Archive for the ‘Irregular Warfare’ Category

Back in August, I wrote a piece entitled “On Teaching the COIN Canon and Speaking Truth through Fiction” that makes a number of claims regarding how and, more importantly, why we teach counterinsurgency to non-practitioners.  Among them was the coming shift in how counterinsurgency is valued relative to the broader idea of irregular warfare:

What is the value of teaching counterinsurgency—especially to non-practitioners? According to Farley, knowledge of counterinsurgency will “help them get jobs and (more importantly) excel at the jobs they got.” With troop levels declining abroad and a rash of civilian hiring freezes in federal agencies and departments, these good intentions may be two or three years too late. Moreover, the value of counterinsurgency expertise may be flagging if history repeats itself. Few would dispute Rupert Smith’s contention that the wars of the future will be “amongst the people,” but the shadow of budget cuts will likely mean the Obama Administration will look to more limited and indirect options than the costly, time-intensive counterinsurgency proposed by some. Better advice to students might be to adapt that experience into a broader specialty less sullied in the strategic and political debates of the last decade such as “irregular warfare.”

I was hardly sticking my neck out with that prediction, but President Obama, Secretary Panetta, and General Dempsey’s comments today addressing the Defense Strategic Review would seem to bear that out.  In the Defense Strategic Guidance (PDF), “Counterterrorism and Irregular Warfare” get top billing in the list of capabilities that DoD will make a priority including “selective additional investments.”  Counterinsurgency is still there, but it appears second-to-last and gone are the “large-scale, prolonged stability operations” that have embodied the American brand of “COIN.”  In short:  Down with stability operations!  Long live Security Force Assistance!  (However, in what may be described as a strategic Freudian slip, the word “counterinsurgency” appears one more time in the document than does “irregular warfare.”)

What does this mean in practical terms?  First, non-interventionalists on the Left and Right will be dismayed to know that America still intends to project power globally and a ground war in Iran–yikes–is not off the table.  Secondly, the buzz among the NatSec twitter nerds (you know who you are) was that the speech heralded a RMA 2.0 or constituted this odd echo of the Rumsfeld Pentagon.  That sentiment resonated less with me.

My primary concern was there were no hard choices were made except for the stability operations, but really who is calling for a generational commitment to a country American’s can’t find on a map these days?  Besides, the Defense Strategic Guidances does leave the door open for “short-term” operations (queue the Friedman Unit).  There is greater geographical specificity (Asia and the Middle East)–but not by much.  Another red flag is the way that technology is posited as a cure-all.

Is this the end of COIN’s narrative of warrior-intellectuals and foreign intervention?  At least for COIN’s heyday (2006-2010ish), the representation of contemporary “Lawrence[s]” has been a powerful driver of policy and public sentiment.  However, it remains to be seen whether or not that narrative will persist.


Read Full Post »