Here Comes The Argument

Who called it? Over at Abu Muqawama, my counterinsurgent friend Dr. iRack responds to Gian Gentile’s account of the surge:

In sum, to a limited extent, Gentile has a point—but, as usual, he pushes it too far. The surge may not have been the strategy, but it was a piece of a new strategy that also included efforts to exploit and build upon the changing calculations of Iraqi combatants. And while surge practices may not have been completely new, they weren’t entirely old either. Instead of the extremes represented by surginistas, on the one hand, and the Gentile-style rejectionists, on the other, Dr. iRack sees the application of COIN during the surge period as a culmination and effective aggregation across the force of hard-won lessons from the 2003-2006 period rather than a sea change. This conclusion recognizes the good work done by soldiers and Marines early in the war—including Gentile’s troopers—while recognizing that many mistakes were made and that the overall strategy through 2006 was deeply flawed.

In the end, the world needs Gian Gentile. It needs guys with the balls to take on the dominant “narratives,” “frames,” “myths,” etc. that pervade our discussions of Iraq and so many other issues. And it needs guys with the balls to stand up to their own institutions—in this case, the U.S. Army. But having balls does not make one right.

To throw in a bit: I like to see Dr. iRack (or whomever; maybe the SWJ guys?) grapple with the larger point of Gian’s piece, which is that the surge is ultimately folly, as the Iraq war is irredeemable. In my own writings about the counterinsurgency community, dealing that question is often saved until after last-call, figuratively and (very often) literally. And I understand: for many, it’s not over and done with, and the jury’s still out, and not everyone has to come to a hard-and-fast conclusion about an ongoing war, which is something that a lot of us on both the permanent-war and the out-now sides would do well to remember. Without grappling with that, though, discussions about COIN can often feel like abstract political-science debates, even between men and women who fought, bled and lost friends and soldiers/Marines there.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman