Counterinsurgency Is Constantly Succeeding Despite Lack of Visible Examples of Success

One of the paradoxes of the ever-popular “counterinsurgency” school of warfighting is that there are almost no examples of a country accomplishing anything useful via counterinsurgency warfare. Hence, there’s always a premium on weird arguments that redefine failure as a kind of success. Hence perhaps the key text of the counterinsurgency narrative is Lewis Sorley’s A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam arguing that contrary to appearances American military strategy in Vietnam was actually a smashing success. So I suppose it was inevitable that (via Spencer Ackerman) someone would eventually try to run the argument with regard to the Soviets in Afghanistan:

But was the Soviet strategy, which Goodson and Johnson blame the U.S. for following, really a failure? In “Follow the Bear,” an essay published in February 2010 by Proceedings, four field-grade U.S. officers (three of whom served in Afghanistan) claim that the Soviets improved their tactics around 1986 and by the end were implementing many practices now found in FM 3-24. The authors assert that the Soviet end-game exceeded expectations, that the Soviets departed Afghanistan on their own terms, and that they left behind a friendly government that had the potential to last – and did in fact outlast the Soviet Union itself (I have cited “Follow the Bear” elsewhere). They conclude that “following the Bear” is a good idea.

Uh huh. You can read Spencer for a more detailed rebuttal, but I’ll stick with “uh huh.” At any rate, Vietnam is a unified country and its capital is Hanoi. The Union Jack does not fly over Malaysia or Kenya. And there was no stable Soviet satellite government installed in Afghanistan. It’s just really, really, really hard to defeat a determined modern nationalist movement.