Sunday, April 24, 2005

Gimme that ole-time insurgency

By Donald Sensing

Are the insurgents in Iraq playing from a Cuban playbook?

George Will compares the insurgency in Iraq today with that of Algerian insurgents in the 1950s.

The Algerian insurgency was fueled by the most potent "ism" of a century of isms -- nationalism. In contrast, one of the strange, almost surreal, aspects of the Iraqi insurgency is its lack of ideological content. Most of the insurgents are "FREs" -- former regime elements -- who simply want to return to power. [See here - DS]

Unlike most of the violent cadres of the 20th century, the insurgency does not have a fighting faith; it does not bother to have an ideology to justify its claim to power. ...

By promiscuously dispensing death ... the insurgents hope to delegitimize the Iraqi government for its failure to provide the primary social good: freedom from fear of violent death.

I have to wonder whether the FREs are playing from a Cuban guidebook called, Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, by Carlos Marighella. Originally published on paper (natch) in 1969, it was summarized thus by Claire Sterling in her 1981 book, The Terror Network:

In forty-eight densely packed pages, the Mini-Manual says it all. It explains whjy cities are better than rural areas for guerrilla operations, and how to behave there: no "foreign air" and "normal" occupations when possible. It suggests how to drill in urban courtyards; blow up bridges and railroad tracks,; raise money by kidnap ransoms and bank "expropriations" attacking the "nervous system of capitalism"; plan the "physical liquidation of ranking army officers and policemen,; deal with spies and informers, to be summarily executed ... .

It goes into careful detail about choices of weapons, and the need to "shoot first" at pointblank range if possible; "shooting and aiming are to the urban guerrilla what air and water are to human beings."

All this sounds almost identical to what the FRE and al Qaeda insurgents are doing in Iraq. It is well known in counter-terror agencies in Europe and the Americas that the Mini-Manual became the Bible of Western and Latin terrorist organizations; the Uruguayan Tupamaros were Marighella's first international students. The MM teachings quickly crossed the Atlantic to find a home in the German Red Army Fraction and the Italian Red Brigades. In America the Symbionese Liberation Army (of Patty Hearst fame) tried to adopt the MM's techniques. The MM was known to have been studied by some Middle Eastern terrorist groups as well.

All these movements failed, however. In Europe, the terrorists organizations were materially and financially supported by the old Soviet Union. When it disappeared, so did the USSR's support. In America, ordinary law-enforcement measures broke the SLA, the Weathermen and other self-styled urban insurgencies; their members were never very skilled at long-term covert operations and information security. In Uruguay, the government finally awoke to the threat posed by the Tupamaros and crushed them, but in so doing the country became a military dictatorship in 1972. It had formerly been the most free and wealthiest country in South America.

All these failures lie squarely at the feet of Carlos Marighella himself, who fell victim to his own romantic notions of "freedom fighting." The crackdown by the Uruguayan government and its increasing repression was not only anticipated by Marighella, it was actually an intermediate objective of the his urban guerrilla concept. But he badly missed the boat in two key areas. Marighella wrote that the insurgents use their violence in order to identify with popular causes, which wins them a base of support among the people. (Remember, the people are to the guerrillas as water is to fish.) Once that was done, he declared that,

... the government has no alternative but to intensify repression. Tbe police roundups, house searches, arrests of innocent people, make life in the city unbearable. The general sentiment is that the government in unjust, incapable of solving problems, and resorts purely to and simply to the physical liquidation of its opponents. The political situation is transformed [and so] the urban guerrilla must become more aggressive and violent, resorting without letup to sabotage, terrorism, expropriations, assaults, kidnapings and executions, heightening the disastrous situation in which the guerrilla must act.

All these steps are intended to lead to what Marighella called, "the uncontrollable expansion of urban rebellion."

Except that they don't lead there. There are two fundamental errors of the theory that it cannot overcome and that play to Iraq's long-term favor. The first error is the belief that in Iraq the increasing level of terrorist violence by either al Qaeda in Iraq or FREs will merge the terrorists with "popular causes," that is, make them one with the people. In Iraq, except for the minority of Sunnis aligned with the old Baathist party or Saddam's clan, the people's cause is freedom and democracy. Violence by Saddam's regime is what terrorized the people for more than 20 years; it will not lead them to submit to Baathist rule again. Quite the contrary, terrorist violence is unifying the Iraqi people with the new, sovereign government. As for al Qaeda's terrorism, the Iraqi people certainly have no desire to live under Islamism (see here) and al Qaeda's gruesome murders only convince the people evermore to shun it.

Al Qaeda is more guilty of this delusion than the FREs. Baathism in Iraq was never anything but simple, nepotist despotism to begin with; the ruling elite never were deluded that the Iraqi people were anything but subjects to be ruled with an iron hand. But one of Osama bin Laden's (and hence al Qaeda's generally) basic premises is that the Muslim ummah, the masses, are thirsting to live in a strict sharia society. But their powerlessness in the face of the apostate, repressive Arab governments keeps the ummah from their Islamic fulfillment. Since 9/11, though, events have proven that the Muslim masses are thirsting not for Islamism but for its opposite.

The second basic error in Marighella's theory is that increasing government countermeasures inevitably become so repressive of the ordinary people that the masses are driven thereby into embracing the revolutionary cause. Uprising results, the government is overthrown and the revolutionaries gain power. This is of course pure European Marxism-Leninism (by way of classically communist Cuba) so I don't want to claim it translates directly into Arab Iraq, but that's the concept, if not the source, that George Will sees, which is what got me going on this tear anyway.

But again, history shows that harsh reactionary repression is not inevitable. The European countries never did it, the United States never did it and Israel hasn't done it either, although Israel's security measures are very strict. The first test case was Uruguay, where the Tupamaros succeeded in goading the government into the crackdown. However, the crackdown utterly crushed the Tupamaros and there the revolution ended, though the government dictatorship remained. But the worldwide communist underground didn't learn the lesson.

I'll leave the last word to Claire Sterling. She was referring to Marxist urban guerrillas using the Marighella playbook, but her words fit to a tee the FRE and al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq:

[They become] corrupted - by the power they discover in the mouth of a gun, or by outsiders with something less selfless in mind, or by the growing estrangement from the society they want to improve. Often they are rejected by an overwhelming majority of their countrymen, reduced to a minority so absurdly small that tragedy almost becomes black comedy. Their response is to kill with increasing ferocity - to punish the profane, and because nothing elese is left for them to do. From killing for a cause, they slip into killing for their vested interests. Nobody's freedom but their own inspires them.

And they are losing, though there are miles to go before we sleep.

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