Lawrence's guerrilla campaign (for more on this read the fantastic book on Lawrence's strategy by Liddell Hart) against the Ottoman Turks was focused on the disruption the Turkish rail system. However, his approach did not seek the total collapse of the rail system. In Lawrence's view, it was more important to control the rate of flow on the rail system than to shut it down entirely. If he had shut down the rail system, the Turkish troops that depended on it for supplies would have been withdrawn (and would have been used to reinforce the front against the Brits in Sinai/Palestine). In contrast, by restricting its flow, the Turkish troops remained in place but didn't have the resources to do anything but remain in their garrisons. In essence, Lawrence used disruption to produce two desired effects (for more on this read the brief on effects-based operations): the paralysis of a large segment of the Turkish army and complete freedom of movement in 99% of Arabia.
A similar logic applies to the effects-based operations in motion in Iraq today. Attacks by Iraq's global guerrillas keep Iraq's infrastructure below what is needed to adequately provide for the population (see State Failure 101 for more). Additionally, there appears to be evidence that these attacks have moved into maintenance mode -- just enough disruption to maintain current levels of insufficient output although complete collapse is within their means. This makes sense if the effects desired are: an extremely weak Iraqi state and the withdrawal of a chastened US. Here's why partial disruption makes this possible (I am going to work on refining these over the next couple of days):
- Complete collapse would create total war (via a bloody civil war). A complete urban/country takedown would prompt the state to launch a total war. This is a type of warfare that global guerrillas are not prepared or able to fight (in contrast, states are well suited to this). By keeping the level of damage below what would be considered fatal to the state, total war is avoided.
- Partial disruption delegitimizes the state (and the American occupation). Partial paralysis creates a situation where the government is responsible for failures. Guerrilla attacks are lumped in with failures in system management and blamed on the state. This decrease in state legitimacy increases the need for people to depend on primary loyalties rather than the state for solutions. Fragmentation = goodness.
- Partial disruption maximizes economic attrition. Partial disruption provides the illusion that the situation is manageable. As a result, both Iraq and the US continue to fight this war on the margins of a peacetime financial agenda. However, this peacetime budget is expensive and the Iraqi state is unable to pay for these programs -- disruption has stalled growth in both export and tax revenues. Additionally, the current situation continues to spur the US to pour funds it can't afford into reconstruction (complete failure would likely halt inflows). For US projects, this disruption "tax" can be 60% of total project costs. At this level of inefficiency, nothing gets done.