Small Wars Journal

Gian vs. Ex

Gian Gentile versus Abu Muqawama, Round 582 - yep.

I assume most of you have seen Gian Gentile's latest piece, in Foreign Policy. He takes a series of statements regarding defense policy and then offers a short argument in favor of or in opposition to each one. Always one to rise to the bait, here's my take on each...

One take-away by Gian posted at the comments section:

Dude, AM, brother in arms, please stop calling me anti-coin. Dave D at SWJ loves to apply that moniker to me; but it is not true. I am not anti-coin and if you have read any of my stuff you will see how over and over again I call for the Army to maintain, institutionalize what we have learned from coin over the past seven years. I have also said over and over again that the army does need a coin capability in the future. However, we should not transform the army to a force built primarily for coin and irregular war. For scholarly and professional arguments that support this view see Colin Gray's new excellent essay in SSI on US Strategy and MG Dunlap's brand new piece in AFJ.


Gian P Gentile

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 9:15pm

OK, Mark, fair enough.

Let's keep it going and see if we can get to ad.

regards to you too


Mark O'Neill

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 6:48pm

Dear Gian,

Thanks, I think we are incrementally moving forward. Notwithstanding your well made point about 'controlling the past' I still tend to disagree with you about the validity of fighting the 'surge narrative'. I think that it is increasingly a rearward looking issue that reflected a wee bit of triumphalism by some people. As the war drags on (and it will, there is plenty of fight left in that dog yet -nor should one underestimate the ability for new and interesting issues to fight about to develop) I think that the 'surge narrative' and perhaps your concerns about it, will increasingly look like one of those 'what was all the fuss about?'issues.

For the record, I was not just down on your 'tired' argument, I think John's is equally stale. (I would make it 'deuce' in the final game of the tie breaker).




Mon, 01/19/2009 - 10:29am

Just an FYI - I accidentally mashed-up MG Dunlap's article with Meilinger's article in the same AFJ issue.



My discussion of airpower and Gulf I applies more to the latter than the former, but Dunlap does still make the case that airpower can do more than it actually has been proven capable of, an argument you would well expect from someone whose career is based on airpower.


Mon, 01/19/2009 - 9:54am

While MG Dunlap's article in <i>AFJ</i> is overtly supporting a reality check in institutionalizing the lessons of Iraq, it is covertly a pro-airpower piece that tries to broaden the claim for relevance for a force that has seen its role shrink over the last several conflicts.

The first example that MG Dunlap cites of the new-airpower-phenomenon was Gulf I, which Dunlap claims was basically won from the air. While no one can discount the air campaign's vital <i>contributions</i> to the overall success of Desert Storm, it was hardly the deciding factor.
Put another way - when did Iraqi forces quit Kuwait and the Saudi-Iraqi border for points North (or South...)? It took ground forces, and significant numbers of them, to eject the Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Airpower certainly made the job easier, but it did <i>not</i> make the job complete.

We've seen the same extravagant claims about airpower for almost 20 years now, but airpower did not stop the killing in Bosnia, did not eject the Serbs from Kosovo, did not cause Saddam Hussein to capitulate between 1991-2002, and did not remove the Taliban from power. Ground forces did.

For Gentile to point to MG Dunlap's article as one supporting his claim that COIN <i>lessons</i> should be institutionalized, without necessarily institutionalizing COIN <i>task-org</i> or <i>raison d'etre</i>, is dangerous. MG Dunlap's case is essentially that ground forces are combat-irrelevant, outside of FAC duty, and that COIN lessons are irrelevant to FAC duty. Gentile's argument is quite different, even though it shares the same distaste for the COIN-focus of much of today's military.

This is one case where "the enemy of my enemy is <i>not</i> my friend"...

Gian P Gentile

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 8:34am


You mention John Nagl et al but to be fair if you argue that my recent writings are a re-hash of older stuff then you must say the same about his. For example, two weeks ago in Foreign Policy Magazine he and Nathaniel Fick did a short piece which was essentially a "re-hash" of their old stuff.

But OK, to the meat of things. I do not see as "arcane" the debate about the past two years and beyond in Iraq. In fact I see getting a clear understanding of what happened during the past two years, especially the Surge, as vitally important to the debate today and how the army organizes for the future. You know what Orwell said, "Those who control the past control the future. Those who control the present control the past"

So I wont just shut-up and accept the Surge Narrative as it is given to us now, because I think that there are huge flaws to it that must be corrected so that we can get to a more balanced understanding of it, and the years that came before it.

As to your point of moving the debate forward, yes absolutely I am all for that. I will respond to Herschel Smith's post in a short bit with my thoughts on current issues and those for the future. However, I do not accept the call for "winning the wars we are in now" as a surrogate for squelching debate about different visions for the future of the army that are in contradiction from those presented by other Coin experts that seek to transform the army into a constabulary, light infantry based force to conduct irregular wars.

To argue that we should ONLY focus on the wars we are in now and forget about the debate of future wars and military organization for the nation is not only Orwellian (since those who control the "present" right now seem to wish to have it that way,) it is irresponsible for folks concerned about the national defense to not discuss such matters. It would have been like telling President Truman in summer 1945 to not worry about the post-war World and the potential threat of the Soviet Union and just focus on the war that he was in at the time.

So Mark, thanks for the energizing post and agree, lets move the debate forward.


Mark O'Neill

Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:19pm

Dear Gian,

I agree with your point regarding debate and discussion, but I believe that the entire 'argument' has stretched passed any initial usefulness that it may have had. My reason for this assertion is that an objective reading of the 'debate' so far reveals far more in common that it does difference.

This begs the question as to what purpose there is in continually re-hashing or re-packagaing the 'arguments'. Each new iteration does not illuminate any new point of debate, so what purpose are we meant to conclude lies behind it?

If I am wrong, (and I may well be), and the sustainment of the argument is actually part of a sustained IO campaign for genuine 'change' of some description, it is worth remembering that the audience switches off when nothing new is being broadcast. There is a fine line in delivery between effective IO and repetitive mantra that turns people off. Perhaps John Nagl et al are 'playing' that card a little better at the moment...

With respect to your position (or MG Dunlap's) being heart felt, I am glad to hear it. It would otherwise be a truly cynical exercise to pursue your arguments. The problem may be that that passion is more of an advantage in the arena of physical endeavour than in the arena of intellectual debate where it often clouds logic and objectivity.

My question to move the debate forward is, "given the enduring reality of the two wars in Iraq and Afgahistan (implicit in this is the need to 'win' them), combined with the harsh realities of the current US budgetary position, what practical policy developments should be enacted now?"

I think that for all of us, addressing questions of this nature are far more useful to leaders and policy makers than 'chicken little-isms' and arcane debates about who was doing COIN and who was not in 2004/05/06.



Ken White

Sun, 01/18/2009 - 1:13pm

Good point...<blockquote>"What is important in all of this is debate and discussion and from that comes learning and knowledge."</blockquote>I'd only add that said learning and knowledge, if selectively applied as opposed to broadly, can give the appearance of less than honest discussion.

I am accusing no one of doing that, merely providing a caution for both sides of any discussion on a technique to avoid.

Gian P Gentile

Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:44am

Dear Mark:

I am not doing this for, as you accuse, "self-promotion."

Nor is MG Dunlap, who I know personally.

The points I make, the arguments I put forward, are from the heart and what I believe to be right and true. I may be wrong, time will tell; but so might be others.

What is important in all of this is debate and discussion and from that comes learning and knowledge.

What must not happen is to have stagnation, stasis in thought and ideas. If that happens, we as a nation and as a military fail.

Mark O'Neill

Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:32am

I agree with the point about Dunlap. The more I think about it though, I do not agree with the 'anti-coin' comment about Gian Gentile. I think it confuses 'anti-coin' with 'self - promotion'.

In that respect I think he and the airforce MG have something in common.

Ken White

Sat, 01/17/2009 - 4:21pm

I am approaching the point that if MG Dunlap is for something, anything -- I am opposed to it.