Monday, December 26, 2005

Counterinsurgency - Helping People Help Themselves

Noble, idealistic souls often lament the wanton waste of money on capitalistic hubris as we spend ourselves into glorious excess during holiday shopping frenzies; money that could be spent feeding the poor in impoverished nations. If we have money to spend on flat-screen TVs we don't really need, then we clearly have money to buy shoes for children in the Congo! Herein lies a fundamental philosophical disconnect between so-called Progressives, and traditionalists/fiscal conservatives.

The liberal mindset sees succor in providing beneficence, social programs to feed, clothe and house those less fortunate. This isn’t even liberalism, per se, but just good, conscionable providence between the haves and the have-nots. The traditionalists, on the other hand, often take a slightly different approach. A conservative believes that the best way to ensure that a society is able to feed, clothe, and house itself it to provide its citizenship with the means to provide such things for themselves. Government largess is meant only as a stop-gap measure to assist in those times of unavoidable want or need, not as a means of continuing sustenance for the economic fringe.

In the view of the fiscal conservative, or western traditionalist, the best way to help a third-world country to rise out of poverty is to provide it with an environment conducive to economic, technological, and social innovation and excellence. Thus the motivation behind interventions in places like Somalia, where it was felt that if we could just provide a period of stability and security from the ravages of tribal feudalism, the local economy would be freed to flourish, and social reform could begin. Alas, in this situation, feudal warlords were too interested in maintaining their tenuous grips on localized power to allow such seeds to take root.

The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan can be viewed through much the same lens. Insurgencies and revolutionary mindsets are born out of destitution and poverty. When a people feel like they have nothing left to lose, they become more open to trying anything. Counter-insurgency, therefore, focuses not only on the elimination of direct military threats, but more importantly, on changing the social environment which feeds and supports revolutionaries. It is a supportable position to say that the only way that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan would ever have self-determinate freedoms was for the ruling dictatorships to be removed. As the people themselves did not have the means to do so, an outside entity was required. This outside entity (the US) was motivated to do so by a desire to remove the sources of a revolutionary insurgency that had come to threaten its social and economic foundations. Mere economic sanctions and political pressure where shown to be ineffective. Other means were required. A definition of war is a furtherance of the political ends by other means. Here the “ends” were the draining of the pool of terrorists by removing their bases of support. Providing the Iraq and Afghani people the means, the hope, and the security to be self-determinant takes the wind out of the Jihadists’ sails. It gets harder and harder to paint the US as the Great Satan when we are directly responsible for enabling the people of these countries to live life free from fear and oppression.

The same shrill voices which condemn US “interference” in the economic and political affairs of third-world countries, are also the quickest to blame the US for not doing enough to combat poverty and deprivation in these same sorts of countries. Of course, by “doing enough” they really mean transferring some of our hard-earned GNP to band-aid the symptoms, not treat the cause. Providing food and medicine for war-torn refugees is noble and noteworthy – and is only a temporary aid which does not address the fundamental problem of what ultimately CAUSED the suffering in the first place.

It goes back to the old maxim, “Feed me a fish, I eat for a day. Teach me to fish, I eat for a lifetime.” Yes, provide me fish in the interim until I get the hang of the whole fishing thing. Thereupon, it only makes sense to stop giving me fish and make me fish for myself. Otherwise, why should I crank it out at the crack of dawn and brave the mosquitoes to catch fish, if I know that all I have to do is wait around for the next shipment of fish from the UN? One is sustenance, the other is self-sufficiency.