GLOBAL COUNTERINSURGENCY, TAKE 2….By coincidence, Taylor Owen has a piece today about exactly the subject of the previous post: the relative value of force vs. restraint when fighting a local or regional insurgency. He’s part of a team combing though previously unreleased data on the Vietnam War, and notes that Henry Kissinger warned Richard Nixon that the mass bombing of Cambodia was like “poking a beehive with a stick.” Taylor continues:
While the munitions [used today] are radically different, Kissinger may still be right about the use of airpower against a heterogeneous insurgency. Further, I think the question of the strategic costs of civilian casualties in this context is under studied. Much of the debate is, I believe, wrongly centred on the morality of the deaths and whether they are ?justified? in international law.
This is an important question, undoubtedly, but one that is devoid of the potential strategic costs of the casualties. I would argue that a very small number of civilian casualties, regardless of the ?justice? of the attack or the efforts to limit collateral damgage, can have a grossly disproportionate strategic cost when fighting an insurgency. Those whose families are killed will rarely be convinced by our rationalizations, nuances, claims of moral difference etc. More likely they will become, at the least, tacit supporters of the insurgency being fought. When fighting a group that requires this very civilian support, this becomes a serious strategic concern.
This is fairly obvious stuff, but it’s hard to say it too many times. Careful use of military force is plainly one component of our current fight against jihadism, but “shock and awe” is the fastest way to lose a war against an insurgency that has even modest popular support. One of these days we’ll figure this out and get serious about winning.