Monday, May 28, 2012

Hardly Academic? Hardly!

A very good piece in the NYT today about the debate within West Point about the future of counter-insurgency and the US military.  The article covers the views of both COIN-istas and COIN haters.  This is progress.  Why? Because ten years ago, there was little debate about COIN at all.  Now, you have two sides engaged in an argument, which is one of the best things that can happen to the folks going through West Point--to be exposed to this argument.  They don't have be a COIN fan or foe, but to see that sharp minds can disagree is a valuable thing.  When these cadets some day get placed into harm's way or are in the chain of command, they will perhaps be more open to different points of view.

One of the critical problems in the US military has been the desire to forget unfortunate pasts and avoid skill sets that might end up being used.  After Vietnam, COIN was put away and not really considered except by some mavericks like Petraeus.  My hope is that this history is not repeated.  The reality is that politicians will put troops into situations that require many of the skills and tactics that the Army learned at great cost the past ten years, whether the military wants to do such stuff or not.  Better to remember these lessons with a slightly higher risk of having to use them than to forget and then have to re-learn while under fire.

War, as Clausewitz said, is politics by other means.  COIN doctrine takes that to heart.  US grand strategy may be better served by avoiding fighting any insurgents, but as long as the US remains the predominant conventional power, the opponents of the US will mostly try to fight via insurgency.  Well, the smart ones, anyway.  Shouldn't we be prepared for that reality?

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