Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Algebra of Occupation


Conn Hallinan | Foreign Policy In Focus, November 27, 2007

In 1805, the French army out maneuvered, outsmarted, and outfought the combined armies of Russia and Austria at Austerlitz. Three years later it would flounder against a rag-tag collection of Spanish guerrillas.

In 1967, it took six days for the Israeli army to smash Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and seize the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. In 2006, a Shiite militia fought the mightiest army in the Middle East to a bloody standstill in Lebanon.

In 1991, it took four days of ground combat for the United States to crush Saddam Hussein’s army in the Gulf War. U.S. losses were 148 dead and 647 wounded. After more than five years of war in Iraq, U.S. losses are approaching 4,000, with over 50,000 wounded; 2007 is already the deadliest year of the war for the United States.

In each case, a great army won a decisive victory only to see that victory canceled out by what T.E. Lawrence once called the “algebra of occupation.” Writing about the British occupation of Iraq following the Ottoman Empire’s collapse in World War I, Lawrence put his finger on the formula that has doomed virtually every military force that has tried to quell a restive population.

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