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The Insurgents, Part II: Fighting the Left by Being the Left


I have to thank Rijin Sahakian for a reasonable rebuttal to the first half of my essay. It is certainly unreasonable for me as someone who resides in the United States to gloss over the violence and destruction of the Iraq War. It was not my intention to say that the efforts of COIN were in fact effective in actually “protecting the population,” but instead to point out a methodology of social relationships that worked in tandem with violence. I have no desire to be a provocateur in regards to the horrible atrocities of Iraq or El Salvador, for that matter. I admit my essay could have made this point much more transparent. That said, I hope the readers find the move toward social relationships across a range of political aspirations instructive. As Brian Kuan Wood said to me, “What is worse? Killing people or making friends and then killing them?”

—Nato Thompson

Continued from “The Insurgents, Part I: Community-Based Practice as Military Methodology

The lessons that General David Petraeus deployed in Mosul came out of a combination of research and first-hand experience. Although the Iraq War was his first time in combat, he had traveled to El Salvador in 1985 with General Jack Galvin to see up close what a counterinsurgency campaign looked like. The US under Carter and Reagan was determined to stop the spread of left-wing governments worldwide, fearing Cuban and Soviet interference in both El Salvador and Nicaragua. In El Salvador, they sent in military “trainers” (they balked at the term “advisors” due to its association with the Vietnam War) and weapons (nearly $5 billion in aid, total) to support the right-wing government that was decimating the revolutionary movement of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The US trainers facilitated a conflict that came to be regarded universally as a human rights nightmare. One million people were displaced and, according to the United Nations, seventy-five thousand people were killed in a nation of roughly 5.5 million. The lessons of counterinsurgency that Petraeus witnessed in El Salvador, with its back-end reliance on personal violence such as torture, certainly foretold an experience in Iraq. In State Department circles, however, the conflict in El Salvador was viewed as somewhat of a success since the FMLN didn’t come to power.

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