November 15, 2007

Military Review: November-December

Charlie called Abu Muqawama's attention to the new edition of Military Review, and he's spent the morning thus far looking through the articles. If he had to recommend just one, he would tell you all to read the essay that won the 2007 DePuy Writing Contest: "S.W.E.T. and Blood: Essential Services in the Battle between Insurgents and Counterinsurgents," by some Belgian guy. (Major Erik A. Claessen, if you want Abu Muqawama to be more specific.)

It is going to be difficult for real scholars of Islam to forgive Major Claessen for the way in which he generalizes about the role religion plays in the development of insurgent groups like Hizbollah, Hamas, and the Jaish al-Mahdi. (It's as if he's read one book on Islam and charitable giving in the Muslim World -- specifically, Jonathan Benthall and Jérome Bellion-Jourdan's The Charitable Crescent, Politics of Aid in the Muslim World -- and now thinks he has, in true military tradition, "cracked the code." No need to read anything else then!)

But most of Abu Muqawama's readership will not care about that, and they shouldn't, because the general point Major Claessen makes is a good one. Providing essential services is indeed key to effective population-centric counterinsurgency, but it's a phase of the battle that's every bit as contested as the actual shooting bits where insurgent and counterinsurgent discharge firearms in one another's directions. (Oh, and Abu Muqawama should warn you that another bad military habit the author has is his invention and use of acronyms. Perhaps he hopes they will end up as a bullet point on his Officer Evaluation Report. No matter, Abu Muqawama will provide what they all mean in brackets.) The Muscles from Brussels writes:

FM 3-24 rightfully emphasizes the importance of providing ES [Essential Serives] as a way to attack the insurgent’s center of gravity, his need for popular support. However, this approach is neither new nor exclusively reserved for the counterinsurgent. Two can play that game. In the Middle East, a particular type of Islamic insurgency, the ZJAI [zakat-jihad activist insurgency], generates popular support by providing ES.


Overall, if the counterinsurgent is to have any success against a zakat-jihad activist insurgency, he needs to execute the provision of ES to the local population as a military operation against a capable and determined foe, not as an unopposed activity.

Major Claessen is now Steven Metz's BFF, if only because he has sought to determine some of the ways in which the insurgencies and non-state actors of the Middle East differ from the nationalist insurgencies of the 20th Century -- which we study when we read Galula, Trinquier, and others. Good for him. (He has obviously read his Galula and Mao, too, because he footnotes both of them.)

On a side note, military officers and theorists often write about the need to attack the "center of gravity." This they've all picked up from reading Clausewitz or by internalizing this turn of phrase from their professional military education. But as Michael Howard notes, if you're trying to knock someone over, isn't their center of gravity the last place you would aim? Just a thought.