Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Moro War: An Insurgency and Its Lessons

Review of The Moro War by Mark Moyar, the author of A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency From the Civil War to Iraq.

Some key points (I've pruned, but not much - there was so much good stuff.)

The Americans in Moroland outlawed slavery and polygamy. The governors required Moro children to attend secular schools instead of Islamic ones. To halt rampant armed robbery, the administrators compelled every Moro man to surrender his sword. Mr. Arnold concedes that, despite some protestation, many Moros liked the American policies and beseeched the U.S. to delay plans for their self-rule.

Other aspects of the Moro War, though, bear close resemblance to recent Islamic insurgencies. In Moroland as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. introduced Western principles of law, government and education without explaining to Muslims how such principles were consistent with the Quran. Religiously motivated violence resulted.

"The Moros saw American military restraint as weakness," he writes. "The Moro understanding of Mohammed's life story taught that a party engaged in diplomacy merely to buy time to recover from setback."

Early counterinsurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from the same ignorance. Western nations, impatient to appear benevolent and remove their troops, showed a reluctance to use force and an eagerness to negotiate that conveyed weakness. Some Western policy makers still have not grasped that displaying an eagerness to use force and a reluctance to negotiate offers the most promising route to peace. ["Be prepared to kill"]

But other officers, like Tasker Bliss and John Pershing, defused crises by first talking with local leaders. Sometimes the Moros backed down when confronted by stern talk and the threat of force. Sometimes they did not and had to be given what Pershing called "a good sound drubbing." By talking before shooting, Americans increased U.S. influence, building personal relationships and demonstrating a commitment to impartial justice.

When Americans stepped in, they were able to resolve Moro legal clashes fairly, gaining respect. One officer explained that spending days in the heat hearing testimony about the contested ownership of a buffalo "seemed at times to be without purpose and without result," but "the results in the end were prodigious; nothing less than the trust, confidence, and affection of the huge majority of the Moro people."

As Mr. Arnold notes, the patience, knowledge and talent required for prolonged dealings with the Moros were scarce commodities. It was a good thing, one officer remarked, that Gen. Pershing was put in charge instead of "some fool officer who ignorantly supposed that he could come and in an off-hand manner manage these savages."

Proper qualifications are as scarce now as then. Thus assigning the right Americans to work with Afghans will rank among the U.S.'s greatest challenges in the coming years. From the start, a respect for Afghan sovereignty has required U.S. officials to rely heavily on personal influence and negotiation to get Afghans to do the right thing. That reliance will only increase as the reduction in America's presence brings Afghan stewardship to the fore.

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