Michael Ledeen: Unlike Previous Counterinsurgencies

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Ledeen is an expert on U.S. foreign policy. His research areas include state sponsors of terrorism, Iran, the Middle East, Europe (Italy), U.S.-China relations, intelligence, and Africa (Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe). A former consultant to the NSC and to the U.S. State and Defense Departments, he has also written on leadership and the use of power. His latest book is entitled The War against the Terror Masters. He earned a PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin.]

As the Baker/Hamilton club considers our options in the Middle East, its members would do well to study the classic works on counterinsurgency. The first comes from a French lieutenant colonel, David Galula, who was a commander in Algeria in the 1950s. He later studied in America and for a short time consulted to the RAND Corporation. His classic work, "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice," has become required reading for the more thoughtful members of the military community.

Originally published in 1964, it has been reissued this year with a dandy introduction by an American Army lieutenant colonel, John Nagl, who also has written a fine book on the same subject, "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam." Galula formulated five basic laws for fighting insurgencies:

(1) The population is the basic target, and all other basic principles flow from this one. Whichever side wins over the population will win the war. "Destruction of the rebel forces and occupation of the geographic terrain led us nowhere so long as we did not control and get the support of the population," Galula wrote about the Algerian conflict in a 1963 RAND report, "Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958," which was reissued this year.

(2) Support from the population can only be obtained through the efforts of the minority among the population that favors the counterinsurgent.

(3) This minority will emerge — and eventually become the majority — only if the counterinsurgent is seen as the ultimate victor. For us to win, the original minority will have to take risks, and it will only do that if we are known, respected, and seen to be winning. Above all, we must be able to protect them.

(4) The superiority of the counterinsurgent will almost never be so overwhelming that he can simply dominate the whole territory. The counterinsurgent has to concentrate his efforts area by area, and demonstrate staying power and resolve.

This is what we nowadays call the "inkblot strategy," or the "clear and hold" strategy. We have done well at "clearing," but all too often we have left the cleared areas, relying on Iraqis to hold them, instead of constantly maintaining small operational groups in and around the cleared areas and initiating combat with terrorists who try to move back in. When we fail to do that, the crucial "minority that favors the counterinsurgent" gets killed.

(5) At a certain point, the war itself becomes the central issue. The population's attitude is dictated not by the intrinsic merits of the contending causes, but by their conviction about winners and losers. Whoever is judged the likely winner will gain popular support, and most likely win the war. Being seen as the eventual winner eventually determines the winner, short of creating a military dictatorship that simply executes anyone on the other side.

It's pure Vince Lombardi: Winning is the only thing. You need popular support, and you'll only get it if two conditions are met: You must have good personal relationships with lots of people, and the people must think you're the winner. If they do, they'll help you win by taking you into their families and tribes, providing you with information, and helping you track down the insurgents. If they don't, they'll either avoid you or support the enemy. Karen Hughes, please take note. You need to convince the peoples of the Middle East that we are winners, not that we are lovable, gentle, and tolerant....

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William Marina - 12/1/2006

Ladeen seems, as usual, a bit confused. He recommends the Baker-Hamilton group read books on counter-insurgency written by those who were a part of the losers in Algeria and Vietnam, just as he appears to be, as an original Iraq rooter, now not doing too well in the advice column. Only at the end, in a totally different context, does he mention a winner, Football Coach Vince Lombardi, whose recommnendation was "run to daylight!" Where is that in Iraq, Mr. Ladeen?