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May 24, 2007
Nation Building Is Key to Defeating Insurgents in Iraq
New sociological analysis explores counterinsurgency and claims
nation-building is key to winning the war in Iraq.
military has discovered the body of Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., who was one of
three soldiers missing after insurgents attacked a U.S. military observation
post south of Baghdad on May 12, 2007. In addition, the U.S. death toll in Iraq
topped 100 in April of 2007, largely due to insurgent fighting. The Spring 2007
issue of the American Sociological Association’s Contexts
new insights into why U.S. forces appear to have lost control of Iraq. In an
article titled “Counterinsurgency,” State University of New York-Stonybrook
sociologist Ian Roxborough offers suggestions as to how the U.S. military can
help create a durable peace.
“When the invasion of Iraq turned out not to
be the cakewalk some enthusiasts had expected, the U.S. military found itself
engaged in a form of warfare for which it was not prepared and which it did not
understand,” says Roxborough.
According to the analysis, insurgency and
counterinsurgency are terms that describe a struggle for control of the state.
This struggle takes place simultaneously at the local, grass-roots level and
involves political bargaining at the national level. Unless the U.S. military
understands that counterinsurgency is about state-building it will probably fail
in its efforts, according to Roxborough.
Roxborough draws comparisons
between the Iraq and Vietnam Wars, stating that “a significant lesson the U.S.
learned in Vietnam was that counterinsurgency is a struggle for the ‘hearts and
minds’ of the population. This implies that an army cannot use the same kind of
overwhelming firepower it would in a traditional offensive. Both the population
and insurgents who surrender need to be treated well.”
the “foremost lesson of Vietnam was ‘never again.’ Never again would the U.S.
military be drawn into what was essentially a civil war. After Vietnam, the U.S.
military . . . lapsed into a bout of collective amnesia about counterinsurgency.
When the Army and Marine Corps found themselves mired in a difficult conflict in
Iraq, they had to relearn rapidly the lessons of counterinsurgency, dusting off
and reprinting those 40-year-old books. The problem is these lessons were based
on false assumptions.”
Ultimately, Roxborough believes the military
needs a better understanding of contentious politics and state-building in order
to gain control. “I hope that my work will help concerned citizens think more
constructively and critically about U.S. military operations in places like Iraq
and Afghanistan. The U.S. military needs a new, and better understanding of
For more information or a copy of the article,
contact Sujata Sinha, (202) 247-9871, firstname.lastname@example.org.
information on Contexts
can be found at www.contextsmagazine.org.
About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org),
founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to
serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science
and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.