it’s a worthwhile piece to read in full.