the theatre of war

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I wanted to drop a couple of links to an insightful pairof posts over at Obsidian Wings. First, Eric Martin quotes Henley:

Insurgency can't pose an existential threat to the country. Is there a single instance of insurgency warfare conquering foreign territory? Even if you consider South Vietnam and North Vietnam to have really been separate countries, it was, as certain hawks never tire of pointing out, Hanoi's regular Army that conquered the South. The FLN could kick France out of Algeria, but it could never rule France. Hezbollah drove Israel out of Lebanon in the 1990s using guerrilla warfare. It couldn't use the same tactics to drive Israel out of Galilee. Insurgencies can prevent foreign or local governments from consolidating control over the insurgents' "own" territory. Guerrilla movements that get big enough have been able to take power in their own countries.

But they can't conquer. Insurgency is fundamentally reactive and, if not always merely "defensive" . . . parochial. A guerrilla army swims in the sea of the people, like the man said, and foreigners make a lousy sea. Even if all "the terrorists" wanted to follow us home after we "cut and run" from Iraq, they could never have remotely the effect here that they manage in Iraq. Here they lack a sea.

By and large, a country like the United States only needs to commit to an ongoing posture of counterinsurgency if it is also committed to serial military domination of foreign populations. In fact, the United States is currently so committed, on a bipartisan basis. But that's an unwise and immoral posture that will lead to national ruin in the medium to long term. The Iraq defeat offers one of those rare moments for real national reappraisal, an openness to genuine reform. Rather than work at getting better at executing an unwise and immoral grand strategy, let's choose a different one.


I can't emphasize enough how much these foreign policy discussions bleed into and encompass the immigration debate. The barbarians are at the gate, so we must fight them over there and build a big wall to keep them out.

Scarily, the argument is as reductive as that. The common orientalizing conception of non-Americans, fostered in part by inculcation of the heroic national narrative in All Dutiful Children, allows us to simultaneously posit that the savages can't run their own societies without our military oversight and are clever enough to infiltrate our Great Nation's border and defeat us from within.

Part two comes from Publius:

And that brings us back to the real problem with terrorism - its potential for success. Terrorism gives way to a nationalistic fury that is hard to contain or to channel in constructive ways. Even the most reasonable people get outraged - and are right to be outraged.

Even worse though, most countries (India and USA included) have hyper-nationalist parties ready to seize upon tragedies like these for domestic gain, regardless of the collateral damage the parties' proposed policies would cause. Of course, the outrage these parties exploit is perfectly understandable, and it's universally shared. And the terrorists know this - indeed, they're counting on it. That's what often makes their strategy successful.

It's just infuriating -- you want to get mad, but getting mad is exactly what they want. Indeed, it's part of the plan.

In other words, the act of terror and the response are carefully choreographed episodes played by wealthy elites, symbolic gestures that happen to grind up real lives. And the cannon fodder believe in the drama most passionately--that is, after all, the purpose of the theatre.


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2 Comments

PL said:

Very "constructivist" in IR terms. Were you an IR major by any chance? =]

Oh and it seems to be more of a cycle sometimes. Nationalistic fury => Terrorism => More Nationalistic furry => More Terrorism

Dave Bennion said:

I would have been an IR major if my college had offered one ... instead I was a poli sci major with a "certificate" in IR, whatever that means.

I agree, this cycle feeds itself and has for millennia.

Realizing belatedly that Publius didn't say what I said he said at all. Maybe it's what I wanted him to say ... doh!

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