September 3, 2010


Letter from Colombia: Colombia has emerged from anarchy. Nation-builders elsewhere should be taking note (Tom Streithorst, 25th August 2010, The Prospect)

[S]omehow, in the decade in which Iraq and Afghanistan fell into anarchy, Colombia emerged out of it. It is the one success story of the “war on terror.” Alvaro Uribe, who in August stepped down as president after eight years in office, is probably the most popular man in the country.

Short, bespectacled and uncharismatic, Uribe is an unlikely saviour. The scion of a wealthy family, his father was murdered by left-wing guerrillas. When he took office in 2002, much of the country was outside government control and millions of rural Colombians had been forced from their homes. On his inauguration day, the Farc mortared the presidential palace in the capital, Bogota—killing 20 civilians—just to show they could. But by the time Uribe stepped down, the Farc had been driven into the jungle, other left-wing groups eradicated and most paramilitary groups disbanded. How did this come about?

For a start, Uribe was able to draw on the unpopularity of both the Farc and the paramilitaries. Support for the Farc is estimated at less than 1 per cent of Colombians—incidents like the murder of indigenous rights activists in 1999 showed how far it had fallen from its professed ideals. The paramilitaries were also despised for their brutality and greed.

But what made the real difference was that, from 2000, the Bush administration poured billions of dollars into the Colombian military, transforming it into an effective fighting force which adopted counterinsurgency as its doctrine. These days attributed to General David Petraeus, counterinsurgency was the intellectual basis for the surge in Iraq. But the Colombian military did it first and better. Its first principle is that killing bad guys isn’t enough. The government must provide security and improve people’s lives to gain their allegiance. It wasn’t easy—Colombians had little faith in the army initially. But today the government can boast of its expansion of services into rural areas, and the economic growth that has come with better security. And finally, though Colombian officials are loath to admit it, the paramilitaries did much of the dirty work, by decimating the Farc and its supporters.

Just as the surge succeeded because Mookie killed enough Sunni extremists to scare the bejeebies out of tribal leaders.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted by Orrin Judd at September 3, 2010 3:21 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus