While future insurgencies may be inevitable, they can be marginalized. It is incumbent upon the international coalition to commit to a sustained presence in Iraq and the freed areas of Syria for years to come. This presence must include substantive improvements to security forces, reconstruction of decimated communities, and reconciliation of Sunni populations at the national level. This effort may take up to a decade, if not longer, the United States must leverage members of the coalition to the greatest extent possible, and policy makers must be made aware of the sobering timeline and costs required.
Between 1963 and 1975 the Sultanate of Oman was the scene of one of the most remarkable, and forgotten conflicts of the Cold War. The British-led Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) would battle and defeat a formidable Marxist guerrilla movement based in the southern province of Dhofar. The Dhofar War remains one of the few examples of a successful Western-led counterinsurgency in a postwar Middle Eastern country.
Insurgency is an old concept. If you were to travel back to Iraq between 2334 and 2279 BC, you would find a man called Sargan. Sargan ruled a vast empire spanning from Southern Iraq to Southern Turkey, enforced by overwhelming military power. His Akkadian hordes, armed with high-tech composite bows and sophisticated logistics, laid waste to all before them. Their strategy was a simple one; ‘mass slaughter, enslavement, the deportation of defeated enemies, and the total destruction of their cities.’ For years their technological edge and brutal strategy allowed the Akkadians to dominate. When they inevitably fell, however, they did not fall to a superior empire. They were victim to a new phenomenon: a tireless, guerrilla-style attack from the unsophisticated barbarian hordes all around them. In 2190 BC the city of Akkad, near modern Baghdad, finally fell.
As the armies of the West begin a shift away from counterinsurgency (COIN) and the US Army, in particular, renews its focus on peer on peer warfare, the timing of the publication of Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies by Jeremy Black could seem to have missed the COIN revolution. In the age of a resurgent Russia annexing the Crimea and threatening Baltic NATO members with a similar fate, is COIN still relevant or is it an idea to confine to a dusty shelf while the West learns how to confront Russian cross domain coercion and multi-domain battle? Despite the cognitive shift from COIN back to a paradigm of armor and mechanization, “wars amongst the people” - a phrase that popularized in Rupert Smith's The Utility of Force - are here to stay.
There have been a great many books published on the subjects of insurgency and counterinsurgency since the inception of the Global War on Terror (or “current, ongoing overseas contingency operations”, if you prefer); a number of these have focused on the U.S. Army’s mistakes in Vietnam or on the efforts on the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jeremy Black’s recent contribution, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: A Global History, offers more insight; it is a comprehensive history of insurgency and counterinsurgency warfare that is not limited in scope to the efforts of Western powers.
Climate change caused by human activity is settled science. Implications for the future of public health, the economy, and the global order of states are recognized as a real concern around the world. The European Union is strong, but NATO is not. Mid-East turmoil has compromised oil production there. The United States global hegemony is over. Complete energy independence from the rest of the world has resulted in an isolationist stance wherein the US has withdrawn from NATO as well as her other international obligations. The US remains a seeming world power with respectable military and diplomatic influence, but only grudgingly and apparently by force of reputational versus relational power. This is the scene, but not the story, and the focus is not America.
The Islamic State group (ISIS) is running up against a wall. As national coalitions take a larger role in the fight against ISIS, the group will become increasingly unable to operate on as large a scale as it has in years past, and it will be pushed out of its previously held territories – its decline may take years or even decades, but it will ultimately decline. But although ISIS may deplete its resources and feel increasing pressure from the international community, its members will not simply disappear as the group loses momentum.