Washington Post’s Gerson Inaccurately Claims A Counterinsurgency Model Existed In Iraq

Our guest blogger is Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Michael Gerson’s column in yesterday’s Washington Post contains a major inaccuracy that has somehow become conventional wisdom: that what was done in Iraq in 2007–2008 was something call “counterinsurgency.” Gerson writes:

Iraq, the recent model for counterinsurgency success, is different from Afghanistan.

Sandwiched between Gerson’s obvious point that Iraq is different from Afghanistan is a major falsehood — that what happened in Iraq was “the recent model for counterinsurgency.” That’s actually not true.


Counterinsurgency, or COIN, was the fairy tale story sold to the American public in an attempt to claim that U.S. troops sent as part of the surge of U.S. troops actually mattered, when the reality was that massive sectarian cleansing campaigns by different Iraqi groups and paying off former insurgents were bigger factors in Iraq’s tenuous stability. Another Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, actually explained part of this (leaving out the sectarian cleansing part) in his column earlier this week:

Even in Iraq, the successes attributed to counterinsurgency came as much from bribing tribal leaders and assassinating insurgents as from fostering development projects and building trust.

For all of the hype COIN advocates have generated, the batting average of COIN in advancing U.S. national security interests is actually pretty poor. In Iraq, COIN is largely what we said we were doing, while Iraqis continued to settle scores through much of 2007 and nearly one in six Iraqis ended up being displaced by the vicious civil war.