Archives for category: Nation Building

NYT says that NATO has launched Operation Dragon Strike across Khandahar, Zhari, and Panjwayi districts. Dragon Strike comes after weeks of ‘shaping operations’, comprising development/civil affairs missions combined with direct action raids on insurgent leadership and personnel. Dragon Strike appears to be a ‘decisive operation’ intended to displace insurgents across Western Kandahar. It comes only after all reinforcements are available to maneuver synchronically to disrupt the insurgency and extend political-social stability. If the mid-level Taliban and criminal elements are already ‘weakened’ and ‘demoralized’ by raids and detentions, then West Kandahar should be ripe for an operational maneuver that applies counterinsurgency principles to create social and political some space for emergence of local governing institutions.

This begs the obvious question about those institutions, their tendency for corruption and illegitimacy, and the strategic contradictions involved in supporting state institutions through counterinsurgency operations. As mentioned earlier, our relationship with the Afghans (to some degree) constitutes the ‘culture of corruption’ that appears to be embedded in their politics. Counterinsurgency is great operationally but won’t resolve the major strategic contradictions undermining the ‘space’ for the development of local institutions. As long as other power relationships continue, like those fostered by other agencies and NGOs through corruption and dependency, that political space remains limited.

Aspects of the Afghan war now resemble the Iraq war in summer 2007, when Operation Phantom Strike was launched to stability in the major population belts around Baghdad and across central Iraq (see Kim Kagan’s excellent book on this). Dragon Strike seems to be evidence that the campaign structure of full-spectrum operations has retained some consistency, with shaping and decisive operations that should be followed by sustaining operations. The length of time for deployment of all units into shaping operations determines the timetable to synchronize decisive clearing operations, and it has been much longer in southern Afghanistan in 2010 (11 months) compared to Iraq in 2007 (8 months).

However, in shifting to full-spectrum operations, the operational pattern of today’s counterinsurgency appears to have changed from its classical version: Instead of ‘clear, hold, and build’, modern COIN is ‘shape, clear decisively, and sustain’. The last step (if the counterinsurgents get there), seems to be when the political strategy will always be tested – and that’s when the model begins to fail. Absent a political settlement and no gradual improvement by institutions fostered by diplomatic and developmental support, then the new Operational Art can fail to be enough to achieve the strategic goal – the creation of local institutions that enforce legitimate order.

Little theory has been devoted to understanding how that happens, and as well as the limits of military action (counterinsurgency) on making possible institutional public space and socioeconomic development. This is where political operational and strategic art is lacking, and in its absence, the associated costs may be perceived to be higher than any military success. From a sociological perspective, the question becomes ‘how do we synthesize and share an understanding of social reality with local stakeholders that accounts for their own perceptions and ‘rational’ mindset’? Unless the strategic environment is framed in such a way to ensure that we all see strategic problems the same way, any attempt to transform the social and political environment from instability to stability through military operational solutions will not be sufficient. Operational successes are then not fulfilled by strategic ones, which currently explains the political impasse in Iraq. For all the Afghan Surge’s potential successes, it will likely suffer the same strategic pitfalls.

It’s time to move beyond operational art and begin thinking about state building and the constitution of bureaucratic identities as the new strategic art.

Iraqi Women View for Votes and a Taste of Power,” by Sam Dagher. The New York Times, January 28 2009.

A real choice for the people.” The Economist, January 22 2009.

     Last few years or so, it has repeatedly been said (mostly on cable news channels) that there is no ‘military solution’ to winning the Iraq War, and that a ‘political solution’ had to come first. Ideally, this would mean a capable Iraqi government with bureaucratic institutions that could maintain order and security. As if counterinsurgency and the surge (the military solution) would cause sufficient political changes to happen overnight. Instead it might be conceived as a campaign taking place in sequence over a variety of fronts, from summer 2006 to the present day. From Anbar Province, to Baghdad and the surrounding belts, to Basra and then back to Sadr City, and now to Diyala and Mosul.

     The military solution was the significant reduction in violence, which has remained relatively steady. Terrorists still assassinate and murder civilians in suicide bombings today, but the insurgencies (both Sunni and Shia) and their resultant civil war are now over. What has emerged, however, is an Iraqi government that espouses nationalism as opposed to sectarianism, and increasingly strong security and state institutions (of course, these are not without their own intrigues). In this context, the success of the military solution has created conditions where Iraqis can negotiate their own political representation with and rule by the state. In these conditions, state-society relations can progressively become, in a word, civil. Discursive political opportunities are thereby opened for Iraqis to peacefully make demands and record their representation into the state.

      So, the military solution (a two and one-half years campaign) has created (one might say socially constructed) the social conditions from which a political solution can self-organize: a system of individuals rationally interested in survival, reacting to the incentivized reality of opportunities and threats created by social interaction and and an emphasis on self-restraint in the security practices of U.S. forces. Given the six-year trajectory of the Iraq War that has led up to the provincial elections on the 31st of this month, its actually pretty remarkable. If we’re lucky (Machiavelli always said fortuna is best dealt with by possessing the loyalty of the people), the legitimacy of the Iraqi state will continue to grow through this election and into the next one. In this way, we might say that, after near defeat due to the strategic incompetence of initial leadership, American civilian and military forces in Iraq might have (very) tentatively succeeded at state-building (the development of new state institutions and economic growth) and nation-building (the emergence of internally peaceful national communities) In most times (you could even say ‘normal’ times), citizens would identify themselves with the same identity. Karl Deustch’s optimistic theory of nationalism comes to mind. Fukuyama will tell you its really the same word, but then why write two books with each concept as the title?

Zenpundit provides excerpts of a book review by Nagl, which explicitly states the objectives, goals, and requirements of counterinsurgency and nation building, which is shown to be quite compatible with Barnett’s work. On the other hand, Fabius Maximus has issues with this.

To recap, I say that Nagl’s strategy (based on this one paragraph) is

(1) neocolonial in view, putting us in opposition to a major trend in post-WWII history,
(2) puts us in opposition to local nationalists (ditto),
(3) weakens the legitimacy of the government we are attempting to help, in violation of a major theme of FM 3-24, and
(4) takes on the burden of structuring foreign polities, at which we will likely fail.

Each of these arguments can be refuted, and discussions such as those at Dreaming 5GW provide the intellectual soil from which one can do so, as CGW recently reminded us in Zen’s original post (link up top). Below I attempt to refute the first two points, regarding neocolonialism and the uncontrollable resistance of nationalism.

(1) Neocolonialism: there is, in fact, an ethical way to undertake nation building despite the West’s history of colonial oppression, occupation, and exploitation.  Feldman describes it trusteeship, and invokes Burke to demonstrate that “there is nothing inherently oppressive about the idea of trusteeship applied to the authority to govern: it is endemic to representative democracy itself.” [1] If so, then ” the occupying force owes the same ethical duties to the people being governed that an ordinary, elected democratic government would own them. It must govern in their interests; and it must not put its own narrow interests ahead of the interests of the people being governed.”[2]

Counterinsurgency principles and practice necessitate consistency with the principle of democratic trusteeship.   It is fought primarily to protect the people, guarantee their security, practice good governance, and defend their interests.  To fulfill this objective, modern counterinsurgents cannot assume they know everything about how the people define their security or how they want to be governed.  Certainly we can make basic assumptions about the people’s interests [3], but to understand how they are defined, counterinsurgents must actively seek out this definition through social communication and interaction.  In this way, the people produce an ‘input’ that allows the counterinsurgency provide them an ‘output’ that meets their demands.  It is establishing this relationship between the people and the counterinsurgent that leads to victory.  FM 3-24 is obviously aware of this, as

Intelligence in COIN is about people. U.S. forces must understand the people of the host nation, the insurgents, and the host-nation (HN) government. Commanders and planners require insight into cultures, perceptions, values, beliefs, interests and decision-making processes of individuals and groups. These requirements are the basis for collection and analytical efforts. [4]

Despite this, FM criticizes the use of Nagl’s language, emphasizing how the counterinsurgent assumes a dominant role over the population.

We protect. We allow them to control. We decide who is the insurgent and who the legitimate government. Nationalism has been one of the world’s most powerful social forces for several centuries, and this formula puts us in opposition to it. It will sound terrible to them, because it is inimical to their control over their land and society.

Who decides what are the “norms of the civilized world? The local people? The UN? Or us?

This is not inconsistent with Feldman’s notion of trusteeship: “we need to abandon the paternalistic idea that we know how to produce a functioning, succesful democracy better than do others.” [5] We don’t know what norms lead to that, only the locals do.  It is they who decide what their norms are and then communicate them to us. We only exist to help them institutionalize their norms as the basis of their social stability.  We enable and empower their conception of norms, not transfer and impose our own.  If we are perceived as doing so, we become a threat or an enemy, creating a new anticolonial Self consistuted by a imperial Other.  But, this is by no means a guarantee.  It depends upon the words and deeds of the counterinsurgent.

Nationalism: The cultural identity to which one ascribes to is not fixed, essential, or primordial. Instead, we must recognize that one’s identity is socially constructed by interaction with Others. In my previous post, I discussed how counterinsurgents can manipulate the identity of a civilian population and build a shared identity with it. Doing so requires the population to not see the counterinsurgent as a threat, or “Your enemy must not feel that he is not on your side.”  One can falsify being perceived as a ‘threat’ or an ‘enemy’ by taking actions that confound the expectations of what an enemy should do, namely threaten the existence and security of the population. If we act like neutrals, or even friends, the people will learn to perceive us that way. 

Traditional colonialism easily leads to being perceived as an enemy by the people, as the colonial power is exploiting, subjugating, and espousing a general attitude of cultural dominance. The information flow is one-way, from colonizer to colonized, who must be tutored in the ways of civilization. On the other hand, counterinsurgecy/democratic trusteeship is a two-way information flow in which counterinsurgents and people learn from each other. In this way, they establish and routinize norms of behavior that recognize the autonomy and independence of each Other, and further the construction of a shared identity. Successful counterinsurgency makes appeals to anticolonial nationalism ultimately futile.

This is about the use of a poststructural form of power.  Wendt identifies this as “the cultural constituion of identity” [6], citing Foucault.  This refers to the fact that one’s identity, or understand of Self, requires validation by the social behavior and communication of social Others.  Self knows who it is as confirmed by Others.  When the identity ascribed to Self by Others changes, Self’s conception of identity also changes. Feldman scolds the American state building effort in Iraq for ignoring this crucial fact: “Power is not unidirectional but negotiated between different parties.  Much to the consternation of American government officials who had not read their Foucault, negotiation is the reality of political power when nation building is taking place.”[7]

Through actively communicating and interacting with the people, counterinsurgents can learn, accept, and act in the best interests of the people.  They can learn what actions will be perceived as consistent with enmity and friendship.  In turn, they act on this knowledge to falsify hostility and build a social experience of friendship through communication and social interaction.  This same interaction creates the basis for the emergence of norms that guide the behavior of both sides, and falsifies identities that perceive each Other as an enemy.  In this way, counterinsurgents use their presence in the social system of the people to reconstruct their social environment.  This is consistent with the victory standards set by Nagl in his RUSI book review, as wars of the 21st Century are “only won when the conditions that spawned armed conflict have been changed.” [8]

[1] Noah Feldman. 2004. What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building. Princeton University Press, Princeton. p. 63.
[2] Ibid., p. 64.
[3] FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency Field Manual. see Chapter 3: Intelliegence in Counterinsurgency, FM 3-24, in particular sections 3-65 through 3-73.
[4] Ibid., section 3-2.
[5] Feldman, p. 70.
[6] Alexander Wendt. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. p. 177.
[7] Feldman, p. 80.
[8] Nagl, RUSI book review.

 Update: The links finally work, apologies for my shoddy blogging.  Also, Stathis Kalyvas (among others, including Stephen Biddle) reviews FM 3-24 in the latest issue of Perspectives on Politics, (via AM) and notes the implicit constructivism of the field manual. Part II of this reply will focus on the issues of the legitimacy of the host nation government, and the possibility of social engineering, AKA nation building.

Dan Tdaxp. The Unexpected Success of the Surge.

Washington Post. The Iraqi Upturn.

The Maliki government now controls Iraq’s three biggest cities, Mosul in the north, Sadr City in Baghdad, and Basra in the south. This is what winning looks like. This is progress (on one front), pure and simple.

How did we get here?

We built an army of Iraqis with its own Order of Battle, full of divisions, brigades, etc. We use the minimum amount of force possible, and limit our presence to where it can be helpful to providing security, and not provoking insecurity, since many nationalist Iraqis don’t like foreigners occupying their country. With a fully developed Iraqi Army, we don’t have to be the tip of the spear, but we do make sure that it’s damn sharp, and that opponents (like the Sadrists) know that if they pick a fight, they get blamed for the collateral damage.  War amongst the people necessitates that any use of force has the backing of the people.  Petreaus has used U.S. and Iraqi force with this condition in mind, and in the end, the Maliki government has actually gained popular support and legitimacy.

 I’ve thought this for awhile now, but I feel like just saying ‘we are winning’ invites pitfalls in of itself.  Taking control of the cities is only one aspect of the war.  Politically, there are still problems.  Sadr can still put thousands of followers in the streets to protest the Status of Forces Agreement.  Maliki’s government is still dragging its feet on incorporating the Sunni volunteers into the Army, and could not sustain negotiations with Sunni parties over cabinet members.  There is still no agreement on the date of provincial elections, and the Sadrists still maintain that Maliki’s offensive is about setting the stage for ISCI-Dawa to win over the Sadrists. 

These are the new problems.  We are winning now, but any of the above problems can still erase our gains in an instant.  This is why so few people (including myself) want to speak progress.  Recognizing success in Iraq will never happen as events unfold in real time, but only retrospectively, perhaps in reverse Friedman units. This is still an uphill fight, as it always was.

Update: Doc iRack speaks the truth, in the third person as always.  Check the WaPo article and associated pictures.  Long live Basra University. 

Via a spirited discussion at Tdaxp on Kosovo’s independence:

I suggest a grand strategy based on national interest. If such national interest existed, I doubt BJ Clinton would have prohibited a ground invasion in the first place. His unwillingness to commit anything more than tactically ineffective airstrikes illustrates both the featherweight case for war, and the equally lighweight graveness of the conflict.

Ultimately the US had no business in Kosovo. A better policy toward Serbia: containment, combined with policies to integrate the European, Christian nation of Serbia into the European economy…The only interest we really served in fighting the Kosovo war was the KLA’s interest. After the fighting concluded and Kosovo was “ruled” by the UN, the Kosovo affair rather embodied the interests of Europe vs. Russia. Now this worthless province is giving cause to an even more antagonized Russia. Pointless. – Smitten Eagle

Realist critics of humanitarian intervention always argue that military action for ‘moral’ purposes is pointless. In other words, it’s not in our ‘national interest’, as if the nation’s interests were fixed and derived rationally. But, given that we are the hegemonic power that traditionally keeps Europe peaceful, we had to go into Kosovo. Our European allies generally don’t like ethnic cleansing and genocides on their borders. Yet, as the opening rounds of the Bosnian conflict demonstrate, they also rely on us to clean up their messes. So if we want to have alliances with European nations, we have to address their security concerns even when they are not directly security concerns of ours. In fact, when atrocities happen in a hegemonic context, everyone asks why didn’t we do anything to stop it. (see Rwanda) In a unipolar world, all global problems become our problem, and when they hit close to our allies, we have to come to the rescue. Thus, these issues get redefined into our own national interest, an otherwise amorphous concept that changes depending on who sits in the Oval Office.

Containment alone would have allowed Milosevic to continue ethnically cleansing the Albanians, and they would have responded asymmetrically. In the end, Milosevic would commit genocide and eradicate the Albanians or they would fight him to a standstill (or maybe both?). Either way, Pristina would look a lot like Grozny, and the moral onus would be on us for not stopping the conflict.

As for the actual intervention itself, we can compare it to the Bosnian operation starting years eariler. Both show that nation building operations in the 90s were only slightly less fucked than they are presently. The problem of a ‘light footprint’ in both cases wasn’t necessarily Slick Willy’s fault, but caused by institutional resistance to getting involved in these small wars. Republican Congresspersons (Jesse Helms) and the military both saw these interventions as examples of ‘mission creep’. Concerned with our realist ‘national interest’, they saw no reason to get involved. The very institutions that do the brunt of the work in these situations had yet to accept that it was their job, and so they resisted a serious and intensive nation building operation. As for the bombing campaign itself (as opposed to a ground invasion), the Clintons were again held back by the possible popular backlash to casualties in a small war, and the attractiveness of air campaign with limited exposure. Of course, its one thing to bomb Serbia until it seeks peace. It’s quite another to get on the ground and enforce peace by protecting populations, both Albanians and Serbs.

And so, just as we sought to stop the conflict with force from the sky, we ruled Kosovo with the same deus ex machina mindset. Knaus and Martin (2003) provide the best critique of the rule-by-decree administration of Bosnia following the Dayton Accords. They arguing that the Office of the High Representative (OHR) rules Bosnia much in the same way the British ruled India. This prevents any true ownership of the Bosnian political system by actual Bosnian parties, does nothing to advance a politics of consensus rather than division, and in fact allows nationalistic entrepreneurs to act like mafiosos. The same critique can be leveled against the mission in Kosovo, where rule-by-decree is also used.

In summary, instead of trying to force indigenous populations to be democratic after intervening in their countries with minimal effort, we should have gone into both situations without reservations and committed to an intensive nation building process with the goal that one day, we could leave. Instead, Bosnia is still ruled as an international protectorate despite its sovereignty. It’s hard to imagine how Kosovo will be any different. We might never leave at this point. The lesson to be learned is that half-assed nation building results in never-ending nation building, and creates greater regional and Contentional issues. Humanitarian intervention and nation building is in our national interest, and the faults with our efforts at both have to do with our lack of commitment, not the mission itself.

 Knaus, Gerald & Martin, Felix. “Travails of the European Raj.” Journal of Democracy. 14(3), 2003: 60-74.


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