April 11, 2007

Fisking Fisk

The man who has been wrong so often that he became a verb, is at it again:

Faced with an ever-more ruthless insurgency in Baghdad - despite President George Bush's "surge" in troops - US forces in the city are now planning a massive and highly controversial counter-insurgency operation that will seal off vast areas of the city, enclosing whole neighbourhoods with barricades and allowing only Iraqis with newly issued ID cards to enter.

The campaign of "gated communities" - whose genesis was in the Vietnam War - will involve up to 30 of the city's 89 official districts and will be the most ambitious counter-insurgency programme yet mounted by the US in Iraq.

The system has been used - and has spectacularly failed - in the past, and its inauguration in Iraq is as much a sign of American desperation at the country's continued descent into civil conflict as it is of US determination to "win" the war against an Iraqi insurgency that has cost the lives of more than 3,200 American troops. The system of "gating" areas under foreign occupation failed during the French war against FLN insurgents in Algeria and again during the American war in Vietnam. Israel has employed similar practices during its occupation of Palestinian territory - again, with little success.

Mr. Fisk claims that the style of counterinsurgency to be used in Baghdad had its "genesis" in the Vietnam War. This is especially troubling, considering that in the very next paragraph, Fisk brings up the French war in Algeria as another example.

The seminal work of counter-insurgency, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice was written in 1964 by French Lt. Col David Galula, eight years after he first implemented them in 1956 in Greater Kabylia, east of Algiers.

The United States did not bring ground troops into Vietnam until the first detachment of 3,500 Marines was dispatched on March 8, 1965, nearly a decade after Galula began modern counter-insurgency tactics in Algeria.

I'm quite curious: does Robert Fisk conduct his research using "alternative history" books as a guide?

Posted by Confederate Yankee at April 11, 2007 12:46 PM

You could interpret this phrase:

"The campaign of 'gated communities' - whose genesis was in the Vietnam War..."

as referring to the American military's adoption of the technique - sloppy writing instead of a mistake - as he gets the chronology correct later in the quoted piece here:

"The system of 'gating' areas under foreign occupation failed during the French war ... in Algeria and again during the American war in Vietnam."

I'm not so interested in whether Fisk got his chronology wrong as I am whether he's right about the 'gating' idea. I assume he's talking about strategic hamlets in Vietnam and, in that case, they were a monumental failure mostly because we moved people away from their homes which went against deeply engrained cultural norms.

That seems to be a whole different kettle of nuoc mom than what we're proposing in Iraq.

If that's what he's referring to then Fisk is indeed wrong, but for much more significant reasons than merely getting his history bolloxed.

Posted by: David Terrenoire at April 11, 2007 01:43 PM

Fisk is an idiot. nuf said.

Posted by: 1sttofight at April 11, 2007 01:53 PM

Thanks, Bob.

And I promise, no more nuoc mom.

But like other things in this world, once you get used to the smell, it's really quite tasty.

Sorry. I couldn't resist.

Posted by: David Terrenoire at April 11, 2007 02:28 PM

"Faced with an ever-more ruthless insurgency in Baghdad"

Interesting choice of words. "Ruthless" is subjective. It can't be measured. There could be fewer attacks or less casualties but the attackers could be more "ruthless". It also can't be argued against because how does one go about proving that people are more or less "ruthless" than before?

Fisk is entertaining if not particularly informative.

Posted by: crosspatch at April 11, 2007 09:54 PM

I guess not being ruthless means you're a murderer who doesn't just drop bodies on any old street corner. You have a concern for the environment and don't litter.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at April 12, 2007 05:40 AM