After reading Michael Yon’s latest on a steadily improving situation in Iraq, I think it’s time that I admit that I was wrong about Iraq. In my heart of hearts I never really believed in the Counter Insurgency (COIN) strategy. In fact, even after the hard-earned success in Iraq I’m not sure I fully understand it. As I wrote here six years ago, for me there is one kind of war, Total War, and the idea of the “Three-Block War” of fighting insurgents on one block, working as peacekeepers on the next block and leading humanitarian on the last is a good example of why my military strategies are confined to video games. Although the Mainstream Media hasn’t reported it directly, the strategy in Iraq has paid off and we are victorious – mission finally accomplished. We can now shift our forces to Pakistan where the real war against terrorism is being fought (Afghanistan is a symptom of a “disease” that thrives in Pakistan. I do not believe it is possible to defeat Islamic Fascism without successfully turning Pakistan and the less populous but more influential Saudi Arabia against it.)
As an amateur military historian I have studied texts on warfare, from Sun Tsu through von Clausewitz to the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, 2007 ed. The latter’s reliance on “soft power” always struck me as a bit overly Politically Correct – an attempt by the military to conduct warfare at the behest of the American people who lacked the stomach for it. COIN seemed an alternative to relentless savagery that brutally destroyed our enemies quickly and mercilessly, making war with us an unappetizing prospect for all but the most suicidal of adversaries.
Fortunately for most of our enemies throughout history – the Indian wars the being the sole exception that comes to mind – the American people have usually tempered their warfare with morality. The US citizenry tolerated massive civilian enemy casualties during Sherman’s March to Atlanta, and a century later in the firebombings of Dresden and Hamburg. In both of these cases the United States was fighting a war of survival, whereas counterinsurgency wars in Vietnam, Latin America and the Middle East seem less threatening to our way of life and therefore the public was less tolerant of non-combatant casualties. As the smoke from the fires of 9-11 fades into distant memory it becomes increasingly difficult to sell the war against the Islamofascists to the American populace because we do not feel under siege. Therefore a counterinsurgency strategy is the only way forward if we are to prevent a repeat of 9-11 while avoiding massive civilian loss of life.
The strategy has evolved over time and has its roots in the jungle thickets of Vietnam, where it was first successfully applied (albeit too late in the war to make a difference; the American people and Congress had enough of the war by the time a successful COIN was developed in the early ‘70s). It was refined further in the streets of Mogadishu and the rolling hills of Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990’s. However it wasn’t until Iraq that the counterinsurgency strategy evolved to achieve hard earned battle-tested success thanks to its masterful application by General David Petraeus. While the MSM has yet to recognize and the American public fully appreciate the successful application of COIN in Iraq, it is clear that over the last few years we have witnessed the birth of a combat strategy that will serve as the model for military action for decades to come.
I’m glad I was wrong about Iraq and the counterinsurgent strategy worked. My mistake serves as a reminder that our armed services are dynamic: they change with the times and aren’t wedded to a particular doctrine or strategy. The success is proof of the creativity of our men and women in uniform, an aspect of the services that I never fully appreciated until now.
Unfortunately I am not the only one making this mistake. Evidently Gen. David McKiernan, the general in charge of thecampaign in Afghanistan, is unaware of COIN’s success in Iraq too. Maybe Gen. Petraeus should send him a copy of the manual.