Win the war on terror with Lansdale's Cold-War era 'friendly persuasion'

tags: war on terror, Trump, Edward G Lansdale

Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, is author of The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, published Jan. 9. Follow him on Twitter: @MaxBoot

For decades — from the days of Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan — U.S. policymakers have faced a terrible dilemma when confronting insurgent threats abroad. They could do nothing and risk losing territory to the enemy. Or they could use military force and risk being drawn into a quagmire.

There is a third way, but it’s not easy to pull off. It relies on sending a small number of American advisers to buttress an embattled foreign regime without a massive American military commitment. For such a low-level approach to work, it’s important that the advisers understand how to effectively influence local leaders without simply imposing “Made in America” solutions that may not work in a foreign context.

One of the most successful advisers in history was Edward G. Lansdale, an advertising executive turned Air Force officer and CIA operative who came to be known as the “T.E. Lawrence of Asia.” His methods, honed in the Philippines and Vietnam in the 1950s-60s, are more relevant than ever as America confronts a growing Islamist threat from West Africa to Southeast Asia.

When Lansdale was dispatched to the Philippines in 1950 by the Office of Policy Coordination, a super-secret spy agency that would soon be folded into the CIA, that country was threatened by a Communist uprising called the Huk Rebellion. The Truman administration feared that another Asian country was about to go “Red,” but, with the Korean War raging, there were no American troops to spare. So Lansdale was sent to fight the Huks with a handful of assistants.

The most important thing Lansdale did was to befriend a dynamic young war veteran who had just been appointed defense minister. Ramon Magsaysay was an effective leader who was not marred by the corruption prevalent in Filipino politics. Lansdale convinced him to rein in the Philippine Army — to tell soldiers that they would have greater success in treating the people as “brothers” rather than bombarding their villages with artillery. Once the people began to trust the troops, they would inform on the guerrillas in their midst. Lansdale was a pioneer of the sort of counterinsurgency tactics that General David Petraeus would implement in Iraq in 2007. ...

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