Victorious Insurgencies: Four Rebellions That Shaped Our World
by Anthony James Joes
Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010
A recent New Yorker cartoon has one front-office type telling another across his desk, "Those who fail to learn from history are entitled to repeat it." Professor Anthony Joes's latest book on the subject of insurgency is a superb textbook for anyone--student, teacher, or specialist--who would learn from the historical record what makes some insurgencies successful and what factors rendered the ruling regimes unable to overcome them.
Professor Joes's credentials could hardly be better: If there were a scholarly counterpart to Standard and Poor's, it would give him a AAA+ rating in Asymmetrical Warfare Studies. In this book, drawing on a lifetime of study and analysis of insurgencies, Joes reflects on why these four succeeded where others failed: Mao Tse-tung in China; Ho Chi Minh against the French in Vietnam; Fidel Castro in Cuba; and the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
In his brief remarks addressed to US policymakers regarding future counterinsurgency operations, Joes takes the realist position that countering most future insurgencies will be seen as limited wars by state actors like the United States, but will be seen as total wars by the insurgents themselves. "This imbalance can wear down the patience of even the strongest power," according to Joes, who finds few cases outside the "immediate Western Hemisphere" in which insurgents threaten the "truly vital" interests of the United States. Joes counsels that in responding to most future insurgent threats, US policymakers craft strategies based on "limited support to indigenous counterinsurgent forces," by delivering technical, intelligence, and financial assistance--and especially by interdicting outside assistance to the insurgency, which is as much a diplomatic as a military task.
Joes's thesis is that the four regimes that failed to overcome insurgencies had three things in common: they had "surprisingly serious internal political weakness"; they committed "striking military errors"; and their best efforts were undermined by "the insurgency's external environment, especially of outside assistance to the insurgents, both direct and indirect."
More specifically, Joes holds that all four ruling regimes were poorly served by military leadership that underestimated the insurgent enemy; policymaker offer peaceful political roads to change as alternatives to armed insurgency; could not prevent "vital outside direct assistance" to the insurgents; and failed to commit sufficient military forces to their conflicts, because of commitments or threats or pressures elsewhere. Joes believes that the decisive factor was the fourth and final one, which would make the ruling regime's failure an essentially military one, rooted in defeat on the battlefield. …