View Full Version : How to Win in Iraq and How to Lose

03-29-2007, 09:04 AM
29 March Wall Street Journal commentary - How to Win in Iraq and How to Lose (http://www.opinionjournal.com/federation/feature/?id=110009862) by Arthur Herman.

To the student of counterinsurgency warfare, the war in Iraq has reached a critical but dismally familiar stage.

On the one hand, events in that country have taken a more hopeful direction in recent months. Operations in the city of Najaf in January presaged a more effective burden-sharing between American and Iraqi troops than in the past. The opening moves of the so-called surge in Baghdad, involving increased American patrols and the steady addition of more than 21,000 ground troops, have begun to sweep Shiite militias from the streets, while their leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, has gone to ground. Above all, the appointment of Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the author of the U.S. Army's latest counterinsurgency field manual, as commander of American ground forces in Iraq bespeaks the Pentagon's conviction that what we need to confront the Iraq insurgency is not more high-tech firepower but the time-tested methods of unconventional or "fourth generation" warfare...

Most wars are lost, not won. To most Americans, the nearest example of a failed war is Vietnam. As in Iraq today, we came up against a guerrilla-type insurrectionary force led by ideological extremists; in the end, we were forced to withdraw and surrender the country of South Vietnam to the aggressors. But an even more striking parallel to our present situation exists in the French experience in Algeria almost exactly 50 years ago. There, French troops and a beleaguered local government faced an insurgency mounted by Muslim extremists who had managed to gain the upper hand. In response, the leadership of the French army had to figure out, almost from scratch, how to fight unconventional wars of this kind--with results that have influenced the thinking of counterinsurgency experts ever since...

J Wolfsberger
03-29-2007, 12:26 PM
You beat me to it. :D

Where can we find Galula's book, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice?

03-29-2007, 12:40 PM
Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Counterinsurgency-Warfare-Theory-Practice-Classics/dp/0275993035/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_k2a_3_txt/104-5610957-7891905) has it for $29.95.

03-29-2007, 01:33 PM
Jay, the Small Wars library has several pubs about Galula, one very good one is Galula's compass which is a condensed version of the book, also several on Algeria and Robert Tranquier is there. All for free:) Of course you should make a donation to the SWC for their hard work in maintaining such a library. I was slow to do this myself until I realized what it would have cost me if I had try to buy them on the outside. It's a good deal:wry:

Tom Odom
03-29-2007, 03:03 PM
Here is what I would call the heartbeat of this column

What happened was this: while the French military had been concentrating on fighting the insurgency in the streets and mountains in Algeria, an intellectual and cultural insurgency at home, led by the French left and the media, had been scoring its own succession of victories.

In its haste to defeat the FLN, the French army had left a crucial hostage to political fortune. Military commanders had authorized army interrogators to use certain forms of torture to extract information from suspected terrorist detainees. This is not the place to debate the merits or demerits of torture in counterinsurgency operations--for the record, Galula himself considered it counterproductive. Nor was French opinion particularly sensitive to brutality per se; the FLN's own use of torture and outright butchery--Arab loyalists routinely had their tongues and testicles cut off and their eyes gouged out--had aroused little or no outrage. But, as with the incidents at Abu Ghraib 50 years later, news of the army practice gave domestic opponents of the war a weapon with which to discredit the entire enterprise.

Led by Jean-Paul Sartre, a campaign of denunciation got under way in which French forces were accused of being the equivalent of Nazis--an especially freighted charge coming only a decade and a half after World War II and the German occupation of France. Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre's companion, went so far as to say that the sight of a French army uniform had "the same effect on me that swastikas once did." Although many of the antiwar agitators were communists or leftist fellow travelers, their petitions and demonstrations included enough authentic heroes of the Resistance and eminent liberals like Francois Mauriac to bestow upon the movement a credible public image. The constant message it conveyed was that the true authors of violence in Algeria were not the FLN at all but the French, and that only when the latter departed would Algerians be able to sort out their destiny for themselves.

The French military and political leadership was completely blindsided by the attack. No amount of justification of the selective use of torture, not even the cancellation of the original authorization, could halt the criticism or stem the loss of public support for the war. Even as the FLN took to setting off bombs in France itself, leftist Catholic priests continued to raise funds for it, while those like Albert Camus who harbored doubts about the wisdom of handing victory to the terrorists were derided and silenced. The consensus that had informed French politics as late as 1956--namely, that abandoning Algeria was "unthinkable and unmentionable"--fell apart.

Divisions over Algeria doomed France's Fourth Republic. For its successor, the price of political survival was handing over Algeria to a totalitarian band that had lost the war on the battlefield but managed to win a stunning victory in France itself. The result was the massive flight of Algerian whites and, at home, a bloodbath as FLN terrorists put to death tens of thousands of Muslim Algerians who had been loyal to the French regime. Soldiers who had fought alongside the French were forced to swallow their medals before they were shot.


John T. Fishel
03-29-2007, 03:20 PM
Although Herman is correct in his view of the big picture of insurgency and even in drawing an analogy with the Algerian War, he has many of the critical details wrong and, I believe, added little to the discussion.

As is true of all analogies, the cases are analogous but not the same - some are more similar than others. As Herman says, the Algerian war was a French military victory but a political defeat. Unfortunately, he fails to give sufficient weight to the French policy of using torture to win the Battle of Algiers (the Casbah - see General Paul Aussuresses, The Battle of the Casbah). It was this policy, when exploited by the FLN, the French opposition, among ohers, that led to the French defeat on the world stage limiting their ability to even touch the FLN sanctuaries in Tunisia and Morocco.

Herman is very wrong in equating the FLN with AQ. The FLN was a secular, nationalist movement, that, while it made some use of Islam as a rallying point, was committed to building a secular state. For all its failings, Algeria was - and remains - secular, even in the face of the Islamist challenge of the GIA.

Moreover, his interpretation of the film, The Battle of Algiers, is simply wrong. Pontecorvo (the producer/director) and Saadi Yacef (the author, star, and real world rebel, and later Algerianlegislator)are scrpulously fair in their treatment of the FLN. their French adveraries, and the urban campaign in Algiers, itself. There is no question in the film that the French won the battle! It is only in the treatment of the outcome of the war that propaganda takes the lead. The film makes it appear that street demonstrations in Algiers made it impossible for the French to govern, rather than the correct analysis that the French simply decided that "Algerie Francaise" simply was no longer worth the fight for both international and domestic reasons. (Indeed, the film very clearly illustrates the difficulties of both the insurgent and counterinsurgent. I use it in my classes on both terrorism and COIN.)

Other than these points, Herman is on relatively solid ground although he fails to note that there are many other influences besides David Galula on the current strategy. As my friend and colleague Max Manwaring likes to say, this stuff is not new...:D

Tom Odom
03-29-2007, 03:32 PM

I agree on your corrections to Herman..except in saying he adds nothing to the discussion.

He may not emphasize the effects of torture policy in a strategic sense but he certainly centers on its effects with regard to French internal support for the war. If we are discussing US internal support for the war then I would say that Hermann's points on torture in internal French politics certainly apply.

All of that aside, I guess the most curious statement in the piece was that "most wars are not won, they are lost" and I agree that his fixation on Galula is rather "iconic" , much like the current media fixation on GEN Petraeus


03-29-2007, 03:53 PM
The discrediting of the French armed forces and much of the extreme Right elements in the colonial army through the coup of the 1958 and the formation of the OAS should be mentioned as well. That the French people and the Algerian people both voted in separate referenda to give Algeria independence is also elided over in Herman's article.

Tom Odom
03-29-2007, 04:09 PM
Maybe we should turn his article into a "Wiki" :wry:

I served with a French Captain (in 1988) who as an NCO spent some time in the brig because of his OAS sympathies--yes he was long in the tooth.


J Wolfsberger
03-29-2007, 05:04 PM
Reading the article reminded me of an incident Alistair Horne recounts in A Savage War of Peace:

Two FLNA commanders are watching French Paras frisk an Algerian woman at a check point. One points out the expressions on the faces of the Algerian men waiting their turn. "My, God!" he says. "The stupid bastards are winning the war for us!"

The Paras, more specifically the authors of that policy, weren't the only "stupid bastards" winning the war for the FLNA.

(Apologies if I didn't get the story exactly right - the book's in temporary storage.)

John and tequila both point out omissions, but those don't seem to touch on the central issue. The point I took from the article is that, in Iraq today, as in Viet Nam and Algeria, we have our own "stupid bastards" intent on winning the war for AQ. And like Algeria, they aren't on the field of armed conflict, they are on the field of ideological conflict.

It makes absolutely no difference whether the drum beat of defeatism is driven by hatred of the US, greed for ratings, personnel ambitions or any of a host of base motives. The end result is the same: AQ and its allies realize that they "don't have to win, they only have to not lose" and wait us out.

John T. Fishel
03-30-2007, 12:51 AM
John, Tom, and all,

Where have I heard this before? The classic lesson of insurgency is that the insurgent does not have to win, only not lose while the COIN side must actually win the war and the peace. My point in saying that Herman does not add much was that there is little that was new either substantively or in how it was presented. But, then, I guess that is true of most discussions of small wars. In the end, the argument is between those who Dave Kilcullen identified as focusing on killing insurgents and those who focus on winning the larger war for legitimacy. Without making these mutually exclusive positions, most of us come down on the side of winning the legitimacy war - as does Herman.



03-30-2007, 03:35 PM
John, Tom, and all,
.... In the end, the argument is between those who Dave Kilcullen identified as focusing on killing insurgents and those who focus on winning the larger war for legitimacy. Without making these mutually exclusive positions, most of us come down on the side of winning the legitimacy war - as does Herman.



As this layman sees it, the quandry is this: there is no strong case made, no substance, that convinces large numbers of people on our side that representative government and even the rudiments of participatory democracy can take root in an Islamic culture that is in the gray zone of being neither industrialized or primitive. Further complicating this 'gray zone status' are the ethnic and religious complications we are all too painfully aware of. The premise for legitimacy COIN strives for is a hard sell to say the least. I'm all for giving it more time and resources, don't get me wrong, but time may well show that representative government has no basis for legitimacy, meaning and application in this type of environment. I wonder too if in striving for legitimacy, some energy and focus on external forces that are complicating the situation aren't being diverted to looking solely 'inward' ?