Friday, March 6, 2009

Not Now, Cato!

In the Pink Panther series of movies, Inspector Clousaeau had a trusty companion whose job it was to keep Clouseau sharp by attacking him at the most inopportune times, like when he was just coming in the door. The cry of inspector Clouseau at these inappropriately-timed attacks rang through my memory this evening.

Earlier I indulged myself in ruminating all over Abu Muqawama's post this afternoon. I missed the point. Completely. COL Gian Gentile made an appearance and raised one of his calls, which is like Pavlov performing a cowbell concerto to me. Gentile was not the point. In part it was a response to Justin Logan at the Cato Institute, who criticized Exum's statement that real counterinsurgents want less counterinsurgency, not more of it.

More after the jump...

Exum's response sparked a discussion of the differences between policy, strategy, operations and doctrine. The discussion widened to include "grand strategy" and so on and the discussion in comments seemed to take a turn. Somewhere around my delight at seeing Gentile present a question that I thought, "Oooh! Oooh! I got it!" I lost the point. I completely forgot to read Logan's petulant post which had inspired the need to discuss policy vs doctrine. I posted two lengthy comments and, satisfied, went about finding things worth reading.

Having opened Logan's post in a separate tab, I eventually came back around to it. "D'oh!" I said to myself. Not only had I missed the point, but there had in the meantime been a response to Exum's post by Benjamin Friedman.

Sheesh, fellas, he's barely warmed the seat he's occupying. As with Clouseau, Cato attacks before one is settled in the house.

Logan quotes a Bush NSC member in what appears to be a slam by agreement, then settles on his point:

Orienting planning and resources more toward COIN is likely to lead to more counterinsurgency wars. I’m pretty confident in this prediction. If somebody disagrees, I’d like to hear a better fleshed out argument behind the idea that telling policymakers “we now know how to do COIN pretty well” will lead to those policymakers to decide we ought to do it less.

Mr. Logan's main peeve is that people like Exum, if successful, will provide politicians with a capability that they just shouldn't be trusted with, and so the best alternative is to not develop the capability.

Friedman strikes with a slightly different approach with a similar theme, first exhorting Exum to exercise his stark power as the FNG at CNAS, and then stating the meat of his argument:

Second, the stark divide between strategy and operations is an ideal. The theory that the military services are only professional technicians serving the ends of politicians is too simple. The Army has political interests, which change with its structure and leadership. Those interests affect our defense and foreign policy.

I will not argue that, given the opportunity, the military will influence policy. Leaders of any significant organization in this country will, given the opportunity, say their piece and will attempt to influence policy. In fact, isn't that what think tanks do?

The question is, how is becoming capable of succeeding in what is now a shooting war in Afghanistan threatening? How does the Army's addition of "secure" to the bag of tricks alongside "attack" and "defend" threaten these two men? Their response is that of threatened men, and it appears that they are irritated with Exum for having joined CNAS, who they wish would quit advocating counterinsurgency as a remedy for terrorism. I will have to look into Cato's recommendations for dealing with terrorism. I don't know anything about their corporate stand on that topic. The only thing I do know is that they object to the CNAS take on it.

More clear to me is that the realist view of small wars wars could use support.

Friedman wraps it up,

They say that the best solution is don’t do it and next best is to severely curtail your objectives and stop confusing counterinsurgency with counterterrorism.

Personally, I'd like to see my Army quit confusing counter-guerrilla with counterinsurgency. Perhaps then this discussion wouldn't seem somewhat silly. What this argument seems to settle into is that good counterinsurgency will not only not help stop terrorism, but will also lead policymakers into trying to change the governments of even more countries. You know, if the government ever "got" counterinsurgency, and that removing one government in favor of revamping the governmental landscape of a nation will include counterinsurgency; understanding that really effective counterinsurgency is not a purely military exercise, then the enormity of the task would be plenty discouraging to its wanton application.

A quick glance at the current state of Afghanistan will answer the question of whether the United States Government in its many forms has truly learned this lesson.

It seems to me that their real fear is has to do with the policymakers, not the military's attempt at development and deployment of doctrine to satisfy the requirements put on its plate by those policymakers.


  1. So, if I'm getting the argument right, some people are saying that knowing how to do COIN will cause more of it. Therefore, we shouldn't learn how to do COIN.

    Two things:

    1. Yes, because that worked *so* well after Vietnam. Just because we don't know how to do COIN means our enemies will be so solicitous as to fight only conventional war.

    2. Does this mean that knowing how to fight conventional war increases the likelihood of conventional war? By extension, does that mean that knowing how to have sex increases my chances of getting laid? The answer, of course, is no. In both cases, regrettably. Just because I know how to perform an action, doesn't mean that I will necessarily *do* it.

  2. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/06/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  3. Just curious. Why do you think the Army is confusing counter-insurgency and counter-guerrilla? From what I have seen the Army as a whole has embraced counter-insurgency while conducting counter-guerrilla operations. The big difference now from the 1986 Counterguerilla manual is the focus on the people vice an enemy centric approach.

  4. Dale Kuehl, I can't speak for Blue but having been a long time reader I suspect the answer is that Counter-gueriilla operations are strictly kinetic in nature. There are a lot of people in the Army from very senior levels on down the line who have a lot invested in kinetic operations. They also tend to oppose counterinergency because of the passive elements which are added to the kinetic mix in COIN.

    Also COIN involves non-military elements as so successfully perfomed through the cooperation of GEN David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Iraq during the 'surge' of 2007-2008. Therefore many of those opposed to COIN are opposed for territorial reasons.

  5. We got good at conventional war, so we don't have conventional wars any more. Now we have guerilla/insurgents/terrorists/gangsters. We get good at fighting these wars, and something else will come up. Maybe it will be thugs holding up liquor stores.

    I tried to read the CATO page, I couldn't, my eyes glazed over.

  6. Membrain, I think most in the Army have come to understand the importance of COIN in our doctrine. If one reads the Army's 1986 Field Manual on Counter-guerrilla Operations you will actually find much in common with FM 23-4. The major difference with that manual is that it focuses primarily on the military aspects of fighting guerrilla forces whether as part of a counter-insurgency campaign or during conventional operations. Where this manual falls short is on overemphasizing the focus on the enemy as opposed to focusing on protecting the populace as in FM 23-4.

    While there are some in the Army that do not agree that we should focus on COIN, I think for the most part the Army leadership has embraced the need for training Soldiers and leaders to be able to conduct operations in this ambiguous environment. For now our training at the National Training Center is focused on conducting training units to conduct COIN operations. Since the training center comes under TRADOC and receives guidance from the Army Chief of Staff I don't think the argument that the Army does not understand the difference between COIN and counterguerrilla operations holds water.

  7. I don't think that the Chief of Staff, GEN Petraeus, or GEN McKiernan is confused about the difference. From my observations of actions on the ground, and from remaining in touch with people on the ground now, there are plenty of enemy-centric operations that are labeled as "COIN." The "confusion" is due to this mislabeling of operations by men who understand that the army leadership wants to hear their people on the ground speaking in terms that can be found in FM 3-24.

    Counter-guerrilla operations are enemy-centric, and COIN operations are population-centric. Hunting insurgents by daylight and mixing in a few HA drops and attending the occasional Shura does not make the insurgent-hunting pop-centric.

    This is not to be contrary, it is just based on observations on the ground in the not too distant past and conversations with those on the ground now. That is not to say that I didn't observe good COIN behaviors, but there were huge variances in consistency from area to area. That is why I say that I see confusion.


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