offoffoff opinion
 RELATED PROJECTS

      







 ADVERTISEMENT













Site links
  • OFFOFFOFF Home
  • About OFFOFFOFF
  • Contact us

    Get our newsletter:
     
    Search the site:
     



    Current Opinion


  • Interview: Eric Foner on freedom
  • Interview: George McGovern on Vietnam, Iraq and the election of 1972
  • Interview: Maurice Isserman on the 1960s, Vietnam and Iraq
  • Interview: Thomas Keck on judicial activism and the conservative Supreme Court
  • 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 4

    Q: Supposing I were the president, and I called you into my office and said, I want to retake Fallujah in one week. What are you going to tell me?

      
    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
     BOOKS FOR SALE 
    Available from Amazon.com:



    Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare



     

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



    BARD E. O'NEILL: If you insist on that — that is, you've articulated that as your objective — then you've got to let the Marines go in. But the question there is whether or not retaking Fallujah is too costly. If you destroy the city and you kill a lot of innocent people, what you may do is, as the months going by have refueled the insurgency, you've created more insurgents. And that's the problem — and always has been the problem — with that kind of an attack. It may achieve a short-term aim, and you're hoping that you're going to destroy an insurgent base, but they actually shift around and go somewhere else. And in the meantime, the families of all the people who were innocent, and who were killed and maimed, begin to supply more insurgents. And that's the dangerous dynamic.

    Q: It seems like that has already happened in Fallujah. Because we attacked once, seemingly in a sense of outrage over the four people who'd been killed and hung from a bridge. And from what I've read there were huge civilian casualties and there was no actual military progress. Does that sound right?

    BARD E. O'NEILL: That's right. I mean, they started and they suddenly realized that they were going to take a fair number of live casualties and had the problem of collateral damage that would be inevitable, fighting in that environment, and this could be couterproductive. You know, you've got two things pulling at you here — the people who want to be decisive and think they can wipe these bad guys out and are itching at the trigger, and some of the more cerebral people who are running this thing, saying, "Hey, look here, you've got to think strategically about this. You can't just think about the immediate attack. What's going to come in the wake of this, and have we created a larger problem?" And that's a difficult call.


      
    The question there is whether or not retaking Fallujah is too costly. If you destroy the city and you kill a lot of innocent people, what you may do is, as the months going by have refueled the insurgency, you've created more insurgents. And that's the problem — and always has been the problem — with that kind of an attack.  

      
    Q: In your book, you mention that a more effective counterinsurgency tactic in that kind of situation is, air power is not extremely helpful but small groups on the ground and intelligence are the most important.

    BARD E. O'NEILL: Yeah. I think so. Air power, even with the sophisticated delivery systems and positioning and ability to put things on-target — you know, smart weaponry — can be dangerous if things still go awry and hit the wrong people. So, in general, airplanes have to be used very selectively, especially In urban environments. I mean, really carefully.

    Q: Generally, what strategies look good for the United States in Iraq, and is there anything they haven't tried that you think could be favorable?

    BARD E. O'NEILL: I don't think the strategic approach in Iraq has been successful at all. I think it's been a failure up to this point. And in large part, it is because when we finished the "Mission Accomplished" phase, we weren't ready for the post-"Mission Accomplished" phase. That should have been thought out a year before. And people who were thinking about that a year before and had done some planning — as in the State Department, or General [Anthony] Zinni in Central Command when he was the commander — should have been utilized, called upon to help get our act together so that as soon as the conventional fighting ended we knew what we were doing.

      
      What we've done is engaged in on-the-job education. This stuff has always been there. The problem is — and I can tell you this from firsthand experience — in essence, the American government, the national security establishment, stopped thinking about insurgency.
      
    What we've done is engaged in on-the-job education with reference to insurgency. And people have scurried about trying to find books on insurgency and read about things going back to Vietnam, the French war with the Viet Minh, etc. This stuff has always been there. The problem is — and I can tell you this from firsthand experience — in essence, the American government, the national security establishment, stopped thinking about insurgency, except for a small group of people, to include some in the CIA and elsewhere that I've been working with over the years. Because they said: "Insurgency is a Cold War phenomenon. The Cold War is over. We don't get involved in internal wars. Therefore, we don't have to study it." I mean, I'm giving you the nub of the issue.

    So you then lose your intellectual capital and understanding on that. And suddenly you have to instantaneously recreate it. And as people do that, they get these insights, and they say, "Lo and behold, these insights have been there for 50 years — but we stopped studying them." So we do not have widespread, good understanding in the national security establishment about this problem, and we're hurrying to catch up intellectually on that.

    So the beginnings of this were in a bureaucratic and intellectual breakdown of the first magnitude. We weren't prepared to think about this the way we should have been. A subset of that is the failure to study and understand the experiences of others. I took students yesterday, we did a two-hour session on the IRA. And as I took them through a depiction of the mistakes of the British and then the corrective measures that were taken, I said, "What does this sound like?" And of course the answer is, it sounds like Iraq right now. You know? And I said to them: "Just take that alone. If, a year before, the people running this thing knew enough about insurgency — just by happenstance studied the British experience in Northern Ireland, regardless of the differences with Iraq — they would have seen some generic problems and they would have said, 'Oh, wait a minute, here are some mind-guards we have to have. Here are some things we've got to bear in mind. As soon as we enter this insurgency phase, we're going to be equipped up front with a good understanding of what we need to do, how we need to integrate political, military and economic things,' we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble and casualties." But we went into this thing and we've been learning as we're going along, and it's been very haphazard, uncertain, uneven, and we've paid the price. And there is no existing strategy right now that we can point to and say, hey, we're really effective there.


    Go to: Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

    NOVEMBER 24, 2004
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



    Post a comment on "Bard O'Neill"