|There Is a Military Solution to Terror|
|Wednesday, 04 June 2008|
The Wall Street JournalGLOBAL VIEW
By BRET STEPHENS
Sadr City in Baghdad, the northeastern districts of Sri Lanka and the Guaviare province of Colombia have little in common culturally, historically or politically. But they are crucial reference points on a global map in which long-running insurgencies suddenly find themselves on the verge of defeat.
For the week of May 16-23, there were 300 "violent incidents" in Iraq. That's down from 1,600 last June and the lowest recorded since March 2004. Al Qaeda has been crushed by a combination of U.S. arms and Sunni tribal resistance. On the Shiite side, Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army was routed by Iraqi troops in Basra and later crumbled in its Sadr City stronghold.
In Colombia, the 44-year-old FARC guerrilla movement is now at its lowest ebb. Three of its top commanders died in March, and the number of FARC attacks is down by more than two-thirds since 2002. In the face of a stepped-up campaign by the Colombian military (funded, equipped and trained by the U.S.), the group is now experiencing mass desertions. Former FARC leaders describe a movement that is losing any semblance of ideological coherence and operational effectiveness.
In Sri Lanka, a military offensive by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has wrested control of seven of the nine districts previously held by the rebel group LTTE, better known as the Tamil Tigers. Mr. Rajapaksa now promises victory by the end of the year, even as the Tigers continue to launch high-profile terrorist attacks.
All this is good news in its own right. Better yet, it explodes the mindless shibboleth that there is "no military solution" when it comes to dealing with insurgencies. On the contrary, it turns out that the best way to end an insurgency is, quite simply, to beat it.
Why was this not obvious before? When military strategies fail – as they did in Vietnam while the U.S. pursued the tactics of attrition, or in Iraq prior to the surge – the idea that there can be no military solution has a way of taking hold with civilians and generals eager to deflect blame. This is how we arrived at the notion that "political reconciliation" is a precondition of military success, not a result of it.
There's also a tendency to misjudge the aims and ambitions of the insurgents: To think they can be mollified via one political concession or another. Former Colombian president Andres Pastrana sought to appease the FARC by ceding to them a territory the size of Switzerland. The predictable result was to embolden the guerrillas, who were adept at sensing and exploiting weakness.
The deeper problem here is the belief that the best way to deal with insurgents is to address the "root causes" of the grievance that purportedly prompted them to take up arms. But what most of these insurgencies seek isn't social or moral redress: It's absolute power. Like other "liberation movements" (the PLO comes to mind), the Tigers are notorious for killing other Tamils seen as less than hard line in their views of the conflict. The failure to defeat these insurgencies thus becomes the primary obstacle to achieving a reasonable political settlement acceptable to both sides.
This isn't to say that political strategies shouldn't be pursued in tandem with military ones. Gen. David Petraeus was shrewd to exploit the growing enmity between al Qaeda and their Sunni hosts by offering former insurgents a place in the country's security forces as "Sons of Iraq." (The liberal use of "emergency funds," aka political bribes, also helped.) Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has more than just extended amnesty for "demobilized" guerrillas; he's also given them jobs in the army.
But these political approaches only work when the intended beneficiaries can be reasonably confident that they are joining the winning side. Nobody was abandoning the FARC when Mr. Pastrana lay prostrate before it. It was only after Mr. Uribe turned the guerrilla lifestyle into a day-and-night nightmare that the movement's luster finally started to fade.
Defeating an insurgency is never easy even with the best strategies and circumstances. Insurgents rarely declare surrender, and breakaway factions can create a perception of menace even when their actual strength is minuscule. It helps when the top insurgent leaders are killed or captured: Peru's Shining Path, for instance, mostly collapsed with the capture of Abimael Guzmán. Yet the Kurdish PKK is now resurgent nine years after the imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan, thanks to the sanctuary it enjoys in Northern Iraq.
Still, it's no small thing that neither the PKK nor the Shining Path are capable of killing tens of thousands of people and terrorizing whole societies, as they were in the 1980s. Among other things, beating an insurgency allows a genuine process of reconciliation and redress to take place, and in a spirit of malice toward none. But those are words best spoken after the terrible swift sword has done its work.
(Courtesy : The Wall Street Journal )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 02 February 2009 )|
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