Courtesy Reuters

Some Dilemmas of Counterinsurgency

A reviewer of Senator Fulbright's Indictment of President Johnson's policy in Viet Nam has pointed out that "it is possible to argue that the false starts of American policy in Asia and elsewhere have been at least as much due to the illusions of liberalism as to the 'arrogance of power'."[i] Obviously, particular policies and actions may be judged as making a bad situation worse, but they may not be the cause of its being bad in the first place. Much of the hawk-versus-dove dispute stems from shared misconceptions about communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia and therefore also about the resulting counterinsur-gency actions-misconceptions which form part of an ethos largely inapplicable to that troubled region today.

In this article, it is proposed to put aside this debate over the rights and wrongs of Viet Nam and the counterinsurgency effort made by successive American administrations and to dwell instead on certain counterinsurgency dilemmas. They are intractable enough to tax the most statesmanlike minds. It is doubtful that these problems involve ethical issues; therefore, choosing the right solution cannot be said to confer any special righteousness upon the solver or wickedness upon one who makes an unsuccessful choice. Furthermore, the article does not try to offer solutions but rather attempts to delineate a few of the more perplexing and practical dilemmas faced by those governments dealing with communist insurgents.

All measures of defense taken by a government can be represented as a choice between evils, in so far as it stands to gain nothing by them, only to avoid defeat, and this invariably at considerable cost In the broadest sense, counterinsurgency is a branch of defense and therefore inherently also a choice between evils. In Southeast Asia the defense is against communist revolutionary warfare, and the choices present themselves to the governments of the region as a series of acute dilemmas, precisely because war and revolution are intertwined, yet may demand different solutions. Naturally, the communist strategists try to make things as

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