Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Criticizing the FSA

The FSA might well extend its accomplishments through informed, constructive criticism, but it's all too easy to underestimate the difficulty of providing any such thing.

Some Syrian activists on twitter reproach the FSA every time it withdraws from an area.  "They should have been better prepared." I have even seen people pointing to instances when the FSA "should have used an IED",  "missed an opportunity."  To these specific criticisms are added general complaints about disunity, lack of organization, bad 'command and control', and so on.  This is demoralizing, and can't help:  presumably no one supposes that these criticisms will actually affect the operations of the FSA.

The complaints also are at odds with military history, for several reasons.

First, lack of unity isn't disunity.   Disunity is normally a bad thing and in some cases it can lead to active conflict, as it did in Libya.  Lack of unity, in the face of a powerful enemy with extensive intelligence resources, can be an asset:  in fact it is common practice in resistance movements.   I have no idea whether lack of unity is a bad thing for the FSA, but one should not jump to conclusions.

Second, withdrawals, even unplanned, are not necessarily worthy of complaint.   Even set-piece wars are terribly complex and confusing, as any history of the Russian front in World War II will confirm.  The Syrian war is far more complex, and strategic predictions well-nigh impossible.  (The incredibly courageous journalist, Austin Tice, deeply embedded with the FSA, has emphasized the confusion.)   No doubt some FSA offensives that end in withdrawals are worthy of criticism, but we have no idea which ones.  Others may be part of a well-conceived strategy; others, entirely understandable mistakes.   I find it very odd that anyone not in command of a full view of FSA operations - in short, anyone - should think themselves in a position to pronounce on the wisdom of those operations.

Third, it would be unprecedented in modern warfare if no individual or unit of the FSA committed atrocities.  It may be salutary to condemn them, but it would absurd to suppose that the FSA is, on the whole and so far as we know, very scrupulous by military standards.

Fourth, the FSA is accused of endangering civilians.  It was the régime that endangered civilians when it fired and even unleashed artillery on peaceful demonstrations; the FSA was formed in part to protect the demonstrators.  By now, it is far from clear that the FSA has any choice but to put civilians at grave risk, or that this is worse than the alternative.   The FSA cannot avoid endangering civilians except by never entering any town, city, or village, in other words by resigning itself to utter insignificance and eventual extinction.   Besides, civilians have been in mortal and unavoidable danger since before the formation of the FSA.   No one imagines that the régime, given a free hand, would do anything but engage in an orgy of unbridled savagery.  This repression would doubtless last for months, even years, and of course any possibility of a decent existence for most Syrians would become unimaginable.   So the idea that there is something criminal in the FSA's endangering civilians is untenable.

In short, a qualified military expert in possession of full information about the operations of the FSA might be entitled to criticize their operations.   It's not clear that such a person exists.

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