To beat the Prine-evil approach to journalism like the dead horse that it is, Elkus and WILF are not only wrong in their assessment of what works in such situations, but dangerously so. They argue for the suppression of the popular will of a populace in the name of preserving some form of government judged as unacceptable in its current form. For Americans such approaches are counter to the very cornerstone of the foundation our country was built upon. While people everywhere are certainly not Americans (a small fact leaders in Washington seem to forget at times), a reality of the emerging environment we all live within is that treating insurgency as war and employing ones military to simply suppress popular will in the name of maintaining governmental control is as obsolete as the many empires and regimes which followed this approach to their respective, historic demise.
It is worth commenting on each of the WILFian points offered by Elkus for examination.
“Victory is produced by combat, and the goal of operating forces should be to break the enemy’s will.”
Victory in war is indeed produced by combat, and absolutely in war between nations the breaking of one’s opponent’s will is essential. Not just the will of the combatant, but that of the entire nation. But combat within a nation is a far different matter, and equally important, all combat is not war or even warfare. Damn the lawyers for producing and then interpreting documents such as the War Powers Act. They sit there in their crisp starched shirts and read the black letter of the words other lawyers placed on the documents they hold in their manicured hands with a certainty that ignores fine nuances of various purposes for combat or nature of combatants. The law is clear, and they proclaim simplistically that all combat is war. This in turn enables those within the profession of arms to extrapolate that if all combat is war, and all war is war, then one must simply get busy about the business of breaking the enemy’s will. Who among us, however, desires to live in a nation where the government has employed the military to break the will of the people to force our submission to a form of government deemed unacceptable? Even if the group controlled in such manner today is a small, troublesome minority, it is only a matter of time until one finds their own segment of the populace in such an unfortunate minority role. Payback in such situations is rarely gentle.
“The rule of law, governance, and other things seen as the goal of COIN are products of control, which requires destroying, deterring, and intimidating the enemy.”
Insurgency does not occur when the government loses control of the populace, but rather when the populace (or some distinct segment of the populace) comes to reasonable perceive that it is they who have lost control of the government. Rule of law is absolutely a critical tool of every government in establishing and enforcing the order under which civilized society is able to function. But it is justice under the rule of law which promotes stability among the people. Modern COIN is rooted so deeply in ancient colonialism that one cannot easily distinguish where one ends and the other begins. The true “enemy” in any insurgency is that family of governmental programs, policies and laws, which combined with the manner in which they have been applied and enforced, have served to push some segment of the populace to the point where they feel they have no option but to act out illegally “…to throw off such government and provide new guards for their future security.”
“The prize is not the population, but the control the government can gain when the enemy is destroyed.”
Indeed, the population is not some prize to be won or lost; rather the population is the very essence of the nation. Government and insurgents alike share this common DNA and emerge from the populace to compete for the right (and reciprocal duties) to lead and serve the populace in a manner consistent with their expectations. Similarly, it is not government forcing some artificial control over the population that creates the basis for stability, but rather government acting in a manner consistent with the expectations of the populace and ensuring that trusted, certain and legal means are clearly available to the entire population to control government that carries the day.
“An inability to do these things is indicative of a policy or strategy failure.”
No, it is the belief that such things must be done that is indicative of a policy or strategy of failure. Tactics matter little when one’s strategy is upside down. One can be as war-like as WILF, or as “populace-centric” as Kilcullen, or as “nation building” as CNAS, and expect equal degrees of failure from each. The world is changing and it is time to set aside our doctrines of attempting to control populaces subjected to situations they find intolerable by any such ways and means. Foreign powers must learn to respect the sovereignty of smaller nations, and governments of nations of every size must learn to listen to and serve their entire populace with equity and justice.
So yes, “war is war;” but insurgency is not war, and the sooner we accept that premise, the sooner we find the stability we seek; at home and abroad.
The opinions expressed in this paper are the author's alone