Smith Responds

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 1 month ago

In Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen, Smith continued a conversation that Kilcullen started at the Small Wars Journal on the role of religion in the impetus for an insurgency.  Every now and again a dust-up develops over the web, and a response is necessary to set the record straight.  In this article Smith responds to the comment thread at the initial article at The Captain’s Journal and The Small Wars Manual.

Smith finds the discussion at least mildly amusing with the fabricated stories about what Smith believes or what surely must be the consequences of his reasoning, but beyond a little chuckle, the work of thinking clearly is serious business and requires us to roll our sleeves up and expend a little energy.  As one who has had some formal graduate level training in religion, Smith has something to offer to questions on the role of religion.

To rehearse Kilcullen’s article, he has it as his project to demonstrate that the traditional methods of winning hearts and minds in a counterinsurgency are useful for the Iraqi population, i.e., that religion doesn’t prevent traditional methods from producing fruit.  Insofar as the project is careful, judicious, and open-minded, this is a legitimate project.  But Kilcullen didn’t stop at a judicious conclusion.  The insurgency in Iraq, said he, was “entirely political.”  That is, there is no religious aspect to the insurgency.

Kilcullen’s error is one of attempting to use inductive evidence to prove a universal negative, or in other words, he committed a formal logical fallacy.  Or said in a bit more formal manner, a deduction with a universal conclusion must have two universal premises.  This formal error particulary preys upon people who begin the process of reasoning (or, if you will, the scientific process) with an emotional or ideological commitment to a premise that they want to prove.  Just for the sake of clarity, one could also say that Kilcullen commits the fallacy of composition, where one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.

At the discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal, Smith continued to outline the most egregious failures of the new counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24.  Said Smith:

In summary, the two most important failures in FM 3-24 in my opinion are:

1. Failure to incorporate the things that religion can teach us in a counterinsurgency campaign, and

2. Failure to address how protracted engagements affect troop morale and public sentiment at home (not, by the way, a failure of the Small Wars Manual as I have written about in “Observations on Timeliness from the Small Wars Manual”). I do not believe that the nation will ever again give us ten years to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign. To the extent that FM 3-24 assumes this, our proverbial heads are “in the sand.”

Concerning the second point, the current Marine Commandant (apparently about simultaneously with Smith) warned that there was a disconnect between the needs of the classical counterinsurgency and what the nation would allow in terms of duration or longevity (see also here and here).

“The difference in the time we in uniform need for success in Iraq and the amount of time our countrymen are prepared to invest is a disconnect that’s troubling,” Conway said.

He pointed to progress in western al-Anbar province, a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency where some tribal leaders have recently turned against al-Qaeda extremists and joined forces with US troops.

The province was once considered the last in line to be turned over to Iraqi security forces because of the intensity of the insurgency, but Conway said that has changed with Sunnis joining the Iraqi army and police in large numbers.

US commanders will have to decide whether 4,000 additional marines that were supposed to deploy to the province as part of the surge will still be needed in Al-Anbar, he said.

Whether security for Al-Anbar can be turned over to Iraqis sooner is “very much an open question at this point, but I’m optimistic about all those things,” Conway said.

Conway argued that a US failure in Iraq would damage US credibility and leave the world “a less safe place.”

But he said insurgencies typically take nine to 10 years to defeat.

“I think there is less of an appetite in our country than we, the military, might think we need to sustain that kind of effort over that period of time. That’s the basic disconnect that I was talking about,” he said.

Smith’s initial article argued that religion was a fundamental motivator of men, and in order completely to understand man’s actions, religion had to be considered as at least one of the elements, if not the most important.  The comments on Smith’s views fell into logical errors, constructed straw men and fabricated stories about what Smith advocated.  First came “emjayinc.”  To emjayinc, religion as a motivator seems “too deterministic.”  How this is so is not explained, but his objection falls moot when he puts forward other deterministic motivators for man, including the procurement of resources.  For no reason that is explained, emjayinc favors the determinism of resource seeking over the determinism of religion.

The fallacy of using anecdotal evidence to make universal conclusions takes it next prey. emjayinc then makes a patently false statement in asserting that “religion … appears nowhere in most modern constructs of man’s motivating needs.”  Debunking this is difficult because Smith is left to wonder which single book, person, society or scholarly article to cite, when there are so many hundreds of thousands available.  In order to bring this to a more rapid conclusion we will leave emjayinc to consult with the Society of Christian Philosphers.

Next, emjayinc falls prey to the genetic fallacy when he appeals to the idea that “many people believe that men use religion to satisfy needs.”  What he alleges “many people” to believe is, for purposes of this argument, quite irrelevant.  Next comes emjayinc’s straw many to substitute for Smith’s real arguments.  Said he, “if it’s about religion, then its (sic) the Christians against the Muslims.”  Here emjayinc is pretending that Smith called for a holy war between Christians and Muslims.  This needn’t waste any more of our time, since this call for holy war was neither present in Smith’s article nor subsequent comments here or at the Small Wars Journal.

Next in line is “Kat-Missouri” (abbreviated here as “Kat”).  Kat engages us in a somewhat far-reaching discussion about what he feels to be how the U.S. might engage a culture in a counterinsurgency.  This discussion is moderately interesting, but again, quite irrelevant.  Kat has constructed a straw man.  The specific location at which believers might congregate a couple of hours a week is not germane to the argument, because Smith didn’t discussion Churches, Mosques or Synagogues.  Smith discussed religion.  All of the discussion on anything else is wasted insofar as it is intended to be a rebuttal of Smith.

Next, Kat falls into a non sequitur, saying after this discussion that “emjay and Kilcullen would be correct in saying that politics, not religion, is the basis through which we should engage.”  The first problem with this conclusion is that it isn’t supported by any of the antecedent discussion.  The second problem with this conclusion is that the antecedent discussion is consumed with the Mosque, but the conclusion introduces a new subject: religion.  The two are not the same.  Power is indeed an insidious thing, ensnaring men who have it to keep it and obtain more of it.  Kat’s discussion on power structures — whether political or in the religious community — warrants its own study.  But Smith’s article didn’t touch on this issue.

Religion, or world view, far from being identified with institutions, is what orients and motivates a man’s life when he is not in public places of worship.  It has to do with world views, or belief- and value-systems.  This is true even of emjayinc’s and Kat’s position (even if for example they are humanists, Smith’s definition includes humanism within the scope of religion; for the right to do this, see Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation, Chapter 1.)  Smith’s detractors make the case that men are motivated by anything but religion, and especially stuff; we might call it the “give them stuff and they will come” approach to counterinsurgency.  But of course, counterinsurgency is more difficult than merely giving people stuff, and rather than Smith it is his detractors who oversimplify the matter.  Religion is currently the basis for an insurgency in Thailand.

The violence in the south is increasingly directed more at Moslems, as the terrorists try to eliminate government informers, and non-Moslems increasingly organize death squads to carry out reprisal attacks. Most of the Moslem population wants all the violence to stop, as this sort of thing has happened before. Since the Moslem Sultanate was taken over by Thailand a century ago, there have been uprisings every few generations. In the past, these rebellions were put down with much violence by the Thai government. It’s not for nothing that Thailand is one of the few nations in the region to never be colonized. The Thais are tough, determined, and vicious if provoked. However, times have changed, and “vicious” doesn’t play as well as it used to. So the Thai government is telling the southerners to cool it, and is sending money and other economic aid as peace offerings. In times past, this might have worked. But this time around, it’s not just ethnic (the southerners are Malays) and religious (some 95 percent of Thais are Buddhists) differences, but the presence of Islamic radicals who want to convert all Thais to Islam …

The third problem with Kat’s conclusion is that it extends the scope of the conversation into areas previously uncharted.  Stricly speaking, the subject has been whether religion can be said to be a motivator of man and whether traditional WHAM tactics, techniques and procedures can be effective on those who are religiously motivated.  Kat extends this conversation to the point that it now encompasses an entirely new subject: whether we should engage religion at all in our counterinsurgency techniques, whatever the term “engage” is supposed to mean to Kat.

Kat ends his far ranging discussion with the following exaggeration: “To imagine that we should engage the religious nature of a community without the requisite moral authority, even as a proxy on its face, is the epitome of arrogance.”  Contrary to this view, to send soldiers and marines to win hearts and minds of a population without at least some cursory understanding of the population is the equivalent of blinding them and then turning them loose with firearms.  Based on Smith’s premise, some Muslims will follow a hermeneutic that requires them to war on others to extend their faith (AQI and AAS would be examples).  This isn’t true of all Muslims, and in fact it may only be a small fraction.  Still others will not be amenable to negotiations with the U.S. armed forces or the political structure (this list may include, for example, Sadr, Sistani, the Mullahs in Iran, the Badr force, etc.).  Still others will be amenable to our efforts at WHAM (the Sunni tribes), and still others might be an ally in our struggles.  It pays to know your enemy.  It may pay even more to know those whose hearts and minds you wish to win.

The responses to U.S. efforts will range across the spectrum, with a whole host of reasons for the various reactions, religion being among them.  Further, an understanding of the religious landscape means more than gaining a knowledge of motivations.  It also means being sensitive to U.S. tactics, techniques and procedures on the population and ensuring that TTPs that are inherently offensive are minimized to the extent practical (e.g., see Smith’s article Religious and Cultural Sensitivities in Counterinsurgency). Engaging the culture (despite the straw men set up by Smith’s detractors) doesn’t mean U.S. soldiers evangelizing Muslims, or attempting to tell them what their own religion expects of them, or expecting every adherent to be a radical militant.  Building straw men and then deconstructing them makes for good entertainment, but doesn’t add anythng meaningful to the conversation.

The Small Wars Manual, concerning engaging the religion of the locale in which U.S. forces are deployed, says:

1-31.d: Akin to politics is the subject of religion.  The people of many countries take their religion as seriously as their politics … 1.11: A failure to use tact when required or lack of firmness at a crucial moment might readily precipitate a situation that could have been avoided had the commander been familiar with the customs, religion, morals, and education of those with whom he was dealing.

Sometimes the best counsel is the oldest.  Smith’s argument concerning the duration of counterinsurgency and public sentiment is similar to that of the Marine Corps commandant (even if  somewhat unrelated to the initial subject of Kilcullen’s commentary).  Smith’s views on religion and counterinsurgency – far from being debunked – have not yet even been engaged.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Religion,Small Wars and was published May 21st, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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