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Fighting the Greedy Defense Lobbyists: Our Schools vs. Their Worthless Weaponry

With less money to go around, why burn it on stupid projects for the defense industry?

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The most disturbing initiative, however, is a recent push to "reshape" the armed forces. A recent Defense Department directive elevates "IW" (irregular warfare) to a level "as strategically important as traditional warfare," arguing that for the "foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent extremists will the central objective of U.S. policy."

This concept is no different than the "hearts and minds" counterinsurgency strategy that failed so disastrously in Southeast Asia two generations ago. The directive assumes that military disasters result from impatience and poor tactics. If you're willing to fight a "Long War," don't kick in too many doors, lunch with the locals, and hand out lots of candy to the kids, you win.

Occupational Hazards

But the key to understanding why the U.S. and NATO are losing in Afghanistan and Iraq is the word "occupation."

Writing almost a century ago, T.E. Lawrence laid out what he called the algebra of occupation: "Rebellion must have an unassailable base...it must have a sophisticated alien enemy, in the form of a disciplined army of occupation too small to dominate the whole area. It must have a friendly population...sympathetic to the point of not betraying rebel movements to the enemy. Granted mobility, security...time and doctrine...victory will rest with the insurgents, for the algebraical [sic] factors are in the end decisive."

Lawrence was writing about the British occupation of Iraq, but he might as well have been channeling the future. His conclusion should give the Obama administration pause about its plans for a "surge" of troops into Afghanistan: "Against them [the algebraic factors], perfections of means and spirit struggle quite in vain."

History is replete with examples of Lawrence's formula too numerous to list. Indeed, the few examples of successful counterinsurgency - the Americans in the Philippines and the British in Malaya - were the result of unique historical factors that that have never transferred well.

The occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has been a financial and diplomatic disaster for the United States, devastated the countries we invaded, and is spreading the war to Pakistan and India. The recent terrorist assault on Mumbai was very similar to the September bombing of the Islamabad Marriott Hotel, both of them almost certainly "blowback" from the growing involvement of Indian forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and the Pakistani Army in the northwest frontier and tribal territories.

Won't adding 90,000 troops trained in counterinsurgency warfare create pressure to use those troops in places like the Sudan, Somalia, the Gulf of Guinea, Colombia, or any number of regions where U.S. interests collide with local aspirations?

In an article in the most recent Foreign Affairs , Defense Secretary Robert Gates lays out his roadmap for a new U.S. military: "What is dubbed the war on terror is...a prolonged, worldwide irregular campaign - a struggle between the forces of violent extremism and those of moderation. Direct military force will continue to play a role in the long-term effort against the terrorists and other extremists. But over the long term, the United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory."

Gates' strategy embodies the possibility of both hope and disaster. If the United States chooses to keep the military on its current footing - including adding more troops and focusing on the use of "direct military force" - then future wars and occupations will almost certainly torpedo Obama's plans to deliver a more equal and humane society.

If, however, diplomacy and negotiations takes the place of F-16s and Special Forces, then there is yet hope that the world can take a step back and look for alternatives that avoid Lawrence's grim calculations.

 
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