Thursday, November 29, 2007
The Algebra of Occupation
by Conn Hallinan
Foreign Policy in Focus
In 1805, the French army out maneuvered, outsmarted, and outfought the combined armies of Russia and Austria at Austerlitz. Three years later it would flounder against a rag-tag collection of Spanish guerrillas.
In 1967, it took six days for the Israeli army to smash Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and seize the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. In 2006, a Shi'ite militia fought the mightiest army in the Middle East to a bloody standstill in Lebanon.
In 1991, it took four days of ground combat for the United States to crush Saddam Hussein's army in the Gulf War. U.S. losses were 148 dead and 647 wounded. After more than five years of war in Iraq, U.S. losses are approaching 4,000, with over 50,000 wounded; 2007 is already the deadliest year of the war for the United States.
In each case, a great army won a decisive victory only to see that victory canceled out by what T.E. Lawrence once called the "algebra of occupation." Writing about the British occupation of Iraq following the Ottoman Empire's collapse in World War I, Lawrence put his finger on the formula that has doomed virtually every military force that has tried to quell a restive population.
Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk has cited Lawrence to this effect: "Rebellion must have an unassailable base... it must have a sophisticated alien enemy, in the form a disciplined army of occupation too small to dominate the whole area effectively from fortified posts. It must have a friendly population, not actively friendly, but sympathetic to the point of not betraying rebel movements to the enemy. Rebellions can be made by 2 percent active in a striking force, and 98 percent passive sympathy. Granted mobility, security ... time and doctrine ... victory will rest with the insurgents, for the algebraical factors are in the end decisive."
Finish the though here ...
In case anyone missed the turn there, T. E. Lawrence was also known as Lawrence of Arabia. He helped to lead a rag-tag army of "A-rabs" that was instrumental in bringing down the Ottoman Empire during WWI. He was very familiar with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the desert and the people. He spoke the language, he lived by their customs, he fought with them.
Even if our adventure in Iraq was the "right" war (and the preponderance of evidence from the beginning unequivocally says it's not) it is not being fought by "our rules". We are no longer picking the time and place of battle. Our technology is co-opted. We are not in control of the battle field.
We have steadily moved from "Mission Accomplished" to "there's no military solution".
What could T. E. Lawrence possibly know that our leaders don't?