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Thursday, March 06, 2008
no truce, no mercy, no surrender, no less, no more, this is war:
And now for something I'm proud of and nervous about.
For the last several months I've tried to get my head around what I consider to be a tectonic shift in the defense world: the growing influence of the theorists of counterinsurgency. They're fascinating for several reasons. First, they advocate the understanding of a sophisticated and complex method of warfare whose principles come closer to describing the strategic situation the U.S. finds itself in than does any competing group of theorists. Second, unlike previous groups of defense intellectuals -- think McNamara's whiz kids or the neocons -- the counterinsurgents are theorist-practitioners, with many, if not most, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Third, they display an intellectual suppleness that I have not seen any reasonably-coherent group of thinkers exhibit since I began covering national security, and, as a corollary, cannot be placed comfortably in any political category. Fourth, I have come to wonder if their personal experiences and identification with Iraq (and Afghanistan) have left them more willing than your typical bloodless defense wonk to view a war as a test case for a pet theory. Finally, I'm convinced that within ten to 20 years, one or more of them will become defense secretary.
The only problem is I haven't known how to tell the story. Would a focus on personalities -- these guys are colorful -- obscure the issues at stake? Would a focus on the issues at stake be sufficiently captivating for a reader? Isn't it too goddamn early to be writing these pieces?
Today at The Washington Independent, I launched the first installment of my attempt to get at this important story -- a series called 'The Rise of The Counterinsurgents.' Completely unsure of whether I've succeeded, I tried to introduce the issues at play through the perspectives of two Army lieutenant colonels, Paul Yingling and Gian Gentile, who have come to very different understandings of the value of counterinsurgency. Here's "The Colonels And 'The Matrix.'"
In this argument between two respected senior officers, the next major debate over U.S. defense policy can be gleaned. Yingling speaks for an ascending cadre of young defense intellectuals, most of whom are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who assert that the U.S. military must embrace principles of counterinsurgency if it is to triumph in the multifaceted fight against global terrorism. Gentile, formerly one of those theorist-practitioners, believes the military has already moved too far in the direction of counterinsurgency, which he contends allows analysts to ignore the limits of U.S. military power. Both arguments represent an attempt to answer a searing question: What are the lessons of Iraq?Please do let me know whether you think this piece does or doesn't work and why. I will be writing this series throughout the year, and want it to be the best collection of pieces I've ever produced. I'll need your help for that.
The Wash Indy piece is extremely interesting. The key paragraph, which you blockquoted here, could use some more clarity on Gentile's point of view. From the rest of the article, it seems as though Gentile's points are two-fold and not particularly related. (1) The COIN people are winning, so they should stop complaining. (2) Focusing on counter-insurgency as Yingling et. al would like will only make it easier to deploy the Army to take on such a role again in the future. Maybe it is just my disagreement with Gentile, but his points come across as nearly straw men. The overall Defense Department budget still seems extremely skewed to high tech, high cost gadgets, but perhaps the Army's third has been shifting away from this ....