In the wake of the protests over the murder of George Floyd, there have been some proposals — and some practical developments — that look a lot like developments in Iraq around the time of the Surge. During the Surge, America deployed a new counterinsurgency model as well as additional troops. This model was built around trying to ‘bring in’ the existing insurgents to turn them into allies. New Rules of Engagement (ROE) tried to minimize conflict between American forces and Iraqi locals. Iraqi minorities were allowed to protect their interests by founding “Sons of Iraq” militias that the government of Iraq would accept as legitimate. These Sons of Iraq units were then slowly taught to work with the government’s own security forces, which were in turn taught to respect the militias.
Once that was accomplished, newly-secure communities of Sunni and Kurdish minorities could negotiate economic benefits for their communities with American mediators. American forces also served as guarantors for the agreements. The model worked quite well for as long as American forces remained in Iraq to function as guarantors: violence dropped by 90% in 2007, and by 2009 the country was largely functional and at peace. It was only after American forces withdrew in 2011 that the government of Iraq broke its promises and rekindled insurgency in Sunni areas.
This model seems to be evolving here in the United States as well. Black Lives Matter leader Hawk Newsome, chairman of the Greater New York chapter, explained to the Daily Mail that the movement was setting up militias.
‘We have black Special Forces officers advising us, and we will teach and train people in our communities, the Black Ops department of Black Opportunities,’ he said…. Newsome said BLM will create ‘Peace Officers’ who will patrol black communities to challenge law enforcement and stop police brutality. Asked if the ‘Peace Officers’ would be armed and open carry their guns in the states that allow it, he said: ‘Yes, absolutely.’
Such a model is functionally similar to the Sons of Iraq. Although Fox News described this as part of a “war on police,” the United States constitution anticipates militias inter-operating with Federal forces as necessary. As a confidence-building measure, with proper controls to ensure that the militias do not themselves abuse people, it might make an effective stopgap here as it did in Iraq. Similar militias already inter-operated with police to provide security at George Floyd’s funeral, for example.
Meanwhile, proposals for police reform include a number of elements that were already present in Iraq-based Counterinsurgency ROE. Units were required to have a nonlethal option to deploy before using lethal force; de-escalation was emphasized; all acts of force were reported, and every bullet fired was to be accounted for by military forces. Overwhelming force was still available (nearly instantly) when required, but having a scale of ‘escalation of force’ helped cut down on the number of deaths, which in turn cut down on the number of revenge attacks.
If these things are coupled with economic aid to aggrieved communities, we will have almost fully embraced the Iraq COIN model here at home. It worked there, and it might work here. The political polarization and non-cooperation that we are seeing from the Federal, state, and local governments itself poses a greater threat to the survival of the nation than any of these self-declared militias. If our governments cannot function better than this, a more dangerous insurgency will take root from which they may not be able to recover.
Nevertheless, the United States should not fall in on this model without careful deliberation. There are substantial consequences to adopting a model that treats your fellow citizens as insurgents. Armed militias are also a risk to the community, which would need to be protected against shakedown rackets, brutality by the militia itself, and similar offenses.
There is also a substantial question of Constitutional law at issue. Article Four of the Constitution of the United States guarantees citizens of the several states “a republican form of government.” The same article also requires the states (and their localities) to protect the “privileges and immunities” of American citizens. The Fourteenth Amendment further stresses that states may not mar the privileges and immunities of American citizens, nor allow any persons under their jurisdiction to be denied equal protection of the laws. That may be compatible with the kind of BLM “militia overwatch of police,” but it is plainly not compatible with the Autonomous Zone set up by anarchists in Seattle. Unless an amendment is made to the Constitution to allow for autonomous zones where the laws do not apply, the Federal government is obligated by its charter to take steps to ensure that the laws do.
Ultimately the government of the United States and the several states needs to come to clarity on whether or not they are accepting the existence of an insurgency at home. If so, they need to decide whether they are going to address it using the Iraq-style model, or through the ordinary rule of American law. We need a clear response on what exactly is to be done, and how precisely that lines up with American principles — especially Constitutional principles.