Snap Back To Reality

Counterinsurgency skeptic Gian Gentile — one of the most interesting defense thinker/practitioners in the U.S. Army — has a tremendously valuable essay on the myths and the reality of the surge in the new issue of World Affairs.

For surge enthusiasts, there is no such thing as declaring victory too soon. Historically, in order for a counterinsurgency to succeed, the counterinsurgent force must operate in a society with a relatively cohesive identity and alongside a government that possesses at least some measure of legitimacy—two conditions plainly spelled out in the new counterinsurgency manual. Neither apply to Iraq, where ministries operate by sect rather than by function, sectarian hatreds have gone well beyond the point where “hearts and minds” campaigns will dampen them, and only a decades-long American occupation can prevent the country from coming apart at the seams. We are fighting an insurgency; they are fighting a civil war. In 2006, a Sunni brigade commander in the Iraqi National Police (a rarity in the Shia-dominated force) told me, shortly after the destruction of the Samarra mosque, that it would take “400 years” for Iraq to resolve this war. Recent history suggests that for Americans even ten years might be too long.

Whoa! Don’t tell that to David Brooks! He knows so much more about the surge than this puny former Baghdad battalion commander and two-Iraq-tour veteran.

Additionally: Gian also makes points that speak directly to the current debate within the Army about whether it’s focusing too much or not enough on counterinsurgency. I’ll be honest and say I go back and forth on that question, and want to do some additional reporting before I weigh in one way or the other. In any event, get ready for the inevitable — and inevitably valuable — response pieces at Abu Muqawama and Small Wars Journal. Guys?

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman