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Our geopolitical experts, like Max Boot, lead America into the dark

21 January 2013

Summary:  A nation’s experts guide it into the darkness of the future, to success or failure. And the experts choose as guides reflect the nation’s values and wisdom.  The grim events during the 11 years since 9-11 allow an accurate evaluation of America.  Read this, then make your own forecast of our future.

Invisible Armies

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
— Upton Sinclair, 1935

Contents

  1. The fate of our geopolitical experts shows our dysfunctionality
  2. Max Boot strikes again
  3. The real history of modern insurgencies (hidden history; you must not learn this)
  4. Van Creveld gives an accurate analysis of insurgency
  5. Studies about the history of counterinsurgency

(1)  Our geopolitical experts reveal our dysfunctionality

Our expensive but fruitless wars were supported by a well-rewarded chorus of war-mongers (ie, profiting from war; details here), such as Max Boot (Council on Foreign Relations), and Niall Ferguson (Prof History, Harvard). Some thrived for only a few years, such as John Nagel (former President of the Center for New American Security). Their stream of false analysis and failed predictions didn’t dim their fame.

As for their opponents, forecasting that our wars were not worth the cost: the more accurate they were, the less well known they are. Such as Andrew J. Bacevich (Colonel, US Army, retired; now Prof History at Boston U) and even Martin van Creveld. Their insights are drowned out by the news media’s amplification of the usually wrong but useful words of the establishment’s word warriors.

Fame comes from support of our mad profitless American Empire, as successful courtiers throughout history would expect.  Our experts working the Versailles-on-the-Potomac support the large, even awesome, profits of Empire. Our troops and their families pay in some ways.  We all pay in dollars.  Our descendents will pay by the diminished future of an America whose capital was burnt abroad.

(2)  Max Boot strikes again

Look at Max Boot, one of America’s top war-mongers, who has made a good living stoking our fears, advocating new wars, encouraging us to continue existing wars, and explaining away failure in the last war. It has not hurt his career that his forecasts have consistently proved wrong and his advice disastrous.  For example, Max Boot made a powerful claim 31 months ago in ”Yes We Can … Win in Afghanistan“, Commentary, 18 June 2010:

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Max Boot

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed.

Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

Boot’s prediction was wrong (like most of his forecasts). As were his historical analogies (here is an explanation).

Now Boot has written a new book, sparking yet another stream of articles and interviews to spread DoD disinformation (eg, “Victory in Afghanistan? Not without U.S. troops“).  Rather than wade through his latest distortions of history, we should focus on the the primary goal of his work: advocacy for US interventions in foreign insurgencies, propping up governments supporting US interests. Boot’s core message:

Insurgencies have been getting more successful since 1945, but they still lose most of the time. According to a database that I have compiled, out of 443 insurgencies since 1775, insurgents succeeded in 25.2% of the concluded wars while incumbents prevailed in 63.8%. The rest were draws.
— “The Guerrilla Myth“, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal — “Unconventional wars are our most pressing national security concern.”

This is accurate, but misleading.  Government’s usually defeat insurgencies. But the fatal fact undermining the basis of US interventions is that local insurgents usually defeat foreign armies (see the studies in Section 5).  Boot and his fellow war-mongers must know this; their work is in effect an extended effort to conceal this fact from the US military and public.

That they’ve succeeded so well illustrates our gullibility and vast capacity for self-delusion.

(3)  The real history of modern insurgencies (hidden history; you must not learn this)

We’re ignorant because we refuse to listen to real experts.  For example, we did not heed Martin van Creveld’s warnings — like this from Chapter 6.2 in Changing Face of War (2006):

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

Years of posts on the FM website have discussed this in detail.  Such as the following from January 2007: Why do we lose 4th generation wars? ….

As a simple dichotomy for analytical purposes, we can say that 4GW’s come in two types, reflecting the degree of involvement of outside interests (obviously there are many other ways to characterize 4GW).

  1. Violence between two or more local groups, who can form from any combination of clans, governments, ethnicities, religions, gangs, and tribes.
  2. Violence between two or more sides, where at least one is led by foreigners – both comprising, as above, any imaginable combination of factions.

4GW victories by governments are usually of the first kind, local governments fighting insurgencies. Often foreign assistance is important or even decisive, but the local government leads in such areas as political reform and tactics. Western governments have “won” a few type two insurgencies, but only by assisting the locals – with the locals carrying the primary burden. That is, the foreign interest may lead, but the local government must implement.

Examples of type one insurgencies:

  1. The WWI Arab Revolt, in which Lawrence of Arabia helped the local Arabs defeat their Turkish rulers.
  2. The Indonesian insurgencies in West Java and East Timor that Kilcullen studied.
  3. The victory of the Malaysian colonial government over a communist insurrection (1948 – 1960), during which Malaysia achieved independence from the UK. The British, controlling the information flow to western nations, take full credit for what was more of an assist on their part.

… After the late 1940′s, western states fighting 4GW’s in other lands – type two wars – usually lost. This is the bright line marking a new age of military history, the ascendancy of 4GW. It began with three epochal events.

  1. The end of the WWI – WWII period, conventional wars of attrition which devastated both side, and appears to have (for now, at least) crushed the martial spirits out of Europe’s people.
  2. The use of atomic weapons, suggesting an apocalyptic end to future wars between States.
  3. The development by Mao of an effective theory of 4GW, and his successful proof-of-concept.

The era of large conventional wars and successful colonial wars has ended. (Note that the war in Iraq increasingly resembles a neocolonial war, as did Vietnam.)  War continues, but assumes new forms.  This schema generates these immediate insights:

  1. 4GW’s (and insurgencies in general) are easiest to defeat at home.
  2. Do not look to wars won by the locals for lessons how we can win when fighting in foreign lands.
  3. We should avoid foreign wars, except when we only assist local forces … As Germany learned in WWII and we are learning in Iraq, excellence in tactics and personnel cannot overcome a fundamentally flawed strategy.

(5)  Van Creveld gives an accurate analysis of insurgency

Few of our geopolitical experts understand insurgency to the degree Martin van Creveld explained it in “On Counterinsurgency”, From Combating Terrorism, edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005):

  1. Introduction: The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen
  2. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  3. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  4. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  5. Conclusions — Let’s hope we learn these soon.

(6)  Studies about the History of counterinsurgency

  1. More paths to failure in Iraq, 16 December 2006 — Myths about COIN in Iraq
  2. How often do insurgents win? How much time does successful COIN require?, 29 May 2008
  3. Max Boot: history suggests we will win in Afghanistan, with better than 50-50 odds. Here’s the real story., 21 June 2010 — Boot discusses 7 alleged victories by foreign armies fighting insurgencies.
  4. A major discovery! It could change the course of US geopolitical strategy, if we’d only see it, 28 June 2010 — Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) points us to the doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard. She examines the present and past analysis of counter-insurgency. This could change the course of American foreign policy, if we pay attention.
  5. A look at the history of victories over insurgents, 30 June 2010
  6. COINistas point to Kenya as a COIN success. In fact it was an expensive bloody failure., 7 August 2012

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