(And thanks to the Guardian for promoting GENs Petraeus and McChrystal to 5 stars)
This should be an interesting read. But this statement is especially provocative:
If I have a reservation about Porch's book, it is that he doesn't offer any alternative strategy. There remains a question of what the best response to 9/11 was: without COIN, there would certainly have been a policy vacuum.
Is COIN a policy? A strategy? We did not go to Afghanistan or Iraq because of COIN. In fact I would say that in 2001 to 2003 (or perhaps as late as 2005) there was hardly a policy maker in DC who could spell COIN (especially since Rumsfeld had pretty much banned it).
I would like to see an objective analysis of our strategy (or lack thereof) without resorting to a polemic on COIN. But then again, perhaps the reason we focus on COIN as policy and strategy is because we did not have an effective strategy that we could articulate and that the COIN buzzwords are so easy for people (from policy makers to the press) to use. Perhaps we scarified the intellectual rigor necessary to develop effective policy and the strategy to support and achieve it and instead substituted the jargon of COIN. But it is too bad that COIN is about to become a four letter word again in our military because it is critically important that we study it and know it and maintain expertise in the discipline - but not so that we can conduct it ourselves directly or unilaterally so that we can advise our friends, partners, and allies who are faced with insurgencies to defend themselves. (and I will leave the racist comments to others to dissect)
I will also leave the discussion on intelligence tactics for the subsequent articles and essays that I am sure going to be written about this book.
Domestic lessons learned from foreign wars
A new book reveals that intelligence tactics devised for use abroad are employed against America's own citizens
General David Petraeus in Kabul in 2010: 'He used tactical sleights of hand, spin and self-publicity to convince the public that they were winning the war.' Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Out of the blue, and right from the heart of the American military establishment – the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California, no less – comes a coup of analysis that has a really important message for the British and American public. It is that the counterinsurgency wars of the past decade have not only been a bloody failure, but that the tactics, methods and hardware of these wars have inevitably ended up being used against the public at home. Think of mass surveillance, of drones, secret courts, the militarisation of the police, detention without trial.
Hannah Arendt identified "the boomerang effect of imperialism on the homeland" inThe Origins of Totalitarianism, but the academic Douglas Porch has used the history of Britain, France and America to demonstrate that all the rhetoric about bringing, respectively, Britishness, liberté and freedom and democracy to the "little brown people who have no lights" is so much nonsense and that these brutal adventures almost never work and degrade the democracies that spawned them in the first place.
We always vaguely knew that there must be link between what our forces were doing abroad and what was going on at home – did we not? But what Porch does so crisply inCounterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War is to underwrite Arendt's insight with scholarship that goes back two-and-a-half centuries, taking in numerous forgotten conflicts. For example, he shows how intelligence techniques, devised by the US army in the Philippines war, were used on US unions and even suspected "reds" in Hollywood.
There are many villains in his story, including five-star US generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, who used tactical sleights of hand, spin and self-publicity to convince the public that they were winning the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, when in fact they were leaving chaos and mountains of bodies behind. Then there are the politicians who abdicated their authority to forceful military and intelligence personalities and allowed themselves to submit to the fantasy of the ever-present domestic threat; neoconservative historians and commentators such as Niall Ferguson and Robert Kaplan, who prepared the way for counterinsurgency (COIN) by outlining a new imperialist agenda; and the many journalists who talked up the prowess and strategies of neocolonialists such as Petraeus and McChrystal in exchange for access.
Threaded through his argument is a dismay for the aura of comic-book manliness that surrounds special operations forces, which in the US have a budget of $12bn, and a steady murmur of disbelief that the philosophy and practice of COIN have gone unquestioned for so long. He is the first person with all the necessary scholarship and standing to say: hold on, this policy is not only bad, it's an utter failure and, moreover, it never worked in the first place.
He is particularly tough on the British, who developed COIN after the last war and exercised it with largely ignored brutality in Malaya and in Kenya, where thousands of Kikuyu tribesmen were murdered and tortured, despite the European Convention on Human Rights, which Churchill helped develop, and with similar degrees of failure and stupidity in Palestine, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.
He is sharp about our performance in Basra and Helmand, about which he says, though not in the book, "the British totally screwed up". With our enduring admiration for the army and all the noble sentiment generated by Help for Heroes, I am not sure that the message about Tony Blair's two major deployments has quite sunk in. Even the severest British critics haven't described our performance in quite such stark terms. But is that any surprise? We have allowed 10 years to elapse since the Iraq war, yet still no Chilcot report on the decision to go to war.
Unsurprisingly, Porch, who lectures at the Department of National Security Affairs at Monterey, expects to be given a hard time when the message of his book reaches historians, who he believes have distorted the record to show the success of COIN strategies, yet never considered the blowback in their own democracies. Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA surveillance of Americans and the fears expressed recently in the Senate about FBI drones spying on innocent US citizens underline that aspect very well.
Yet he wasn't writing simply for the pleasure of causing conniptions in the US and UK militaries. The book came from listening to his students, many of whom are seasoned officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who repeatedly told him that COIN hadn't a hope of changing the countries for the better. And when he lost two students to "green on blue attacks", he felt an obligation to expose the official doctrine and, in some way, to stop scholarship being militarised.
(Continued at the link below)