Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is facing increasing disapproval of his security policies. This was to be expected, because who can approve of a war strategy that has not yielded victory or peace?
I mean, there simply is an expiration date on wars. If a specific strategy has not delivered either a full-on victory or a peace deal within a certain time frame, it is obviously failing and the commander-in-chief is clearly to be held responsible for this.
When Plan Colombia was introduced and former President Alvaro Uribe began his democratic security policy at the beginning of this century, Colombia’s military goal to fight rebel groups like the FARC and ELN was clear and the funding was secured. The Colombian State had to weaken the guerrillas’ hierarchical structure, make territorial gains, consolidate these territories and establish stability in these regions.
This goal was more or less reached between 2005 and 2008. The FARC, who basically owned most Colombian territory south of Bogota, was pushed away from economically important areas by a clever strategy that isolated several FARC fronts and limited the guerrillas’ ability to send reinforcements to fronts under siege. Instead of facing a massive territory with one united guerrilla army, the State successfully took control of the country piece by piece.
In 2008, after the FARC’s hierarchical structure was weakened to such an extent that the army was actually able to take out the guerrillas’ leaders, the conditions to negotiate peace were at their best because the State was holding all the cards.
In my opinion, Uribe’s biggest strategic error was not to initiate peace talks in that year. The former president failed to take the final step, which is agree with the military opponent that the war is over and arrange negotiations to effectively dissolve enemy forces.
This is exactly where successful military offensives (WWII, Yugoslavia) ended and where unsuccessful wars (Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan) perpetuated, only to explode in the face of the actual victor.
Colombia’s current situation is similar to these last scenarios. The FARC have not been able to make any territorial gains because the army is successfully containing the guerrilla organization’s offensive capacity. However, no army is able to prevent terrorist attacks or hit-and-run attacks on its smaller units.
The guerrillas are well-aware that they will never be able to overthrow the government or regain the territory they had before 2001, but are also aware that they can continue making the State look like an ineffective idiot until dooms day.
And they do so very successfully, because it is exactly why Santos’ popularity is plummeting and will continue to plummet. It is why we are saying that Santos’ security policy is failing.
Four years and thousands of dead Colombians after it should have been done, Santos must do what Uribe failed to do in 2008: initiate peace talks. The Colombian military has made impressive gains between 2001 and 2008 and has prepared the conditions to end the conflict. It’s now up to the political will of the government to end Latin America’s most senseless war ever.
If you can’t achieve victory in a war at least be successful in ending it.