News & Politics

The Guerilla in the Room

News flash: insurgencies can't exist without popular civilian support.
"I would describe it as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us. It's low-intensity conflict in our doctrinal terms, but it's war, however you describe it." - Gen. John Abizaid, Commander, U.S. Central Command, July 2003. 

So what's the big deal if we're dealing with a guerrilla insurgency in Iraq, while having managed to install a Shia-dominated government who just happen to be allied with the Iranian "axis of evil"?

Because, as War Nerd Gary Brecher has been trying to tell us for years now, short of genocide, there is no military solution to a guerrilla insurgency.  

Trying to rouse the Iraq war drumming section, Max Boot wrote an op-ed piece earlier this month, using the U.S. occupation of the Philippines as evidence that "small (guerrilla) wars can be won." Well, yeah. But at what cost?  

"The United States eventually won (in the Philippines), but it was a long, hard, bloody slog that cost the lives of more than 4,200 American soldiers, 16,000 rebels and some 200,000 civilians. Even after the formal end of hostilities on July 4, 1902, sporadic resistance dragged on for years," he wrote.  

While Boot is low-balling the number of Filipino civilians who perished under U.S. occupation (the number is closer to a million civilian deaths), his example is instructive.  

We went to war and the Filipino insurrectos went guerilla. Filipino General Francisco Macabulos articulated the goal of the insurgency: "not to vanquish the U.S. Army but to inflict on them constant losses."   The U.S. responded like any capable military would have in those days. Scorched-earth campaign - burning villages, concentration camps, water torture. Basically, terrorizing the civilian population - I mean, guerilla sympathizers. Throw in a few tit-for-tat atrocities and you begin to understand what your old war vet uncle means when he says, "war is hell."

But don't take my word for it. Check the history yourself. Or, ask your uncle.  

"When I first started in against these rebels, I believed that Aguinaldo's (insurgent) troops represented only a faction. I did not like to believe that the whole population of Luzon--the native population that is--was opposed to us and our offers of aid and good government," General MacArthur reported in February 1900.  

A 47-year old Iraqi mother who left her family in Baghdad to join the Mahdi army in Najaf told the Washington Post way back on Aug. 29, 2004: "We are going to fight them (that means our guys) until we throw them out of Iraq. Our country is our country."  

A 47-year-old Iraqi mother. Are you seeing what's in front of our eyes? Short of genocide, there is NO military answer to guerrilla warfare. If these "realist" Iraq war cheerleaders were being honest, they would put a stop to all this "the insurgents are hiding among the civilian population" and "human shield" mumbo-jumbo.  

News flash: insurgencies can't exist without popular civilian support! That's why insurgents seem invisible to the conventional military eye. This is basic guerilla history. Again, check it out for yourself.  

You can see the pickle we're in when you consider what even Bush hawks have conceded is the most important "war" to win - the war for "hearts and minds." And you don't have to be John Keegan to understand that you don't win "hearts and minds" by killing tens of thousands, or a million (who's counting?), civilians - the very people you're "liberating." The hey-your-kin-and-countrymen-are-being-slaughtered-but-at-least-you-can-vote argument isn't very convincing.  

I know "we don't do body-counts" but just in case you're wondering: it's typical in guerrilla war for the occupying power to have shock-and-awe kill ratios. But don't forget Ho Chi Minh's horrifying golden mean? "You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win."  

Just about 40 percent of the Iraqi male population is under the age of 14. It's only 20 percent in the U.S. Now, throw in the present administration's international anti-birth control policies in order to please the Puritan wing of the GOP and it's easy to see where this ends. To borrow Boot's words, "a long, hard, bloody slog."  

A true straight-talkin' realist would be saying: either we nuke 'em or we get the hell outta Dodge. Though this should have done long before Rumsfeld started talking about being greeted as liberators, my hope is that when we count the true costs, we head for the nearest exit-strategy, re-join the international community, and let true peace-makers go to work. In the meantime, will the real realists puh-leaze stand up.