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Newness from the Washington Independent! It’s Part 10 of "The Rise Of The Counterinsurgents." For today’s installment, we go to the COIN Leaders’ Conference in Leavenworth, Kansas, to learn how the counterinsurgents of the next couple rotations — and, for that matter, wars — are learning to think about their conflicts.

The instructor called up the slide on an gigantic screen, so that the nearly 200 students in the lecture hall could see. The lesson was about the effect of leadership on the durability of insurgencies. One example was Al Qaeda. The slide asked: “If UBL” — meaning Osama bin Laden — “dies, is the insurgency dead?” The next example was the American Revolution. “If George Washington dies, is the revolution dead?”

The instructor, Mark Ulrich, explained that his efforts were geared toward getting the class to think about insurgencies in objective and clinical terms. “Again: clinical!” Ulrich practically yelled just before putting the slides on the projector. “Think clinical. Don’t think ‘terrorism-bad.’ That whole thing, ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,’ that’s not clinical. That’s emotional.”

If this were any other academic setting — a New England liberal arts college, for example — and a tweedy professor tacitly compared bin Laden to George Washington, no matter how loosely, he would find himself targeted by Fox News for the sin of moral equivalence. But Ulrich is largely inoculated against such charges. He’s an Army lieutenant colonel and Iraq veteran assigned to the joint Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman