Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Good Idea Fairy

Sometimes a visit from the Good Idea Fairy can be a good thing. Often such a visit has an effect in inverse proportion to the rank of the individual visited, but that's another story.

Anyone who's ever had a close encounter with an enraged Wily Bull Fobbit in full rut would understand.

In any case, I've had a couple of visits from the Good Idea Fairy lately. One crept in through a pismiov port on my computer, tickling my fume response and leaving Mr. Michael Sweeney of Leavenworth, Washington covered in sticky infamy that will cling to him for quite some time.

I can't wait until he Googles himself.

The Good Idea Fairy failed me in goading me to insult one K-9 Soldiers' Angel and the Angel wife of a deployed soldier who happens to be a practicing attorney. The wife, not the soldier... well, maybe both of them... I don't know if he is, but she is; and she's one of our Angels.


Fortunately, she seemed to be of good cheer. Towards me, that is; she didn't seem to have much use for Mr. Sweeney other than as a doorstop or a speed bump. The K-9 Angel (love to see that one taping up a box for a deployed Soldier,) apparently envisioned Mr. Sweeney as a chew toy.

"What is it??? I can't read!!!! It's bacon!! Blech! Phooey! No! It's cat poop!"

A sizable group of people did wrap our Angels in the respect that they deserve, though, letting them know that they are truly part of us, and how much we appreciate them. So that was cool.

The second visit from the Good Idea Fairy was much more benign. It was a little voice in my ear telling me that perhaps I should recommend a good book to everyone. This voice in my ear (it could have been my Bluetooth, or I may have been having an auditory hallucination, I'm not sure) told me that I sometimes talk a lot about counterinsurgency, or COIN, and that while many do understand what this stuff is all about, for many it's all very interesting but a little frustrating. Perhaps suggesting a good book would be of help.

"Aha, I thought... the Bill and Bob's Book Club? Hey, someone's going to have to take over for Oprah, now that her name came up for the Senate, right?" The sands of delusion slowly trickled down upon me from the hourglass of wisdom and the Good Idea Fairy's work was soon done. The seed began to grow. Letters swirled through the mists of half-formed thoughts and began to settle into form.


"Gawhola?" you may ask.

Galula. David Galula. The name that rolls so trippingly off of the tongue leads us to the best book, the primer, to help an individual take their rightful place in any meaningful discussion of how to move forward in Afghanistan. He is the author of the primer on counterinsurgency. After his death in 1967, his work lay largely dormant until dug up as if in some Pirate of the Caribbean movie; a treasure as precious as Davy Jones' heart beating forlornly in a box littered with old love letters. Our Army's most recent doctrinal offering, FM 3-24, is based upon his writings (among others,) inspiring COL Gian Gentile to refer to FM 3-24 as "Galula on steroids."

Images of a bespectacled Frenchman with Popeye arms flash through my head.

David Galula's book, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice is the the first (and, at this point, only) book on the Bill and Bob's Book Club list.

You see, there is an internal struggle going on inside the Army. I've commented on this before, and I've gone into a little bit of detail on it. Reading this book will make a person more or less instantly conversant in COIN. Much of the debate raging withing the great marbled halls of Milacademia will be instantly within one's grasp.

You will also know how to kick a Senator or Congressman squarely in the direction of encouraging the development of policies that may stand some chance of bringing success in Afghanistan. Not all of these policies are military.

Oh, and the book is a pretty quick read and not nearly as dry as it sounds. Miracles happen when it is read with a mind eager for enlightenment. Suddenly, the mystery of Viet Nam is revealed. It makes you want to dig up Walter Cronkite and explain it to him.

And so, I proudly recommend David Galula's Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice to you. Then we will have spirited discussions of such things as the four basic rules that Galula submitted as the guidelines for COIN (which, by the way, was not called COIN until our Army got ahold of it. It is our contribution to counterinsurgency. Since we can't practice it with any degree of consistency, at least we can give it a snappy name.

1. The first law is that the population is paramount. That is, the support of the people is the primary objective of a counterinsurgency campaign. Without the support of the population, it is impossible to root out all the insurgents and stop further recruitment.

2. Such support is most readily obtained from an active minority. Those willing to actively support a counterinsurgency operation should be supported in their efforts to rally the relatively neutral majority and neutralize the hostile minority.

3. Having attained the support of the population it is imperative to remember that this support is conditional. What you do matters, and support can be lost if your actions are unfavorable to the population.

4. The fourth and final law of counterinsurgency regards the "intensity of effort and vastness of means." Because counterinsurgency requires a large concentration of effort, resources,and personnel, it is unlikely that it can be pursued effectively everywhere at once. Rather, action should be taken in select areas, and resources moved as needed. Thus, according to the laws of counterinsurgency, it is important to continuously make efforts at gaining and maintaining the support of the populace in distinct areas by leveraging an active minority.

There's actually a lot more to it than that, but as you can see, it's not Clausewitz. Counterinsurgency is warfare forced to recognize that war is politics writ violent. Hell, it looks like a presidential campaign plan more than a war strategy, doesn't it? That's part of the reason why many conventionally trained warriors read it, have the same reaction that AngelDog did upon tasting Sweeney's butt, and go back to chasing ghosts.

It's worse than that. Many of our Soldiers can't even spell Galula. I've got a good idea... why don't we start training them in this stuff early... like when they're Corporals? What if we had Corporals that understood the strategy? What would happen if we had Strategic Corporals? What a concept!

It's mind-boggling.

Of course, we'd have to actually buy-in to the theory. Corporals are funny that way; they don't like the "do as I say, not as I do," stuff. What an idea.

Isn't the Good Idea Fairy cool?

This one was. And the one that goaded me into a healthy Sweeneysliming. Hell, I've had just a blast this week with the Good Idea Fairy; so much so, in fact, that I decided to make a pilgrimage to a veritable shrine to the Good Idea Fairy... Ft Leavenworth. I will be a resident COIN Gnome at this Palace of the Good Idea Fairy for the next couple of weeks, scribing mysterious tracts on parchment in a candlelit attic, texts that will bring enlightenment to millions.

Or a couple of dozen. We're not really sure yet.

I'm co-authoring what promises to be the definitive work in its field; Splashes of Blue; the Judicious Use of Portable Latrine Technology in COIN. It's sort of a new take on the "ink-spot theory."

It's all so darned exciting.


  1. The Good Idea Fairy comes in quite handy at times, no? ;-)

  2. Ahh, I see. I see I've become redundant.

    Good luck and God Bless!

  3. "Splashes of Blue; the Judicious Use of Portable Latrine Technology in COIN"

    I was engaged in a COIN training excercise in Camp Pendleton once, as the insurgent commander. I took great pleasure in placing flash-bangs in the port-a-potties strategically positioned around the training area. Just watching the crap fly, literally, when an unsuspecting Marine opened the door was darned near the funniest thing I ever saw. Of course, the Marines in question didn't think so but their squad mates did, once up wind of them....


  4. Blue,
    Sometimes the Good Idea Fairy conducts her own form of COIN by inserting superb ideas such as the book club. Sign me up as an active member, there may be serious issues getting the books here, but luckily I've already read the first selection.

    You're definitely correct that this is a pivotal piece of work regarding COIN. My team has his four points posted in our TOC to remind us daily what we're here to do and help the ANA do.It seems that the CF and SF have lost sight of this and is focused on the "sexy" idea of direct action vs. the boring and hard work of infrastructure and relationship building.

    If I can get an autographed copy of "Splashes of Blue" I'd really appreciate it! It will make great toilet reading, oh wait I don't have a toilet just a portipotty. Well, anyway I look forward to your future work and I'm sure it will be remembered in the annals of COIN literary work!

  5. Sign me up, too, for the Book Club. The way you have set it out, COIN sounds so simple, logical, (and such a snappy name....lol)that AngelBratDog and I will be checking out the book you recommend;)

  6. I'm a bookworm, sign me up for the bookclub. Will be checking out the book you suggested.-angel Jerusha

  7. I can never read Galula without thinking of Kelling's Broken Windows Theory as the civilan (law enforcement) version of COIN.

    Kelling developed the theory in the early 80s, which, if I'm correct, came after Galula's work. But I've never checked to find out if he was influenced by Galula. Wouldn't surprise me.

    Anyway, just a random thought.


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