Gun Fights and Knife Fights

Nagl, J. (2007). Spilling soup on myself in al anbar. SWJ Blog. January 26, 2007. Available online: (from ZenPundit).

Foreign occupiers face a problem: they are foreign. The police don’t have this problem. Policemen and women are from the community, or at least the region. Their job, over the months and years and decades and generations from being a rookie to a grey-haired old coot, is to work the same beats solving the same problems. Foreign occupiers can be induced to leave, by convincing them that the utility they gain from a region is exceeded by the costs involved in handling the region. However, policing is a logical function of any local government. The only way a local government can be turned from policing is if it gives up on being a government (which happens sometimes, but only rarely).

With that in mind, I read Colonel John Nagel’s post over at the Small Wars Journal Blog:

Always consider the long-term effects of operations in a counterinsurgency environment. Killing an insurgent today may be satisfying, but if in doing so you convince all the members of his clan to fight you to the death, you’ve actually taken three steps backwards.

This is wise thinking for a foreign occupier under certain situations. But it would be insane for police. Foreign occupiers nearly always face long-term strategic despair, as they know they will eventually leave. But local forces don’t plan to leave, local forces will be there win or lose, and so local forces have a greater incentive for winning. Foreign occupiers worry about angering their enemies. Local police focus on making their enemies (criminals) fear the law.

Colonel Nagl described counterinsurgency as learning to eat soup with a knife, but it may be thought of as trying to win a shoot-out with a knife. The weapon is inappropriate. Knives are best used in knife-words, at the short-range, close-in fighting that defines insurgencies. We have biggest gun in the world. We should use our guns to blow away our enemies, and find men good with knives to leave in their place.

The solution for Iraq is clear: stop making Iraq a case where foreign forces fight terrorists, and start making it a case where local police fight terrorists. Instead of US Marines and Soldiers fighting in Anbar and Baghdad against Sunni Baathists, let the police, national guard, and army of Iraq.

When the terrorists find themselves trapped, they should not delight in our fear of angering them. They should look out their windows and see the security forces of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or the Dawa Party, or the Patriotic Union, or the Kurdish Democrats.

When we leave, we take away the hope and safety of our enemies. And in return, we will give them fear.

Terrorize terrorists. Leave Iraq Now.

5 thoughts on “Gun Fights and Knife Fights”

  1. The United States Army does not fight set-piece battles against air craft carriers. It is not because we have a policy of immediate, total, and unconditional retreat in front of those machines, but rather the skillset of the US Army is inappropriate for the task. The decision not to engage with the army is a technical one rather than a moral one. (Which is my huge difference with the antiwar crowd, and why I am proud to call myself a hawk who advocates leaving Iraq).

    The Iraqi Government, and its constituent political parties, is the natural sysadmin force for Mesopotamia. They have the skillset (Arabic and Kurdish speaking ability beyond the dreams of the State Department!), they have the will, they have the motivation, they have the bodies. We should support them with guns, money, and air cover. They will support us by destroying our enemies and ending anarchy. Then we can all get to work.

    This is “easy” but it requires two realizations that Bush is hesitant to make
    1) A representative, democratic Iraq would not be a liberal Iraq.
    2) Our enemies will lose the sociodemographic ability to fight.

    Neither stopped us in the reconstruction of Germany or Japan. But both are stopping us now.

  2. “A representative, democratic Iraq would not be a liberal Iraq.”

    This seems to be a first cousin of Jim Bennett's mantra for the Anglosphere:

    “Democracy, immigration, multiculturalism: Pick any two.”

    In Iraq it would be “Democracy, National unity, Liberal institutions: Pick any two.”

    I am in basic agreement with all this. We should pick a date certain, do not announce it. but let the Iraqis in on the fact that we are going to do the bug out, and it will be on them to do the fighting. That will help them focus.

  3. Adam,

    I'd be honored!

    I'm glad to see your blog is back up [1] — I mentioned one of your older posts to Eddie over here at tdaxp [2].


    “Democracy, immigration, multiculturalism: Pick any two.”

    Hard to argue against that!

    “In Iraq it would be “Democracy, National unity, Liberal institutions: Pick any two.””

    Or, Iraq: Democracy, National unity, Peace. Pick two.

    “I am in basic agreement with all this. We should pick a date certain, do not announce it. but let the Iraqis in on the fact that we are going to do the bug out, and it will be on them to do the fighting. That will help them focus.”

    Agreed. Let them do the fighting. But support them with what we have lots of and can spend easily: money, materiel, air cover. Reflexive betrayal of the Edwards variety would be insane.

    And regarding Buchanan, he's a direct descendent of the old American Firsters, who were never isolationists — only Western Hemispherists. The position is reasonable — we already have half the world, let's settle on that. Very similar to the Lord Halifax faction in Britain — let's just keep our Empire, and not mind if there is some greater power in Eurasia.


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