General Ted Serong, Iraq and “… intelligence spontaneously offered by the population “

Instapundit links to this piece from StrategyPage about how attempts to launch terrorist attacks during the recent Shia religious festivals were thwarted. The key passage:

…an increasing number of Sunni Arab religious leaders have changed their minds about armed resistance to democracy, and coalition forces. This has made it easier for Sunni Arabs to pass on information to the police.

This reminded me of something I read recently. Please permit a seeming digression. I’ll bring it around. I was looking for something comprehensive on the Australian military participation in OIF. This led me to the Australian Defense Force Journal. This led me to a review of a book about General Ted Serong, a man I had never previously heard of. He was, in a way, the Australian John Paul Vann. This led me to this article, “`Get Me Ten Years’: Australia’s Ted Serong in Vietnam, 1962-1975.” (This is a brilliant article which you should read, but which I will not elaborate on here.) Serong was one of the last people off the roof of the US embassy. He had been in Vietnam for 13 years. He was a counter-insurgency and jungle warfare expert. His ideas were not heeded, unfortunately. As you will recall, the communists won that one.

One passage jumped out at me. In 1962 Serong gave a presentation to the Americans, saying that all their calculations of why they were winning were wrong:

You could get impressive figures by counting missions flown, casualties taken and inflicted, stores delivered and ammunition expended, he said, but the only real indicator of progress in a war of counterinsurgency was the volume of intelligence spontaneously offered by the population, since this was the indicator of whether or not the people believed you really could offer them security.

I thought: There is Rumsfeld’s missing “metric”. It has been supplied by General Serong, God rest his soul. And it is favorable.

Sounds like we may actually be winning in Iraq.

10 thoughts on “General Ted Serong, Iraq and “… intelligence spontaneously offered by the population “”

  1. The South Vietnamese government was riddled with pro-communist spies. Since every important mission had to be revealed to South Vietnamese government officials in advance, most important actions were known in advance by communist military and political officers.
    The communists could move assets to safety if large numbers of forces were coming, or they could arrange devastating ambushes for small or moderate numbers. They knew in advance when the americans were coming.
    There was no way for the americans to win such a war when the allied government was so corrupt.
    It was like trying to surgically repair a wound when the tissue keeps disintegrating under your instruments.

  2. We appear to be winning in Iraq. I guess it depends on defining the objective. Saddam is in the slammer and the Iraqi people turned out in surprising numbers for the vote.However, if the prime objective is a constitutional republic in Iraq that is modeled after that of the USA with freedom for all-don’t bet your last dollar on it.Probably the best we can hope for is an elected government and a constitution that provides some freedoms. Islamic traditions are just too strong in the Arabic world to allow complete freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

  3. Well it’s not like complete freedom of press or speech exists everywhere in the Western world including long-time European NATO allies.

  4. Very astute observation. Applying it to the Israeli situation, Israeli services are inundated by intelligence. I am not sure it is all spontaneous, since it is steadily encouraged by small favors (like police closing eyes to petty theft) and a little money (Palestinians are very poor). The internal cohesiveness of the people is the most important factor: from afar, vietnamese seem quite monolitic (except maybe Chinese vs native Vietnamese, Catholics vs Buddhists), while Palestinians are divided in myriad of tribes, clans, fallahin vs beduins, descendants of Arabs vs Muslim immigrants, Whites vs descendants of African slaves. And having lived under dictatures, they are used to stinker to the authorities.

  5. I feel like a genius. I first came across Rumsfeld’s “metric” question via Phil Carter’s excellent “Intel Dump”, and I came up with (all by myself!) something like the same answer as Gen. Serong. I assume, though, that implicit in his metric of success is that the intelligence is good, i.e., leads to something measurably valuable, since a populace cowed by insurgents might very well flood you with, ah, untruths. I wonder if the US in Iraq was ever aware of Gen. Serong’s views.

  6. PatrickH, the implication is that it was usable intelligence. I had never heard of General Serong before I recently ran across him by accident. A writer named Anne Blair has written two books about him. The essay by her I link to above is extremely interesting.

  7. Sorry to bump up such an old article, but Brigadier Ted Serong was in fact my Grandpa. I stumbled across this and must say that I found it fascinating reading. It’s good to see that what my Grandpa was so passionate about then is still very relevant today.
    Anyway, just thought I’d say that I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the issue.

    Regards, David Serong.

  8. David, your grandfather was a wise and brave man. If the Americans had listened to him and others like him, the world would have been a better place. I think his thinking and his example are still very relevant.

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