Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Conversation with Robert D. Kaplan:Lessons from Sri Lanka and an Interesting Take on General McChrystal. The Future of Counter-insurgency in the US?

Robert D. Kaplan.

My thanks to the Wretched Dog for forwarding me this link
of an interview by Michael Totten of Robert Kaplan. I've been reading Kaplan for years now, and I never fail to learn something from his op-eds. In this extensive interview (only a portion reproduced below) there are two things that stood out for me. Each of them is a grim portent for how the present administration might wage a counter-insurgency in this country.

Read carefully the section on the crushing of the Tamil Tigers by Sri Lanka with the aid of China. Then check out Kaplan's comments on General McChrystal, the new commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal may end up being Obama's Petreaus, and may (I stress MAY) end up being just the SOB who salutes and says "Yes, Sir!" to an Obama request for troops to disarm Americans. I'll have more comments on that subject on the other side.


A Conversation with Robert D. Kaplan

MJT: So you just got back from Sri Lanka. What did you see there? What did you learn?

Kaplan: The biggest takeaway fact about the Sri Lankan war that’s over now is that the Chinese won. And the Chinese won because over the last few years, because of the human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government, the U.S. and other Western countries have cut all military aid. We cut them off just as they were starting to win. The Chinese filled the gaps and kept them flush with weapons and, more importantly, with ammunition, with fire-fighting radar, all kinds of equipment. The assault rifles that Sri Lankan soldiers carry at road blocks throughout Colombo are T-56 Chinese knockoffs of AK-47s. They look like AK-47s, but they’re not.

What are the Chinese getting out of this? They’re building a deep water port and bunkering facility for their warships and merchant fleet in Hambantota, in southern Sri Lanka. And they’re doing all sorts of other building on the island.

Now, why did the Chinese want Sri Lanka? Because Sri Lanka is strategically located. The main sea lines of communication between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, and between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. It’s part of China’s plan to construct a string of pearls – ports that they don’t own, but which they can use for their warships all across the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka defeated, more or less completely, a 26 year-long insurgency. They killed the leader and the leader’s son. But there are no takeaway lessons for the West here. The Sri Lankan government did it by silencing the media, which meant capturing the most prominent media critic of the government and killing him painfully. And they made sure all the other journalists knew about it.

MJT: Wow.

Kaplan: There are a thousand disappearances a year in Sri Lanka separate from the war. Journalists are terrified there. The only journalism you read is pro-government. So that’s one thing they did.

The Tamil Tigers had human shields by the tens of thousands, not just by the dozens and hundreds like Al Qaeda. They put people between themselves and the government and say "you have to kill all the people to get to us." So the government obliged them. The government killed thousands of civilians.

MJT: Tamil civilians?

Kaplan: Yes. They killed thousands of civilians in the course of winning this war. It acted in a way so brutal that there are no lessons for the West.

MJT: Would you say it was as brutal as Russia’s counterinsurgency in Chechnya?
Kaplan: Yeah. It was. The U.N. is investigating whether as many as 20,000 civilians have been killed during the last few months.

MJT: I didn’t know it was that brutal. I’ve read accusations that there were human rights violations, but we’re so used to hearing that no matter what happens.
Kaplan: The West thinks of Sri Lanka as unimportant, whereas for the Chinese and the Indians it’s very important. And I consider Sri Lanka part of the new geography. It’s part of the new maritime geography, and that makes it very important.

MJT: Until China started helping Sri Lanka, where was Sri Lanka geopolitically?
Kaplan: It’s a place that registers the geopolitical reality between China, India, and the Indian Ocean. The Indians have a very checkered record in Sri Lanka. They sent in a peacekeeping force in 1987 and got their asses kicked by the Tamil Tigers. They came in to help the Tamils, but the Tigers wanted no part of any force there. They came in to help the Tamils, and they wound up fighting the Tamil Tigers.

MJT: Sri Lanka’s government naturally isn’t aligned with India, though.

Kaplan: Right. But it has reasonably good relations with India. It’s now at a point where it’s balancing between India and China.

MJT: Sri Lanka has been fighting this counterinsurgency for decades. Have they slowly made progress all this time and have now finally finished it off, or was there a tipping point recently where a seemingly endless conflict just ended almost suddenly?

Kaplan: The Sri Lankan government was elected in 2005 to win the war. And it has done that. Extremely brutally. It’s a government that’s very nationalist Sinhalese Buddhist. These are not the Richard Gere’s "peace and love" Buddhists. These are the real blood and soil Buddhists, where Buddhism is like any other religion when it’s threatened and it’s defending a piece of territory. It can be very brutal.

It was elected to win the war, which it interpreted from the voters as a right to silence the media and to fight without any restrictions.

MJT: It does work, though, doesn’t it?

Kaplan: It does work, yeah.

MJT: Not that we should do it, of course. . .

General Stanley McChrystal

Kaplan: Well, as you said, they can’t do what Petraeus did.

Speaking of Petraeus, this appointment of General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan is really interesting.

MJT: What do you think of him?

Kaplan: Oh, he’s got it. He’s another Petraeus. He’s larger than life. I’ve interviewed General David McKiernan, the man he’s replacing. He’s a good guy, but he’s no lightning. He has no great ideas.

I think deep down the real reason the Obama Administration fired McKiernan and wants to bring in McChrystal is because McChrystal is a man hunter. He got Zarqawi in Iraq. And Obama desperately wants to kill Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri to show that they can do this better than the Republicans.

So the White House said, "we want to get these people." And Secretary Gates said, "well, if you want to get them, McChrystal’s your man." He ran the Joint Special Operations Command for five years. It conducts all the secret operations – Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, the best Ranger battalions. It’s all very secret. And they go out on man hunting missions and kill people.

MBV: After Petreaus' success in Iraq, it seemed that no one could deny him the eventuality of the position of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This was good knews bcause I have it on the best authority that Petreaus is a man who takes his oath seriously. McChrystal, say the rumors, maybe not so much.

Yet McChrystal may be the man who makes it to the JCS first. This does not bode well, given McChrystal's long experience in JSOC, often dubbed "The President's Private Army." After the presence of Special Operations shooters at the rear of Mt. Carmel the day of the massacre at Waco was demonstrated by Mike McNulty's documentaries, I went out of my way to confirm it with folks I knew and met here in Alabama. I had an "operator" tell me back then that if Bill Clinton ordered him to kill me, he undoubtedly would, even if he regretted it later or thought the order illegal.

I won't say that all SpecOps folks are like this, but enough of them are to make me wonder whether their oaths would mean anything to such people if they were given unconstitutional orders. There is a reason that Special Forces veterans call Navy Seals "swimmers" with disdain. "They don't think," a recently retired SFer told me, "they swim in and kill whoever they're told to kill, even if its the wrong guy. Then they swim out again."

Will McChrystal bring "swimmers" to CONUS operations if ordered to by Obama? A lot is riding on the answer to that question.


Anonymous said...

Very grim.

Crustyrusty said...

Interesting. The telling quote from his Wiki entry:

"Normally a routine process, McChrystal's Senate confirmation was stalled by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who sought more information about the alleged mistreatment of detainees by Special Operations troops under McChrystal's command in Iraq and Afghanistan."

An article originally from 2006 talks about what happened under his watch here

Now that we're being painted with the "home-grown terrorist" brush, who's to say this guy won't rock and roll on us when the time comes?

Expect this in the future.

Defender said...

Ah, something to take my mind off the economy, the job search, and the fact that fedgov confiscates one-third of our severance pay when we're laid off, just as they do one-half of our inheritances through the estate tax. And is talking about taxing health care benefits the way it taxes Social Security payouts -- when we're getting BACK money we paid in painfully.
Lot of disgruntled Americans out here. Our Overseers may feel that something preemptive must be done.

ScottJ said...

More proof you need to tweak the storyline of Absolved to account for those in the military who will "just follow orders".

If that change can be made at this late date.

idahobob said...

It just gets curiouser and curiouser.


ParaPacem said...

Fascinating, depressing and, as Anon said, grim. Of course, another intereesting thought occurs. Should McChrystal be used as an enforcer for Obongo's private army, we must remember that Petraeus and other good guys won't magically disappear. For every man in uniform who will 'just follow orders" a la SS, there will also be at least one more who will say, the Hell with this! So let us not be disheartened. Just ready.

Anonymous said...

The US military is already planning on coming after patriots and gun owners they have been federalizing police for years but stepped up the program after 9-11.

I’m hearing the Feds have been arming police departments all across the country with full auto’s and grenade launchers.

If you’re a veteran with special skills you need a bug out plan if you don’t already have one, because you’re first on the list to be silenced.

Anonymous said...

Bring it on!

We have a list too!

Nex ut tyrannus!


Rollory said...

"It acted in a way so brutal that there are no lessons for the West."

This statement is completely false.

The lesson is that forbearance is an indulgence of overwhelming power. When the fight is serious - when there is doubt about whether you will win, and the consequences of losing are sufficiently bad and hit sufficiently close to home to be intolerable (a possibility which has not been a serious risk for the USA at least since 1942, possibly since 1864) then you do WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO.

The West has enjoyed overwhelming power and uninterrupted security (except on the nuclear front, where matters stayed very impersonal and theoretical - a nuclear war is fundamentally a very different sort of event). It could indulge itself in treating wars as games that it could win or lose according to other standards than those that had historically held true. As Western nations sink into civil wars triggered by their unassimilated Third World immigrant populations, this will become an unaffordable luxury, and the Sri Lankan methods will become popular.

Sean said...

I believe I pointed out the inevitability of this before, and got questions on whether or not I was Christian or human or whatever. We're all going to get weighed, measured, and found whether we're wanting or not. So, make your decisions now, because later, all you'll be able to do is act. Have a plan, a backup plan, and then 20 more backup plans. And understand, whoever is prepared to do the worst, is he who will finish. And the winners make up any history they like. Wish it weren't so, but wishin' ain't what'll get it done.III.