Friday, July 31, 2009

Not taking Edward Luttwak seriously.

Edward N. Luttwak is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of several books regarding warfare and insurgency. I recently came across a 2007 essay of his at Harper's magazine website and became quickly unimpressed. He early on presents an argument so blatantly fallacious as to convince me that it must be quite easy for muddleheaded armchair theorists to gain notoriety at serious publications and think tanks.

In this specific case, Mr. Luttwak wishes to argue that popular support is not essential to successful counter-insurgency. He goes about this by citing the Napoleonic War in Spain as a prime example of an oppressor enjoying the support, apparently against its own material interests, of the very population being oppressed -- successfully deploying it against its own would be liberators. This, along with mention of similar events in Naples in 1799, are very interesting and instructive examples, but they do not support the thesis that popular support is not essential, or even important, to successful counter-insurgency. They actually support the opposite conclusion. We have here a plain "sour grapes" fallacy: If we may not be able to obtain popular support for a counter-insurgency effort then it must not have been necessary in the first place.

I have not bothered to read on to the rest of the essay.

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