Expeditionary and Civil Wars: Legitimacy Doesn’t Cut It

Posted: July 2, 2015 in SWIG
Tags: , , ,

hearts-and-minds

Weak domestic support limits our ability to accomplish strategic goals more than any other factor. Americans perceive most expeditionary counterinsurgencies to be wars of choice. Without the sense of urgency found in wars of necessity, our population rarely provides wars of choice thorough or persistent support. They also rarely receive the clear rewards of a convincingly declared victory like V-E or V-J Day. Instead, most defeated insurgencies gradually fade into extinction without providing a defining moment of victory or a ticker tape parade. In Iraq and Afghanistan, I knew our area of operation was improving, but we did not have a clear, dramatic sign at any point. While we could produce statistics showing a decline in violence, an improving economy, and increased trust for security forces, statistics rarely create the patriotic glow that sustains military efforts. Both a lack of urgency and a lack of visible progress leave citizens less likely to maintain the support wars need.

Popular support is incredibly important for the prosecution of a war in a democracy. Political leaders frequently do not back expeditionary campaigns after their voter base’s feelings sour. When public approval for Vietnam declined, the Congress passed the Case Church Amendment in 1973, significantly reducing support to the South Vietnamese government while the North Vietnamese increased their conventional attacks. The British Parliament handed Iraq over to Faysal in 1920 after popular dissatisfaction caused by the loss of 450 soldiers and 40 million pounds while suppressing a rebellion. More recently, President Obama campaigned in 2008 on a platform that included a plan to withdraw American forces from Iraq.

Forces fighting in a civil war have fewer limiting factors than expeditionary forces. By their very nature, political goals in civil wars are far more absolute, and their consequences are far more immediate. Our goals in Iraq and Afghanistan influenced the nature and composition of governments thousands of miles away in countries many Americans still cannot find on a map. To the Iraqis and Afghans, however, the wars were and are about the character of their own government, how much say they have in its decisions, and often their survival in sectarian or tribal conflicts. Governments managing a civil war also do not face a division of efforts, as the governance of their population automatically ties in either directly or indirectly to the prosecution of the war. Forces fighting in civil wars also know more about their operating environment than foreign forces, reducing a thousand different friction points.

Legitimacy is an excellent approach for domestic forces whose members and supporting population have committed to the results of their conflict, whose government can control its own efforts instead of expressing them through an ineffective host nation, and who know their operating environment. But, applying lessons learned from civil wars to more constrained expeditionary counterinsurgents has unduly burdened us with an approach that mismatches ambitious goals and significant constraints, making future expeditions unlikely to succeed.

Full Story @ [Small Wars Journal]

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