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COIN vs. Regime change

January 27, 2010

Michael Totten has a fascinating interview with Lee Smith (a Middle East correspondent for various magazines including Weekly Standard), which has a number of very important and interesting points that I think go unmentioned when discussing our overall strategy within Central Command’s AO.

the full transcript is here:

but I wanted to highlight some interesting quotes from Lee Smith and open up discussion on these points.

On the issue of COIN operations vs. regime change of hostile nation-states

If you want to fight Islamist terror you have to go to the heart of the matter and that is Middle Eastern regimes, but this is not what we’re doing now. In fact, we are doing the opposite, counterinsurgency is the opposite of going to the source of the problem. COIN is a losing hand for us. No matter how good the US military gets at counterinsurgency it is never going to have the same sort of success as Arab regimes do. The Arabs can’t win wars, but Arab regimes have never lost to an insurgency, ever. Thank God that the Americans will never emulate the tactics of these regimes—the collective punishment, rape, torture and murder that Arab states typically employ to put down insurgencies, but if you don’t do it you will not defeat an Arab insurgency.

Everyone says the Surge was successful, but maybe we should ask the family and friends of the almost 500 Iraqis killed in mega-terror attacks in Baghdad since August. Relative to Iraq’s population, that’s close to two 9/11s. Maybe someone can explain to me how the blood and mangled flesh of almost 500 people is the harvest of a successful counterinsurgency.

Prime Minister Maliki—whose political future is obviously jeopardized by the violence, and this is of course the point of the operations—and his security officials are pointing fingers at their neighbors, especially Syria and Saudi, and the Americans are hushing them up. Why? Because we want to ignore the role of states in terrorism, and the President still seeks to engage the Syrians on our way out of Iraq, as the sage men who authored the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report counseled. That is, explain to Iraq’s neighbors who have been working so hard over the last 6 years to destabilize the country that a stable Iraq is in their best interest, a subtle point that they are obviously too foolish to understand without American policymakers explaining it to them. American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning, largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.

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