We’ve talked about Colonel Yingling’s article a lot lately. I’d like to point to a discussion that seems a little more graduate level of a discussion.
Edward Luttwak, an academic who wrote the piece “Give War A Chance” (pay site link), has a foray into counterinsurgency in the latest Harper’s: “Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice“. He doesn’t like what he sees in the new Army manual.
That decision reflects another kind of politics, manifest in the ambivalence of a United States government that is willing to fight wars, that is willing to start wars because of future threats, that is willing to conquer territory or even entire countries, and yet is unwilling to govern what it conquers, even for a few years. Consequently, for all the real talent manifest in the writing of FM 3-24 DRAFT, its prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principled and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents, the necessary and sufficient condition of a tranquil occupation.
Luckily for us readers, some of the guys who wrote the thing can write, too. David Kilcullen has some thoughts, including the point that Luttwak was working off a draft version, and claiming that fieldwork indicates completely different conclusions than the ones Luttwak makes.
The methods Dr. Luttwak mentions are thus not a prescription for success, but a recipe for disaster. As he quickly admits, U.S. and Coalition forces would never consider such methods for a moment. And this is just as well, since this approach does not work. The best method we know of, despite its imperfections, has worked in numerous campaigns over several decades, and is the one we are now using: counterinsurgency. I admit (and have argued elsewhere) that classical counterinsurgency needs updating for current conditions. But the Nazis, Syrians, Taliban, Iranians, Saddam Hussein and others all tried brutalizing the population, and the evidence is that this simply does not work in the long term.
Dr. Luttwakâ€™s final point is one of his strongest. He argues that there is ambivalence in the United States approach, that America is â€œwilling to start wars because of future projected threatsâ€¦willing to conquer territory or even entire countries, and yet is unwilling to govern what it conquers, even for a few yearsâ€. What he calls â€œthe critical ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to governâ€ is indeed worth discussing, though it is properly an issue of political will, strategic culture and national character, rather than counterinsurgency technique. As a colleague said to me in Iraq last year, â€œwe need to either make a serious effort to govern these people, or get the hell outâ€. But Iraq and Afghanistan now have sovereign governments; and we (with many other countries) are helping these governments to do exactly thatâ€”make a serious effort to govern their people effectively. And we have no plans for permanent presence: as the President said, we will stay as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.
Overall, I found Professor Luttwakâ€™s viewpoint fascinating, and a thought-provoking addition to our ongoing professional discussion, but ultimately not quite convincing. Perhaps thatâ€™s just meâ€”things do tend to look different, and more complicated, from here in the field. But I would encourage people to read both the Harperâ€™s piece, and the actual final version of FM 3-24, and make up their own minds. On-the-ground facts (like language improvements, partnering with Iraqi forces, the drop in sectarian violence, joint operations, and improved governance) are also worth taking into account.
The entire post is worth reading, and it’s much more restrained in its language than perhaps I could have been if placed in Kilcullen’s position. (By the way, Kilcullen also points to a typically restrained and mild Ralph Peters article on the COIN manual.)
Later on, Frank Hoffman weighs in with a criticism that the manual doesn’t spend enough time discussing the role of religion, and spends some time in his post explaining why.
I see this discussion as more graduate level debate about counterinsurgency than what we’re seeing revolving around the Yingling article–including my own comments, frankly. This is another reason why I’m not happy that Yingling’s article was the one that made the papers. I’d like to see my own writing jump to this level, and that will take experience I don’t yet have–but more importantly, I’d like to see some blogospheric discussion get to the level of what I’m seeing on the SWJ blog about COIN.