View Full Version : Book Review: Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror, by Robert Cassidy

02-12-2007, 05:23 PM
My Amazon.com review....

Despite LtC Cassidy's occasional allusions to the dubious belief that the Army is changing as necessary for the kind of
irregular warfare terrorism presents, he still makes some valid points about how the Army and other
services need to change further. LtC Cassidy makes valid observations about the American military culture of conventional
warfare thinking, but his recommendations seem to be less about cultural change and more about organizational
change. The problems he identifies seem far too entrenched for organizational tweaking to resolve them.

Some points LtC Cassidy makes with regard to how to counter insurgencies are very good points. He addresses the
cultures first of Russian, British, and American military thinking in separate chapters then summarizes the lessons
concerning "small wars" in the end. In the process of summarizing the lessons of those three, he draws on additional
experiences of the French in Indochina and Algeria. The organization of his work becomes a little difficult as the
author seems to confuse the cultural issues with organizational or tactical issues of isolated examples. If the
reader is able to separate those issues, this book has much to offer. Otherwise it may only confuse the issues.

Specifically, among the observations LtC Cassidy makes, three seem especially helpful.
First, the need to emphasize conversion/rehabilitation of enemy combatants. Rather
than capturing them and jailing them away only for questioning, making the assumption that they cannot be
rehabilitated, would it not be better to convert them - to win their hearts and minds? The very common-sense of that
question along with the example given of British and Rhodesian techniques to do just that in Malaya and Rhodesia
should provide the obvious answer.

Second, and similar to the first point, large-scale use of indigenous forces provides legitimacy where occupation-style
large American footprint does not. Again, the common sense of this thinking should be enough to immediately see the value
of this point. Though he does leave the assertion open to a wide range of interpretation as has been the case in the past.

Third, adopting realistic measures for success. LtC Cassidy, as with so many others, makes a challenge to the
traditional measures of success such as insurgent body counts. Such measures do not tell us whether or not we are
being successful at winning hearts and minds or improving the lives of those we claim to be protecting. The goal
in conventional warfare thinking has generally been to destroy the enemy army. The goal in this unconventional warfare
is to produce a lasting peace. Ignoring the population only breeds more insurgent support. The goal must be to win
and protect the population more than to kill the ever-increasing flow of insurgents.

A problem with all three of these points is that none can be mechanistically applied to every situation without an
understanding of the cultural/political context of the indigenous people. What works in one scenario is not necessarily
an universal law of counterinsurgency for all other scenarios.

Another problem is the political question. And this one LtC Cassidy may be forgiven for not addressing
as a military commander.
He states that we need to change our military in order to meet the goal of "democratization" wars. But this rather
begs the political question of whether such wars are even winnable in all cases. The sad fact remains that perhaps there are
some cultures in which democracy is not workable or even wanted. LtC Cassidy is a military man tasked with carrying
out political policies with which he may not always agree. It is not his place perhaps to question those
policies - but it is ours. It is a difficult question that underlies just how effective any cultural or
organizational changes could make in such situations.

A third problem LtC Cassidy does not address is the common mistake of confusing revolutionary nationalist insurgencies,
like those in Malaya or Vietnam, with the non-nationally focused insurgencies of global terrorism - something the title
claims to address. Little is added on the theory of counterinsurgency as it pertains specifically to the so-called
Global War on Terror. Instead, LtC Cassidy seems locked in the mindset of so many other military thinkers - still
preparing for the last war or the war we would prefer to fight.

While the author makes some very good points concerning counterinsurgency warfare, his conclusions for changing
the military seem far too little. The military and political culture that feeds it must change as a whole and not
just with organizational or tactical tweaks here and there. We also need to understand better that not every war
is one we should be fighting or that we have a chance of winning.

Despite some shortcomings, LtC Cassidy has given us a fair addition to the theory and practice of counterinsurgency.
It is a good start perhaps at addressing the issues but the solutions are unimaginative and shortsighted. Still
this work deserves a good rating for at least addressing some of the underlying problems.

02-12-2007, 08:59 PM
Somebody pointed out to me that the Army desination for Lt. Colonel is LTC not LtC. Sorry about that.