Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Which WMDs?

Oh, you mean those WMDs -- the ones flown to Syria in the run-up to the war...
[Hat tip and stolen comment Vodka Pundit]

Anyway, if you're wondering how not to win in Iraq, at which some US strategists seem so intent, then there are lessons from the Malayan Emergency that need to be learned, and not the lessons falsely attributed to the British success by those dumbarse American strategists. Forget "hearts and minds" and other welfare-statist nonsense, says Paul at Samizdata fisking the nonsense. That wasn't how the Malayan conflict was won, and the idea that it was is not just bad history, it's plain daft:
One does not have to a libertarian to see the absurdity of this idea. The government can not (for example) make the lives of Compton in greater Los Angeles. "So good they will not want to fight" (after so many decades of welfare schemes and 'urban renewal' schemes) - so how is going to that in Iraq?

If the war is justified then fighting should continue (i.e. the enemy, especially the leadership, should be hunted down and killed or caputured), and if the war is not justified then the troops should come home. But there is no 'socio-economic road' to victory.

Linked Posts: 'Iraq's WMDs were flown to Syria' - BarcePundit
'Bush adopts British Colonial model for Iraq' - Daily Telegraph
'Ink blot madness... or how not to win in Iraq' - Samizdata


  1. Ah, but the war in Malaya was won by a big-government welfare program rather than fighting. The British herded the ethnic Chinese population (the support base for the CTs) into walled villages, monitored their movement, and provided them with food and medical care. Just like the concentration camps in South Africa, only without the death and disease.

    It was a very heavy-handed solution, but that's how the war was won - separating the guerrillas and their supporters. Isolated in the jungle, the SAS and the air force could eventually kill the guerrillas. Capturing them and releasing them after treating them better than their own commissars did also worked.

    You could say it was a socio-economic solution to a socio-economic problem - rebellion resulting from the lack of legal rights for Chinese Malaysians.

    It seems that Paul from Samizdata is the one with the bad history.

    The fact that the problem is partly economic, though, means that the Malayan solution won't work in Iraq. The numbers of people are far higher, it would be impossible to feed them, and isolating the population into guarded groups would destroy the economy of any partly-globalized country, as well as earn the justified hatred of peaceful locals. The real key is to gain the trust of the population.

  2. "Ah, but the war in Malaya was won by a big-government welfare program rather than fighting." Ah, but it wasn't. A big welfare programme would have been unaffordable to post-war Britain in any case, and that wasn't what happened. As Paul says, "In reality the men went out and fought the enemy (in the jungle or elsewhere). Certainly there were 'protected villages' and so on, but Malaya was a fight (it was not a welfare project)." And it was a brutal fight (one, incidentally, in which my father was wounded.)

    The conflict in Malaya was a unique one, in that both insurgents and supporters were almost completely ethnic Chinese. The 400,000 ethnic Chinese population was herded like cattle into walled villages -- places that were just like the British concentration camps in South Africa, only with even less expense spared.

    The British did not 'gain the trust' of the ethnic Chinese or make life so good they didn't want to fight - they imprisoned them, and strangled the supply and support of the ethnic Chinese guerrillas. This was no welfare programme, this was imprisonment, made 'practical' only because the ethnic Chinese population was relatively small, and the native Malays themselves remained largely neutral throughout.

    IMO, the situations in Malay and Iraq are so different, there is barely anything to learn from the earlier conflict.

  3. I think our main disagreement is terminology - I don't see a huge difference between a big-government welfare project and imprisonment or cattle-herding! I'm sure you know more about the conflict than I do - my interest is in how it relates to the theory of fourth-generation war.

    I do think the improved living conditions in the villages were important - if there had been mass deaths from disease or starvation, it would probably have strengthened the resolve of the CTs, but as it was, many of the captured guerrillas changed sides.

    I completely agree about Malaya-Iraq comparisons. The main reason for the comparisons is that Malaya is one of very few clear victories for an occupying power in the recent history of counter-insurgency. It would be rather more depressing to compare Iraq with Indochina, Algeria, Vietnam, Palestine, Lebanon, Portuguese colonies in Africa...


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