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The United States faces great-power enemies. It needs a military focused on fighting them.

Perhaps one should leave the economics of land reform to economists. But it would seem that the past is littered with examples, like that of El Salvador, where attempts by weak states to enact significant reform simply resulted in the creation of a class of peasants attempting to eek a living on unsustainable plots, who ultimately were driven into bankruptcy and destitution, emigration, or forced into other lines of work.

But as in Vietnam, the Salvadorian government no doubt concluded that it could not survive the loss of elite support that a land redistribution in the coffee-producing areas upon which the entire national economy depended would no doubt entail. And elites proved as able to carry out violence as did disgruntled peasants. This survey thus neither offers convincing history nor suggests a viable blueprint for the future, where societies are becoming increasingly urbanized, insurgencies increasingly ideological, or fuelled by illegal narcotics.

This policy advice sounds somewhat ironic coming from the citizen of a country in which elites, with government and court assists, increasingly hoard resources and resist economic redistribution. However, to imagine that land reform will calm disputation in socially and racially stratified societies, where political polarization is extreme, and which are saddled with dysfunctional and corrupt political systems accustomed to settling disagreements through violence may be a bridge too far. Furthermore, resisting intervention proved impossible in Cold War Washington where Ronald Reagan was eager to stand up to communist encroachment in the Western Hemisphere.

Nor did political urgency in the wake of 11 September permit George W. Bush to extract a promise of resource distribution as an overture to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The application of democracy actually added to the chaos in societies where strong men have traditionally kept the peace. In other words, in terms of its strategic environment, El Salvador in the s more resembled Vietnam in the s and s than either Venezuela or the Philippines.

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Therefore, whatever its internal political, class, and economic dynamics, El Salvador was being invaded and its government subverted by communists. One could respond that the peasants would have been more willing to defend a government that gave them land. Motivation for enlistment in the insurgency included a protest against lack of opportunity, economic inequality, political corruption, and even religious motivations.

Some wars simply have to play out until there is a winner. This is especially true in intense combat environments where a high level of violence and resource disputes create disagreements that make it difficult to achieve and maintain a bureaucratic and political consensus around a policy and strategy backed by appropriate tactics.

The short-term goal of bolstering government stability and longer-term democratic and social reform may be at odds. In the end, it was simply easier to take the South Vietnamese President out by encouraging a putsch. Venezuela seems to have posed few problems because land redistribution was a less important issue in a relatively diversified economy, and the opposition was incapable of carrying out little more than a campaign of civil disobedience that focused more on political corruption than the distribution of economic assets.

However, to combine land reform with war was difficult to accomplish in Vietnam for reasons that Kapstein outlines, with the failure of the Strategic Hamlet program and the opposition of elites, upon whom the government relied for support. The small amount of land reform in the Philippines arguably was marginal to the success of the counterinsurgency, which relied on military action -- decapitating the Huk leadership, cutting off its access to arms, reducing insurgent numbers, and driving them back into the mountains.

In a situation of destabilization promoted by Sandinistas in neighboring Nicaragua, the government in San Salvador conflated civilian protests with communist subversion, which much of it undoubtedly was. El Salvador also illustrates that, once launched, a COIN campaign may easily slip out of control, especially in countries where civilian control of the military is historically weak. This may be the case especially in Latin America or in formerly colonized countries where the soldiery is drawn from a particular social or ethnic group, and their leadership from a limited number of military families, where social and regional connections and political loyalty are fundamental to political stability.

Latin American militaries especially tend to be socially and racially layered, with limited organizational efficiency, and weak command and control, which may lead to lack of initiative, underperformance, and brutality that undermines political and economic reform. After all, military strategy should be taken into account as a factor at least as important as land reform. For instance, how do insurgents mount an effective military campaign on a Philippine island, or in Malaya where they have limited access to arms?

Debates over U. At the same time, his critics do need to acknowledge that they only compound much broader and costly strategic failures that are the result of actions taken by President Bush and President Obama. President Trump did not create the lack of any U. He invaded Iraq with no plan to stabilize the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein and mismanaged the post-invasion effort so badly he created a whole new threat of Sunni Islamic extremists while opening the country up to Iran.

President Obama did no better.

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He failed to keep an effective U. He failed to intervene in Syria when a limited push could have removed Assad, failed to enforce his own red line against the use of chemical weapons, and failed to react when Iran, Hezbollah, and then Russia intervened. He set impossible goals for withdrawal from Afghanistan, and then failed to deploy effective levels of force when his withdrawal plans decisively failed.

In fairness to President Trump, no one can ignore his emphasis on the cost and casualties in any of America's wars. Even if one ignores civilian and allied casualties, the Department of Defense reports that there were 6, US military dead. Far too many of those wounded will continue to suffer and need continuing medical care for all of their lives. That said, America's current strategy cannot be based on "might have beens. The Assad regime is an authoritarian nightmare, Russia's presence in Syria threatens vital U. More broadly, the U.

It will give the Hezbollah a major boost in Lebanon by default and give a similar boost to Iran throughout the region. It has effectively betrayed its Kurdish partners, its impact on the Iraqi Kurds and Pesh Merga will be highly negative, and it will compound its problems in dealing with other strategic partners in the MENA region. This is especially true because the prospect for any form of future stability in Syria are so poor, regardless of current ceasefire and peace efforts.

The U. This leaves Syria as a nation without a working economy, with millions of refugees that have no clear incentive to return, and with something like a third of its remaining population displaced from its pre-civil war homes, schools and jobs. Moreover, Transparency International ranks the Assad regime as the 3rd most corrupt government in the world. The government has struggled to fully address the effects of international sanctions, widespread infrastructure damage, diminished domestic consumption and production, reduced subsidies, and high inflation, which have caused dwindling foreign exchange reserves, rising budget and trade deficits, a decreasing value of the Syrian pound, and falling household purchasing power.


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In , some economic indicators began to stabilize, including the exchange rate and inflation, but economic activity remains depressed and GDP almost certainly fell During , the ongoing conflict and continued unrest and economic decline worsened the humanitarian crisis, necessitating high levels of international assistance, as more than 13 million people remain in need inside Syria, and the number of registered Syrian refugees increased from 4. This economic crisis interacts with major sectarian and ethnic tensions and conflicts. It is the Assad forces, not ISIS, that many experts estimate may be responsible for most of what may total over half a million dead and a million wounded as a result of the recent fighting.

It is the Assad regime that will probably bear the brunt of the anger and resentments growing out of one of the world's most bitter civil wars. It is coupled to the reality that Assad — part of a relatively tiny Alawite minority in Syria 1. Like the premature U. Simply keeping 2, U. Even if Assad and Russia did not budge, such an option could put intense pressure on both and offer a clear alternative to extremism.

President Trump's actions are an open invitation to new extremist efforts, and new forms of civil conflict, open up Syria even more to Russia and Iran, and give potential Turkish military intervention all too much of a free hand. They also leave the U. President Trump's sudden decision to withdraw from Syria raises equally deep questions about the lack of any clear U. Iraq still lacks effective governance. It is still trying to cope with the second election in a row that left it without an effective majority government.

It faces massive problems in rebuilding the rest of its economy, uniting its Kurds and Arabs, in uniting its Sunnis and Shi'ites, and in both completing the feat of ISIS in its west and rebuilding the largely Sunni cities and rural areas damaged or destroyed by the fighting against ISIS.

The rushed U.

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These problems will be sharply exacerbated by the Iraqi central government's failure to keep its promises to help the Sunnis in the west and Mosul recover from the fighting, and the increased fear Iraq Kurds will have of being isolated or weakened by similar U. Iraq faces a massive economic crisis as well as political divisions and security threats. These funds could not meet Iraq's current needs even if they were spent honestly and effectively. Iraq has one of the most corrupt governments in the world, and Transparency International ranks it the 11th most corrupt country out of the countries it ranks.

Iraq is now virtually bankrupt, critically dependent on outside aid and loans, and is barely able to fund its most basic functions and the salaries for its state sector. It has far too few additional funds for wartime recovery, economic reform and development, and to help bridge the gaps between Sunni and Shi'ite or Arab and Kurd.

In short Iraq needs years of further U. It needs help to secure its borders. It needs a strong U. It needs U. At present, however, the U. The results of the election this year left it far too close to the position it had when a paralyzed election in led Maliki to turn on the nation's Sunnis, and to create a low-level civil war in the Sunni parts of Western Iraq that empowered ISIS.

Unless the U. Detach enough troops to oppose an insurgent comeback, install them in hamlets, villages, and towns where population lives.

Establish contact with the population, control its movements in order to cut off links with guerrillas. Thompson, Galula and Paget all point to the importance of propaganda directed both at insurgents and the community. The psychological dimension is indeed central to COIN warfare. They also agree on the need of participating agencies to count on a single direction, Paget even believes in the vitality of Joint Command and Control; on the primacy of the political over the military, on the coordination of the efforts of diverse actors and agents, and the adaptations of minds both civilian and military to the challenge of COIN.

For these authors winning hearts and minds is only achieved if the state counts on the real capacity to both defeat the insurgency and protect the population. For such a purpose the government must respect the feelings and aspirations of the nation, provide a firm and fair government, build up public confidence, and establish a campaign of civic action and propaganda to counter the discourse and propositions of the insurgency. Kitson believes on the importance of 'stability operations' designed to regain and retain the allegiance of the population.

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They should include: Advisory assistance, as means to help build the local force; a civil-military affairs programme to build cooperation between the military and the population; population and resource control; psychological operations; and intelligence. Regarding troops, Paget argued in favour of increased mobility as opposed to rigidity. Paget; He believed that units among the population should have priority over those pursuing insurgents.