January 17, 2008

More on COIN and the Europeans, plus Nir Rosen in the Boston Review

Abu Muqawama has just driven to Washington, DC from Carlisle, Pennsylvania through a snowstorm. It was a decidedly white-knuckle experience. The closer you get to DC, the crazier people drive in adverse conditions. That said, the trip to Carlisle was great. Special thanks go out to this man for letting a few of us COIN geeks stop by his house last night to talk a little shop.

Some of you got a little upset with this morning's post -- especially the metric Abu Muqawama used. Look, he admits, that's just an imperfect economic indicator. (Though if anything came out of the conference Abu Muqawama just attended, it's the lesson that if want to know what a government considers really important, look for where the money is being spent.) Another worrying sign -- one you cannot express in a quantitative measurement -- is how so little serious work is being done on counterinsurgency in NATO states not named the United States and the United Kingdom. (Abu Muqawama can think of a pretty serious conference held in Paris last year, but that was organized by a European scholar now based in Washington, DC.) So forget the economics, folks: convince Abu Muqawama that other NATO member states are spending half as much time, money, and intellectual resources trying to crack the code on counterinsurgency as folks in the United States. Note Abu Muqawama is not saying Americans. Because right now, if you're a serious COIN scholar or theorist of any nationality, you want to be working within two hours of Washington, DC. (Failing that, London -- though the COIN community in the UK is not nearly as tight-knit and mutually supportive as the COIN scholars and practitioners in the States. Charlie, it might be said, is responsible for most of that tightness.) Then we can talk about whether or not other NATO member states are equipping and training their soldiers for the COIN mission.

As crazy as this sounds -- considering who this blog usually takes to task -- the U.S. has been a lot more responsive to the tactical challenges of insurgency, post-2003, than any other NATO member state has been, despite the fact that we have all faced the same challenges in Afghanistan. (Abu Muqawama exempts the Dutch from this criticism, actually, because the Dutch did some really serious thinking about OOTW, especially peace-keeping, long before 9/11.) Can all this be explained by the American and British experiences in Iraq? This guy doesn't think so.

In the meantime, though, check out Nir Rosen's latest piece for the Boston Review on jihadists in Lebanon. Abu Muqawama spoke with Nir several times while he was working on this piece, and he believes this piece is the new gold standard on the events of 2007 in Nahr al-Bared and the state of Islamist militants in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon.

The Palestinians have been used once again by sectarian interests, and they have suffered the most. The situation will not change, says Rougier, unless refugees are allowed to work in Lebanese society and able to live under new and different influences rather than socialized only by religious clerics. He believes, though, that nothing should be done to naturalize them, because it could upset the Lebanese balance of power and leave Palestinian refugees, once again, caught in Lebanon’s inner contradictions. (Such naturalization would also dissolve negotiations about the right of return.) “So what needs to be done is to distinguish between the issues, between what is social (the right to work), what is political (and should be discussed at the regional level), and what is linked to the legal situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon,” says Rougier. “In order to do that, Lebanese parties would have to stop frightening the Lebanese society about the risk of tawtin.”

Until that happens, Palestinians and all of Lebanon are at great risk. As Iraq becomes a less hospitable place for jihadists and foreign fighters, and as there are fewer American targets to go after, these veterans, experienced at fighting the most advanced army in the world, will look for new battles. Andrew Exum, a former U.S. army officer who led a platoon of light infantry in Afghanistan in 2002 and Army Rangers in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been studying militant Islamist groups. “The fighting in Nahr al Barid is, unfortunately, just the first round in what I fear will be a series of battles fought in the aftermath of the Iraq War,” he says. “On Internet chat rooms, we’re seeing militants turn away volunteers to go fight in Iraq and promising the next fight will be in Lebanon and the Gulf. Lebanon, especially, is a magnet for Sunni extremists,” he says. “You not only have a haven for these groups in the Palestinian camps, with security services from rival Arab states competing for their loyalty and attention, you also have two tempting targets: both the pro-Western ruling coalition in Beirut, as well as the opposition, led by a powerful block of Shia parties. How can we not expect these Sunni militants, who have spent the past four years waging war on the Shia of Iraq, to try and carry that fight on to the large, politically active Shia population in Lebanon? Or on to the pro-Western regime that precariously hangs onto power?”