This subject really deserves a treatment longer than a blog post, but let me recommend my colleague Matt Duss’s post on Bob Woodward and the perversity of that burgeoning establishment consensus that the main lesson of Iraq is that, whether or not we should have gone to war in the first place, we’ve now learned a bunch of awesome counterinsurgency techniques that will allow us to subdue future adversaries near and far.
I know he disagrees with this interpretation, but I’ve always thought it made a lot of sense to dwell on the fact that the title of COIN guru John Nagl’s excellent book on the subject is Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife. One thing you might ask yourself, of course, is why would you do that? And it’s hard to say. I mean, even a starving man with a bowl of soup and no spoon is just going to drink directly from a bowl. Of course you can devise some kind of scenario in which it might be necessary to eat soup with a knife, but your basic gameplan in life is going to be to avoid being in those kind of situations. And much the same, it seems to me, with the lessons of counterinsurgency. This is very difficult stuff. Like eating soup with a knife. Your top policy priority should be to avoid the situations in which it arises.