10 May 2010

Ackerman retains his crown

It's no secret that Ralph Peters' writing often irks me, particularly when he launches one of his diatribes against America's "soft" approach to counterinsurgency, and what he must view as a peacenik culture among combat-hardened junior officers. Fortunately, we have intrepid journalists, like Spencer Ackerman, who take on Ralph Peters whenever he rears his ugly head. Indeed, Ackerman reigns supreme when it comes to taking on Ralph Peters. (Although Dave Dilegge does quite well also)

Nevertheless, Ackerman almost lost his crown this week, as I opened up David Kilcullen's Counterinsurgency, and was treated to this passage:
Some armchair chicken hawks (none with experience of actual warfare in any form, let alone against real guerrillas) have argued that, contrary to recent evidence, you can indeed kill your way out of an insurgency, and have even suggested that an intensely brutal and violent approach is the quickest and best way to suppress an insurgency. Two favorite examples are the Romans and the Nazis, who supposedly ignored the "politically correct" notions of modern counterinsurgency and applied mass brutality with great success.
After reading that, I felt as giddy as a Japanese schoolgirl in a Hello Kitty store.

Kilcullen mentions that the Romans were able to subjugate Gaul, Helvetia, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and other lands not "by the sword", but by instituting Roman law, introducing Latin, and delivering essential civil services, like fresh water, channeled through aqueducts. Indeed, Roman population-centric nation-building efforts are faithfully reproduced in this classic scene from Monty Python's Life of Bryan.

Kilcullen goes even further. He cites one study which suggests that many Wehrmacht commanders during the Second World War actually reduced the level of partisan activity (read: insurgency) by instituting fairer forms of government. I will also submit that in many cases, even the Mongols understood the value of state-building. During the Mongol expansion of the 13th Century, cities which chose to submit rather than fight found themselves treated relatively favorably by the Horde. The Mongols would simply exact a tribute and remove the city's leadership, leaving the civil servants unharmed. It seems even Ghengis Khan understood that "de-Baathification" was a bad policy.

Yet, the chapter didn't really address the question as well as I would have liked to. Certainly, there are hundreds of insurgencies worth examining, many being quelled with a wide range of solutions. Some might resemble the population-centric methods favored in the US Army's Field Manual 3-24. Yet, others might resemble a brutal "crushing" of an insurgency. Strangely enough, the brute force method might seem to be successful in at least a few situations. Even Galula concedes that the brute-force method is effective some of the time.

Granted, it's quite a gamble. As The Duck of Minerva points out, reckless neglect for the welfare of civilians tends to cause mass uprisings, as is evidenced in Afghanistan. Fittingly, The Duck also ends with a particularly notable quote from Machiavelli, one which is often taken grossly out of context by many in the "brute force" camp.

The 16th Century Florentine writer is most famous for claiming that it is better for a prince to be feared than loved, and this much is true. However, the second half of the original sentence notes that it is also important that a prince not make one's self hated. By causing civilian casualties in such a reckless manner, we cross the fine line from "fear" to "hatred".

Focus: Does the brute force method ever work in counterinsurgency? Under what conditions?
Update: Dr. Patrick Porter weighs in at The Offshore Balancer.
Update 2: The Canadian Cincinattus also addressed this issue over the weekend.


Patrick said...

great post. Your question is a real good one - I'll post up an answer over at Offshore Balancer.

not that I'm qualified, being an armchair, flabby, combat shy pure civilian...

libertariansoldier said...

Pretty interesting take on history. I guess the 25% of the Gallic popolation Caeser killed/enslaved after fighting a 10 year war had nothigg to do with enabling the Romans to "nation build". And I suppose it depends on your definition of Roman (or Byzantine) and Mesopotamia ("the land between the rivers")--I kinda thought it was a state on state fight between various iteration of Rome and various iterations of Persians (parthians and Sassanids) until the Arabs took it over.

Ian said...

Seems sorta germane:


"the article presents a comparative analysis of four targeted killings conducted against Taliban leaders. Findings suggest that the eliminations degraded Taliban professionalism, diminished the group's success rates, influenced their selection of targets, and weakened morale. These findings speak to the efficacy of targeted killings in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency and to their value as both counter-capability and counter-motivation operations."

courtneyme109 said...

Romans nor Wehrmacht had withdrawal timnetables. Broadcasting the summer 2011 unassing of AfPAK may be self defeating...

Starbuck said...

Well, we (and the Brits, Canadians and Soviets) pretty much decided the Wehrmacht's timetable for them. As for the Romans, they were there to stay.