Friday, May 27, 2011

[insert pithy, non-profane post title here]

I don't like to scream profanity into cyberspace via post titles, which are embedded in the URL, so I'm just going to bump it down into the body text.

Max Boot: Are you fucking kidding me?
To head off the dangers that may come with “catastrophic success,” it is important for the coalition to plan now for stabilizing a post-Qaddafi Libya. If policymakers haven’t already done so, they ought to consult The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building put out by Jim Dobbins, Seth Jones, and their colleagues at RAND. In particular look at page 39, which lists “peak military levels for peace enforcement” in a variety of conflicts from 1945 Germany to 2003 Iraq. Iraq was on the low end of force levels—only 7 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants. Germany was on the high end—101 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants. This helps to explain why post-war Germany was so much more peaceful. Bosnia and Kosovo, also relatively successful exercises in nation-building, were in between—with 19 and 20 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants, respectively.
What does that mean for Libya—a country that, according to the CIA Factbook, has a population of 6.6 million? If the aim is to replicate the Bosnia/Kosovo experience then 330,000 peacekeepers would be called for. If Iraq is the model, 94,000 peacekeepers would be needed.
Of course, as with all such metrics, these are very rough rules of thumb that need to be adjusted based on circumstances. In Libya there are a number of factors that suggest lesser levels of risk, including the fact that the eastern portion of the country around Benghazi has been relatively peaceful and stable under rebel control. So perhaps even 94,000 peacekeepers won’t be needed. But it is likely that a need substantial if smaller force will still be required, and it is imperative for NATO policymakers to begin planning for such a deployment. As part of that planning process, they need to shine greater public attention on this issue and make clear why a peacekeeping force would need to be sent. Otherwise they risk shock and opposition among publics that have not been prepared for yet another deployment.
For ten minutes after I read this post, I could do nothing but stare blankly at the screen.

Are you fucking kidding me?

The political and public will to secure, stabilize, state-build, or otherwise involve U.S. forces and resources in a post-conflict scenario in Libya simply does not exist. A significant majority of Americans oppose U.S. involvement even at current levels: when asked last week "do you think the U.S. is doing the right thing by using military force in Libya now, or should the U.S. not be involved in Libya now?", only 33% of those polled approved of the enterprise. (See question 31.) There's no small irony in Boot's exhortation to policymakers to "shine greater public attention on this issue and make clear why a peacekeeping force would need to be sent," considering the way Boot himself is manifestly incapable of offering a persuasive rationale to his own audience.

Beyond that, Boot's analysis of force requirements is so stupid it practically drools. One can only assume that the RAND state-building study is cited and linked as a sort of bluff; surely Boot knows that his foolishness will be revealed if the reader takes time to examine it even cursorily. "In particular look at page 39," we're told, where a chart compares the peak troops-to-inhabitants ratio for Germany and Japan in 1945 with six peace enforcement missions from the post-Cold War period. Here's Max:
Iraq was on the low end of force levels—only 7 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants. Germany was on the high end—101 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants. This helps to explain why post-war Germany was so much more peaceful. Bosnia and Kosovo, also relatively successful exercises in nation-building, were in between—with 19 and 20 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants, respectively.
Yes, force levels do help to explain the success of peace enforcement and stability operations. Dobbins et al. agree: "High levels of forces have generally tended to correlate with high levels of security and order and low levels of casualties." But they don't completely explain outcomes: just look at Japan, where post-conflict violence was nonexistent with a ratio of only five occupying troops to every 1,000 people -- the same as violent Somalia in 1992.

It is, of course, intuitive to assume that high force levels are conducive to low violence. But the sample size of the RAND study is troubling, as is the lack of consideration given to a number of other qualitative differences between the various campaigns. The wars against Germany and Japan, for example, ended with the surrender of each country's high military command, to the evident relief of populations that had been battered by years of total war. The Bosnian war had a similarly settled conclusion, with Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic (acting by proxy for Bosnian Serbs) agreeing to the Dayton Accords alongside the Bosnian and Croatian national leaderships. The Kosovo conflict, on the other hand, ended with the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province and the entry of KFOR peacekeepers, who were joyously received by Kosovar Albanians. (In this sense, it can hardly be classed as "peace enforcement.") And the Iraq war, of course, merely shifted from conventional to irregular war in 2003, the year the data was reported; the government in Baghdad had collapsed, the armed forces scattered, and the anti-coalition resistance taken up by sectarian militias and loyalist irregulars.

What this brief exploration should show is that a great many variables related to conflict termination can impact the level of violence in the peace enforcement or stability operations phase, and troop levels are not uniquely determinative. Boot seems to acknowledge this when he writes that "these are very rough rules of thumb that need to be adjusted based on circumstances." But he goes on to conclude that the risk of post-Qaddafi violence in Libya is likely even lower than in any of the scenarios mooted above, and that a stabilizing occupation could perhaps be effected with an even lower force ratio than Iraq in 2003 (which, contrary to Boot's assertion, is not "on the low end of force levels," but rather just above the median in a set of eight cases). Of course, there's a serious problem with this line of reasoning: if the post-war situation in Iraq were reproduced in Libya this year, that would be a totally unacceptable result for the United States and the international community! The force levels in 2003 Iraq didn't come close to assuring stability!

There are a good many reasons to believe the precise opposite of what Boot asserts -- to believe that the risk of violence in Libya is much, much higher than in Japan or Somalia or Kosovo. Many Libyans have already insisted that a Western troop presence in the country would be unacceptable to them, even during a phase of the conflict when the outcome is still uncertain. If Libyans are unwelcoming of American combat power that could aid in Qaddafi's demise, how much more likely are they to resist a foreign presence once the dictator is gone? As Boot has clearly noticed -- he reminds us early in the piece that "Libya has been a major recruiting center for Al Qaeda" -- Arab North Africans in authoritarian countries are solidly within the target demographic of America's most committed foe; should we expect that AQAM will be unable to rouse resistance fighters to the anti-crusader cause in an Arab country with weak borders, surrounded by other Arab countries with weak borders and populations presumably susceptible to the bin-Ladenist pitch? We should instead pretend that post-conflict conditions in Libya will be less like the disaster of post-Saddam Iraq and more like Kosovo, where occupying forces had come to the aid of a weaker ethno-religious faction after the expulsion of an aggressive, invading army?

In the end, we can't know whether Libya would violently oppose a Western occupation (even one that Boot would surely proclaim as salutary to the cause of Arab freedom). Steven Goode, summarizing the findings of a study on force levels by the Center for Army Lessons Learned, adverted to just this point.
Another caveat of the work is that the analysis cannot predict the violence level before a conflict starts. Many insurgencies simmer at a low level for years before becoming serious enough to provoke a significant reaction from the government. In contrast, the Soviet Union faced intense resistance immediately upon invading Afghanistan, with more than 4,000 Soviet and Afghan soldiers killed every year of the conflict (or more than 250 fatalities per million Afghan residents). Policy-makers contemplating intervening in other nations should remember that not only can invasions lead to insurgencies; they can also lead almost immediately to levels of violence more than three times that currently [in the winter of 2009-10] seen in Afghanistan after eight years of war.
All of which by way of saying what almost everyone except for Max Boot seems to have learned by now: this kind of thing isn't as simple as you think it is. (Or more succinctly: STFU.)

2 comments:

  1. The thoughtless use of that one data point from that RAND book drives me up the wall, up the wall. It also drives me nuts that hacks like Boot keep mentioning it, like it's some sort of lifeline. Agreed, STFU.

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  2. Max Boot is an ass. He doesn't learn, he's one of those neocons who thinks reality gets to be shaped by his idealistic desires.

    That is all.

    ReplyDelete