The fundamentals of radical, transnational counterinsurgency

Counterinsurgency doctrine is the symptom of an idea more primeval and dangerous: violence is the solution.

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

There’s a lot of hate speech floating around out there. You’re used to it by now. The President is a black Muslim Nazi, LGBT destroy families, immigrants are disease-ridden criminals. It’s not just that these lies are offensive, though, is it? It’s that they hint at something darker, more wicked underneath. The argument isn’t that immigrants have diseases (they don’t), so let’s try to help them. It’s that they have diseases, so they’re filthy and must be hunted down and annihilated. The folks who spread this hate speech are not lying out of altruism or compassion, they’re lying as an expression of the dangerous, sociopathic capacities they possess. We know this from our foreign policy as well. It’s not just that the overt anti-semitism of terrorist videos will double you over with vomit, it’s the psycho undercurrent of suicide bombings that really keeps us awake at night.

I thought about this when I read Steve Hynd’s “COIN is like Soviet Communism?,” wherein he exposes counterinsurgency not as a strategy, but an ideology. He’s right, but it’s not just that counterinsurgency is a demented ideology, that it propagates vicious lies like obliterating a houseful of Afghan civilians is “protecting the population.” It’s that COIN is a symptom of an idea more primeval and dangerous: violence is the solution. The fundamental idea behind counterinsurgency is that war is the right tool for the job. It may look different and sound different, but it’s still war, still violently brutalizing a population, us and them, for isolated and selfish political ends.

And much like the hate speech in our political discourse, you only need to scratch the surface of this ideology to see the fascist and criminal tendencies underneath. Here’s Ann Marlowe writing in World Affairs:

More and more, I suspect that it’s the brutality that works, not the COIN. It’s moving hundreds of thousands of people across a country, or shooting all the men in a village as a reprisal for terrorism, or taking hostages, or doing extra-judicial kidnappings. Of course, the brutality would work without the COIN, too. Brutality works. But that’s not who we are.

Yes, you really just read that. The problem with our strategy is that it doesn’t have enough ethnic cleansing. That’s what it means when you shoot all the men in a village, you wipe them out. I’ll let you take a wild guess what happens to the women. We should just skip all that garbage about development and go for more extra-judicial kidnappings. Because “brutality works.” And massive displacements, that worked awesome for the Israelis, right? Both the countries of Israel and Palestine are peaceful and happy, all thanks to the Nakba. But the reason we’re not using this successful strategy of brutality in Afghanistan is your fault. It’s because you’re a pillow-biting westerner.

COIN makes sense intellectually, especially in the pellucid prose of David Galula, who wrote better in English than Roger Trinquier in French. Part of the reason it makes sense is that COIN is congruent with our culture’s bias toward a perspectival view of reality. As General McChrystal keeps saying, counterinsurgency is a matter of perception.

Right, that little voice inside you that says wiping out entire populations of human beings isn’t a good thing, that’s just your “cultural bias.” You just want to believe in a “perspectival view of reality.” Silly faggot, too many blue jeans and diet sodas for you! Big, tough Ann Marlowe knows the truth! War crimes are great:

In Algeria, the French were able to forcibly resettle villagers, build miles-long walls to close Algeria’s borders, and, of course, torture terrorists, or simply toss them out of planes if they wouldn’t talk. And that war didn’t end well. In Malaya, the British achieved success, but also with forcible resettlement of inconveniently located villagers and many other heavy-handed measures that would be completely beyond the pale today. Also, in both of these countries, the counterinsurgents essentially were the government, with long involvement on the ground.

Speaking of which, the Sri Lankan government seems to have succeeded against the Tamil Tigers, but if we could use their measures we would win in Afghanistan too. When the US government fought insurgents in the South after the Civil War, it declared martial law and shot enemy suspects on sight.

Aren’t we all pining for the good old days of Blood and Iron, when we had martial law imposed on the South? Probably no innocent people were shot on sight, and even if they were, who gives a damn, we won! That sure was a shining moment of military strategy, and really, of American values. Now if only we could just replicate the tactics of the Sri Lankan government, “we would win in Afghanistan.” (Yep, she said “win,” like maybe she thinks there’s some kind of prize at the end.) And what did the government of Sri Lanka do to win? Well they just shelled all the Tamil villages. They displaced them into giant, hellscape refugee camps, and then obliterated them with artillery, air strikes, executions, and massacres. Remember the Superdome during Katrina? Yeah, like that, only add carpet bombing. Murder everyone in their own filth, that’s how to win in Afghanistan. Feel good?

Excuse my language, but this is some heavy, disturbing shit. This sick bastard is rationalizing crimes against humanity. It’s past stealing bread to feed to your family and to the point of justifying genocide. Completely absent are any Enlightenment achievements like rule of law and the value of human life. But this is exactly what we should expect when we have the obvious, blaring warning signs of COIN. It starts with a little bit of violence, a little bit of war, but it starts expanding (devolving?). We need 30,000 more troops. We need to expand our extra-judicial killings and kidnappings, more drone strikes and more night raids. Is it any surprise that Ann Marlowe says skip the development and “the talking part”, and jumps straight to reptilian sins like displacement and ethnic cleansing?

This is not some loose, rhetorical “slippery slope” argument, this is actually happening. Ann Marlowe published that yesterday. Yesterday, May 20, 2010, almost a decade after the United States of America aggressively invaded and occupied Afghanistan, Ann Marlowe said our soldiers should commit war crimes against humanity to win. And she’s not just dredging up ancient history from the Civil War, Sri Lanka was ethnically cleansed last year. The annihilation of the Tamil people happened right before our eyes, and we’re so poisoned with war that our only reaction was “we need more of that!”

This is why we need to completely remove the military from Afghanistan, bring every last troop home. And more importantly, this is why need to avoid getting sucked into stupid media games. This is why we need to take such a hard line against our politicians. These ideas and debates have real consequences.

Democrats want to look tough on national security, and now 1,000 Americans are dead. We want a fine-tuned, population-friendly counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, and now thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis are dead. We so believe in this concept of “victory” in Afghanistan that we have honest, thoughtful discussions on whether or not crimes against humanity are a good tactic.

Bring the troops home. We have better solutions to the problem, and we have other issues to deal with. Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page and collaborate with the tens of thousands of others around the country working to bring this war to an end.

One comment

  1. “The folks who spread this hate speech are not lying out of altruism or compassion, they’re lying as an expression of the dangerous, sociopathic capacities they possess.”

    It is typical that a hardcore extremist leadership displays sociopathic tendencies. In Sri Lanka, it was true of both LTTE and GOSL. It is surely true of Al Queda, and also of the Bush administration (and perhaps the current administration as well).

    OTOH, we cannot dismiss all followers of such hate speech as psychopaths. Were 2/3 of Sri Lankans psychopaths? Hardly. Rather they were pressured by push-pull factors into going along with their leadership. Go along and we’ll improve your lifestyle. Don’t go along, and the white vans may come to pick you up, or you may be found shot in the head– or not found at all.

    I once heard Simon Frumpkin, a Dachau survivor from Lithuania, describe how when the Nazis rolled in, Lithuanian Jews’ erstwhile friends and neighbors stood by and let the Jews be herded into arenas, then railroad cars for the trip west to the camps. Did the entire Gentile population of Lithuania suddenly become psychopathic? No, they suffered from the desire for self-preservation. It takes serious cahones to risk your life for your neighbor. How much less, then, are we willing to risk shame and ostracization, and perhaps financial and physical harm, to stand up for someone half a world away whom we have never met?

    I once sat across the table from a man who was scared for his life. This was a man I knew, who (like so many others) supported neither side in the war, who had been my host in a Tamil area of Sri Lanka that was at that time unstable. I was there doing research in support of the peace effort, and I asked too many questions. A few days later, this man appeared unexpectedly in my office, accompanied by a Tamil man I did not know and who did not speak English. My friend sat across from me, sweating and stammering, as he told me how correct the LTTE was. Then he stood up and left, his unknown sidekick in tow, without saying another word. I am grateful, knowing that my ill-considered actions put this man in danger, to know that he survived the war– his duty done, the LTTE apparently had no further interest in him.

    Until you have looked in the eyes of someone who knows the fear of war, it’s far too easy to view the people of a another land as somehow less than human– especially when what we see in movies is too often waves of nameless enemies being mowed down by the dozen by heroic American soldiers.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.