Sensitivity & Conducting Guerrilla Warfare

Much has been made of the evident confusion of the Bush Administration over whether a warrior should be sensitive. From Atrios, who in turn was tipped off to this interview by a reader.

Cheney vs. Cheney

On Hugh Hewitt's show:

HH: Vice President Dick Cheney, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

VP: It is good to be on here.

HH: Today you brought attention to John Kerry's plan to wage a more 'sensitive'
war on terror. What do you think John Kerry meant when he said 'sensitive,' Mr.
Vice President?

VP: Well, I'm not sure what he meant (laughing). Ah, it strikes me the two words
don't really go together, sensitive and war. If you look at our history, I don't
think any of the wars we've won, were won by us being quote sensitive. I think
of Abraham Lincoln and General Grant, they didn't wage sensitive war. Neither
did Roosevelt, neither did Eisenhower or MacArthur in World War II. A sensitive
war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans, and who seek
chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons to kill hundreds of thousands more....


HH: Will the Najaf offensive continue until that city is subdued even if that
means a siege of the Imam Ali shrine?

VP: Well, from the standpoint of the shrine, obviously it is a sensitive area,
and we are very much aware of its sensitivity. On the other hand, a lot of
people who worship there feel like Moqtada Sadr is the one who has defiled the
shrine, if you will, and I would expect folks on the scene there, including U.S.
commanders, will work very carefully with the Iraqis so that we minimize the
extent to which the U.S. is involved in any operation that might involve the
shrine itself.

The confusion here is: when does one need to be sensitive and where is toughness needed?

Maoist theories of revolution are a good place to start. Mao Tse-Tung (The Chinese now use Pin-yin to spell his name Mao Zedong) was a truly terrible dictator and was responsible for the deaths of millions during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless, his theories on revolutionary warfare are quite sound. He said that there were two essential elements to any guerrilla struggle, the “fish” and “the sea” they “swim” in. The “fish” or active guerrilla fighters, or the “hard men” as the Irish revolutionaries call them, can number in the hundreds or the thousands. The “sea” or their sympathizers, the people who supply the guerrillas with food and cover, can number from the tens of thousands to the millions.

In Vietnam At War, Lt Gen. Davidson lets it slip that ordinary Vietnamese soldiers were motivated to fight the Americans by promises that they would get to own their own land (The US couldn't match that offer as Americans had allied themselves with Vietnam's landowning Mandarins.) and that when the Land To The Tiller program was adopted anyway (Giving ordinary Vietnamese their own land.) it was by far the most successful counter-insurgency measure the Americans ever took.

The hard men of Vietnam were committed Marxist-Leninists who were very concerned with political power and abstract theory. Their guerrilla fighters, who did the actual hands-on fighting, were more concerned with real and immediate comforts and concerns. The sympathizers who provided the fighters with cover, proved that they could be won over by real-world, concrete concessions that made an immediate and practical difference to their lives.

I read many years ago that Hitler made the same mistake in his invasion of the Soviet Union. Citizens of the Ukraine were disaffected from Joseph Stalin and Russia and Communism generally, but by not seeing to their concrete concerns (It's been suggested that the occupying Germans kept the hated communes intact and had those been broken up and private property been restored, the Ukrainians would have cheerfully joined with the German invaders.) were met, the Ukrainians joined in with the Russians and helped to toss the Germans out.

Also, in a book on guerrilla war, it was pointed out that when the British pacified Malaysia in the 1960s, they did so in a step-by-step manner. They flooded a provice, town or city with troops, set up an efficient municipal administration, saw to basic tasks like garbage collection, restoration of electrical power and sewage repairs, and saw to it that basic policing was done. When the area was stabilized, they left a small detachment away from the populated area and moved on.

The torments of Abu Ghraib were not just contrary to American ideals and international law, they completely missed the point. Had the United States restored electric power and conducted meaningful elections, there is a great deal of evidence that Iraqi guerrilla sympathizers would have cast their lot with the American occupiers instead. There were sporadic attacks from May 2003 to July 2003, but the serious fighting did not begin until August 2003 and the open combat did not begin until the Battle of Fallujah in April 2004, which was kicked off by the slaughter of four American mercenaries, which in turn, was said to be provoked by knowledge of the atrocities of Abu Ghraib.

The atrocities of Abu Ghraib were designed to give the United States critical tactical knowledge as to what the hard men were up to, the plans of the guerrilla fighters. What American forces needed to do was to win over the sympathizers, the people who were interested in concrete, material improvements in their lives. Iraqis were quite aware that the evil dictator, Saddam Hussein, managed to get electrical power back up and running within a month of the first war's ending in 1991. The fact that the United States couldn't even meet the standard set by Hussein was noted by the hard men of Iraq and exploited to the maximum. From the capture of Baghdad in April 2003, it was clear that the Americans had no interest in basic, low-level police work. "River" reported in late August 2003 that gangs were becoming highly organized, that over 400 females had been abducted (And those were only the reported ones.) and that 70 cars a day were being hijacked.

The plain and simple fact of the matter is that sensitivity could have saved Americans a lot of lives and could have defused a seriously violent situation. The error of the Bush Administration is to confuse what you need to do with the hard men of al Qaeda and the Iraqi resistance and what you need to do with the millions of sympathizers that make the actions of the hard men possible. In fact, we can see with the memo leaked in October 2003, that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld envisioned the War on Terror as being an almost entirely military struggle (Not surprisingly, as there was no clue in the memo that the President's cabinet had ever discussed the issue as a group.) Rumsfeld's question to the group was revealing: “Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the clerics are recruiting, training and deploying?”

This was not a small gaffe or glitch by Cheney, this reveals a fundamental confusion at the heart of American policy for the past several years.

1 comment:

Melanie said...


Neither Cheney nor Rummy have the slightest clue about Fourth Generation Warfare. As a result, we have already lost a war that we don't know how to get out of.