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The End of Counterinsurgency

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The End of Counterinsurgency"

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This final paragraph from Andrew Exum’s brief Boston Review note about Afghanistan seems pretty baffling to me:

The one lesson we have all—military officer, politician, and journalist alike—learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, though, is that it is best to avoid such conflicts in the first place. I, then, am one of many hoping that the Third Counterinsurgency Era will soon draw to a close. And on this point, I think Rosen and I agree.

Who is the “we” who have all learned this? Joe Lieberman? Fred Kagan? Bill Kristol? I think most military officers already knew this—the senior command of the military was notoriously skeptical about the invasion of Iraq. It seems to me that relative to where we were in 2002-2003 elites in the military-politico-journalism power structure are more skeptical of the merits of invading countries, but that relative to where we were in 2006 they’re less skeptical.

I also note that in his blog post linking to that item, Exum actually says something a bit different, not that he’s hoping the era of counterinsurgency will end but that he’s predicting it will: “While small wars and insurgencies will continue to take place across the globe, the United States and other western powers will not soon stomach another large-scale intervention requiring counterinsurgency operations along the lines of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Personally I think it’s hard to know what the future will hold in this regard. History indicates to me that it’s relatively easy for presidents to mobilize public support for foreign interventions that they want to undertake, and there’s little in the way of objective checks to presidential authority in this vein. Different presidents will take different approaches, but my suspicion is that we’ll keep intervening fairly forcefully around the world until such time that the power gap with China and/or India closes enough to actually check our ability to do so.

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