Small Wars Journal

COIN Is Not Dead

Mon, 02/06/2012 - 4:22am

Motto: “While the central problem of international relations in the 20th century was states that were too strong (Germany, Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union), the primary problems of international relations in the 21st century are states that are too weak (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico). The weak states rather than strong ones are the greatest threat to our security and the smooth functioning of the international system. We must find ways to improve governance in the Arc of Instability to diminish the desire of the disenfranchised and dissatisfied--those who see themselves as the victims of globalization--to destroy the whole system.

Have we basically relearned, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the old lessons and principles in countering an insurgency? Are the broad historically proven principles of countering an insurgency, still valid guidelines for today?

History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. I am currently teaching a course at the US Naval Academy on the history of modern counterinsurgency campaigns. And it is interesting to see how the same principles continue to present and reassert themselves, that the same mistakes are made early as armies adapt to the challenges of counterinsurgency and they learn the same lessons time and time again. They learn lessons like the importance of being keenly sensitive to the human terrain, of understanding its hierarchy of needs, of comprehending the culture, the ethnicity, the religion of the insurgents and of the population. Protecting the population is the key to success. It is important to get the population on your side in order that you can derive intelligence from them on who the insurgents are. It is important that you reform governance to give people hope that if they do side with the government and the counterinsurgents, their lives will be better. It is important to provide inducements to the insurgents. Very rarely are you going to kill or capture every insurgent, although you may coerce some of them away from the fighting. All of those lessons could be drawn from the headlines of the past few weeks on the fight in Afghanistan. I am increasingly convinced that the classic historically tested counterinsurgency principles broadly apply across cases and they continue to apply today, although with variations for the particular country, region, ethnicity, and grievances faced by the population.

In a time when U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations is the US military in danger of being purged again of COIN know-how?

This is an incredibly important question. I do think that the danger exists, but I feel reassured given the experience of the people leading the American military, like General Martin Dempsey who has multiple tours in Iraq and understands the problem firsthand, or General Ray Odierno who has many years of service in Iraq, and I think they are determined not to let that happen. Even as the Air Force and Navy in particular focus on the Pacific, the Army and the Marines will hold on to these lessons that have been purchased at such a cost and will preserve them for the next time. And this time is not over yet. We see a return to classic principles with Secretary Panetta’s announcement that he wants to move to an advisory focus in 2013 in Afghanistan. Classic counterinsurgency principles are going to continue to be applied for a number of years in the Afghan theater. I am hopeful that we are not going to burn the books again.

Do you expect that the small wars, “the savage wars of peace” are here to stay with us as a core feature of the future security environment?

I do very much think that we will fight this kind of war again in my lifetime. There are many factors making conventional war much less likely, but making irregular warfare more likely. We see increasing pressure on governments caused by the Arab Spring and a number of insurgencies in that region; in some cases we supported the insurgencies, in other cases we supported the government. I think that those trends are likely to continue and perhaps accelerate. As much as we might prefer to be able to escape from the savage wars of peace, I am afraid that they are going to have an interest in us for years to come.

In a time when more and more critics are convinced that the West would do well to avoid large scale COIN campaigns in the future, is it reasonable to expect that the future campaigns will look more like “the British SAS campaign in Dhofar”? A sort of “COIN lite”?

Certainly, I think we have every reason to hope that that is the case. And I think that we should develop our capability to do the so called “light footprint” COIN with advisers for both phase zero operations to try to prevent the need for a full scale regime change operation, but also an expanded advisory apparatus for phase four operations to be able to more rapidly turn over responsibility to host nation security forces. 

Should the Special Forces be the critical capability for waging COIN lite?

The short answer is yes. My concern is that the demand for that capability is going to exceed the supply of Special Forces available to do it. For a number of years, I have advocated the creation of additional Advisory Capacity in the conventional army. I am unconvinced that the Army is going to meet that demand. Lt. Gen. David Barno is making the argument that that capacity should reside with the Special Forces because their organizational culture is better suited to train and employ those forces. I am still hopeful that the conventional army will accept this mission to meet what I expect to be a continuing and increasing demand, but that remains to be decided.

What are the core skills of an effective counterinsurgent (of a COIN practitioner) that should be preserved in the US military organizational culture? What makes an effective counterinsurgent?

The list is long. But language skills should be a top priority. Of course we can’t tell where the next campaign will be, so I think that we must make a continuing investment in language skills across most of the developing world. We need to develop empathy for the challenges faced by these military forces and a capacity to develop their skills sets. There is a lot of unmet demand for security force assistance around the globe which I think we will continue to need. At the same time we should understand that effective counterinsurgents are good at meeting conventional war fighting challenges as well. We need soldiers that are able to adapt from conducting a shura with village elders one minute to conducting high-intensity combined arms operations the next. So we must find the right balance of general purpose forces able to compete anywhere in the spectrum, but we also need to develop additional advisory capacity.  

Should FM 3-24 be radically changed? Or just refined? There are many critics who point out that FM 3-24 should be purged of its outdated colonial foundations.

I’ve been digging back into FM 3-24 and reading it again. The biggest question that we have to come to terms with as we rewrite the FM is whether its foundation on the promotion of host nation government legitimacy should be preserved. The manual was written at a particular point in time when democracy promotion was a key tenet of American foreign policy. And the two most important counterinsurgency campaigns that we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan were campaigns in which newly created democratic governments were struggling. I am unconvinced that that is the right model, that the only way to achieve legitimacy is through democracy promotion early on in a counterinsurgency campaign. I think that this is the most fundamental question we have to come to terms with.

The other question I think we must deal with is one related to information operations. We said that information ops was the most important line of operations in a counterinsurgency campaign, but we provided next to no instruction on how to implement that line of operations. And that was largely because the responsibility for information operations does not necessarily reside inside the Department of Defense. I don’t think that the U.S. government has answered that question yet.

Third, I am going to go back to security forces assistance. The instructions on how to do that were underdeveloped. We still haven’t fully come to terms with this issue and decided how important security forces assistance is going to be and, in particular, whether we are going to build more dedicated force structure to do it. This needs revision as well, not just doctrinal revision, but force structure decisions that probably must be made before we can rewrite that chapter properly.

But should the main strategic goal of the expeditionary counterinsurgent still remain the legitimacy of the host nation government?

I think it should, but I’m not convinced that that legitimacy can only be conferred through democratic elections.  In Asia, we’ve seen a number of countries develop institutions that met the needs of their populations under autocratic governments and that developed into democracies after generations of steady, patient work.  I think it is possible that we put the cart before the horse in Iraq and Afghanistan, imposing democracies on societies that had not developed the institutions—especially the judicial systems—that are necessary for democracy to function.  So I think FM 3-24 got “legitimate governance” right as the objective we should be seeking, but decisions above the level of the Department of Defense meant that democracy was imposed before the countries involved were ready for it.

Do you see the “whole of government approach” as the only right way to fight and defeat an insurgency? Are there any alternatives to the whole of government approach? Is it really just about out-administering the insurgent?

I do think that the host nation government has to provide a better deal to the population than the insurgent does. The foundation of that is security, but there is also the need to provide justice, economic opportunities and basic public services. At the end of the day, the key terrain in an insurgency is not a physical space, but the political loyalty of the people who inhabit that space. And gaining the loyalty of the population requires the difficult process of improving the ability of a government to secure its citizens and developing its capacity to provide essential services. The big challenge I think we face here is that even when we were engaged in two very large counterinsurgency campaigns simultaneously, we did not build the expeditionary capacity we needed in America’s civilian instruments of power and therefore an awful lot of those tasks (assistance in the areas of politics, economic development, information operations, and governance) ended up being done by uniformed military. I am concerned that we will again in the future have to rely upon our Soldiers and our Marines to do an awful lot of what really should be civilian tasks, but that we have not yet decided to build in sufficient size and strength in the civilian instruments of American power.

Having in mind the predominantly civilian tasks of a counterinsurgency campaign, shouldn’t we rephrase or convert George Clemenceau’s famous dictum (“war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men”) into “war among people is too serious a matter to entrust to military men”? As Galula pointed out “essential though it is, the military action is secondary to the political one, its primary purpose being to afford the political power enough freedom to work safely with the population”. And as Douglas Ollivant said “armies are only really good at building other armies”. Not to provide governance or public services.

I agree with Galula, and with Ollivant. Unfortunately, as a nation we have not sufficiently invested in State, USAID, and the Department of Justice to build the expeditionary capacity needed in the areas of Governance, Economic Development, Essential Services, and Information Operations.  At the end of the day “it takes a network to defeat a network”, in the words of retired General Stan McChrystal. But if we haven’t made those investments at a time when there was a consensus in Washington that these capabilities were desperately needed during two counterinsurgency campaigns, we’re unlikely to build them in peacetime—and thus we’re likely to need the military to maintain some ability to perform them for the next time, because there is always a next time.  “Never Again” is not a method.

Does COIN fail in environments where the government is too weak or unable to credibly project itself on the whole national territory and unable to compete successfully in winning the allegiance of the local population? At the end of the day the most successful COIN campaigns--Malaya, Oman, Colombia--ended up having effective administrative structures.

If you have a strong effective government with the support of the people the insurgency would never get started or wouldn’t last very long. Insurgencies are problems that afflict weak governments. For the government to win it has to provide a better alternative and a more hopeful future to the population than the insurgents do. This is one of the reasons that the counterinsurgency campaigns take so long. The government and its allies must develop the capability to secure the population and build a sustainable system of governance. I think that one of the key concerns that we have in Afghanistan is that the Afghan government has simply not been improving rapidly enough at a time when the American people and our allies around the globe are increasingly suffering war fatigue. It is hard to continue to sacrifice your blood and treasure to help another country that doesn’t appear to making an honest effort to improve itself.

What would you respond to the many critics that point out that pop-centric COIN is just a "collection of tactics" and techniques not a strategy in itself?

I would say that they missed the first chapter of the FM 3-24. The strategy is to strengthen the government while weakening the insurgents in order to reach an end state in which the government with minimal outside assistance can defeat internal threats to its security. There are a number of tactics required to achieve that, both the killing and capturing of insurgents, strengthening host nation security forces, and improving governance. It all adds up to diminishing the strength of the insurgency, increasing the capabilities of the government and its forces and reaching a crossover point where the host nation forces can carry on with minimal outside assistance. We are about to test this hypothesis in Afghanistan over the course of the next two years.

Categories: SOF - Nagl - COIN - Afghanistan

About the Author(s)

John A Nagl is the ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School.  A retired Army officer with service in both Iraq wars, he helped write the 2006 edition of FM 3-24 and is the author of the forthcoming book Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice.


Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.



Fri, 02/10/2012 - 8:55pm

In reply to by Bill C.

There have always been some in the US who want to export our ways and values and think the rest of the world will roll over and accept them... missionaries, neocons, and the like. They generally haven't had much impact on policy. They did have a brief moment of ascendancy post-9/11, but they messed it up and their window of opportunity has closed. As far as a coherent policy of transforming the marginal parts of the world goes, I see no real reason to suppose that any such thing exists.

Bill C.

Fri, 02/10/2012 - 9:07am

In reply to by Dayuhan

Although there may have been, prior to 9/11, no enthusiasm at all in the US for the idea of transforming Afghanistan or any other backwater, can the same be said (that prior to 9/11 there was no enthusiasm at all) re: the idea of the universal and overwelming appeal of our way of life and that such should be a/the basis for our foreign policy?

Did our more-bold and more-interventionalist approach to foreign policy actually begin with and was it based on 9/11? Or can this general trend be traced back to an earlier time and earlier motivations (for example: the end of the Cold War, the end of Cold War restraints and the ideas and beliefs re: our way of life I have noted above)?

Does 9/11 (the attack/fear) explain such things as why Rumsfeld goes into Iraq light and why Nagl writes a counter-insurgency manual based on nation-building? Or are such matters, like the conception and implementation of a more aggressive foreign policy generally, better addressed by the ideas, the beliefs and the events I have outlined above?


Thu, 02/09/2012 - 6:08pm

In reply to by Bill C.

I'm not at all sure that this transitory excursion into bold and interventionist policy has anything to do with the perceived superiority of our way of life. It has a lot more to do with the simple reality that we were attacked. That doesn't happen often, and when it does it can inspire drastic and not always well-considered decisions.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Our cold war interventionism was driven more by fear of communism than by a missionary impulse to spread the benefits of capitalism

Do recall that prior to 9/11 there was no enthusiasm at all in the US for the idea of transforming Afghanistan or any other backwater. There's not much reason for any such enthusiasm either, as these places are for the most part economically and strategically irrelevant... until they attack our interests or harbor those who do.

Let me take my thought below, to wit:

That how we conducted counterinsurgency and conventional operations post- the Cold War, this was significantly determined by and based on our belief re: the universal and overwelming appeal of our way of life (market-democracy);

Let me take this thought one step further and posit that:

a. Not only were post-Cold War counterinsurgency and conventional operations significant shaped by and based on this belief (explains why Rumsfeld goes in light in Iraq and why Nagl et. al author a counterinsurgency manual based on nation-building).

b. But so also our overall foreign policy; which came to be, based on this belief re: the universal and overwelming appeal of our way of life, more-bold and more-interventionalist in nature generally.

This suggesting that both Rumsfeld and Nagl et al's efforts should not be seen as being unique, aberrant or "out of left field" so-to-speak but, rather, as being (1) consistent with each other and (2) consistent with the beliefs, the guidance, the spirit and indeed the agenda of the times.

Thus, requiring us to look higher up the chain of command, authority and responsibility -- and also into the realm of overarching ideas and beliefs, how they were conceived and who conceived, adopted and approved them -- to find real fault.

Accordingly, it would not seem to be the job of Rumsfeld or Nagl to explain or answer anything; rather, this is would seem to be a job for their superior(s).

Had Nagl talked like this back when he was "up and coming" we wouldn't be en route to strike 3 in COIN warfare. Americans suffer historic amnesia but its military commanders suffer historic fantasy. And so every "past" is bent, cropped and added to to fit the "hasbara" needs of today. Too many at DoD listened too much to IDF instead of to our own experience, even though a lot of the COIN stuff was found to have been translated and long read since childhood by the "bad guys" of today. History i like an old whore who doesn't care what name you call her in a moment of passion!


Thu, 02/09/2012 - 10:30am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Excellent point about terrible failures of intelligence A detailed critical review is needed. But the intel bureaucracy will fight back and use their most powerful weapon, "That's classified." They might be protected and assisted by senior people, military and civilian, because some of the blame, and it will be perceived as blame, will rub off on them for accepting incompetent intel at face value.

So I don't see any useful official review being released. Maybe one has been written but it will have to be leaked, at considerable risk to the leaker. The powers that were will be out for blood at having been embarrassed.

Barring that, I am guessing here, you would need an outsider or group of outsiders to put something together using non-classified and public material. They might best work in combination with an interested legislator who could force at least some things out of the establishment.

First way or second way, it will take some extraordinary and determined individuals to see it thru.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 02/10/2012 - 6:58pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Dayuhan---would argue that the IIS officers that were tasked with the oversight efforts were in fact to a large degree "quietly" aiding and abetting---meaning they had hedged their bets and were in fact the senior recruiters for the Salafist groups once we landed in Baghdad.

Yes I stand by the assumption that Saddam was about three years away from an internal effort that I do not think he could have put down.

We simply on the intel did not see it or even worse if it was seen and ignored then someone has to explain 5K KIAs and over 30K WIAs.


Thu, 02/09/2012 - 7:13am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

It would be quite a leap to assume that because there were Salafist movements inside Iraq, an internal collapse was inevitable or even probable. Saddam had been dealing with internal dissent effectively for some time.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/08/2012 - 9:45am

Bill C---it does not matter what the reason was for going in--recently there have been both verified and unverified reporting that Saddam was experiencing his own internal problems with Salafists that appeared inside Iraq in 1991 during the Shia uprising which we promoted but failed to support.

Incidential OSINT reporting during the same period of 1991 through to early 2000 was also indicating the same thing.

So it begs the question why did we not wait for the internal collaspe to occur with what we so praise now ---the Arab Springs?

Or better yet---if we knew about them then why the military move into Baghdad at all? If we did not know about the Salafist movements in Iraq then why has there been no discussion of this intelligence failure?

All the arguments of Dr. Nagl and company have not answered these points---one can argue history, current affairs, geo politics etc.---but the missing of the Salafist movements inside Iraq after 1991 is a major thing.

The 5k killed and over 30K plus in wounded deserve answers.

Especially from someone who publishes, and who sits on as many boards/ associations as does Dr. Nagl and company.

Once we fully understand the initial failures in both the political sphere and intelligence sphere then and only then can one get into a discussion on COIN yes or no, FID yes or no, IW yes or no etc.

This whole argument on COIN yes or no is a side show drawing one away from the actual areas to be focused on.

I go back again---why did we not recognize by 2004 that it was a full phase two guerrilla war?

FM 3-24 was a bandage done to show the US population that the military understood what was going on and had a plan---but when did 3-24 become a FM?

Just how long after 2004 and how far into the full phase two guerrilla did it take for 3-24 appear?---which is an indication that even when 3-24 was released the senior leadership was still not addressing the phase two.

Would actually argue that the surge was the Army's realization that the phase two guerrilla war was potentailly shifting to a full phase three and the surge had nothing to do with 3-24 and or pop centric COIN.

I am thinking that counterinsurgency and, indeed, conventional operations -- like many/most other things post-the Cold War -- came to be viewed through the lens of the perceived universal and overwelming appeal of our way of life (market-democracy).

This thinking becoming the foundation -- the starting point -- from which authors like Nagl, et. al., and very high level officials, such as Secretary Rumsfeld, determine how they will proceed.

Thus, Rumsfeld goes in light because he thinks that once the regime is defeated, everyone will welcome and embrace market-democracy and that, accordingly, no significant follow-on forces will be needed.

Likewise Nagl, et al's, starting point is the perceived universal and overwelming appeal of market-democracy; the promotion of which becomes the primary way that he (and many others at the time) believe that counterinsurgency should be done post-the Cold War.

Now, based on how badly things have turned out, this idea -- that conventional and counterinsurgency operations can, and should, be based on the universal and overwelming appeal of our way of life -- this concept is having to be re-thought/re-considered.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/08/2012 - 8:03am

Dr. Nagl will not nor never respond due to the simple fact that what he and others have missed and especially 3-24 has missed was that no one including the intelligence community has asked and then answered the following question---actually the same individuals seem to ignor the core question even today---it is possibly the pink elephant in the room that no one wants to touch.

Just how was it possible that no one stood up in both the political, military, and intelligence communities and asked in March 2004 "just how is it possible that we are confronting a phase two guerrilla war" (using Mao's own definitions)?

Going from our arrival in Baghdad in Apr 2003 to about March 2004---how was it possible that the Sunni and Shia both organized, initially fought together, supplied themselves, picked targets, trained, created IO, created multiple funding streams, created ratlines out of the UAE/Syria, advanced at a pace not seem before with their use of RC IEDs, and finally to the design and use of EFPs in mid 2004.

It has nothing to do with pop centric yes or no or FID, or IW, or guerrilla warfare--if the core question was not asked and then answered everything else then downstream was basically wrong.

That is why you are starting to see a number of the group around Dr. Nagl as well as himself starting to relook the past---it is hard after 5K killed and over 30K plus in wounded to say you might have been wrong.

What has been interesting in Mike Fews' comments over the last weeks is just how many serious fights occurred in different locations in Iraq in 2005 through 2007 and seemingly the Army lost the overview. Not many people even in the Army had an overview of the fighting if you ask me---and I find that strange.

gian gentile

Wed, 02/08/2012 - 7:02am

Building on what many folks have already highlighted on this thread and repeating what i said on a thread that was removed yesterday on SWJ, Dr Nagl's book "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife," has been seriously challenged and professionally discredited by scholarly historians over the past three years. Yet to my knowledge Dr Nagl has yet to respond to these criticisms. Andrew Birtle in an award winning article in the Journal of Military History cogently showed with primary evidence that Nagl's arguments about the Vietnam War in his book were wrong. Karl Hack, two years ago, in an article in Journal of Strategic Studies argued that many of Nagl's arguments about Malaya were "wrong." Yet again, Dr Nagl seems to see no need to respond to these withering scholarly critiques. Instead he has been given the "Minerva" chair at the US Naval Academy and tells us that he will teach a course on the history of counterinsurgency based on his own work.

I am wondering when John Nagl will respond in detail with either fresh arguments or new primary sources to his critics rather than the same old boilerplate platitudes about pop centric coin that are simply regurgitations of a theory and practice that was developed a generation ago, and never worked in practice in the first place.

Perhaps the Head of the History Department at Annapolis might persuade Dr Nagl to respond to his scholarly critics.

It is unbelievable that Dr Nagl would finish the interview by saying "we are about to test this hypothesis in Afghanistan over the course of the next two years." One of my favourite books is the Psychology of Military Incompetence, by Norman Dixon, a former member of the British Royal Engineers bomb disposal unit. Norman Dixon attributes historic instances of military incompetence to such traits as “the ignoring of intelligence reports which did not fit in with preconceived ideas,” “a delusional underestimation of the enemy (a 'magical' attempt to minimize the external threat),” the fear of failure, “an implacable resistance to the 'uncertainties' of innovation,” and other authoritarian personality traits. Dr Nagl's commentary throughout this interview reminds me of Dixon's juiciest anecdotes.

Despite all that we have experienced in Afghanistan such an intelligent person continues to believe the romance of COIN will prevail in that country. It is unacceptable that one of the self-proclaimed experts of modern COIN can also side-step responsibility by saying “if only we had done this….if only we had done that…” Dr Nagl makes these comments as if they are only just apparent when irrespective of whether we are in Afghanistan or running a local government in Western democracy, we all know the ingredients that are required for a stable economy. But this is not COIN. It is nation building in a land we should never be trying to nation build. Counter terrorism, Yes; regional security Yes; taking out those who harbour or support non-state elements who threaten our homeland; Yes, but not nation building. Let’ stop feeling guilty for the last scene in Charlie Wilson’s war when he is denied funding for schools. There are plenty of well -meaning organisations and private sector donors who are happy to go on supporting these kinds of projects.

Dr Nagl, also observes “ of the key concerns that we have in Afghanistan is that the Afghan government has simply not been improving rapidly enough…” We are at the Everest of our time in terms of our capacity to view history, business, military, philosophy, politics and to infer that Afghanistan could be capable of achieving the expectations of governance being placed on it throughout the campaign is inconceivable. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., pointed out in his 1977 biography of Robert Kennedy, the notion that reforms can be carried out in a wartime situation by a beleaguered regime is “the fatal fallacy in the liberal theory of counterinsurgency, with the United States so often obliged to work through repressive local leadership, the reform component dwindled into ineffectual exhortation.”


Wed, 02/08/2012 - 8:51pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Dayuhan - You are so right. Its a cult of well-meaning door-knockers unfazed by the 9,999 people who dont want a copy of Awakenings.

Correct me if I’m wrong but in Algeria the movement evolved from the French controlled government side in response to the insurgents, predominantly, National Liberation Front (FLN), seeking independence. The Malayan Emergency was a similar conflict between a colonial incumbent and a Communist movement for independence. East Timor’s struggle for independence from Indonesia involved an insurgency, growing pressure from the local population and support from the international community.
The Govt of Sri Lanka defeated the LTTE with little regard for civilians, media, international opinion, particularly in the final phase. And it did not involve a government propped up by a polarising segment of Western governments.

In 1999 the Indonesian Government held a referendum to decide between remaining an autonomous state within Indonesia or independence. Two-thirds of the East Timorese chose independence and violent clashes exploded onto the streets led by elements within the Indonesian military and a pro-Indonesian militia. There have been odd moments of civil unrest, such as riots in 2006 and a failed attempt coup in 2008. However, as with Algeria and Malaya, the catalyst for the unrest was from within not from a foreign power seeking to create a democratic federal model of government. Also nothing new was created or imposed on them that was completely at odds with how they made decisions.

In the end, whether we liked it or not, people in these examples by and large sorted it out for themselves

I find it odd, and disturbing, that an article like this can avoid any mention of the difference between insurgency in a post regime change environment and insurgency against an indigenous government. Iraq and Afghanistan are simply referred to as new democracies, with no suggestion that how those governments came into being has anything to do with the picture. That's a bit of ignoring the blue whale in the drawing room.

Reading statements like this:

<i>It is important that you reform governance to give people hope that if they do side with the government and the counterinsurgents, their lives will be better.</i>

makes the mind boggle... does anyone still think we can go around reforming other countries' governments?

Statements like this:

<i>as a nation we have not sufficiently invested in State, USAID, and the Department of Justice to build the expeditionary capacity needed in the areas of Governance, Economic Development, Essential Services, and Information Operations.</i>

go beyond mind-boggling, and make me very glad I'm on a remote mountaintop. As an alternative to sending a legion of beady-eyed and utterly ignorant Americans to fix other people's governments, economies, services, justice systems, etc, will we ever consider simply leaving people alone and letting them sort out their own affairs?

One can only hope nobody is listening...


Tue, 02/07/2012 - 8:35pm

In reply to by Bill C.

How would anyone conclude that China caused fewer problems and has greater usefulness since emerging as a global economic player? China was a minor concern as an outlier, now it's emerging as a peer competitor both in economic and military terms. The proposition doesn't hold up to examination.

Similarly, there's no real evidence to suggest a coherent policy of imposed modernization. For the most part, nobody really cares about outlier states unless they cause actual problems. Did anyone care about modernizing Afghanistan before 9/11? Does anyone care about modernizing Myanmar, Chad, Somalia, the DRC, or most other outliers now?

The actual policy toward outlier states has consistently been to contain, deter, and ignore... unless they cause trouble. There's no real evidence to suggest a policy of imposed modernization. Neither is there any evidence to suggest that resistance to modernization is a consistent cause of insurgency. Insurgency is as likely to be caused by a populace seeking modernization and an archaic government opposing it.

"The manual was written at a particular point in time when democracy promotion was a key tenent of American foreign policy."

"So I think FM 3-24 got "legitimate government" right as the objective we should be seeking, but decisions above DoD ment that democracy was imposed before the countries involved were ready for it."

As background, consider the following as if it were a question/a hypothosis:

We believed that our 20th Century efforts played a major role in transforming "outlier" great powers such as China and the former USSR so that they came to be ordered, organized, oriented and configured more along western lines.

This, we believe, provided that these outlier great powers then came to offer the modern world fewer problems and offer it (the modern world) greater usefulness instead.

Due to this success -- and our perception that such success tended to anoint us with the "mandate of heaven" -- we determined to do this same thing re: lesser and remaining "outlier" states and societies (to wit: to transform them more along western lines, and incorporate them into the global economy; this, so that they might, also, come to offer the modern world fewer problems and, also, provide the modern world with greater utility instead).

With this as our back-drop (we believed that we had received the "mandate of heaven" to transform and incorporate lesser and remaining "outlier" states and societies); this belief and initiative came to influence/shape DoD activities as well.

Herein, Nagl, et al, simply attempted to adapt COIN, etc., to this new military requirement, to wit: the requirement to transform (more along western lines) and incorporate (into the global economy) lesser and remaining "outlier" states and societies (aka "nation-building").

In this endeavor, they (Nagl, et al) found Galula, etc., useful.

So why did we get nation-building COIN?

Not because of an initiative coming from Nagl and/or Petraeus, et al, per se. These individuals were simply following orders and "coloring within the lines" that were given to them by high level civilian leadership; who dictated that COIN and other programs must include/be based on democracy and market- economy promotion; both of which must come before -- and eclipse -- other considerations.

Herein, we might consider that not only COIN -- but also the decisions relating to how conventional operations would proceed -- both of these activities were adversely influenced/affected/determined by the high-level civilian thinkers/deciders, and the line of thinking, noted above.


Wed, 02/08/2012 - 1:58am

In reply to by Mark O'Neill

I have always been under the impression that the Phoenix Program was inspired by the tactics the SAS used in Malaysia and Borneo. Certainly if you spoke with any of the Vets who fought in both Malaysia and Vietnam the assassination tactic of suspected communists cadre was virtually identical.

I was always under the impression it was the more liberal sensitivities applied by the CIA that was the only difference between the two.

Having said that I doubt very much any offical published journal would tell you very much in regarding an assassination program.



Wed, 02/08/2012 - 9:48am

In reply to by Mark O'Neill


I guess what I was trying to say was that when looking at Malaya, "minimum force" was all that could be applied by an infantry section lying in ambush on a trail that only had a fleeting glimpse of a CT. It then came to be viewed as sort of a goal in itself, unrelated to the situation and with perhaps unfortunate connotations. I hope I have been clear in expressing that because I trip over my words often.

"Appropriate legal force". Sounds good.

Mark O'Neill

Wed, 02/08/2012 - 1:31am

In reply to by carl


just a quick reply:

Yes, I think 'control' is a better term to describe the effect being sought. It carries a useful ,broader, connotation too. I agree with you that there is/ will be a need to protect sources / pro-government elm /collaborators from INS retribution - but think that is implicit in the full sense of the term 'control'. Rhetorically - if you are not 'controlling' who can use violence, and where, what (or who)are you actually controlling? I elaborated on the importance of control in an article published in the Australian Army Journal in 2008.

I am hesitant to go down the path you seem to be heading and conflate 'mimimum force' with any qualifications about the size of the force element that delivers it. They are not linked. The 'right' size force element is the one that gets the job done effectively and efficiently, you can justify and your financiers can afford...

I do like the term 'appropriate' force , qualified by the term 'legal'.




Wed, 02/08/2012 - 12:45am

In reply to by Mark O'Neill

Mark: Do you think that, as others have suggested, rather than "protect the population", "control the population" might be a more accurate description of what is needed, especially at the beginning of the effort? Protect might later become a big component of control after sources were developed and the insurgents started trying to bump them off.

Second, could the concept of "minimum force" benefit the small warrior by being as efficient or even more efficient than copious use of supporting arms? The smart guerrilla operates in small groups, dispersed, unless he doesn't. But at the point where he is scattered about, the small warrior has to break up into small groups to find him. When a small group meets a small group there likely won't be time to call in the arty or the air, minimum force in the form of a rifle or machine gun, will be the only thing available. That type of encounter is by definition going to result in more discrete use of force and fewer of the wrong people getting killed.

So maybe minimum force is the wrong term too. Appropriate force may be better, twin objectives of appropriate force being to kill as many of the right people and as few of the wrong people as possible.

Mark O'Neill

Wed, 02/08/2012 - 7:51pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I agree with you. As Steve Metz noted recently about counterinsurgency in that WPR piece '...its outcome is seldom decisive, unambiguous or fully satsifying'. Yet one fact I think is unambiguous - my research and observations in the field to date suggests that every single insurgency / counterinsurgency fight which has been 'resolved' has involved one common theme - compromise.

The fact is , with the award of independence, the British compromised in Malaya. And the IO that they were going to allow independence once the threat from the CT was 'fixed' also provided a powerful counter-narrative to the insurgent one to the wider Malay population.

An interesting (hearsay) story was passed on to me by a retired senior SADF Officer. He told of a meeting of the Generals during the Apartheid era when Viljoen was the CDF. Some of the senior officers around the table were happy about some recent successes and were speaking about the chances of victory against the various insurgencies that the Apartheid Era South African State was fighting. Viljoen silenced them by suggesting that they were not fighting for victory, but to earn space for a compromise and / or negotiations...

Which takes me to an observation from historical example that has shaped some of the framework for interventionist states I propose in my dissertation. Counterinsurgents, (and especially second-party counterinsurgents), should not fight to 'out govern' or 'out develop' or nation build. The focus is on fighting to end the fighting....everything else is the subject of legitimate policy discourse, debate and compromise, because that is what will happen in the end , anyway.

Test this idea with a little challenge I used to give the smart young officers coming through the MNF-I CFE who would stay back late to discuss and argue, and susbequently used on my students at Staff College: Name a 20th century onwards insurgency that was fully resolved without any compromise.

The prize was a bottle of single malt scotch. I have yet to have to pay out...

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 02/08/2012 - 2:38am

In reply to by Ken White

Plus, what is rarely focused on in the Malaya case study, is that while the insurgents did not win, certainly the British did not win either. They went in post WWII to re-establish total control of a subserviant colony, with a puppet government that excluded the ethnic Chinese and Indian populaces of the region. They left behind an independent nation of Malaysia with a sovereign government that fully included those previously excluded segments of the populace that had backed the insurgency. This then ultimately split to form an ethnic Chinese dominiated sovereign nation of Singapore as well. Both members of the commonwealth.

The people of the region won, not the British; but by allowing the people to win Britain converted an unsustainable controlling "master-servant" relationship to an enduring influence-based peer relationships which serves their interests in the region to this day.

Military historians tend to focus on military history. Insurgency is politics. Internal and illegal, but politics all the same. When we focus on the right aspect of the problems faced and the solutions applied we learn right lessons. What the military did was an effective supporting operation, but what the policy makers did is what resolved the problem in an enduring fashion.

We are still waiting for US policy makers to stop listening to "experts" like Dr. Nagl over emphasize the war story and the lessons learned from that; and shift to the much more important and relevant lessons of policy.

Ken White

Tue, 02/07/2012 - 9:21pm

In reply to by Mark O'Neill


Thanks for the references, I've read a couple of the articles, will scour up the rest.

My objection to <u>the US</u> using Malaya as a teaching aid is only that the British <i>were</i> the government with all that conveys and in such circumstances as we are likely to intervene, we will never be. That provides very different advantages and disadvantages to he who would help.

Not to mention that we Americans have a terrible record of absorbing all the wrong lessons from otherwise good examples... :(

Mark O'Neill

Tue, 02/07/2012 - 8:54pm

In reply to by Ken White


I note that the association made between Malaya, Galula and Trinquier. As you know, of course this is quite a common association. However, I have been reading a fair bit lately that suggests that Malaya does not 'fit' the HAM / population-centric paradigm.

I recommend a new piece of scholarship by David French titled 'The British way in counter-insurgency 1945-1967', published by OUP. It is backed by in-depth archival research and seemingly not under the influence of what Bing West recently called (in reference to FM3-24) a 'Rousseauian outlook '. Read it in conjunction with articles such as:

Marshall, Alex. "Imperial Nostalgia, the Liberal Lie, and the Perils of Postmodern Counterinsurgency." Small Wars & Insurgencies 21, no. 2 (2010): 233-58.

Dixon, Paul. "'Hearts and Minds'? British Counter-Insurgency from Malaya to Iraq." Journal of Strategic Studies 32, no. 3 (2009): 352-81.

Rid, Thomas. "The Nineteenth Century Origins of Counterinsurgency Doctrine." Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no. 5 (2010): 727-58.

Ucko, David H. "Counterinsurgency and Its Discontents: Assessing the Value of a Divisive Concept." In SWP Research Paper. Berlin: German Institute for International and Security Affairs, 2011.

In light of such material the 'Malayan' example can also be seen more like an exemplar of Luttwak's advice to 'give war a chance' rather than 'minimum force' and 'protect the population'.

I am starting to form the view that the so called 'Malaya example' is pure revisionism. And the FM3-24 treatment of it is a modern American Disney story - we are just lacking the cute 3-D animated movie with soundtrack....

Monday just past I had in my hand an original ATOM pamphlet (1958, third edition). Apart from noting (and being a bit taken aback at) the severity of the 'emergency regulations' described in Sections 3 and 4, I could not help but reflect upon the emphatic and ringing endorsement of Templar's exhortation from the first edition " the job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists..."

The true 'Malaya' example appears to have been lost in a haze of liberal peace theory / sociological clap trap.

Ken White

Tue, 02/07/2012 - 11:55am

In reply to by carl


Re: your question, <blockquote>"But I also observe that while we pay all the bills in Afghanistan we nevertheless seem reluctant to fully use the leverage that gives us...Why are we so diffident about using the power that we do have?</blockquote>Bill M. has already answered it; "<i> they think (and often demonstrate) that they actually hold considerable sway over us. We made our bed when we embraced our COIN doctrine, which changed the nature of the fight from a retalitory attack against AQ, to supporting a corrupt and inept regime that actually undermines our interests in the region."</i> The simple answer is we made some bad -- really bad -- decisions and the egos in DC will not allow any recanting. IOW, "this is our story and we're sticking to it." We very short sightedly created -- and we did create both those governments and the mess that they are -- a couple of monsters and we cannot destroy them, we 'have to' keep feeding 'em. So the short answer is the US Foreign Policy 'elites' once again screwed the pooch and, As Madhu notes, are protecting each other. The shorter answer to your questions is -- egos.

Regardless, we are where we are and there is the valid concern that US hypocrisy (already widely suspect) would be on display if we were to go into a milieu that we created (i.e. the 'legitimate' government of Afghanistan) to guide the people of Afghanistan and start getting bossy. That removes any even nominal legitimacy of that government and destroys its ability to do anything and thus we'd be struck there for years.

Mark O'Neill raises an important point with his quote from the Nagl interview: "<i>Quote :The biggest question that we have to come to terms with as we rewrite the FM is whether its foundation on the promotion of host nation government legitimacy should be preserved. Unquote."</i>

That foundation was based on the Colonial experience and was the result of excessive focus on Malaya, Galula, Trinquier instead of on the real principles of US democracy and traditions, political and military realities and a little common sense. Flawed absorption of lessons promotes flawed policy. Regardless, that was a question that should have been asked before we changed our retaliatory strike in Afghanistan into a nation rebuilding effort. It was not. Too late now, Afghanistan is on auto pilot, it's over.

The major concerns should be will we in future ask that question and its logical follow on: "Do we, the US have any right to dispose or any long term national interest in the governance or internal conditions of that nation or area." I suggest that if we do ask and honestly answer (without regard to budgets and 'prestige') those questions, there will be -- properly and correctly -- far fewer interventions by us.

There are simply better, cheaper ways to do what we need done.

Bill M.

Tue, 02/07/2012 - 6:54am

In reply to by carl


In my opinion Nagl is border line psychotic and has no business providing COIN advice to our national leaders. He would have been one of the same advisors to leaders during Vietnam arguing that everything was going along just fine. Just stick withe doctrine and the plan.

Addressing your question I can only guess, but I think part of the answer is tied to Nagl's so called strategy which focuses on strengthening the government. Once you get married it is harder to dump your mate than it was when you were simply dating. We dumped Assad, Qadafi and others once we realized the relationship wasn't going to work. It even gets harder when you tie your success to your mate's success. This is where Nagl gets it wrong in my opinion, because we have tied our success to Karzai's success, and for Karzai to be successful we have to support his corrupt friends and family. I'm sure we have leverage that we're not using to fully, but if your main concern is not to destabilize the current government, then it is hard to push for reforms. At this point I'm not sure how we even file for divorce. It would simply be too embarassing.

While we have some leverage, it may not be as much as you suspect. What is really sad is that both Karzai and Pakistan know we implemented a strategy that depends upon their support, so they think (and often demonstrate) that they actually hold considerable sway over us. We made our bed when we embraced our COIN doctrine, which changed the nature of the fight from a retalitory attack against AQ, to supporting a corrupt and inept regime that actually undermines our interests in the region. Someone posted in the council that if someone wrote a book about this before the war started no one would be believe it was possible, yet here we are once again proving that fact is stranger than fiction.

In the body of the interview Dr. Nagl said many words about Afghanistan and what must be done inside that country but he said not a word about sanctuaries inside Pakistan and Pak Army/ISI support for Taliban & Co. I don't think that omission is because Mr. Manea didn't ask about it specifically. There was plenty of opportunity to bring it up in the responses. He either doesn't see it which I can hardly believe, or the subject of off limits for those who are part of the anointed inside-the-beltway crowd. Not talking about Pakistan when talking about the fight in Afghanistan is like talking about building just the left half of a boat. For him not to bring it up means to me that he isn't serious enough about these things to say whole truth of the matter. Almost like he knows his target audience and won't bring up what he knows won't sell.

I have a question for Bill and Mark and Ken. I understand why in a colonial setting there is more total control over local, regional and national government. But I also observe that while we pay all the bills in Afghanistan we nevertheless seem reluctant to fully use the leverage that gives us. Why is it we don't use that power? Why don't we say to whomever, "You will arrest that guy and imprison him for playing both sides. You will fire that general and shoot him for murder. We know about your secret bank accounts and you will give the money back. If you don't the money stops." Why are we so diffident about using the power that we do have?

John just doesn't get it, our doctrine has failed us, and he refuses to see it. We embraced failed governments, and spent billions trying to put lipstick on a pig, and wonder why no one wants to take the pig to the prom. His assumption that a high demand signal exists for GPF to conduct FID and COIN is illusionary. He is a conventional soldier who did a thesis on COIN, if he had actually been working these issues he would realize that the world was always unstable, but it rarely required (if ever) the deployment of large scale conventional forces to pursue U.S. interests. Quite the contrary, that has almost always been contrary to our interests.

He claims COIN strategy is outlined in the 1st chapter, and that the strategy is to strengthen the HN government. That is hardly a strategy, and in many cases it simply isn't feasible. Is it still a strategy when the government refuses to reform? At best this may be a potential course of action, and that is assuming it is feasible, and regardless it is not a role for the military.

John can hopefully be a little more forgiving of the Vietnam era Army that accused of failing to learn/adapt in this thesis since he has fallen into the same trap. Don't feel bad it happens to all of us, but once someone points it out to you it is time to snap out of the trance of self-delusional thinking.


Thu, 02/09/2012 - 7:30am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

We've certainly tried the friendly despot thing often enough, but its effectiveness has been plummeting since WW2 ans it's often done our enemies more good than harm. The sooner we abandon that idea, the better.

Trying to force our way into another nations political life in an effort to promote or force "reforms" that we think desirable is not necessarily a better idea than supporting friendly despots. I know it's against out nature, but sometimes it's best to let people sort things out themselves.

I'm not at all convinced that insurgency in the Philippines radiates out from a central hub of causation, rather the opposite I'd say. i also don't think revolution is imminent, for many of the same reasons. Saudi Arabia is of course a very different question, but I suspect you'll be waiting longer than you think for the revolution ti emerge there as well, and not because the US is supporting the regime. What happens in either place is not up to us, and trying to direct events in any direction is likely to snap back in our faces in a most unpleasant way.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 02/08/2012 - 2:53am

In reply to by Dayuhan

The US has employed friendly despots as a cornerstone of our foreign policy with varying degrees of success since the turn of the last century. It is only now, in response to Arab Spring, that we show signs of moving forward from that approach, and the shockwaves of this shift are plainly visible in the reactions of those despots still standing and feeling betrayed, and in our political debate at home. My feeling is that we are changing course with out knowing what the new heading is, but rather simply sensing that the old course is no longer tenable. The sooner we set and communicate a new course, the better.

As to the Philippines, you are much closer to that than I, so I respect your opinion. I believe that the words of that savvy political scrapper Tip O'neil are apropos to the situation: "ALL politics are local." By extrapolation, all insurgency is local as well. That does not relieve it of its national hub of causation and ulitmate point of resolution. Time will tell in places like the Philippines and Saudi Arabia. I hope for the poeple of those countries that their governments listen to the people and evolve; but neither government shows much appetite for that, so it will sadly most likely require revolution to force the requisite changes. That is an avoidable future, but I see little inclination to do so. Time will tell. The US is overly tied to both (for good geostrategic and interest-based reasons), so it will undoubtedly affect us when it ultimately goes down.


Tue, 02/07/2012 - 7:17pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Friendly despots worled well for who up to the late 1800s? Certainly not for the US, which had only the most minimal engagements abroad up to that time. The colonial powers weren't working through friendly despots, they were taking power themselves.

If you look at upheavals against despotism on a country-by-country basis, I think you'll find that communications technology is less a factor than the gradual decline that typically occurs in a despot's control. As the despot ages his mojo fades, his minions start fighting over pieces of the pie, his coercive apparatus loses its loyalty, the populace not only grows more discontented but senses that the ability to repress is fading. Finally the bubble bursts. This has been going on a long, long time. Various ideological parties have tried to ride on the process or to oppose it, but the process itself has less to do with ideology or with communications technology than with the natural course of despotism. In some cases (North Korea a good example) an elite has managed transitions from one despot to another without the decline and collapse. How long that will last is anyone's guess.

Causation of insurgency in the Philippines really doesn't radiate out from Manila. To an extent it did during the Marcos regime, but it doesn't now. Manila politics are to most of the provincial populace the equivalent of a Tagalog-dubbed Mexican <i>telenovela</i>, with little perceived or actual impact on their lives. Functioning governance and opposition to the status are vested in local elites, one reason why resistance is typically scattered and uncoordinated... but no need to go on about that.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/07/2012 - 6:33pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

I think they (friendly despots) worked very well up to the point that Great Britain connected the world with electronic communications in the late 1800s. This has always been the primary tool of empire and fuedalism as well, for that matter. Now, they never "worked well" for the populaces forced to submit to such rule, but then, what the populaces liked or didn't like was largely irrelevant. Times change. Populaces matter now, and that is one genie that will not go back in the bottle.

Breakthroughs in communicaitons technologies always seem linked to upheavals in the status quo of such controlling relationships. This was true even when the breakthroughs seem tame by today's standards. But ever since communication went electronic I think it spelled the beginning of the end for this approach to managing ones interests in the lands of others.

Put a fork in the old cliche' of "governments must control the populace" to bring stability. Now, and forever more, it will be when populaces feel they have reasonable control of government that is the key to stability.

Your neighborhood, for example, will be an interesting case study. What will happen when the dissatisfied populaces of the Philippines unite in their discontent, rather than allowing the government to put them down piecemeal?? I suspect we will see this in our lifetime. Causation is not communism in the north and Islamism in the south. It is Elites vs the rest culture put in place by the Spanish and perpetuated by those elites to this day. Causation radiates out from Manila and falls across a diverse people. When the many populaces join by their shared grievances, rather than dividing by their difference, it will be a rough day for those who have dedicated their efforts to sustain the current system.


Tue, 02/07/2012 - 5:50pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

When exactly was this time when "friendly despots were an effective tool of foreign policy"? Certainly not during the Cold War, when "Friendly despots" consistently proved to be expensive liabilities that gave legitimacy to our enemies and pulled us into all manner of expensive and awkward situations.

The impact of modern communications and social media on relations between despots and populaces are vastly overrated. The wave of decolonosation after WW2, the broad-spectrum rebellions against post colonial and neocolonial despots that followed, the color revolutions of the 80s and 90s all took place without social media. The arrival of these tools has not generated any new wave of rebellion, just a continuation of existing trends.

Of course those who rebel against despots will use whatever tools are available to them, but there's no empirical evidence at all to suggest any fundamental change in the despot/populace environment.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/07/2012 - 7:33am

In reply to by Mark O'Neill


Nagl has never had the answers, but finally, a hint that he is beginning to ask the right questions. Any government artificially sustained, created, (or both) against internal challengers is de facto presumptively 'Illegitimate." Certainly not with the entire populace as every group as their base of support, those who win such events (such as Diem and his cronnies in Vietnam; Karzai and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan; Mubarak and his base in Egypt; Saleh and his family in Yemen, etc, etc, etc). The "COIN" writings of men like Galula that shape the thinking of men like Nagl are the lessons learned by those who were in the business of creating and sustaining illegitimate governments against internal challenges in pursuit of the interests of the occupying colonial power they represent. The problem is not the lessons, the problem is that we think they are "coin" and that they apply today.

There was a time when this worked. There was a time when "friendly despots" were an effective tool of foreign policy. There was a time when the entire world was not connected in nearly instantaneous communications. Now insurgencies can organize on the fly relying on speed and social websites for security, and where non-state actors such as AQ can conduct regional UW campaigns without the benefit of being a state. Times have changed. Doctrine must change. Nagl has been selling one aspect of the old stuff for a decade and made a name doing it. We can't fix the damage him and his ilk have done, but it is nice to see that he is at least beginning to muse out loud about how dangerous he has been to our national security.

Mark O'Neill

Mon, 02/06/2012 - 9:16pm

I agree with your observation Ken. The majority of this interview is standard 'vanilla' GS issue HAM paradigm. But one line is profoundly different:

Quote :The biggest question that we have to come to terms with as we rewrite the FM is whether its foundation on the promotion of host nation government legitimacy should be preserved. Unquote.

If this is in play, then we are not talking counterinsurgency. If it is conceded that the HN is illegitimate then any intervention by an external state must be viewed through a different prism. One might get away with taking it down an IW line. Maybe. But words such as occupation, colonialism or imperialism seem to fit as well. And if this is the case, the rest of the FM as it currently stands is even more a prescription for a campaign nightmare than it currently is.

Ken White

Mon, 02/06/2012 - 1:25pm

Professor Nagl states the common wisdom of those who espouse US interventionism:<blockquote>"As much as we might prefer to be able to escape from the savage wars of peace, I am afraid that they are going to have an interest in us for years to come."</blockquote>As is true of most clichés and much common wisdom, there is truth in the statement. What many would-be interventionists carefully do not state is that even though there are enticements, even valid reasons, to intervene militarily in other nations, there are almost invariably other ways of reacting to such presumed needs.

Unfortunately in the eyes of some, such other methods usually entail enhancements to the budgets and manpower of others and thus are frequently resisted not due to ineffectiveness but rather to deter an assault on one's own rice bowl. Turf protection and enhancement are bureaucratic imperatives.

He further states:<blockquote>"...The strategy is to strengthen the government while weakening the insurgents in order to reach an end state in which the government with minimal outside assistance can defeat internal threats to its security. There are a number of tactics required to achieve that, both the killing and capturing of insurgents, strengthening host nation security forces, and improving governance. It all adds up to diminishing the strength of the insurgency, increasing the capabilities of the government and its forces and reaching a crossover point where the host nation forces can carry on with minimal outside assistance."</blockquote>All standard boilerplate. Those are the 'rules.' They are standard because they're the norm. They descend from the experiences of European nations with Colonial experience and many of the desired parameters -- governmental competence and control, reasonably functional forces -- are predicated on conditions that existed or could be created in such colonial holdings. Lacking those conditions and that governing power, an intervening third party cannot <u>ever</u> effectively apply the 'rules.'

In addition, to do those things, a nation that intervenes to assist the COIN battle of another must itself have adequate trained personnel strength and ability to persist as well as probability of success in strengthening host nation forces and improving their governance in the time likely to be available.

If an assessment of alternatives indicates all those conditions cannot be comfortably met then an alternative solution should -- really, must be -- be pursued if a genuinely acceptable outcome is desired. As the good Doctor himself states in the first paragraph of the interview:<blockquote>"Protecting the population is the key to success..."</blockquote>Just so. If one cannot do that due to lack of training, personnel strength, own political will or host nation imperfections and capabilities then one would be well advised to start preparation of Plan B.

He also notes "<i>“Never Again” is not a method.</i>" True. However, "Never again apply inadequate and untrained forces on short tours to ill planned endeavors with little probability of success" is probably a good start point to refine methods that are less expensive in all terms and that will actually work...