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March 05, 2007

Why asymmetrical warfare is so effective against the US
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Former Democracy Arsenal guest blogger Ike Wilson's study of asymmetrical conflicts is discussed in today's Washington Post. (Don't Send a Lion to Catch a Mouse).  Short version: "the analysis showed that the odds of a powerful nation winning an asymmetrical war decrease as that nation becomes more powerful.... the likelihood of a great power winning an asymmetrical war went from 85 percent during 1800-1850 to 21 percent during 1950-2003."


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Some thoughts:

1."If you are looking through armor at the people you are trying to serve, what does that sound like to the people?"
A ridiculous statement. Armies are trained to kill people, not serve them.

2.". . . successfully prosecuting an asymmetrical war, such as the one in Iraq, requires a large fighting force and, possibly, high casualties as troops asked to blend in with local populations become vulnerable targets for insurgents. Fifteen US-manned outposts have been established in Baghdad. There are Iraqi soldiers at these outposts but their movements are restricted and they do not attend planning meetings. These outposts are now being hardened against the inevitable grenade and mortar attacks. There will be no blending with the local population, most of whom support armed attacks on Americans because of the almost-four-year brutal occupation. Good luck.

3. "Don't Send a Lion to Catch a Mouse" So those that argue that we have lost in Iraq because of insufficient combat power are, shall we say, wrong?

4. Military occupations, as the article points out, just aren't what they used to be. The American colonists had only single-shot, smooth-bore long arms to use against the British occupation army. Still, the colonists won. The Iraqis have much more, and they know how to use what they have.

The Israeli historian, Martin Van Creveld, has been making the same point for decades. His 1991 book, The Transformation of War, is supposedly required reading for American officers, though you wouldn't know it by studying our army's operations.

Nevertheless, it's important to realize that whether we defeat the insurgents or not is really beside the point. If we stopped the violence tomorrow, the major consequence of the war would be that we empowered Iran. That is why this war is so misguided, and why so much of the criticism of the Bush administration misses the point. (For example, see Suzanne's last post about how things would be so much better if only the generals had spoken up in 2004.)

Right on, Cal, but there are plans for Iran. This counter-insurgency role is one that the US hates, and obviously hasn't done very well in Vietnam and Iraq. Flat-out bombing is the real deal, plus it gets the heretofore shut out Navy and Air Force into the act. What good are these expensive forces if they're not used? Never mind that the Iranians won't be virtually defenseless like the other patsies we've taken on, that our nuclear aircraft carriers are huge floating targets for Sunburn and Silkworm cruise missiles, it'll be bombs away with the full support of the major Dem-hawks running for president.

Getting back to counter-insurgency, it's partly (or wholly) a semantics problem. An insurgency by definition is a revolt against an established government, but the way the US military uses the term it's a resistance to a foreign military occupation and its puppet government, which to my mind is different. If a foreign army invades the US and occupies it brutally, and installs a puppet government, and I fight them, am I an insurgent? I think not. I am a patriot resisting a foreign occupation and defending my homeland. And I will beat them, as would you.

I ran into this WAPO article yesterday, and my first thought was Keyser Soze. I am more movie buff than historian, to be sure, but Soze taught all of us that to be in power, you didn't need guns, or money or even numbers--you just needed the will to do what the other guy wouldn't.

I think modern occupying armies, followed around as they are by reporters and photographers and a whole world watching on the web, are much less willing to engage in the sort of horrifying behavior that would, in generations past, have put the fear of [ ] into the local population, and gone a long way toward squelching indigenous revolt.

Like most, I like to describe this phenomenon as "progress", but doesn't it inevitably mitigate the efficacy of an occupying force? Isn't it less about technology, and more about the fact that the forces around the world trying to put down insurgencies aren't generally willing to behave like the Hutus in 1994?

Like most, I like to describe this phenomenon as "progress",

Like most, I like to describe this phenomenon as "progress",

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