COIN, Colonialism and Credibility

A big part of the American exit strategy from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed a big part of U.S. COIN doctrine more generally, is the de-Americanization of the conflicts through the progressive replacement of U.S. forces by indigenous security forces. The same thing can essentially be said about efforts to get Pakistan to address the Taliban insurgency in FATA and the NWFP more aggressively as well.

Those efforts will obviously hit snags, as this NY Times article about the lapses in Iraqi security forces’ preparedness illustrates. There’s also something predictably counterproductive about having the Pakistani military commit the same COIN errors — in this case, aerial bombings certain to cause civilian casualties — that currently plague U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and the Pakistani border regions.

Be that as it may, there’s a certain irony to the fact that sixty years before we began trying to get Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis to fight for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, we (meaning the West collectively) were trying to get Gurkhas, Moroccans, Senegalese and others to fight for Britain, France and Europe. Indeed, for some of the Gurkhas, the debt they’re owed dates back to the Falklands War, i.e. less than 30 years ago.

Now, as you might know if you follow the British press these days, the West hasn’t been terribly good at repaying that debt. Until a public uproar, the Gurkhas were being refused Bristish residency as a matter of policy. And today, French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid special tribute to France’s WWII Africa Army that helped liberate Europe as part of the southern débarquement — a campaign portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film, Days of Glory. But France still doesn’t pay the Indigènes — as they are known (and which was also the film’s original title) — the same pension as “French” veterans of WWII.

I mentioned the other day how the failure to integrate the Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi security forces might have repercussions in other countries where we try to make the same kinds of deals on a local level. And that, to me, is just a contemporaneous example of how we tend to brush off the consequences of not having lived up to our promises. But these things have longer half-lives in the parts of the world where we’re intervening than they perhaps do in the West, in part because we are not on the receiving end.

And although we have a tendency to read through the anti-colonialist rhetoric used by insurgents to rally support, we might want to think twice about that. The West has a pretty poor track record on living up to our end of some of the bargains we’ve struck in the Third World, and one that isn’t just a part of ancient history, but that is playing out today.

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