Brand A and Brand B
How well would a country with no almost no accountability to the public, able to apply unrestricted amounts of brutality and firepower and unconstrained by legal or humanitarian rights fare against a Jihadi foe? While those who believe that President Bush actually is Hitler may think the foregoing is a reference to the US campaign in Iraq, it is more accurately a reference to the Russian campaign in Chechnya.
The Russian campaign in Chechnya is interesting as a control case to Iraq not only because it lets the historian examine a counterinsurgency waged without American political constraints but also provides a real-world benchmark for what constitutes a truly brutal campaign as opposed to one only imagined that way by Hollywood directors like Brian de Palma. The Chechen campaign provides an an actual example of a counterinsurgency waged by an ex-socialist country compared to the actions of what has been described as a bestial colonial power, the United States of America. It's a contemporaneous side-by-side comparison by two different systems waged against a similar foe. And how have the two fared?
An unpublished paper presented at the American Political Science Association by AM Lopez has this succinct judgment.
This paper is a preliminary look at the similarities and differences of the insurgencies in Iraq and Chechnay and at the similarities and differences of American and Russian counterinsurgency efforts respectively. It argues that the Russians have some inherent advantages in Chechnya--smaller country in terms of both terrain and population, greater will to fight the war--than the Americans in Iraq. However, Russian counterinsurgency policy, and in particular the over-reliance on force and failure to include Chechens in the local politics, has increased the likelihood of long-term failure. In Iraq, while the Americans have not conducted themselves flawlessly, their more measured use of force and incorporation of a wider swath of Iraqi society into the political scene increases the likelihood of long-term success. The danger for the Americans, however, is in the short-term.
In plain language, the US appears to be doing better than the Russians, despite the ability of the Russians to be significantly more violent and brutal. The Jamestown Foundation has a detailed evaluation of the Russian position in Chechnya prepared on Oct 18, 2007. It basically concludes that the Russians have not succeeded at any of the goals they have set for themselves.
Yakov Nedobitko’s [ the commander of the Russian Joint Military Group in Chechnya] comments imply that the Russian authorities have not yet achieved any of their key goals, which include:
1) Shifting the responsibility for maintaining the stability in the republic from federal bodies to local authorities;
2) Withdrawing most of the troops from the republic, leaving in Chechnya only one division and one brigade that will be stationed there permanently in large garrison camps;
3) Destroying the centralized command structure of the Chechen and Caucasian rebels;
4) Disbanding or at least reducing commandant offices of the Russian armed forces in the republic.
Of particular interest are the factors that did not help the Russians in their campaign. "Neither knowledge of the local language, nor the knowledge of the terrain and the other advantages cited by Nedobitko, helped the units to defeat the guerillas who are hiding in the mountains."
Although it is fashionable in certain "sophisticated" circles to deride it, one of the key American success factors in Iraq may be the policy to "bring freedom" -- political empowerment -- to the Middle East. Rather than being a naive emotion at odds with "adult" foreign policy, the idea of politically empowering a population may actually have great practical value. This is not to say that the Russian campaign in Chechnya has been without result, but a straighforward comparison between the two campaigns against a Jihadi foe shows that the American campaign has been surprisingly effective.
It's interesting to note that at the very moment that al-Qaeda seems have been defeated in Iraq it appears to be augmenting its presence in Chechnya. Bill Roggio reports today that "Doku Umarov, one of the last remaining original leaders of the Chechen rebellion and a close associate of al Qaeda, has declared an Islamic emirate in the greater Caucasus region."
The setbacks of the Russian campaign stand in some irony to the persistent left-wing criticism of the American strategy in Iraq. If the former Soviet Union and its successor state in Russia are at all representative of how the left wing would fight a counterinsurency it suggests that not only would they be more brutal but they would also be far less successful.