For a while now, I’ve been struggling to express exactly what’s been bothering me about the new counterinsurgency focus within some quarters of the US Army and sectors of the press. This morning’s Cato forum asking what we’ve learned about counterinsurgency from Iraq and Afghanistan was very helpful in that regard. On hand was Dr. Conrad Crane from the US Army War College Institute of Strategic Studies. Crane is, among other things, the lead author of the widely-hailed new counterinsurgency field manual. Listening to his presentation and reading portions of the manual, what I keep coming back to is this: If you accept the claims being made here, they amount to saying here’s a strategy by which we could have established a stable Iraqi state with effective internal security forces.
The thing of it is that if what we wanted was a stable Iraqi state with effective internal security forces, we could have gotten through a much easier method than an expensive and arduous well-implemented counterinsurgency doctrine. All we needed to do was not invade. A stable Iraq simply wasn’t ever the goal of the mission. The administration’s goal was a stable Iraqi state with effective internal security forces that would play host to a permanent American military presence and serve as a loyal ally against Iran, Syria, and other regional foes. As an added bonus, they wanted a beacon of human rights and democracy. That isn’t something a better counterinsurgency manual would have let us achieve.
And this, again, is the problem with incompetence dodgers’ appeals to counterinsurgency theory to prove that liberal hawks weren’t wrong, just betrayed by Bush’s bungling. Like the Bush administration, their war aims were substantially more ambitious than anything counterinsurgency warfare theorists are prepared to promise. The liberal hawk crowd probably put more weight than the administration on the beacon of freedom and democracy aspect and a bit less on obtaining an ally in America’s continuing quest for regional hegemony, but it was roughly the same mix. There was, simply put, never any reason to think the prospects of this outcome were good, and nothing about counterinsurgency doctrine should make you think otherwise.