In Memoriam

This site is also dedicated to Stan Sargent. Stan and I grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, and both of us left for college at about the same time. Stan served in Vietnam while I joined the Peace Corps. Stan won the Silver Star for heroism. Read Stan's story (1 MB download pdf).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Savage War of Peace

A Savage War of Peace


Algeria 1954 - 1962

Alistair Horne

France first entered Algeria in the 1830s and began a colonization process that resulted in French citizens owning most of land, controlling the local economy, and creating a second class Muslim population.[1] The French colonists were the dominant class.[2] An incident in Setif in 1945 sparked the massacre of 100 French citizens and the killing of more than 1,000 Algerian Muslims in retaliatory attacks by the French army. General unrest among 8 million Muslims in 1954 led to an insurrection by the National Liberation Front (FLN) – a group of Muslim nationalists – on November 1st, All Saints Day, 1954 that lasted for eight years, cost an estimated one million Muslim lives, forced the relocation to settlement camps of another million, resulted in at least 4 assassination attempts on French President Charles de Gaulle, and finally caused an attempted military coup and near outright civil war in France. The attempt to hold Algeria was linked to the large European population, primarily French, living there – in 1954, 1 in 8 Algeria residents was European. The rebellion against the French revealed deep resentments of Muslims toward the colonists – the spontaneous attacks by Muslim residents on Europeans were notable. The example of the massacre at Philippeville[3] clearly part of the insurgent’s strategy to provoke a strong response by the French military against the civilian population demonstrated that the French policy of “collective responsibility” in response to attacks alienated broad segments of the Muslim population. The ferocity of the fighting, the tenacity with which the Algerians fought against the French demonstrated the power of a determined but hopeless population. The insurrection resulted in the death of more than twelve percent of the national population. In a war that was started by the FLN with only 350 weapons followed a classic guerrilla strategy of attacking only when to its advantage, avoiding frontal assaults, and attacking targets loyal to the national government (local police and political officials). The year the insurrection began, 1954, coincided with the great French defeat in Dien Bien Phu. The French fought the insurgency with short term success using torture, heavy handed military action, and increased military power in critical areas. The Battle of Algiers between January and March 1957 was won by the French and should have destroyed the FLN. The fact that it did not indicates the organic nature of the opposition facing the colonial power. The Algerian people as a whole were against the French. The FLN had attacked all symbols of the French colonial government by targeting and killing Algerian supporters and civil servants of the French government. There is a quote in the book regarding the FLN strategy as one of terror – Jacques Soustelle, Governor-General of Algeria in 1955 is quoted as saying that it was remarkable that “… (the FLN) never sought to attach the rural populations to their cause by promising them a better life, a happier, freer future; no, it was through terror that they submitted them to their tyranny.” Everything written about insurgency conflict is illustrated in the history of the Algerian war. There was poverty, political discontent, unanswered grievances by the majority population, and a sense that, especially in the rural areas, the government was conspicuously absent. Combine that with the Mulsim perspective that the French had oppressed them for 120 years, stole their land, and subverted their culture, and there was a perfect storm for an insurgency. The precursors of Provincial Reconstruction Teams were created by the French -- Section Administratives Specialees – SAS was created by Governor General Jacques Soustelle to address rural poverty. Some 400 SAS detachments were created each under an army lieutenant or captain who was an expert in Arabic and Arab affairs and could, “… deal with every conceivable aspect of administration; from agronomy, teaching, health to building houses and administering justice. The SAS were a selflessly devoted and courageous band of men, who made themselves much loved by the local populace and for this reason were often the principal targets of the FLN.” The SAS was to leave the most lasting imprint of Soustelle’s regime. Critical Factors to French Defeat – Cost of War – p 232 – “…then there was the awareness imposed by the shattering, ever soaring costs of the war: one billion francs (one million English Pounds per day) in May 1958.” This was the equivalent of $2.5 billion per month in 2007 US dollars.[4] War Weary Nation - By 1959, 5 years into the war there was a need for a victory – p. 331 – after de Gaulle entered power his Prime Minister to inform the Commanding General Maurice Challe that “… we must be able to put out a victory bulletin in the month of July; for France is beginning to get bored with the war.” Impact on Military – French military was critically overstretched to fight the insurgency in Algeria – this strain resulted eventually in insubordination and an attempted coup in which Corsica was seized by the French military and four generals were implicated in a coup attempt against the government. Lessons Learned – (1) The effectiveness of insurgents attacking soft targets (local government leaders, local police, etc.) created fear and diminished the legitimacy of the national government; (2) Porous borders were a major problem in trying to control an insurgency – for Algeria having Tunisia and Morocco was key to re-supply and force support to the FLN; (3) Long term price was paid by engaging in torture; and (4) Government legitimacy requires the protection of its citizens and a monopoly over violence -- a legitimate government must provide essential services, employment, education, health care, and stability in which a sense of hope can be nurtured -- without hope, people turn to the insurgents.[1] For example, the Muslim vote, through a two tier electoral system counted one eighth that of a French citizen (both systems elected eight senators and fifteen deputies to the national system) in the French system, only one million French citizens could vote while in the Muslim system more than eight million Algeria Muslims voted.[2] Muslims were clearly second class citizens in 1954 Algeria with only one boy in five attending school while only one in sixteen among girls were in school. Among Europeans there were 200,000 children of school age at 1,400 primary schools while 1,250,000 Muslim school age children attended 699 primary schools. In terms of resources, control of the land was clear with the average land holding of Europeans at 123.7 hectares versus average Muslim land holdings of 11.6 hectares. Ninety percent of the country’s wealth was in the hands of ten percent of the people, primarily European. Muslim average earnings were 16,000 francs a year whereas the European equivalent was 450,000 francs – nearly 30 times as high.[3] Philippeville was near the El-Halia mining center with approximately 150 Europeans and 2,000 Muslim residents who had coexisted peacefully for years. The mine had seen excellent labor relations between the European managers and the Muslim workers. On August 20, 1955, a group of Muslims attacked the town killing 37 Europeans (men, women and children). Local residents were said to have joined in the attacks. More than 1,000 Muslims were killed in retaliation.[4] According to -- the value of one million English pounds in 2007 dollars based on “average earnings” would be 42,690,000 English pounds or around $2.5 billion per month (1 pound = $2) multiplied by 42,690,000 then multiplied by 30 days in a month.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Inventing Iraq

Inventing Iraq:
The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied
By Toby Dodge, Columbia University Press, 2003 (1)

“Inventing Iraq” provides a historical perspective of nation building by analyzing the British occupation of three Ottoman Empire provinces that were formed into Iraq. Beginning in 1920, the country was administered by Britain under a League of Nations mandate and became the first mandated state to gain independence and enter the League as a full, self-determining member in 1932. Dodge tracks the history of British rule of Iraq, analyzes its transition to a sovereign state, highlights the mistakes made in this process, and recommends how the US can avoid pitfalls in our nation building effort here. The key point that Dodge makes in the book is that a successful transformation of Iraq can only be achieved through long term, grass roots development aimed at creating a local sense of community. Tribal fiefdoms, the primary Iraqi civil society structures shaped over the last 400 years creates a “shadow state” and undermines the long term sustainability of a national government. Historically, central governments in Iraq, dating back to early Ottoman Empire have not adequately controlled the rural areas. A succession of ruling entities have depended upon a combination of violence and patronage to bring tribal leaders into a largely informal governing coalition with the state. (2)

The book defines the end state for successful nation building as the ability of a nation to, “… deliver public goods to the population contained within its recognized borders through a differentiated set of centralized government institutions. Crucial to its ability to perform these tasks is the veracity of its claim to ‘binding authority’ over its citizenship and ultimately over all actions taking place within the are of its jurisdiction.” Three key characteristics guarantee sustainability of a state (1) ability of the state’s institutions to claim a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, (2) the capacity of the state’s bureaucracy to implement its decisions across the territorial entirety of the country, and (3) creating a positive relevance of the state to the everyday lives of its citizens. Dodge states that when there is a failure to provide protection through a monopoly on the use of violence, the citizenry will seek public goods and services, economic subsistence and eventually their physical survival through ad hoc and informal channels. People will look to whatever group can help them survive – militia, tribe, clan -- proclamation of statehood is not sufficient. For Iraq to become a sustainable state it must have the ability to protect, govern, and serve all its citizenry.
Working with the Sheiks - “(To address the problem of a small elite ruling class that was mostly urban, and thus removed from the majority of the people who lived in the rural areas, the British decided) … its relations had to be mediated through a series of tribal sheiks. For a sheik, government recognition brought with it responsibility, reward and prestige. By guaranteeing the good behavior of the tribe or that of a particular section, he would receive a monthly subsidy. The designated sheiks learned quickly what was required of them and how to manipulate the key concerns of the British.” “Inventing Iraq” pp. 83 - 86

Lack of Civil Society in Iraq - “Since seizing power in 1968, the Baath regime efficiently used extreme levels of violence and the powers of patronage delivered by oil wealth to co-opt or break any independent vestiges of civil society. Autonomous collective societal structures beyond the control of the state simply do not exist. In their place, society came to be dominated by aspects of the “shadow state” flexible networks of patronage and violence that were used to reshape Iraqi society… The danger the US administrators trying to make sense of a society they have little knowledge of is that they will grasp aspects of the shadow state as authentic representations of Iraqi polity. In doing so they will be reproducing the very structures set up by Sadam Hussein to guarantee his own grip on power.” - “Inventing Iraq” p. 159.

Key to governance is the belief of the people that they have an effective way to voice their grievances and have a role in addressing their problems at the local and provincial levels. The civil society structures that play a critical role in providing this voice to the people does not exist in Iraq. To address this problem, Dodge recommends a strategic approach that sounds very similar to our ePRT led grass roots effort of building local capacity, empowering communities, and giving ordinary citizens a voice in government. The issues identified in this book and their potential impact on the future are important to consider as we transition away from ePRTs (Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team) toward a PRT (Provinical Reconstruction Team) led effort to strengthen provincial governments and their capacity to govern. (3)

Dodge recommends that the US learn the lesson from the British occupation that a sustainable state requires empowering local communities to effectively address their local problems, provide a consensus for community action, and interact with local and provincial governments. Civil society groups will, according to Dodge, provide the only sustainable means of empowering local communities. The establishment of these groups will have to be a grass roots effort that focuses on increasing social capital, providing a voice for ordinary citizens, and engendering a feeling among local communities of inclusion and benefit in a national government system.

Dodge contends that the degree to which Iraq can be inclusive and equitable to all citizens will determine whether there will be a renewal of violence. “Inventing Iraq” sends a clear message that for the state to effectively govern and serve its citizenry much more than a strong military is required – ordinary Iraqis have to believe in their ability to come together to address their problems. This book provides an interesting historical perspective that points to ways that the US might effectively address issues regarding the sustainability of the Iraqi state once Coalition Forces eventually depart. Building a vibrant civil society should, according to Dodge, be one of the key goals of US policy. The most effective way to create a strong civil society is by working at the ePRT level – the grass roots – focusing on bringing people together to address their problems, create a sense of community, and effectively interact with their provincial and national government.
Finally, the ePRT concept was described in the book -- ePRT Model of Civil Society Strengthening -- “Evidence from Umm Qasr suggests a different and more sustainable approach to rebuilding Iraq’s governing structures. The experience there has been acknowledged by American forces to be a potential model for the rest of Iraq. Self-selected (modest, mid-level civil servants came together to form a council) citizens approached British troops and asked when schools could be re-opened. The U.S. Agency for International Development moved quickly to capitalize on this development, giving the council $41,000 for offices and computers. This experiment in “micromanagement” implies the value of “root and branch” approach to reform of Iraq’s government. If carried to its logical conclusion, such a policy would involve a sustained attempt not only to change the visible institutions of the state but and their interaction with society but also to transform the dynamics of the shadow state by creating a basis for social trust.” -- Inventing Iraq, p. 169


The following are excepts from the “Inventing Iraq” referring to the problems, issues and realities faced by the British personnel charged with the first modern attempt at nation building in Iraq. Many of the points highlighted in the book could be taken from today’s headlines. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is not dead, it’s not even past.” Clearly this is the case in Iraq today.

Dealing with Iraq nationalism. There was pressure from the Iraqis to transition from a “mandate” to a treaty with the UK that outlined when Iraq would be declared a sovereign state. Iraqi nationalism became a force in a short period time after the Ottoman Turks were defeated. “The speed with which Britain’s role in Iraq changed from 1920 to 1922 is highlighted by the rapid shift in its legal basis.” p. 22 “Having set up our independent or quasi-independent state, we were bound to deal with it on terms of greater equality, and less from the point with it on terms of greater equality, and less from the point of view of a guardian towards its ward, than was originally contemplated.” p. 22 “The rapid growth of well-organized and vibrant nationalism in Iraq exacerbated the conflict at the heart of the British policy.” p. 30

Political realities impacted events on the ground. “The irresoluble tensions inherent in British nation building produced, by 1932, the quasi-state of Iraq. When Iraq entered the League of Nations it was granted de jure independence as a self-determining nation state. But the reality was something quite different. Iraq was a territory inhabited by a diverse and divided population run by a small clique of mainly Sunni politicians who could not control the country without the help of British airplanes.” p. 31 “The heavy constraints upon the British state meant that sovereign power had to be devolved to the political elite of Baghdad – those who, by 1926, were in a position to run things.” p. 37 “The Permanent Mandates Commission had been the personification of Britain’s international obligations to Iraq, but, after 1929, it became an obstacle to the government’s goal of ridding itself of the costly and potentially unending burden of turning Iraq into a liberal state of international standing.” p. 38

Dealing with the power brokers rather than transforming the state. “Their concept of the Ottoman Empire led the British to place their trust in those who inhabited the countryside, those identified as ‘tribal’.” p. 45 “… Iraqi civil servants … were detached from society. They constituted a distinctly secular, separate and parasitic middle class.” p. 48 “The image that permeates the British descriptions of Iraqi governing groups was of a small elite floating above society. ‘I do not suppose there is in the whole history another example of a state with a representative government of modern type, in which only people who count are two or three hundred at most. It is in fact a closed oligarchy.” p. 66 “Ultimately it was the way British understood Iraqi society that came to undermine their attempt to build a stable state. Resources were channeled through individuals (the sheiks) in the hope that they would guarantee social order at the lowest possible cost.” p. 158

Rule of Law was a difficult concept – land tenure was a very difficult issue. “In effect, written law could be rigid or liberal as the drafters desired because it ultimately would stand little chance of being enforced. (The Turks had a) “… blind impulse to draw all authority into a single net, (they) not only neglected but actively discouraged the delegation of power.” p. 51 “Upon the Turkish conquest the agricultural land of Iraq became state property … (but the) Ottoman Government were never in a position to exercise any systematic control of the large areas of miri land throughout the country.” p. 54 “With the state unable to enforce its will over the majority of the country, no cadastral survey was possible. A result was title deeds and records that were ‘incomplete and entirely inaccurate in respect to names, areas, and boundaries, sometimes forged, sometimes overlapping, sometimes duplicated in respect of identical properties.” p. 55 “Order was attempted in two stages. First, land had to be owned, and it was the administrator’s job to find out who that owner was – to formalize and then protect his rights of possession. Then the proprietor was encouraged to farm the land as efficiently as possible.” p. 105

(1) Tony Dodge is an English scholar on the Middle East for the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

(2) This lack of rural control applies primarily to the Ottoman Empire rule of Iraq from 1535 to 1918, and the English mandate period 1920 – 1932, but was also true to varying degrees in modern Iraq under the rule of Hashemite King Faisal followed by Ghazi, Nuria al Said, and Abdullah Al-llah until the July 14, 1958 Revolution led by General Abdul Karim Qassim. Central control was strengthened when Qassim was overthrown in 1963 by Col. Adbul Salam Arif who died in 1966 and was succeeded by his brother, Rahman Arif. After the 1968 coup by the Baath Party put Saddam Hussein on a track to becoming the sole dictator of Iraq in 1979, the Iraqi state used terror and money to control the rural areas.

(3) PRT – Provincial Reconstruction Team; ePRT – Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team lives and operates within a US military combat team at the Brigade level or lower. The PRT concept began in 2002 in Afghanistan. A PRT is defined in the “Provincial Reconstruction Team Playbook” Center for Army Lessons Learned as “… a means to … stabilize an area through an integrated civilian-military focus. It combines the diplomatic, military and developmental components of the various agencies … to help improve stability by building up the capacity of the host nation to govern; enhance economic viability; and deliver essential public services such as security, law and order, justice, health care, and education. Once the stability objectives have been fulfilled, PRTs can begin to dismantle and the traditional diplomatic and developmental programs will operate within their normal venues.” Total PRTs in Iraq (09/2008) are 31: US PRT 11, Coalition 3, ePRT 13, and PST 4 (Provincial Support Teams).

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Ghost of William Walker

The following article was published in the newsletter of the US Embassy in Nicaragua in May 2003. The news of US invasion of Iraq was in the headlines in Latin America and appeared biased against our efforts. Clearly, the Latin Americans saw the world through different eyes -- they remembered a past almost unknown to North Americans.
The Ghost of William Walker

“What matters at last is this: all over Central America, William Walker is remembered as the pattern and the paradigm for American intentions. There is not a school child who does not know his name … he has been the core with which national myths have been created: the heroic and successful struggle of the people of Central America against the arrogance and power of North Americans.” Robert Houston, “The Nation Thief”

Regional integration is not new to Central America. In the Spring of 1856, the region was probably more united than at any other time in its history. An allied army comprised of soldiers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador backed by British and US business interests fought a bloody war against William Walker and his followers. Disease, superior numbers and national spirit brought victory to the allies and influenced Central America’s relationship with the United States for generations to come.

During the recent war in Iraqi, I caught glimpses of Walker’s ghost in some of the Hispanic media stories. It seemed to me at times the US was portrayed as the arrogant bully; the subliminal message was … this had been done before, in a different place and a different time. That message was unfair but perception creates its own reality and how the world perceives our actions depends as much on the past as on the present. Faulkner wrote in “Requiem for a Nun” that, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” Understanding what William Walker did in Central America is important to understanding how Central Americans view the United States and our actions in the region. A historical perspective can help us understand the present and better deal with the future.

William Walker was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1824. By 19 he had graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania to become one of the youngest physicians in US. He continued his studies at the Sorbonne then returned to America and began studying law. At 22 he was admitted to the bar and, after serving as a law clerk for a short period, he became the editor of The Crescent, a New Orleans newspaper. Later he traveled to California and became the editor of a newspaper in San Francisco. This was the era of Manifest Destiny, the relatively easy war with Mexico and the annexation of its territory in the West, the California gold rush and the need to spread the glory and civilizing power of American democracy and values. San Francisco became the jumping off point for expeditions to Mexico and Central America. Walker traded in the pen for a gun and at 5 foot 3 inches tall and 130 pounds became a filibuster (derived from the Dutch for freebooter or adventurer).

Walker’s first attempt at glory was in Baja California where, with 45 men, he declared the “Republic of Lower California.” After some initial success, he was defeated by the Mexicans and forced to flee back to the United States. Walker then focused on Nicaragua. He arrived on June 28, 1855, to fulfill a contract with Liberal leader Francisco Castellon calling for the delivery of 300 colonists available for military duty in exchange for land and cash (mercenaries) to aid in Nicaragua’s ongoing civil war. The Liberals were known as the Democrats and had Leon as their home base. The Conservatives were centered in Granada and were known as the Legitimists. Their name was based on their assertion that their claim to govern was legitimately derived from the 1854 constitution. Walker’s army consisted of 57 men and was christened the American Phalanx by Castellon. The first action of the Phalanx was a frontal assault on heavily fortified Conservative positions at Rivas. Walker’s troops gained the main plaza but were then surrounded and had to fight their way out sustaining 38 percent casualties. The Americans re-grouped after this defeat, received additional recruits from the US and planned an attack on Granada. Walker commandeered a boat from the Accessory Transit Company and landed his force near Granada in the early hours of October 13, 1855. The city fell with little resistance.

With Granada under his control (and the most prominent Conservative families as his hostages), Walker convinced the Conservatives to surrender. He then disbanded the Conservative and Liberal armies and declared an “all volunteer” force. In the meantime, new recruits arrived via the Transit Company. A loan of $20,000 was made to Walker by the Company and additional filibusters were brought in at a discounted $20 per passenger from the United States. Walker rigged an election and had himself declared President of Nicaragua. More than 11,000 “immigrants” including women and children from the US came to Nicaragua during two years that he was in power. While Walker’s total force was estimated by one of his officers to have been 2,500 men although he never mounted a single force in excess of 750 men for any one battle. There was a continuous flow of filibusters to replace the large number of casualties from battle and disease as the war intensified. Before the war ended, more than 1,000 North Americans died making the War in Nicaragua more costly than the Spanish American War fought four decades later. As the war turned against Walker and his forces, he took more drastic actions. At one point he burned Granada to the ground and posted a sign that stated, “Here was Granada.”

Central America unified and fought Walker. Volunteers came from all parts of Latin America for a war of liberation against the Americans in Nicaragua. Heroic efforts were made by the Allies. Juan Santamaria became Costa Rica’s national hero in the Second Battle of Rivas as he died torching a house held by the filibusters. An all-Nicaraguan force at San Jacinto defeated the filibusters and Andres Castro became a hero for killing a filibuster with a rock when his carbine misfired. As the battle casualties and losses from cholera mounted, Walker’s force became weaker. After a review of the Transit Company records, Walker claimed the company owed Nicaragua (that is, Walker) $400,000 in unpaid royalties. He revoked the company’s charter and Cornelius Vanderbilt. entered the fight against him. On May 1, 1857, Walker fled from Nicaragua. It is estimated that up to 10,000 Central Americans were killed or wounded during the war.

There is something in Walker’s story that is with us still. He personified cultural arrogance and the belief of his time that America’s duty was to take “civilization” to the world. In his book, “The War in Nicaragua”, Walker stated his views on achieving economic and social development --- his comments sound as if his mission were to build and develop Nicaragua.

“ … to destroy an old political organization is a comparatively easy task, and little besides force is required for its accomplishment; but to build up and re-constitute society --- to gather the materials from the four quarters, and construct them into a harmonious whole, fitted for the uses of a new civilization --- requires more than force, more than genius for the work, and agents with which to complete it. Time and patience, as well as skill and labor, are needed for success; and they who undertake it, must be willing to devote a lifetime to the work.”

Walker did little to strengthen Nicaragua (although he did set up a short-lived land registry and tried to develop a functioning land market) and he did much damage (the razing of Granada, summary executions, etc.). His was an age of almost religious fervor in the belief that America’s way of life was best for the world. Manifest Destiny was the battle cry and we had the duty to take our values to the world.

As Americans, we tend to fix things, to right wrongs and to build new social orders. The experience of William Walker and other events in our past point to a need to temper these traits with a greater attempt to understand why others are like they are and what can be done to influence change rather than force it.