|Popularity is Not Security|
|Written by Chas Morrison|
|Tuesday, March 17, 2009 12:18 AM|
The international response to the election of Barack Obama has been nothing less than extraordinary. From Berlin to Beirut, St. Petersburg to Shanghai, the world has seemingly risen as one to embrace the President-elect. Americans should rightly feel proud to be the object of international admiration. However, the United States must not conflate temporary popularity with increased security. A secure nation is not necessarily a nation that enjoys widespread popularity—just ask the Czechs or the Hungarians. The true measure of American national security is not whether other countries like us; rather, security comes from the analysis of states and individuals that supporting the United States is in their direct interests.
The most immediate threat to the Pax Americana is the global Islamist insurgency raging in not only the Middle East, but in South Asia, in the former Soviet Republics, and in the streets and coffees houses of the European capitals. The great challenge for American foreign policy will be to extrapolate classical counterinsurgency principles into a global framework to combat an insurgency that transcends national boundaries. Just as classical counterinsurgency doctrine holds that the population itself is the strategic center of gravity, the people of the Islamic world are the key to defeating the global insurgency. The goal of any successful counterinsurgency is to win over the neutral and reconcilable portions of the indigenous population to the cause of the status quo power. While this evokes the old adage of heart and minds, the reality is that hearts and minds are impossible to win if the population is convinced that the United States and its partners are unable to provide for its immediate physical security.
The first and most basic of all human instincts is survival. Civilian populations will ultimately support whichever side is most able to protect their lives and their families. While any successful counterinsurgency must ultimately involve essential services, infrastructure development, and economic integration, physical security is the one indispensible precondition to victory. If the people of the Middle East do not believe the United States can protect them from those who would do them harm we will, no matter the strength of our ideals or the charisma of our leaders, lose the battle for the population and in so doing lose our struggle against Islamist radicalism.
How then do we avoid losing the battle for the population? First we must resist the temptation to come home. Despite setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, the one catastrophic decision the Obama administration could make would be to withdraw significant forces from the Middle East and retreat to the position of an off-shore balancer. If the population of the Middle East senses that the United States lacks the resolve to finish its fight and follow through on its commitments, it will be pushed into the insurgent camp by default. Rather than exercising power less frequently, we need to exercise power more intelligently. This means harnessing all facets of national power towards the protection of strategically vital populations. While this will be done by the direct application of force when necessary, we must also provide substantial military aid to partner nations to ensure their populations will not be pushed into insurgent arms due to a lack of physical security.
Winning the population means linking the physical security of indigenous persons with the interests of the United States. Popularity is not security, and true security comes through the recognition of a fundamental convergence of interests. If the Obama administration attempts to win hearts and minds without first securing populations from physical harm, it will jeopardize the gains of recent years, drive away the very allies which it seeks to support, and bring American resolve into contempt.