Man Without Qualities


Monday, June 12, 2006


A South American Analogue To Zarqawi and Post-Insurgency Iraq?

In 1990 Peru was being savaged by its own "insurgency." That "insurgency" took the form of the neo-Maoist terrorist organization called "Shining Path" - which was at the time busy demolishing as much of Peru's infrastructure and urban fabric, and killing as many middle-class Peruvians, as it could manage. The Shining Path meant by such methods to bring down the reasonably democratic government of Peru. The parallels with Iraq, at least on the surface, are clear.

Alberto Fujimori, a son of Japanese immigrants, was an academic and university president when he scored a surprise victory over novelist Mario Vargas Lhosa and became Peru's president. Fujimori has said that Peru was "an interesting challenge": Cocaine was a $1 billion a year export, inflation was at 7,500 percent and the use of violence as a political tool by the Shining Path and MRTA tore Peru up pretty thoroughly and had come close to tearing it completely apart into social chaos. The Shining Path is believed to have killed more than 10,000 people. In some respects Peru was worse off than Iraq is today.

Nobody seems to dispute that Alberto Fujimori's government extinguished the Shining Path - although there are those who claim the biggest steps were accomplished by "ordinary police work" and not the thuggish, admittedly uber-violent, and perhaps murderous methods of Vladimir Montesinos. Montesinos was Fujimori's de facto head of Peruvian security (MRTA) who was ultimately disgraced and found to have been highly corrupt. Whatever the ways and means, most observers agree that the biggest step in terminating the Shining Path was the celebrated capture of its founder Abimael Guzman - himself a murderous academic who directed and had essentially created the Shining Path.

The death of Zarqawi is not a perfect analogue to the capture of Guzman. For one thing, the Shining Path was essentially the only "insurgency" challenging the Peruvian state. There was no good replacement for Guzman. Some have argued that Zarqawi will simply be replaced as head of al Qaida in Iraq, and his war will go on. But as far as I can see, such speculation is not supported by any real evidence one way or the other. Moreover, there have been reports that Zarqawi's particular ultra-violent and promiscuous form of insurgency was by no means favored by his al Qaida generally. It certainly rankled lots of fellow Arabs - including Jordanians - who otherwise might have been inclined to look the other way. So Zarqawi's vision may have been rather personal, and (if that is so) eliminating Zarqawi may be a better analogue to capturing Guzman than at first meets the eye.

Two documentaries have recently been created about Fujimori's confrontation with Guzman and his Shining Path: The Fall of Fujimori and State of Fear. The Fall of Fujimori shows some real efforts at balance by its maker - although the maker's own beliefs do seem to show through (which is not all bad, since she's a nice person). And it's very well done in most respects, especially the interviews with Fujimori himself and his daughter and the use of archival film. In contrast, State of Fear is a ludicrous piece of agitprop and an attempt to equate current American anti-terrorism efforts with Peru's excesses under Fujimori. But the films are in agreement with the conclusions that taking a single man - Guzman - from the field made a huge difference in the course of the Peruvian anti-terrorist effort. Less comforting, they also both persuasively argue that after the Shining Path was in fact defeated the exceptional powers assumed by the Peruvian government were put to increasingly pernicious use.

Contrary to these film makers (especially the second), I do not believe there is much of a parallel with the US here. But there may be a very important parallel with respect to what we might expect from a post-insurgency Iraq, one forged in the smithy of counter-terrorism politics. That picture is not pretty at all. But at least one has to assume the extinction of the Iraq insurgency before having to contemplate the form of post-insurgency Iraq. In any event, Peru has today largely recovered.

UPDATE: Brett Stephens has some very interesting observations on how the nature of the insurgency may change, and some further information as to how Zarqawi had become estranged from many people one would think have to be on the side of a successful "insurgent" in Iraq.

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