A little backgrounder on Chechnya:
Chechens (they call themselves the Nachko, incidentally) descend from a Caucasian Muslim people. When the Russians invaded the Caucasus in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this tribe split between collaborators and resistors. The collaborators are now known as the Ingush, and have neighboring Ingushetia. The resistors became known as the Chechens. In their midst, the Tsars built the fortress of Grozny, which means "terrible" - it is the sobriquet of Ivan the Terrible - Ivan Grozny. The Tsars subdued the region by the 1880s. For the Russians, the Caucasus has the psychological importance of Texas. Its heroes in the 19th century won their honor fighting in places such as Vladikavkaz (The Mistress of the Caucasus). For them, it IS Russia.
Not so for the Chechens. In February 1942, Stalin (a Georgian who had all the Caucasian ethnic hatreds) declared the Chechens an enemy people and deported them en masse to Kazakhstan. More than 1/3 died before they were allowed to return in the 1950s under Khrushchev. That day in February 1942 is known as the "Day of Chechen Genocide" by the Chechens. Their leader Dudayev declared independence from Russia on the 50th anniversary of that day (February 1992). Russians have no comprehension of the desperation of the Chechen people to get out from under the Russian heel.
In the initial phase of the war, the Chechens, numbering approximately 500,000, lost 10% of their population. Grozny, the capital, is a wasteland. Chechens then turned to Islamic extremists for weapons and help. In the mid 1990s, Clinton agreed with Yeltsin that the Chechen problem was a problem of terrorism and gave a green light for continued action. Yeltsin's reelection was ensured when General Lebed negotiated a peace deal permitting de facto independence. This proved unsatisfactory to the Chechen guerrillas, who were not invited to the new government. It proved unsatisfactory to the Russians, as Chechen guerrillas continued to carry out terrorist attacks. Putin took office in 2000 and renewed the war. In 2003, Putin had elections, installed a president, and appeared to be re-integrating Chechnya. Last week, that president was assasinated.
Why talk about Chechnya here? It is an object lesson on Iraq.
Lessons of Chechnya:
1. Terrorism is a predictable phase of guerrilla war, if there is no attempt to make peace with the guerrillas.
2. Sheer brutality will not defeat terrorists/guerrillas, unless you are willing to engage in genocide.
3. Understanding your opponent is crucial to knowing how to make peace. Willful blindness to history will damn efforts to make stability, because the motivations of groups and individual persons cannot be always deduced from their relative power or outside assessments of the apparent relative benefits or disadvantages of cooperation.
4. Once a war slides into a pattern of guerrilla war and terrorism, peace becomes almost impossible. Because the invading state believes that negotiating with terrorists/guerrillas is unacceptable, it will try to negotiate with self-proclaimed moderates, or even puppets, who cannot effectively negotiate because they do not control the terrorists/guerrillas. If neither side will negotiate, the impasse will continue.
5. The populace will likely side with the terrorists/guerrillas because (1) their nationalist sympathy lies with them anyway, and (2) the usual reaction of the state/invader is to oppress all civilians because they cannot tell civilian from guerrilla.
6. This sort of terrorism works. Northern Ireland and Palestine show that peace is possible only when the state power is willing to sit down and reward the terrorists for their behavior, something they are loath to do.
7. No state power has yet figured out how to win the "hearts and minds" of an occupied people.
So how to make peace in Iraq?
We are not yet at the breaking point. If elections, under any conditions, were held next week, a coalition including lots of nasty people could yet be induced to accept a UN-run transitional government that grants significant autonomy and protection to minorities and splits the national oil resources between groups. The Arab league could guarantee the security of the Sunnis against the Shi'a majority goverment. It might not be a democracy as we would want it, but it might be stable and allow the Americans to go home.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
A little backgrounder on Chechnya:
Posted by The Law Talking Guy at 10:12 AM