28 December 2005
Juan Cole attacks what he calls "ten myths about Iraq". The only one that I take issue with is this:
3. The guerrillas are winning the war against US forces. The guerrillas are really no more than mosquitos to US forces. The casualties they have inflicted on the US military, of over 2000 dead and some 15,000 wounded, are deeply regrettable and no one should make light of them. But this level of insurgency could never defeat the US military in the field.
This is true, but it is also not important. No guerrilla force can win against a conventional force. The French were not defeated on the Algerian battlefield, and their losses in the eight-year war only amounted to about 20,000 dead. What happened in Algeria is that the conflict spread to metropolitan France and the political costs of continuing the war were greater than the political costs of recognising Algerian independence. What was true of Algeria was also true of most of the other colonial conflicts that led to independence for the countries of Asia and Africa.
So, does this mean that the guerrillas are losing the war militarily? No, because the role of the guerrilla is to avoid defeat, recruit more guerrillas and keep the war going. If the guerrillas can do that, then victory will come to them sooner or later. The Americans may vow to stay the course, but if the guerrillas keep fighting they will outlast them in the long run.
Guerrilla wars, by the way, are always won in the long run.