Robert Farley disagrees with me about the new counterinsurgency push inside the US Army. Or at least he thinks he does. I’m not sure we actually do disagree. I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all for the Army to start thinking about this issue more clearly. My worry is that they’re not actually getting this right. In his critique of US counterinsurgency policy of the typical American errors Jeffrey Record identifies is a proclivity for apolitical and astrategic thinking that ignores the linkages between military operations and policy objectives.
The new field manual pays lip-service to political-military linkages, but I don’t feel like it really grasps them. In particular, I worry that this is implicitly promoting the view that Vietnam and Iraq were primarily operational failures that could have “worked” had the US government adopted sounder counterinsurgency tactics. In fact, I think a clear-eyed look at counterinsurgency theory would tell you the reverse. In Iraq, we almost certainly could have produced a less FUBAR situation with better counterinsurgency tactics, but adopting such tactics would have entailed abandonning the main policy goal of the war — transformation of Iraq into an ally of America’s quest for regional hegemony.
Obviously, it’s not really the Army’s job to set overall foreign policy for the United States. At the same time, however, the top brass ill-serves the country if it promotes the idea that it’s prepared to achieve things that it is not, in fact, prepared to achieve. People need to be aware that there are real, objective limits on what military force can accomplish and that our military is composed of soldiers rather than magicians.