Monday, October 28, 2019

Stuart Schrader's "Badges without Borders"

Stuart Schrader is Associate Director of the Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship and Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing, and reported the following:
Re-reading page 99 of Badges Without Borders was fun. Revising a text for years is almost like leaving a water-based solution out in the sun. The liquid evaporates, leaving dense residue behind. You encounter strong arguments here, but the urgency or even ire that inspired them is gone. Two arguments appear on this page, which is in chapter 3.

Page 99 examines debates within the national security bureaucracy over how to allocate resources for overseas counterinsurgency at the outset of the John F. Kennedy administration. I focus on a speech about guerrilla warfare given to soldiers (from the United States and elsewhere) by modernization theorist Walt W. Rostow at Fort Bragg.

First, I’m arguing that, among scholars, the widespread identification of counterinsurgency with U.S. army special forces, who would engage in offensive guerrilla warfare and covert operations, does not withstand empirical scrutiny. These efforts certainly occurred, but, as inaugurated globally by the Kennedy administration, counterinsurgency entailed a much wider set of operations that focused on preventive methods that used local civilian policing and development assistance. There were two reasons: first, offensive guerrilla operations did not work (e.g., the Bay of Pigs invasion); second, after these guerrillas lost actual battles, the officials pushing the tactics lost bureaucratic battles. The winner, instead, was National Security Council staffer Robert W. Komer, this chapter’s prime mover. This is one of the key arguments of the book.

Second, I’m arguing counterinsurgency was not the product of modernization theory as formulated by the likes of Rostow per se, but counterinsurgency experts and lower-ranking security officials influenced Rostow and even shaped his ideas. Scholars of both modernization and counterinsurgency have emphasized the contributions of Rostow (among other intellectuals), but I am suggesting here that the causal arrows might run in the other direction, away from the primacy of the intellectuals. I was reading a good deal of intellectual history, particularly of modernization, when I started to work on this project, but the book veers away from that subfield, except in this and the final chapter.

Instead of intellectuals, Badges Without Borders highlights the policymaking influence of a more hidden stratum of security and law-enforcement figures. I must say that I did relish finding that Komer shaped Rostow’s widely reprinted 1961 speech, which contains the misleading but incandescent description of communists as “scavengers of the modernization process.” Rostow was a good writer. Rostow was learned. But Rostow was a dilettante when it came to guerrilla warfare. The speech is typically read as signaling Kennedy commitment’s to special forces, but Komer’s pugnacity meant that the bureaucracy was moving in another direction by the time Rostow gave it, toward the foreign police assistance program that is a focus of my book.
Visit Stuart Schrader's website.

--Marshal Zeringue