Books Worth Reading
  • Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    by Robert C. Orr
  • Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    by Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart
  • The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    by Rupert Smith
  • Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    by John Robb
  • Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    by Paul Collier
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
  • When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
  • Building States to Build Peace
    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
  • Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press

Entries in COIN (4)


Is Counterinsurgency Doctrine "Dividing" West Point?

Yesterday the New York Times published the sort of poorly written news article that is all too common in journalism today in that it invents “news” out of thin air. 


It starts by suggesting that America’s premier military institution, West Point, is somehow engaged in an “existential” debate.  The term, of course, pertains to how an individual or organization conceives of its own existence, so we are led to believe the school (and by extension the Army) is somehow questioning its raison d'être.


But in reality, the piece is simply about two professors with supposedly different views as to the efficacy of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine.  To support this argument Elisabeth Bumiller, the writer, marshals all of THREE professors, (one of whom doesn’t even talk about COIN), and claims they represent a “divided” faculty at West Point.  While it is possible the professors there are separating into opposing ideological camps and getting ready to have an intellectual throw down over the topic of counterinsurgency, the case certainly isn’t made when all you can do quote a couple people from the staff, neither of whom talks about the institution or professors being “divided.” 


(BTW, West Point isn’t questioning its existence or purpose, which is and probably always will be, to educate and train military officers to fight and win our nation’s wars.) 


Perhaps worse than the existential bit, however, is that the article really doesn’t address the disagreements surrounding counterinsurgency, and the two professors taken to represent opposite camps don’t really seem to be that much in disagreement with each other.  Here’s the part from the article covering the supposed professorial divide:


Colonel Gentile’s argument is that the United States pursued a narrow policy goal in Afghanistan — defeating Al Qaeda there and keeping it from using the country as a base — with what he called “a maximalist operational” approach. “Strategy should employ resources of a state to achieve policy aims with the least amount of blood and treasure spent,” he said.

Counterinsurgency could ultimately work in Afghanistan, he said, if the United States were willing to stay there for generations. “I’m talking 70, 80, 90 years,” he said.

Colonel Gentile, who has photographs in his office of five young soldiers in his battalion killed in the 2006 bloodshed in Baghdad, acknowledged that it was difficult to question the wars in the face of the losses.

“But war ultimately is a political act, and I take comfort and pride that we as a military organization, myself as a commander of those soldiers who died, the others who were wounded and I think the American Army writ large, that we did our duty,” he said. “And there is honor in itself of doing your duty. I mean you could probably push back on me and say you’re still saying the war’s not worth it. But I’m a soldier, and I go where I’m told to go, and I do my duty as best I can.”


Here we have Gentile, a well-known critic of those with the COIN fetish, stating that war is a political act.  And that COIN could work, though only over a long time period.  Just that most of what we’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan doesn’t seem to have been successful or worth the price in lives and money, and the time frame required for it to be so doesn’t fit with what we’re willing to sacrifice.

Now here is his antagonist:


Colonel Meese’s opposing argument is that warfare cannot be divorced from its political, economic and psychological dimensions — the view advanced in the bible of counterinsurgents, the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual that was revised under General Petraeus in 2006. Hailed as a new way of warfare (although drawing on counterinsurgencies fought by the United States in Vietnam in the 1960s and the Philippines from 1899 to 1902, among others), the manual promoted the protection of civilian populations, reconstruction and development aid.

“Warfare in a dangerous environment is ultimately a human endeavor, and engaging with the population is something that has to be done in order to try to influence their trajectory,” Colonel Meese said.


Reading this, it doesn’t seem like Gentile and Meese are very far apart on the notion that war is a political act.  I'm not sure there is a military officer who even thinks that it isn't.  And it’s hard to believe that Gentile, a published author and professor at West Point who gets quoted regularly as an expert on military affairs, doesn’t think that war also includes economic and psychological factors.  Nor does it seem he would disagree that war occurs in a dangerous context or that you have to engage with the population and influence them.  And I doubt that Meese would disagree with Gentile’s comment that “[s]trategy should employ resources of a state to achieve policy aims with the least amount of blood and treasure spent.”


The bottom line is there is not a whole lot of disagreement between the two, certainly nothing "existential."  Meaning there doesn’t appear to be a “divided” faculty at West Point.


This whole article misses the boat about what the disagreements of COIN are about, which essentially deal with whether or not it is an appropriate doctrine for accomplishing America’s national security objectives.  In other words, has it been effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is it a model to use in future operations?  Gentile thinks not, and we know this from his previous writings.  Meese, we should assume (though don’t know for sure because the article doesn’t make it clear), probably does.  Yet this topic isn’t really covered at all in the article, save Meese’s dubious claim that it was the doctrine that was responsible for the decline in violence in Iraq, an argument Douglas Ollivant  critiques pretty well here.


It’s too bad the article isn’t better written.  A good piece in the New York Times that goes in-depth into what counterinsurgency is, what critics say, and whether or not it has been effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, would have brought more value to readers.  Even better would have been some inside knowledge on the rewrite of the COIN manual that is currently taking place.  Unfortunately, this one is so broad and convoluted it reads like a pastiche of others stories the author was writing and decided to cobble together for a Memorial Day special.


There’s really only one thing newsworthy in it, namely,  that Gentile has a book coming out. Gentile is the COINdinistas gadfly, and opposing views like his are always useful for avoiding groupthink when big issues are at stake.  It’s called: Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace With Counterinsurgency.   Based on his previous work I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy it.  


Post-Conflict Stabilization Doctrine and Training Resources

Here are two interesting resources available for you to further develop your knowledge and skill sets when it comes to post-conflict stabilization and state-building . . .


The first is a joint venture from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute to develop a manual for those involved in post-conflict stabilization.  The 244 page document  is entitled “Guidelines for Stabilization and Reconstruction,” and is available for download here




It is not unlike the recent cooperation between the U.S. Army and Marine Corps on Field Manual 3-07: Stability Operations, and before that, Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency Operations, which is much more famous.  Together, these three documents should be considered the key texts when it comes to U.S. government policy as it relates to post-conflict stabilization and stability operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. 


Ambassador John Herbst, who is the State Department’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, wrote about the Guidelines in his office’s Winter 2009/2010 newsletter, calling it “doctrine” for “civilian planners and practitioners involved in peacebuilding missions.”


According to Herbst:


[The] manual offers two important contributions: 1) a comprehensive set of shared principles and 2) a shared strategic framework. Both rise directly from the enormous wealth of knowledge and experience that has accrued across the global peacebuilding community over the last two decades. The development of the manual involved intensive vetting and consultation sessions with NATO planners, British stabilizers, UN peacebuilders and other key partners. It also involved a thorough review of hundreds of doctrinal documents produced by the very institutions that have toiled in these difficult environments. [Emphasis mine]


The second resource is a set of courses you can take from USIP that deals directly with post-conflict stabilization.  The only issue is they are all based in Washington, DC.


Below are descriptions of two sample courses being held in June . . .


Peacebuilding Organizations and Institutions

Covers the missions, cultures, operating procedures, and other essential characteristics of key international organizations, regional organizations, government organizations, militaries, and nongovernmental organizations in peace operations and stability operations. Inter-organizational planning, communication, and coordination in hostile environments are also addressed.


Economics and Conflict

Participants explore the analytical links between economic activity and conflict as well as the practical constraints and rewards of using economic instruments of conflict management. Case studies and simulations set in Kosovo, Haiti, and Sudan encourage participants to formulate economic instruments within a strategic framework for economic development in vulnerable and conflict-affected states.


Those who wish to work in post-conflict stabilization often find it difficult to get their foot in the door unless they’re already a U.S. government employee and deployed into one of these areas, or have worked for an NGO in another area and brought in.  Those who already work in this area find there are not many training opportunities and most of what you learn is either on the job or through self-study.


In both cases, by internalizing the above manuals and taking some of these courses, individuals can better position themselves for finding positions and working successfully in conflict and post-conflict environments. 


Eventually, USIP says all the courses will be online.  Three are already up and are available for free.  I’ve taken their online certificate course in conflict analysis and thought it well worth the time.


D3 Weekly Link Roundup

The other Super Bowl.


The ultimate development essay question:  “Is Africa to development was Mars is to NASA?” And is there a fifth poverty trap for Africa?  (Paul Collier in The Bottom Billion counts four).


Transparency International releases a practical guide for combating corruption in humanitarian relief and reconstruction.


Executive Outcomes founder Eeben Barlow challenges the prevailing wisdom on COIN and provides some useful info on the development of conflict in an African context. 


Meanwhile, Tom Ricks starts a series on COIN Metrics that he cribs from a paper by David Kilcullen.


BTW, the Russians had some kick-ass COIN All-stars too.


The State Department readies for a larger role in Iraq. 


Great non-profits need a better rating system, according to Full Contact Philanthropy.


Using General McChrystal’s own words, Harvard professor and Foreign Policy magazine blogger Stephen Walt suggests we shouldn't believe anything he says in regards to Afghanistan. 


In Mesopotamia, Musings on Iraq reports that a slim majority of Iraqis are optimistic about the future and that U.S. media coverage is way down and “almost out.”


Glenn Greenwald pens an excellent piece on the true scope of our wrongdoing when it comes to the Iraq War.


Want up to $250K for your individual community service project or favorite non-profit?  Via Pulling for the Underdog, we learn that Pepsi’s “Refresh Everything” initiative is giving out up to $1.3 million a month for US-based individuals and community groups interested in positive change.  It’s been called a “pathbreaking” corporate social responsibility initiative.  (Click here for an insider’s view on how it works).


Online courses on designing and funding sustainable development projects.


Owen Barder discusses aid, income and “Dutch Disease.”


Myth and realities regarding Chinese aid to Africa.


Haiti, anarchy, and the collapse of societies.


Daniel Gerstle over at’s War and Peace blog on how disaster preparedness and peace-building can save money and lives over the long-run.


A review by the Kings of War on John Mackinlay’s book The Insurgent Archipelago.


The mad scientists at DARPA move beyond planet hacking and into making the earth transparent.


The gents over at On Violence discuss what U.S. Army physical fitness training has to do with losing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Finally, Joseph Collins on civil-military relations (my comments here).



D3 Weekly Link Roundup

Baba Tim over at Free Range International properly eviscerates 60 Minutes and Lara Logan for a lame ass piece of reporting on Special Forces (who don’t come out looking too hot themselves) in Afghanistan.


DOD releases the Quadrennial Defense Review.  The Atlantic Council has an analysis.


Republicans take on the Military over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen (who was nice enough to once give me a coin) is an American Hero.


Foreign Affairs has a nice compendium on what to read on foreign aid along with a breakdown of the three main competing approaches to foreign assistance.


State & USAID’s FY11 Budget Request is released, increasing the size of both organizations and expanding the foreign assistance budget.  The folks at the Center for Global Development see it as a strong signal for development.   Some in Congress fear that with 10% employment and other urgent issues here at home, it will face a “difficult political environment.”


The Economist reviews the Bill Gates’ 2010 Annual Letter on development.


The State Department’s dueling Twitterati.


Henry Kissinger pens an op-ed in the Washington Post advising the Obama Administration to focus his Iraq policy on more than just troop withdrawals.  


John Robb on a “Byzantine”  grand strategy for American foreign policy. (Hint:  Avoid COIN like the plague). 


Some Haitians want the U.S. to take over.  Also, who’s paying for Haiti?


Mountain Runner who is a must read for all things related to public diplomacy highlights an article by former U.S. Information Agency Associate Director Walter Yates entitled: “The Voice of America: Origin and Recollections.”


And finally, the proposed Pakistani Ambassador to Saudi Arabia is rejected because his name when translated into Arabic means “biggest dick.”