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April 13, 2010

The Myth of a Kinder, Gentler War
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at World Policy Journal, I have a new article that encapsulates much of what I've written about counter-insurgency over the past year here at Democracy Arsenal; it's coercive, it's violent and the United States should do everything in its power to avoiding fighting one. But this version is better because it's chock full of historical examples!

Shortly after he assumed command of all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal provided his soldiers with operational guidance for fighting insurgent Taliban forces. McChrystal’s words directly reflect the Pentagon’s new model of U.S. warfare and inform the philosophy behind the current U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan: “The ongoing insurgency must be met with a counterinsurgency campaign adapted to the unique conditions in each area that: protects the Afghan people, allowing them to choose a future they can be proud of; provides a secure environment allowing good government and economic development to undercut the causes and advocates of insurgency.”

According to McChrystal, the “Afghan people are at the center of our reality they are the mission.” These sentiments are reflective of what has become the new way of American war—population-centric counter-insurgency (COIN). The focus on COIN doctrine was enshrined by Gen. David Petraeus and the 2006 publication of the Army and Marine counter-insurgency manual, FM 3-24, which calls for a military approach that seeks to convince the population that counter-insurgents, acting on behalf of a sovereign government, can be trusted and are worthy of popular support.

With its seemingly progressive and humanistic approach, FM 3-24, and counter- insurgency in general, offer a seductive ideal for the future of American war fighting. But the veneration of COIN conceals a brutal reality. The history of counter-insurgency in the twentieth century is not a story of warm and fuzzy war, of benevolent soldiers providing essential government services to grateful natives, of armed social work, or of the gentleman soldier’s antidote to the Shermanesque notion of Total War. Instead, counter-insurgency is a repeated tale of coercion and violence directed largely against unarmed civilians. And this defines both those COIN efforts that have been successful—and those that have failed.

You can read the whole thing here.


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On this point of view I would like to add according to Feaver Obama also runs the political risk of seeming to adopt politically correct rhetoric abroad while appearing tone deaf on national security issues at home.

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