08 June 2014

Darth Vader and the Sith Counterinsurgency

I love cointerinsurgency. I think the word just sounds cool.

It conjures up images of night raids, secret assassinations, psychological operations, and CIA-style covert destabilizing.

It's really more mundane than that. The US Army and Marine Corps just updated their counterinsurgency (COIN) manuals, highlighting the fact they the powers that be think it will be relevant for a while. A brief read through the publication brings back bad memories of high school civics.

The Army lists some well known historical countersinsurgencies-- the British attempt to quell a revolution in its North American colonies in the 1770s, the US government's smashing of native Americans tribal rebellions, and my favorite, Darth Sidious' quest to rule the galaxy in the face of a tiny rebel alliance.

It was the worst counterinsurgency disaster in the universe. And we can learn a lot from it.

You know what the Emporer's biggest mistake was? He didn't develop a sustainable ideology that could motivate his followers after his death.This was probably the downfall of the American Indians, too, come to think of it. That and the counterinsurgents had lots of superior guns, nor were they as interested in addressing "core grievances" in the spirit of 21st-century COIN doctrine.

But the Indians weren't homogenous, and they weren't motivated by imposing their culture or way of life on the counterinsurgents. The Emperor should have known better. As ruthless as he was, he needed to develop some sort of program, complete with trappings of orthodoxy-- songs, chants, oaths, symbology-- that other totalitarians learn on the first day of Opressive Government 101.


Yes, yes, Sithism is a belief system, I suppose. The nerds will have to elaborate here. But there was no apparent attempt to indoctrinate the masses into that belief system. To the contrary, it appears that some of the senior officials in the government were distrustful of it:
Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel's hidden fort...
So the emporer didn't cultivate a belief in his ideology, and he didn't develop a coterie of competent loyalists who could carry on after he departed. I mean, even if the Rebel Alliance didn't destroy the Death Star while he was aboard, the guy was old and frail, and he would have died soon at any rate, right? What was his plan for continuing the Empire? (And was the Empire evil mainly because it lacked representational government, or because a bad dude was at the head of it?)

Darth Vader, we learn, was really good inside. Sure, he had some questionable tactics. Choking out underlings who failed to share isn't something I could imagine David Petraeus having done.

At any rate, the Emporer was a poor leader, at least bad at managing a counterinsurgency. Somehow he motivated vast numbers of military officers and bureacrats to do his bidding, but presumably that machinery was mostly in place before he disbanded the Galactic Senate. He did not transform government and society, he merely exercised a coup. And be badly misred the insurgency that never let him establish a foothold of real power.

If Emporer Palpatine had taken the time to read the updated Army Field Manual 3-24, he would have realized that he ought to have pursued a shape-hold-clear operation. After areas are cleared, good counterinsurgents move into a build-transition operation. There is scant evidence that imperial forces did anything right in any of these phases.

A proper "shape" phase would have included information operations to cut off the insurgents from the support of the people. Were there any siginifcant development projects on Hoth after the Emperor seized power? It appeared that the economy shrank between the periods of Episode II and Episode IV. How about rule of law efforts on Tatooine? Blowing up Alderaan didn't help endear the empire to the people, I am sure.

An armed state is one thing if the quality of life for large majorities of the people, but a large security apparatus is merely oppressive when information operations and economic development are left completely out of the picture.

The Empire did conduct adequate clearing of insurgents, but it never followed that up with building security and transitioning the governing capacity to local civilians.The civil affairs piece was entirely ignored, and public affairs was taken for granted.

For their part, the rebels conducted a nearly picture-perfect insurgency. Obviously lacking the resources of the government, they used small guerilla attacks and informal networks to harass government forces. In the style of Paul Van Ryper, they employed primitive communications and weaponry when appropriate ("an elegant weapon for a more civilized age").

But they also went for high profile attacks, forcing the government to spend too many resources trying to protect their interests instead of rooting out the insurgency with a direct approach. A footprint as large as the Death Star-- fully operational or not-- was obviuosly going to invite attack after attack until the rebellion was thoroughly stamped out.

Of course, the entire affair is proof that insurgency/ counterinsurgency is valent-neutral. That is, it's impossible to tell the good guys from the bad just by the label.

Maybe one day I'll leave the ranks of counterinsurgent and join a cool insurgency, but only if there is a really hot princess up for grabs. Who's not my sister.

2 comments:

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  2. I can imagine the Emperor with his COIN manual:
    As you can see, my young apprentice, your friends have failed. Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL shape phase and economic development program!

    ReplyDelete