Kevin Drum and Phil Carter discuss length of combat tours and counterinsurgency, and conclude that there’s no answer. As Kevin says “Short tours don’t give you enough time to learn the ground and the people, but long tours eat up the troops. There’s no good middle ground.”
Carter’s suggestion to try to make sure to re-deploy people back to the same place they’d deployed to previously does seem like one step in the direction of a middle ground. Another necessary step would, I think, be to make sure that we’re very leery as a matter of national strategy from getting involved in these kind of situations rather than deluded ourselves into thinking that some doctrinal improvements suddenly make the impossible possible. Last simply a sense of scale — there’s a whole lot of different kinds of things that can fall under the counterinsurgency or stability operations heading many of which are much less giant, manpower intensive, and infeasible than what’s happening in Iraq. I hear different things, for example, about the merits of our ongoing counterinsurgency assistance to Colombia but it’s certainly not creating some unbearable strain on our military. Simply avoiding situations that require hundreds of thousands of American soldiers for a years-long mission seems like the most important piece of the puzzle.