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On Pirates and Pacification

As the US military’s disastrous planning for their occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has been reveled many people have tried to figure out where to look for inspiration. Vietnam? Not so much. Since the US was “never a colonial power” strategists started looking at other colonial histories. Out of this effort has come the lionization of French Col. David Galula who worked to “pacify” Algeria in the 1950s. Although his doctrines seem kinda obvious, they offer an interesting insight into the French colonial mind as well as those thinking up was to fix the current US military (mis-)adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. You know we live in crazy times when the RAND corporation is hyping up a French military officer. Of course the idea that it is the occupation itself that is the problem seems to elude them. Here is his strategy in a nutshell:

  1. The aim of the war is support of the population rather than control of territory.
  2. Most of the population will be neutral in the conflict; support of the mass can be obtained with the help of an active friendly minority.
  3. Support of the population can be lost. The population must be efficiently protected to allow it to cooperate without fear of retribution by the opposite party.
  4. Order enforcement should be done progressively by removing or driving away armed opponents, then gaining support of the population, and eventually strengthening positions by building infrastructure and setting long-term relationships with the population. This must be done area by area, using a pacified territory as a basis of operation to win a neighbouring area.

Yay, a kindlier, gentler occupation. This is exactly the same kind of insight that got David Petraeus zooming up the ranks of the US military. What Galula, the RAND corp. and others miss is that the occupation of another country inevitably warps those doing the colonizing. Even Mr. Alexis de “keen liberal insights in the soul of America” Tocqueville argued that the “barbarians” should not be allowed to own property or be allowed any rights. He argued:

“In France I have often heard people I respect, but do not approve, deplore [the army] burning harvests, emptying granaries and seizing unarmed men, women and children. As I see it, these are unfortunate necessities that any people wishing to make war on the Arabs must accept.” He added: “I believe the laws of war entitle us to ravage the country and that we must do this, either by destroying crops at harvest time, or all the time by making rapid incursions, known as raids, the aim of which is to carry off men and flocks.”

Wow. That kind of liberalism I can do without. To be clear the generals of the French colonial period employed mass-rape, massacres, forced population transfers, torture, and scorched early policies as a standard operating procedure. Good times. Children of the Enlightenment!

On a related note, some people are now calling for the pacification of the Somali coast because of piracy, which was at least part of the pretext for the French invasion of Algeria (as well as the “Fan Affair“). What’s the over/under on the US fretting about its counter insurgency strategy in Somalia in 2109?

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