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  • Interview: Bard O'Neill on Insurgency and Terrorism and the Iraq War

  •  INTERVIEW: BARD O'NEILL

    Bard O'Neill on Insurgency, Terrorism and the Iraq War



    Continued | Back to part 3

    Q: Let me ask you, for purposes of comparison, why has Israel never been able to stop terrorism there, and why have the Palestinians never been able to have a greater level of success? You know, on both sides, why has there been this constant, violent rumble that's never gone one way or the other?

      
    BARD O'NEILL
     

    Bard E. O'Neill, a former Air Force officer and now a professor at the National Defense University, teaches future military leaders about insurgencies and is the author of "Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare," a new edition of which will be published in 2005. The book is a meticulous analysis of the types of insurgencies, their goals and strategies, and why they succeed or fail. We talked with Professor O'Neil two days after the 2004 election to find out what the history of insurgencies tells us about the American dilemma in Iraq.

    Related links: Bard O'Neill bio
     RELATED ARTICLES
    State of the Nation

    Interviews about the state of our country from the election to the inauguration.

    • George McGovern on Vietnam, Iraq and the election of 1972
    •  Thomas Keck on judicial activism and the conservative Supreme Court
    • Bard O'Neill on Insurgency, Terrorism and the Iraq War
    • Maurice Isserman on "America Divided"
    • Eric Foner on freedom
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    Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare



     

    The Deadly Embrace: The Impact of Israeli and Palestinian Rejectionism on the Peace Process



    BARD E. O'NEILL: Well, that's a very complicated story, but the essence of it is the Israelis have never addressed the core issues that the Palestinians wish to have addressed — particularly, nowadays, the status of the occupied territories, most especially the West Bank. And as long as you have occupation, you will have armed resistance. If the occupation were to have pretty much been pared back to 10 percent, as it might have been when Clinton was negotiating with them in Camp David, you might have defanged a lot of the insurgents.

    What you would have had left, however, would have been the rejectionist organizations, which are fighting to liberate Israel as well as the territories. So there are enough people who want the whole enchilada that will continue to fight; there are those who want only part of it but feel they're not even going to get at that, that will continue to fight, and that, of course, you've seen in the second intifada and before.

    So the Israelis can't put a total end to it, because there are too many dedicated people on the other side, and they don't have the wherewithal to root out and find all these people. They do a reasonable job at it, but there are a lot of Palestinians — they're almost equal to the Israelis in numbers — and they're spread around, they're in refugee camps, etc., so it's hard to do. There's a book that Ilana Kass and I wrote that actually uses the framework for analysis in the green book and addresses this question, called "The Deadly Embrace."


      
    You see an insurgency and they say, "Well, they've got limited popular support." And my response is, "Yeah, and with limited popular support, the IRA fought for 22-plus years."  

      
    Q: I think I wanted get a sense of why these things can just go on forever rather than being resolved.

    BARD E. O'NEILL: Well, they go on forever because people who are dedicated, who have a sense of purpose and enough followers, are present. And they have issues, and the issues are not resolved, and the governments either feel they can't compromise because they [the demands] are too essential — say, the issue of seceding from a country or the issue of destroying the political system. Or the issues might be addressed but the governments are reluctant to do it for any number of reasons — internal politics, existing power structures. An example there might be reforms, like land reform — that if you did some of that it might defuse the whole situation but the existing landed aristocracy doesn't want any part of giving up anything. So these things go on because the issues are unresolved, and because there are people who are dedicated, have organizational abilities, have an idea, and can inspire other people to follow them.

    And nowadays, that doesn't require massive popular support. That's a mistake that is very often made in the media. You see an insurgency and they say, "Well, they've got limited popular support." And my response is, "Yeah, and with limited popular support, the IRA fought for 22-plus years." Look at the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, limited to the Tamil community, basically, which is, what, 14 percent, 12 percent of the population? They have carried out one of the most bloody insurrections on the face of the globe. Amazing story. Sixty-four thousand dead in that insurgency.

    So, to come back to the point I made before: Yes, you fight for a long time, but it doesn't mean you're going to achieve your strategic objective. But if you fight for 25 years and kill 64,000 people, that's a lot, and the reason is, they've got issues.

    Q: I was going to ask about politics. You're saying that a big part of handling insurgency is whether these problems can be resolved politically. And also, whether in the public opinion there is support for the insurgency or whether the insurgents are isolated and can be reduced or eliminated because they're isolated.

      
      The downside of cities is that you can't operate in large numbers, if you have that as an eventual objective, because you can be too easily detected. But if you're operating in small, underground units — and those might be bigger if the population is sympathetic, which it is in Ramadi and Fallujah — then cities are fine for what you're trying to do.
      
    BARD E. O'NEILL: Yeah. I mean, that would be one of the purposes of various kinds of specifically tailored reforms and policies on the part of the government — to try to reduce whatever support they do have and to isolate them, quite clearly. But you want to know exactly what it is that the people are concerned about and need, and you can't assume what those things are. You have to know what they are, and find out.

    Q: And you're saying, in particular, it could be a small segment of the population.

    BARD E. O'NEILL: It could be a small segment of the population. Yeah. It depends on your assessment of the situation how you target your reforms and who you try to detach from the insurgents, and so on.

    Q: Earlier we talked about the need for insurgencies to have bases, and you mentioned that there are opportunities for the Iraqis to have bases in the countryside. Since the Iraqi insurgents actually control a number of entire cities right now, does that substitute for the need for remote bases?

    BARD E. O'NEILL: Yeah. Because they're not following a protracted-popular-war strategy, they don't need big bases, let's say, in the countryside or in areas that do have cover or out in the desert. They're fighting for the most part in the cities, and they're coming in and out of cities to attack along communications arteries and so on. It's what in the book would be called a military-focus strategy, using both terrorism and guerrilla warfare. So cities are important in terms of sustaining that. Not to say that they don't have some places in rural areas, but the cities are important. And in a sense, the way you put it is fine — that they become, in effect, the staging areas or "bases" for this.

    Q: There was an article in the New York Times last week about the city of Ramadi, close to Fallujah. They mentioned that there have been attacks on coalition forces by people who appear, attack, and then disappear back into Ramadi.

    BARD E. O'NEILL: Yes, and that's classic guerrilla warfare — precisely. What they're doing today is just fading back into the cities. As the world has urbanized, cities have become a place where insurgents operate more and more, because they can find more security. Now, the downside of cities is that you can't operate in large numbers, if you have that as an eventual objective, because you can be too easily detected. But if you're operating in small, underground units — and those might be bigger if the population is sympathetic, which it is in Ramadi and Fallujah — then cities are fine for what you're trying to do.


    Continued: Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Next

    NOVEMBER 24, 2004
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