Monday, January 24, 2011


Not to distract from seydlitz's discussion of Jellybean Dutch and his legacy, I'd like to ask the patrons for some help with a question of military history.Specifically, I'm wondering; can you think of a time and place in history that can be taken as a successful parallel for what we say we're trying to do in central Asia?

And in this I am willing to accept at face value the U.S. government's assertion that we have formed troop units in other people's countries purely and only to "help" those people in those countries fight Islamic hegemonists.

So what I'm looking for is

1) a foreign power sending troop units (and, technically, political and economic aid) to a government attempting to suppress a domestic insurgentcy that
2) succeeds - that is, it has to have happened long ago enough that we can say that a) it worked, i.e., the rebellion was suppressed and the government the foreign power assisted assumed a monopoly on the use of force pretty much thereafter, and b) that the nation so assisted has become at least moderately "successful" since the insurgentcy, that is, relatively democratic, respectably prosperous or at least making efforts to get there, and making a respectable showing on the "freedom indices".

To give you an example, I thought about parallels with the civil war in El Salvador. Here was a clear-cut U.S. FID mission, and the war was successful in that it brought El Salvador a relatively decent peace.The major difference is that there was no large-scale committment of U.S. maneuver units into ElSal; the government there pretty much won without the need for a foreign expeditionary force to do the fighting, regardless of how much "advisory" support they received.

So; any thoughts on this, you military history buffs?


  1. Well you've given a fairly small target area with "fight islamic hegemonists", but if you kick out the motivation and just look at the outcome, I think much of the British Empire fits the Bill.
    The East India Company Army specificaly.

    The Battle of Plassey, the battle that formaly turned the EIC from a trading group into an Indian Empire, was fought by 750 Europeans and 2500 Indians trained and lead by European Officers, against some 50,000 Indians.

    Eventualy, only a little over 10% of the "British" Army in India was actualy British Army, the rest were localy recruited.

    The same played out across the Empire, At the lowest level, a militia, supported by a localy raised Army, and if something went bad, A small Elite supporting Corps that could and did beat anything, anywhere.

    As you correctly surmise, no large scale commitment wanted or needed.

    I wrote a piece on how such a force could be raised today, but I'm well out of my depth there, so its not exactly brilliant.

  2. Technically speaking RT is correct but you have to remember that the British East India Company wasn't the British government (in fact it specifically acted against the direct orders of the British government, which is one of the reasons it was dissolved by the government) so it doesn't really fit within the Chief's criteria.

    The only times I can think of that this worked were:
    1) Greece 1948 - But that was in response to a Soviet infiltration campaign instead of a domestic insurgency
    2) Malaysia 1957(?) - But that was really an ethnic clash with the Malaysian Chinese choosing the wrong sponsor
    3) Various ex-French colonies 1970-80's - The French deployed the Foreign Legion a bunch of times to assist the various dictatorships that popped up after they left. Not sure about the French motivations or the benefit to the local governments.

  3. Chief,

    You might find your answer here. I remember reading some scholarly work on this question - I'll see if I can dig it up.

  4. I would only add that the "government attempting to suppress a domestic insurgentcy" was a government established from friendly expats by the power sending in the troops to "assit" said government. So, perhaps the type of historical example most fitting would be "successful puppet governments" . . . not that I can think of any.

  5. RT: I should have made the whole point about "...we have formed troop units in other people's countries purely and only to "help" those people in those countries fight Islamic hegemonists>" meaning that we are not (in theory) acting as a colonial power. The motivations of such a power, and the mechanics of the application of such power are quite different than what we say we're doing. So I can't come up with any Imperial operations that qualify pre-1945. Post 1945 you could pull in Malaya, but that was a very special case and was "won" by, in effect, "losing - promising the locals independence if they cooperated against the MRLA. The various UK operations in Yemen don't really reach the level of troop unit deployment, and the only other operations I can think of are in Belize, which was also post-colonial.

    Pluto: I dismissed Greece because the fighting there was done by the national army. The U.S. supplied "advisors" and while they may well have actually led some Greek units there was no similar takeover of the majority of the fighting. You could also observe that the outcome wasn't exactly "successful", since it led to the military dictatorship that ran Greece into the Seventies.

    Malaya I've discussed.

    The French...hmmm...I need to look into that. But I would observe off the top of my head that most of the French ex-colonies are pretty well fucked (the "model", Tunisia, pretty much just went sideways last week...).

    Andy: Excellent! I've downloaded the RAND study; their Appendix A is just what I'm looking for. I need to look it over and think about this for a bit.

    seydlitz: What I'm trying to find is one where the supported government is, at least publicly, NOT an open puppet of the foreign power - that's our line in Afghanistan, anyway. But Andy's reference has a terrific analysis of insurgencies, and I need to look it over and amend the post once that's done.

    Again - thanks, Andy!

  6. Spain and it's conquistadors, with Indian allies against the Aztecs.
    Rome and in Palestine with the help of the Idumeans.
    Um...England in South Africa against the Zulu's.
    Oh...lessee, more modern...Vietnam in Cambodia, A limited extent, U.S./Nato coalition against the

    Russia in Chechnya...which I think we should call a stalemate since it isn't going well for either side.

    Er...oh...Germany in regards to Balkans...employed lots of locals to enforce German objectives during WWII.

    Oh digging think there may have been similar situations during WWI in the Middle East with England, but memory is failing me.

    thats what I have so far in my skull.

  7. Chief,
    There also a flip side to this coin.
    How many times has the US, or any gov't backed the insurgents and over threw the legitimate govt.?
    You need to further clarify your parameters. Are you talking covert/black ops or open above board intervention?

  8. jim: The conditions need to be:

    1. Open intervention, with the outside power doing most of the fighting, but
    2. Without colonial intent, whether it is to take over the local polity or to retain or regain colonial control. Military aid to former colonies/client states is a marginal case, since I'm trying to see if there is any precedent for the current fighting in Afghanistan, and none of the Western powers with troop units there is a former colonial power...

  9. How about Hungary, 1956. Czechoslovakia, 1968.

    It all seems to have worked out fairly well.

  10. jim's questions got me thinking. If we think of US foreign military/clan ops intervention as being of two types, how do they then compare?

    For instance US actions against a legitimate state: Cuba, Nicaragua under the Sandanistas, Iran since the return of the hostages, Iraq post-1991 Saddam, Syria (?) and some others we see a lot of activity but not much actual outcome.

    On the other hand if we consider US support for legitimate governments under siege: Vietnam, El Salvador, Colombia, and some others, we see limited activity since 1990, but with more positive outcomes (or essentially Colombia and El Salvador as "success stories" if you will). I don't include Iraq and Afghanistan here since for me they are special cases.

    We can see that most of our activity over the last 20 odd years has been in regards to attacking legitimate states, not in supporting them and that activity hasn't met with much success. Our institutional "expertise" as it is would be counter-productive to what we hope (or publicly state) as our purpose in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather a quick thought, but does it explain anything? Am I missing something?

  11. Chief,

    Colombia, 1990 to present.

    This would be closer to jim's "black ops", I suppose. Not quite a total analogy, but Colombia has been very successful over the 30 year campaign. "Sending troops", well yes, not battalions of tanks, but Special Operations Troops and other government agencies have been hard at work with that country for decades suppressing what started as a ideological political insurgency, and transformed into an economic-narco insurgency.

  12. seydlit,
    I just like to point out that US policy is totally duplicitous.
    -We are against terrorism EXCEPT when we support it.OSS/Posada are slight examples. Support of Kurdish groups in Iran.
    -We back legit govt's EXCEPT when we don't.Panama at the turn of the 20th century. Cuban rebels in the 1890's and 1950's. The anti-Batistas were ok until they weren't.
    I'm curious to see how Lebanon plays out when Hezbollah gains power thru the elective process. This is in play right now. We laud democratic , or at least elections UNLESS we don't like the results.

    Would Black ops apply to Columbia? I'd be more inclined to call this Covert ops.

  13. Chief,

    No problem, hope it's valuable.

    I tend to agree with Seydlitz that Iraq and Afghanistan are special cases. There we are not simply fighting an insurgency and supporting a host-nation government - we invaded, destroyed the old governing system and then have been trying to rebuild a new type of governance in its place. Columbia, for example, is much different in that regard - we support an existing government and they do most of the "heavy lifting." We are, perhaps, now approaching that point in Iraq, where our support could be limited to small numbers of specialists and a lot of dough.

    Afghanistan, I would argue, is different yet again from Iraq. There I think it's more accurate to suggest that we didn't overthrow the old government (ie. the Taliban) - rather we took sides in an ongoing civil war. The Taliban were never able to close the deal and their ability to control much of Afghanistan was thanks to the assistance of Pakistan and other proxies. Consequently, I would argue that we are not really fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan. Instead we are fighting another phase of Afghanistan's 30+ year civil war which itself has been continued and inflamed by a succession of foreign interventions.

  14. Jim,

    Agree that US policy is duplicitous, but isn't that a natural consequence of acting based on national self-interest? It seems to me that's how almost all nation-states operate.

  15. Andy,
    If one were acting on national interest then i would think that duplic1ity would not need to be an element of policy.
    If you go back to square one and define your policy , then all would follow from there. Think Peter the Great or Bismarck- are their policies not still alive and easily recognized in the play of politics in present day Europe?
    I suggest that something other than national interest fuels US policy. What it is happpens to be beyond my comprehension since we link the national interests of Japan or fill in the blank ,etc... as being the same as our national interest.
    We try to link too many varying plot's into a simple story line.

  16. Jim,

    Sure, I agree that things other than national self-interest fuels our policy, but I think you'd get duplicity regardless. Look at central America for multiple examples. We supported and opposed various violent groups and governments for reasons other than their methods. If they were "on our side" then we supported them or, at least, didn't condemn them too harshly. For the same reason we treat Kurdish terrorism against Iran differently than other kinds of terrorism. Hasn't it always been thus? What nation in the history of the world has ever acted uniformly in that regard?

  17. Andy,
    Asking your question re;history adds validity to our actions. Because all other nations did thusly is not justification for our actions.
    I reckon i used to believe the rhetoric that we were the beacon on the hill. Now we're the fool on the hill.

  18. bg: Yeah, I'd call Columbia more of an SOF-FID situation.

    I'm starting to agree with several of you that Afghanistan may be truly sui generis. The closest I can come is Vietnam, where we stepped into an ongoing civil war. The complication there is the French; the French set up the Catholic elite as their puppets in Saigon, and we had a long history there, first of working with the French and then with the RVN. I think, too, that, sadly, the level of competence in both the GOSVN and the ARVN are generally higher than what we've seen from the Karzaites, although it seems that the level of corruption is fairly similar.

    Iraq seems a lot simpler, to me; plain old imperial adventuring minus the competence. We went in and knocked off a foreign regime and tried to install our boy(s). Unfortunately the fucking idiot "Vulcans" didn't read the warning label about how throughly fucked twenty years of Baathist kleptocracy had left the place, and how the only real possible replacements for the deposed tyrant were allies of our main regional rival. Fuck, Zeke, shore didn't see that one comin'...

  19. Andy, jim: Couple of salient points here, I think:

    1. The current fiddling around in central Asia is, yes, something that Great Powers have done since Babylonian days.

    2. But the cognitive dissonance is that the U.S. is, I think, almost alone in our pretension to have a single standard of political behavior both at home and abroad.

    The old colonial/imperial powers were explicit in that they were only acting "that way" in the hustings because those blacky-browns were Benighted Savages, that they were Bringing the Blessings of Civilization, that it was Western Progress with a maxim gun on one hand and a flush toilet on the other. The fact that the impact of their violence was usually toxic for the locals could be covered up by the jingo press. They were at least consistent in that their domestic policies and colonial policies were distinct, and everybody knew it.

    OTOH, we keep trumpeting our committment to things like "freedom" and "democracy" without a wink to let everyone but the rubes know that we're kidding. The reality that imperial policing has nothing to do this this stuff intrudes, and we look eiher like fools or poltroons. But we can't acknowledge the reality for fear of shocking Joe and Mary Lunchpail Americans that we're just playing the Great Power game...

    Frankly, I don't care what we do overseas, providing we do it competently; I'm an American, not an Afghan. If putting a competent butcher on the gaddi in Kabul keeps the place quiet for 20 years, then, whatev'. Great Powers do what they can; small nations suffer what they must.

    An open barbarian can intimidate with naked terror; a self-proclaimed "fighter for freedom" who is obviously NOT interested in the "freedom" of the locals isn't intimidating, it's just irking, and the reaction across the Islamic Middle East is a daily reminder of that.

  20. And I should add that IMO the most productive policy is also the decent one; propping up monsters just ensures that the inevitable explosion, when it comes, as all that much uglier.

  21. jim,

    "Would Black ops apply to Columbia? I'd be more inclined to call this Covert ops."

    You generally won't have good covert ops without good clan (black) ops. The term of "black ops" is often misunderstood and frequently misused.

    It is hard to call anything clandestine, or black ops, beyond intelligence collection. Clan intel occurs when the collector gains the intelligence required, and no one ever knows the collector was there or that collection took place. But once an action is taken, such as a kinetic strike or capture operation (or really anything that involves an action), you are in the covert world (if you are trying to hide the fact that the USG was involved in the action, again, you aren't hiding the action, but misrepresenting the USG involvement).

    So, with that said..... I would call Colombia a mixture of "black ops", covert ops and good old fashioned, traditional FID. (with a heavy dose of non-DoD agencies).

    The book Killing Pablo has some good examples of each and how they were applied in the 90s. Monitoring of communications for intelligence purposes is clandestine, while Delta guys mixed into a Colombian police stack is covert.

  22. Chief,
    In reply to your comments-look what's happening right now in Egypt, which out strips AFGH/IRQ in significance. Add Lebanon politics and the region is slap ass sliding down hill fast.
    The inevitable explosion is happening, and we must see that our money/aid is meaningless, and we control naught.
    IMMMM. Iran/79?

  23. jim,

    If the situation in the middle east is now going downhill, does that mean it used to occupy the high ground?

    I am not sure of where things are headed, but "downhill" is not the direction I would have picked.

  24. I would agree with "downhill" in the sense that the authoritarian regimes the U.S. has counted on to deliver stability appear to be in some distress after the Tunisian "Jasmine Revolution" and the protests in Egypt. But I would argue that this was inevitable, and the result of preferring dictatorial "stability" over standing aside and letting local politics take its messy course.

    Oh, and I thought of a "foreign intervention into a civil war/insurgency" that I need to think about - the French invasion of Spain at the end of the Trienio Liberal.

  25. I understand why the word "downhill" was used.

    However, in this forum, we spend a lot of our time grousing about how the U.S. has locked itself into a real mess.

    And then when a situation where real potential for change happens, it gets instinctively labeled as "downhill".

    It triggered my irony meter.

    This is not to say that good things will happen. Interesting times.

  26. AEL,
    I have consistently posted at RAW on the policy of stability vs. that of democracy in the middle east , and worldwide.
    I used downhill and that's exactly what i meant.DEMOCRACY IN THE ME/EGYPT WILL NOT BENEFIT THE US. There are some folks that money won't buy. Despotism/monarchy is not a friend either,but the change we are seeing is not controllable or predictable. How do you spell Egyptian Brotherhood?
    The countries might become democratic, but i somehow question what that will look like.
    Would we for example allow true democracy in AFGH? It's sure working well in Irq.
    Where will we go to torture people if Egypt transitions to democracy? Maybe democratic torture is more acceptable.
    Will democracy in Egypt equate to a love of US policy in region?Or acceptance thereof? Will this flow over to Saudi A? Gee, now we're back to oil, which doesn't seem to mix too well with democracy. Will we defend Saudi A from democracy that will threaten our oil supply???
    There is no high ground , as you point out. It's just a hill of shit.
    Potential for change-?!

  27. I understand the USA's desire to control other peoples countries. Especially since Asia and South America seem to be showing signs of independent action.

    After all, how can you be a proper empire without any vassal kings?

    Still, the strong self-identification to the imperial instincts of the USA is interesting.

    I guess old habits die hard.

    As far as what happens next, I really have no idea. History would suggest that really bad things could happen. The Muslim Brotherhood are not a particularly scary bunch of people. It is those who might come after them that scares me.

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