Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Guerrillas Always Win

Jan 20, 2005 12:55 am

The Guerrillas Always Win

William R. Polk has an excellent piece in The American Conservative in which he talks a bit about the nature of the war we are fighting in Iraq. Polk writes: Guerrilla warfare is not new. In fact, it is probably the oldest form of warfare. But in recent centuries, so much attention was given to formal warfare that most soldiers forgot about informal war. Although few guerrilla leaders have given us accounts of how they organized, got their supplies, fought, retreated, regrouped, and fought again, history provides a rich lode of information. We can study experiences dating from the 20th-century conflicts in Europe, Asia, and Africa, including the Irish struggle against the British, Tito’s and the Greek ELAS’s struggles against the Germans in the Balkans, Mao Zedong’s war against the Japanese and then against the forces of Chang Kai-shek in China, the Viet Minh’s defeat of the French in Indo-China, the Algerian war of national liberation against the French, the Chechens’ centuries-long war against the Russians and, of course, our Vietnam and Russia’s Afghanistan.

For me, what jumps out from the above list is the fact that in each and every example mentioned (except the Chechens so far) the guerrillas eventually won. Given that kind of history, it no longer a matter of winning or losing because the Sunni Iraqis fighting us now will never accept a Quisling Shia dominated government. Instead, it is a question how many more lives have to be lost or shattered before we as a people come to our senses and leave.

Hat tip to my friend Kenny.

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

If guerillas always win, what happened to Moktada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army? Haven't heard from that "winner" in a while.

For that matter, what happened to the OTHER Mahdi Army (in Sudan in the 19th century)? I guess Moktada al Sadr isn't the only one to have forgotten the fate of that ill-starred guerilla movement.

How about the PLO in Jordan, 1970? Or the PLO in Lebanon, 1982? Or the PA in Jenin, 2002? Or Yasir Arafat in Ramallah, same time?

How about the Kurds, Shia or "Marsh Arabs" under Saddam after the first Gulf war (or the Kurds before it)? Or the KKK after Grant got finished with them? Or the Sindhi uprising in Pakistan under Bhutto? If you've never heard of this latter guerilla movement, maybe it's because they lost so badly they were never heard from again.

BTW, what happens when guerillas fight guerillas, e.g., if the (Sunni) Kurdish PUK were to fight the "Sunni insurgency"? Wait, wait, don't tell me: the guerillas would inevitably win.

If you want to make a case for leaving Iraq, make it on the strategic or moral merits of leaving, not on the preposterous claim that we're doomed to defeat at the hands of the Timothy McVeighs of Iraq.

And if you really think that "guerillas always win", why not just throw in the towel and ask Osama bin Laden for terms of surrender right now? Al Qaeda is a guerilla organization; if guerillas always win, evidently he will.

For two years, I've heard libertarians complaining about Bush's opportunism in offering arguments for war: WMD, liberation, etc. etc. And what do we get from libertarians themselves? The same exact method applied to the anti-war cause. One day it's "Iraq is a distraction from fighting Al Qaeda"; the next day, it's "guerilla armies always win", so we might as well not fight anybody; the next day it's "inspections and containment were working" (even when that's flatly contradicted by Duelfer's ISG Report); and the day after that, I'm sure, it'll be some new thing.

At the end of the day, all these contradictions just cancel each other out and leave us back at square one.

Keith Halderman - 1/21/2005

I think you are a very optimistic person. Also Hussein was only anti-US because we wanted that way. As a then ally in our struggle against Isalmic fundamentalism, he asked permission to invade Kuwait citing what he believed to be legtimate grievences and we gave it to him, then we turned on him. If we had given him any chance to get back into the fold he would have taken it.

Bill Woolsey - 1/21/2005

I believe that the U.S. will allow a government supported by the majority of Shiites to rule.

I don't believe that the majority of Shiites
believe it is realistic to give Shiite clerics
a formal, dominant role in the Iraqi state--like
in Iran.

That is, clerics will get elected like other
people and will influence lay politicians and
voters to implement policies consistent with
Shia Islamic values.

There will be no state council of clerics (Shia or
mixed) who will have a formal veto over all
policies and the formal power to vet candidates
for public office.

I do believe that sharia will be the source of
the law in Iraq and that the U.S. will put up
with it.

I don't believe that Iraq will recognize Israel
or support U.S. attacks on Iran.

I don't beleive that the Iraqi government will be
organizing anti-American rallies or otherwise
make a big show of being anti-U.S.

My guess is that they will really be allied with Iran,
but will be the good cop Shia-dominated Republic,
while Iran will remain the bad one.

It is, of course, possible that the U.S. will depose
the new Shiite government. That would result in
the mainstream of Shiites starting (or joining)
an insurgency.

As I said, the Shia are waiting to take power.

And I believe the U.S. will hand it over. I don't
think the resulting regime will be as anti-U.S. as
Saddam or Iran. Unless, of course, the U.S. goes
to war with Iran.

No doubt there are elements in the U.S. government
who don't want to let the Shia take over--for many
reasons. I don't think they will get their way.

Keith Halderman - 1/20/2005

Mr. Woolsey do honestly believe that the Bush administration is going to allow a radical Islamist regime in Iraq along the lines of the one in Iran? Just yesterday Secretary Rice listed Iran as a rogue state. No, there will be a moderate Shia government closely tied to the United States. The majority of Shia who want a theocracy and the Sunnis who fear the Shia will see it as a Quisling government. I does not matter what you, I, or the American people think about its legitimacy.

Keith Halderman - 1/20/2005

You are talking about battles and I am talking about wars. As for the PLO if they could halt the killings in Israel for a few months they would have their state. The Kurds have a defacto state and we are currently trying to install the Shia as rulers of all Iraq so they can do the same awful things to the Sunnis that the Sunnis did to them whe they had power. As for the new Iraqi government if it shows any backbone it will be replaced and it will last just as long as there are American troops to back it up.

Bill Woolsey - 1/20/2005

As I see it, the U.S. promised elections
in Iraq and most Shia have been willing to
wait a reasonable amount of time. When
it became clear that Bremer wanted to reconstruct
Iraq for 5 years before elections, there
were Shia street protests. There were demands
for elections last spring. The UN said that
wouldn't work, so mainstream Shia said OK, we
will wait until January.

And they anticipate winning. Why
does this make them Quislings?

If they show some backbone after the
election--telling the U.S. what it can
and cannot do in Iraq and insisting that
the U.S. leave if it won't do as they say..
then maybe they could be called Quislings.

I will grant that it will be tough for a Shia
government to defeat a Sunni inurgency in
that part of Iraq that is dominated by Sunnis.

But keep in mind that the Sunni Arabs are
a minority.

My prediction is that the Sunni struggle will be
suppressed through very harsh methods--by
other Iraqis.

And Iraq won't be especially pro-American. The
U.S. pro-Israel policy and anti-Inanian policy
will cause problems. But as long as the U.S.
doesn't go to war with Iran I don't anticipate
that the new Iraqi goverment will be openly
hostile to the U.S.