Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kaplan on Sri Lanka: to beat an insurgency, just throw the rule of law out the window

Robert Kaplan's got a good piece up over at the Atlantic about how the Sri Lankans defeat the Tamils. How'd they do it? Well, mostly they threw human rights out the window. From the piece:

The insurgents are using human shields? No problem. Just keep killing the innocent bystanders until you get to the fighters themselves. ... Bad media coverage is hurting morale and giving succor to the enemy? Just kill the journalists.

Kaplan correctly posits that "these are methods the U.S. should never use" but says that the case of Sri Lanka shows we're in for a long road in Afghanistan.

As this page has argued previously, ethnic wars end when someone wins or when both sides realize they can't. Thus, violence in Iraq didn't decline until the Sunnis effectively lost their war with the Shiites (and even now, the unsettled outcome makes escalation highly likely in the years following the US withdrawal). And in Afghanistan, "victory" under these terms would involve the violent subjugation of the Pashtuns and their allies. Since this can't happen unless we copy the dubious methods of the Sri Lankan government, I'd suggest moving to plan be: "both sides realize they can't." Leaving Afghanistan as a tribal, but locally owned, mess, where every ethnic group more or less controls its affairs and none have incentive to harbor groups intent on attacking the United States, is the most sustainable long-term option.

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