Editor’s Introductory Note: Because of its length, the following essay will be presented in three parts. The footnotes can be found at the end of Part 3. Please reserve most of your comments until after Part 3 is posted. – JWR
“Insurgency” as a word is relatively new in application. Where there is rule of law an insurgency is simply an act of rebellion against the current lawful authority. For the purposes of this essay, we will be looking at many different conflicts, some fall within this definition and others do not.
While this essay will not address every recorded rebellion, we will establish a timeline using significant rebellions or insurgent activity until current times. Additionally, we will address the efficacy of insurgency in the United States of America, specifically modern insurgency.
One of the first recorded rebellions occurred around 2700 B.C., it is known as The Seth rebellion of the 2nd Dynasty, in Ancient Egypt. (Newberry, 1922) At this time there is not much known about it, though there were major famines at the time which may have helped increase the potential for rebellion. From that time to the present-day, thousands of rebellions, insurgencies, and revolutions have taken place in every corner of the world against every form of government that has existed.
Since the focus of this essay is the United States of America as a nation and the efficacy of insurgency against it, we will focus instead on the various incidents that have occurred after the Revolutionary War that birthed this nation. Historically rebellions of any type include belligerents or insurgents fighting against a more powerful foe. The United States, as of 2018, has a standing combined military force numbering 1,119,003 individuals. This includes 471,990 U.S. Army personnel, 325,395 U.S. Navy personnel, and 321,618 U.S. Air Force personnel.
Within the U.S. military exists the largest most advanced air force, naval forces, and ground-based technical options. Though Russia and China both have significantly more tanks than the United States, superiority is maintained by virtue of the manned and unmanned air ability held by the United States military. Air superiority has in many instances been the deciding factor when it comes to conflicts since the advent of aircraft as a military asset. It should be noted that even with no air ability current insurgencies and “terrorist actions” in the Middle East as well as Eastern and Northern Africa we have seen insurgencies continue to grow.
What Constitutes Winning an Insurgency?
The use of guerrilla tactics and localized nature of the fighters have made it difficult to truly “win” any of these conflicts. The continued fluid nature of these conflicts as well as the lack of understanding by many in the United States has led our forces to be mired in endless and mostly fruitless attempts to police a population that is tired of war and of us. Philip Gordon writes, “Victory will come only when Washington succeeds in discrediting the terrorists’ ideology and undermining their support. These achievements, in turn, will require accepting that the terrorist threat can never be eradicated completely and that acting as though it can [be] will only make it worse.” (Gordon, 2007)
In a more recent article Hal Brands states, “Getting deeply involved in the Middle East ran the risk of making America the target of that radicalism and anger; it also ran the risk of distracting the United States from other areas where the prospects for constructive change seemed more promising.” (Brands, 2019) The understanding is that because of the glaring disparity in wealth, income, and social ability there is a large easily-guided grouping of persons that can be and are used regularly as cannon fodder by those desiring change for their own benefit. Certainly, there can be seen some benefits as a whole to increasing the educational opportunities, social and economic abilities of all individuals residing around the globe today. However, due in no small part to the highly radical behavior of religion applied in several key areas within the Middle East, these ideals championed in other places around the globe are decades from fruition in the Middle East.
Perception is Key
Why does this matter in the United States? And more to the point, why does what happens in the Middle East matter here, when discussing insurgency? It matters because of the perception of reduced equality as a value or the perception of loss of rights can be as much a driving factor for radicalism as religion can be. The term perception is used specifically due to the difficulty in measuring these values using currently available metrics. For instance, prior to 1968 one could walk into any hardware store in the United States and purchase a firearm. The only thing preventing it was whether the person purchasing had money or the person selling had a firearm. Most firearms types were readily available. Not only could one purchase firearms, but a plethora of destructive devices were readily available. Dynamite, blasting caps, and more were all readily available. [JWR Adds: In fact, up until 1934, machineguns could be bought without any restrictions.]
In addition to this, there existed what is now known as the Segregation Era in history books. This was an era when in many regions Black Americans were kept from mingling with White Americans. The severe nature of this ridiculous approach by some created antipathy in many. In fact, we are still to this day seeing the results of this despicable era of history in our nation. One could argue that these events are completely unrelated and there is no reason to include them in an essay about insurgency. It is, however, important to understand as much as possible when looking at driving motivations and factors in a nation that currently numbers 331,883,000 people and growing 0.71% per year there is a distinct need to understand the history of the country, regardless of the nature of it.
Modern-day perception of everything in the United States and indeed much of the world is driven by whatever we see on whichever social media app we choose to absorb information from. Specifically, trends drive our current culture, which has resulted in some interesting results for society. For instance, October 2017 saw the advent of a “hashtag” titled MeToo. It was meant to shed light on what some believed to be a major issue of sexual harassment/ assault by men against women. This “movement” has spawned many minor movements as well. In the end, the result has been, an increase of false reports, a decrease in factual reports and the overwhelming idea that any woman who makes a report should be automatically believed, before facts or evidence is seen. Additionally, it has given rise to the idea that men are predators and women prey, cementing the false social understanding that women are victims by design, even though this is exactly the opposite of the initial reason for starting it. This movement has ensured that many men are now distrustful of women in the workplace as well as in private settings.
As an example of the ease with which people can be swayed from values and rights we have, this movement has excelled in this respect. The movement’s strongest supporters and initial advocates have themselves dismissed the calls for “evidence and proof” in some situations demanding the firing of alleged misogynists and rapists. In fact, when several women stepped forward casting aspersions against an incoming Supreme Court candidate, some of their testimonies and claims were deemed false, while others were seen to be inflated or in some cases came without any evidence. The reasons for their claims were later exposed to be an attempt to prevent his appointment to the highest court in the land. Unfortunately for the women involved the mess caused by the outright false accusations cast doubt on the others’ testimonies as well as the complete lack of any evidence relating to the possible crimes committed.
This is a perfect example of the current political climate and reality of the nature of contemporary American society. Extreme amounts of hype, massive emotional backlash, and no real change. Some would say that this alone is reason to believe that any attempted insurgency within the United States today would end almost as soon as it began. However, it is essential to understand other aspects of the possibility on insurgency. Who would be involved in an insurgency in the United States today? It would be better to look at who has the motive, means, and ability to engage in an active armed rebellion against what is arguably the most powerful and sophisticated military and armed police forces in the world today.
Not Always Violent
An insurgency requires combatants, but does not always take a violent form in every action, though some violence is necessary to call it an insurgency. “Insurgent warfare is characterized by a lack of front lines, sequenced battles, or campaigns; a protracted strategy, often lasting more than a decade; and unconventional military tactics, including guerrilla warfare, terrorism, or ethnic cleansing.” (“Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency”, 2012) United States doctrine prior to the attacks on 9/11 was as stated, “following the Vietnam War and through the remainder of the Cold War, the U.S. military establishment turned its back on insurgency, refusing to consider operations against insurgents as anything other than a “lesser-included case” for forces structured for and prepared to fight two major theater wars.” (Paul, et al., 2013) Post 9/11 there has been a resurgence in training as well as tactics specifically designed to negate insurgencies. The efficacy of these tactics and approaches is the source of much hand-wringing among many academics and individuals in the field to this day.
Within the current conflicts in the Middle East we have seen that some approaches have worked in some areas, and others, have had negative results. For instance: the drawdown of troops from 2008 to 2010 resulted in a resurgence in terrorist activity and ISIS/ISIL quickly grew in prominence taking back great swaths of Iraq and other bordering nations. Rules of Engagement (ROE) that coalition troops are held to have changed many times and in many cases have had a negative effect on the ability of these troops to continue an effective approach to reducing the insurgency. Where results have been seen is in the adopted approaches taken on the battlefield. Tactics have changed from set-piece warfare to a small unit approach utilizing overwhelming firepower. While this continues to be somewhat effective the core issue has been ignored leading to prolonged occupation by foreign troops in a foreign land. Historically, this rarely ends well for the occupier.
Fear As A Tool
In many cases, terrorism has been used by insurgents to gain beneficial arrangements from local populations. By using fear as a tool they have been able to retain control over localities. This is not the tool one would want to use in the United States. Rather, it would benefit the individuals looking to usurp federal control to look at simply engaging only federal troops/enforcers in a way that avoids local civilian casualties. Additionally, it would be necessary to provide goods and services that replace the ones offered by the government. An example would be gaining employment in local sheriff departments, public works, and other government agencies and build trust over time with the local population so that when an insurgency begins, they would already hold the trust of the locals. In contrast, any coming from the outside would need to gain that trust or require their use of quislings.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)