The NYT published an astounding column by A.C. Grayling in yesterday's edition that really got me wondering what the hell their thinking about at the Times these days. Grayling started out alright by writing that a watchful press should make sure U.S. forces in Iraq are adhering to the "doctrine of distinction," a basic law of warfare that requires the military to distinguish combatants from noncombatants to make sure the latter are protected.
This is all well and good, but then Grayling launched into a twisted historical analogy of the British war against the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950's as an example of what he thinks we should do to "dry out" the insurgency in Iraq. The British colonial strategy for fighting insurgencies involved "physically moving a civilian population from troubled areas into camps,” or draining the pond in which the insurgents swam. The camps in Kenya "into which civilian population was 'drained,'" he writes, "were usually comfortable villages with good amenities and became an element of the hearts-and-minds aspect of the campaign."
Let's just stop here for a moment and get into the way-back-machine and find out exactly what the British did to the Kenyans:
Ashley Pettus writes in Harvard Magazine:
"British soldiers herded nearly one million of them into detention camps and 'emergency villages,' where they endured forced labor, starvation, torture, and disease. At least 100,000 died. When the British left Kenya in 1963, they destroyed all official files relating to their crimes...brutality was common and took place at every level, ranging from electrocution and mutilation to beatings and various forms of sexual assault and humiliation. Many of the women forced to labor on so-called 'poor relief' projects on the reserves died of exhaustion and disease. Others found their babies had died while strapped to their backs during work brigades. Both British officers and loyalist African guards raped women with impunity."
[See also Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins]
Besides, the fact that the British waged a vicious campaign against the Mau Mau that almost wiped out the entire population, there's also the American experience in Vietnam ,which Grayling, I guess, just forgot to mention. We've tried this "draining" the pond strategy before and it met with abject failure. And on top of that, this has already been tried in Iraq in the aftermath of Fallujah II and despite the check points, ID cards and retinal scans, the insurgents are still operating inside Fallujah with relative ease.
The problem then and now is that rounding up whole populations up and putting them behind bars only reinforces support for the insurgency, which wouldn't have been able to operate in the first place if it wasn't for the majority of the population being full square behind the idea of expelling the occupier. Grayling finishes up by writing that, "An insurgency cannot be defeated, only damped down and eventually ended through a political settlement. This hard truth has to guide efforts in Iraq, the sooner the better."
With this I agree, but so far our quest for a political settlement through elections and the creation of a constitution has only exacerbated the sectarian and ethnic divisions inside Iraq. A political solution now seems more distant then ever before. After the assault on Fallujah that left a city of 300,000 in ruins and the de facto imprisonment of its population, coupled with the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the consequent degradation of our moral standing in the world, I hardly think putting Sunnis in concentration camps is a strategy for victory.