Small Wars Journal

Exposing Counterfeit COIN

Gian Gentile: Exposing Counterfeit COIN - Kelley B. Vlahos,

... Hadn't you heard of Gian Gentile?

He shook his head.

He's active duty. He's West Point, I pressed on. He's at the forefront of this pushback against COIN.

The journalist shook his head. He let me write down Gentile's name. Looking skeptical, he moved on.

It really shouldn't be a surprise, that members of the elite news media — particularly the ones who don't necessarily focus on a national security beat — fasten easily onto the conventional narrative and "move on" condescendingly, satisfied their knowledge is au courant and complete.

Army Colonel Gian Gentile just doesn't fit into their equation, though his name is known well enough, if only at the U.S Military Academy, military journals, critical foreign policy webzines like, and as a foil and vexation for the COIN-centric blogs, the doctrine's biggest promoters, like Small Wars Journal and Abu Muqawama (a moniker for Andrew Exum, Iraq war veteran and senior fellow at Flournoy's CNAS).

To the rest of the world, the mainstream media included, Col. Gentile is kind of a ghost. Persistent and clever, sometimes noisome and everywhere. That he might remain invisible to people inside-the-beltway is only a problem in that information gatekeepers like the aforementioned journo, craft narratives about the war — about future wars — without the consistent insight of the contrary view. As consumers of the news — as Americans — we should demand the whole scoop...

More at


Mark O'Neill

Fri, 05/08/2009 - 9:19am

Ok, after we perhaps accept that Dave is stretching the readership comfort zone somewhat by publishing something from '' (you big stirrer...), I would welcome Gian's real view. Thankfully, he is not normally reticent on these pages about such things.

I am with Niel overall.

Nick Dowling (not verified)

Thu, 05/07/2009 - 5:16pm

Vlahos is right that the many commentators and some policy makers over-simplify COIN and buy too heavily into a simplistic surge and nation building narrative. Too little attention is paid to the critical political shifts that enable success in 2007-2008. These include not only the flip of the Anbar tribes and the fall of Sadr, but the growth of Maliki. Some of this was inevitable -- at some point the Sunnis had to wake up and realize the real threat was Shia extremism and al Queda was not going to protect them. I do give credit to Petraeus for enabling tribes and communities to feel safe enough for them to rise up against the insurgency. There is a weaker case for the nation building narrative. I would argue that the infrastrucutre and capacity building traction of the PRTs did not cause the reduction in violence, but they set conditions to accelerate progress once the necessary political shift against extremism came about. Obama Administration officials should also recognize that Balkan peacemaking succeded thanks to political leverage and process (notably ambitions for EU and NATO membership) not so much nation-building progress.

Niel (not verified)

Thu, 05/07/2009 - 3:15pm

I find this article startling in its ignorance.

COL Gentile has hardly been ignored or minimized in this community, I would dare say he has been embraced, even if many of us disagree.

He's had major media exposure in obscure publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington Post.

Militarily, he's been in Joint Forces Quarterly, Armed Forces Journal, and Military Review, among the many.

As someone interested in defense policy, you would have had to have been under a rock for the past 2 years to have not heard of him or read one of his works.

Not quite the unappreciated martyr depicted here.