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Old 12-14-2010   #1
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Default A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch

A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch

Entry Excerpt:

A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch:
Relooking French Encounters in Irregular Warfare in the 19th Century
by Michael Few

Download the Full Article: A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch

To complement the recent interviews conducted by Octavian Manea, we reached out to the defense analysts experts at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. In the first interview of this series, Dr. John Arquilla described how he felt that French Encounters with Irregular Warfare in the 19th Century can inform COIN in our time. This rebuttal comes from Dr. Douglas Porch, a historian in the National Security Affairs (NSA) department. This department specializes in the study of international relations, security policy, and regional studies. NSA is unique because it brings together outstanding faculty, students from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Guard and various civilian agencies, and scores of international officers from dozens of countries for the sole purpose of preparing tomorrow's military and civilian leaders for emerging security challenges. Notable alumni from the NSA department include LTG William H. Caldwell.

Download the Full Article: A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch

Douglas Porch earned a Ph.D. from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University. Currently, he is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School.



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Old 07-07-2013   #2
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Default Porch shines a torch on COIN

Professor Douglas Porch, of NPS, has a new book due out at the end of July 'Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War', which is likely to arouse interest, if not controversy.

From the summary:
Quote:
Douglas Porch's sweeping history of counterinsurgency campaigns carried out by the three 'providential nations' of France, Britain and the United States, ranging from nineteenth-century colonial conquests to General Petraeus's 'Surge' in Iraq, challenges the contemporary mythologising of counterinsurgency as a humane way of war. The reality, he reveals, is that 'hearts and minds' has never been a recipe for lasting stability and that past counterinsurgency campaigns have succeeded not through state-building but by shattering and dividing societies while unsettling civil-military relations.

(Elsewhere)The reality, he reveals, is that 'hearts and minds' has never been a recipe for lasting stability.
Link:http://www.amazon.com/Counterinsurge...=douglas+porch and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Counterinsur...=Douglas+Porch

A very partial review by a Guardian journalist, which includes this:
Quote:
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.
Link:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisf...oad?CMP=twt_gu

Professor Porch's NPS entry:http://www.nps.edu/Academics/Schools...lty/porch.html

I have read and enjoyed two of his books on French military history.
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Old 07-07-2013   #3
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Default Porch and Gentile books ordered....

http://www.amazon.com/Wrong-Turn-Ame.../dp/1595588744

Both have books on COIN coming out and I've pre-ordered both (I think I've mentioned that in a previous thread around here. Maybe I won't be so lazy for a change and write up a review or something. I also plan to read what I suppose might be a bit of a rebuttal, the book by Peter Mansoor on the surge.)

Sorta kinda related to the point made on the 'benevolence' of "hearts and minds", a recent review:

Quote:
“The Imperial lion has roused itself, invoking the Spirit of Clive and of Hastings and Dyer, he roars again,” observed The Daily Tribune in August 1942. Tiring of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress agitating during the war, the British Raj unsheathed the sword. Mass arrests, censorship, and suppression of civil liberties coerced India’s cooperation against the Axis Powers. All pretense of enlightened benevolent rule vanished as Britain showed that its empire, like all others, rested on force.""
http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin...iberal-empire/

As I said in a note to a friend, the last sentence seems to be the point of the papers by Porch that I've read: that force mattered.
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Old 07-08-2013   #4
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Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
Professor Douglas Porch, of NPS, has a new book due out at the end of July 'Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War', which is likely to arouse interest, if not controversy.

From the summary:

Link:http://www.amazon.com/Counterinsurge...=douglas+porch and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Counterinsur...=Douglas+Porch

A very partial review by a Guardian journalist, which includes this:

Link:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisf...oad?CMP=twt_gu

Professor Porch's NPS entry:http://www.nps.edu/Academics/Schools...lty/porch.html

I have read and enjoyed two of his books on French military history.
David, good catch and the book promises to be provocative. I read several pages on Amazon's website, and this quote is just an example of his diatribe against our current way of war:

Quote:
COIN as symbolized by FM 3-24 and the ephemeral tactical triumphs of the Petraeus guys in Anbar join a succession of failed organizational concepts that include the Army of Excellence, the Air Land Battle, through the RMA, and now the SOF-led petty war with conventional units in support-we’re all Chindits now! Not only does the special operations tail wag the conventional army dog in this model, it runs the risk of failing catastrophically in the face of a serious challenge, much as the French Army collapsed in 1870.
I'm glad to see a dissenting voice, because it seems everyone in the media, academia, and parts of our military have blindly embraced our COIN doctrine. One lone and vocal dissenter Gian was frequently attacked for just not getting it. Our doctrine is flawed and needs to be challenged, maybe with the COINdistas out of the ranks we can approach with a more critical eye now? My concern is we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but it is a risk we need to take.

I especially liked the article you provided the link to, but you may want to remind the author that we no longer have five star generals .

I didn't see this in the pages provided as re-aheads on Amazon, but apparently Prof Porch makes a supportable argument that democracies that engage in COIN eventually direct those practices against their own populations, thus

Quote:
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" in The 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.
His key criticism of Porch's book was that it didn't offer an alternative, and that alone will undermine many of his arguments IMO.
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Old 07-09-2013   #5
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I just got finished reading Into the Fire by Meyer and West and it provided a worms eye view of "COIN", or our idea of it in Afghanistan. Basically you drive into a village for an afternoon every couple of weeks and ask what they need, how is security and have you seen any dushmen. They need everything, security is fine and no we haven't seen any but that next village over is suspect. I have no idea what that is about but anybody in his right mind knows that kind of thing can't work. You can't win any war, large or small, being that stupid. Anybody who successfully prosecuted small wars in the past, and there are lots that were successfully prosecuted, would be completely mystified by that, along with force pro, big bases, short tours in theatre, contracting practices and all the other goofy things we do. If you use "COIN" as a synonym for 'stupid', I'll go along with that but not that small war practices don't often work or that these conflicts can't be won.

Where did people get the idea that small wars don't involve fighting? If you actually read what went on in those wars you can't get that idea. West's account of Binh Nghia was ambush patrol after ambush patrol and fight after fight. Galula's account of his time in Algeria stresses the number of ambushes laid and how they never slacked off on the number. The Philippines was fighting and figuring how to get at them, or cutting them off from the people by moving the people. Plenty of application of force. Anybody who didn't figure that wasn't paying attention. Again, if "COIN" means stupid, ok.

That bit about societies being innocent naifs until some small war unleashed the devil within is nonsense. Militarized police, surveillance and all that stuff was happening anyway, in my opinion. To think that mature bureaucracies won't try to grab power is naive. They didn't need some small war to set them along that path. If Ms. Arendt has a different opinion, that is all she has, an opinion. There ain't no way to prove it one way or another.

It always seemed to me that one of Gian's motivations was to rationalize failure of the establishment big military. The argument seemed to be that small wars couldn't be done therefore big military couldn't be blamed for being stupid when they didn't get it right. A support for that is the either/or approach, we can be good at big wars or small, but not both. That is organizational self serving nonsense. You can be good enough at both, if the leadership is good. Gian's argument is sort of a martial manifestation of a modern American cultural trait, it is never my fault.
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Old 07-10-2013   #6
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Where did people get the idea that small wars don't involve fighting? If you actually read what went on in those wars you can't get that idea. West's account of Binh Nghia was ambush patrol after ambush patrol and fight after fight. Galula's account of his time in Algeria stresses the number of ambushes laid and how they never slacked off on the number. The Philippines was fighting and figuring how to get at them, or cutting them off from the people by moving the people. Plenty of application of force.
The Americans still lost in Vietnam, and the French still lost in Algeria. The Philippine conflict was a war of colonial conquest; it belongs to another era and has little or no relevance to today's conflicts.

Would more application of force have "won" in Afghanistan? Maybe, in some places, for a little while. It wouldn't have made the GIRoA any more able to govern, and it wouldn't have made "nation-building" a viable construct.

First step to winning any war, small or large, is a clear, practical, achievable goal. Not sure we ever had one of those in Afghanistan.
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Old 07-10-2013   #7
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Judging by Bill Moore's post, this professor is totally in synch with me.

I've been writing about the stupidity of small wars, the neglect of conventional military capability (attention-wise, not necessarily budget-wise) and the risk that population control methods devised to control some foreign people may be used at home.


The forces drawing attention to the current affairs - small wars, stupid anti-piracy patrolling et cetera - are overwhelming, though.

Last edited by Fuchs; 07-10-2013 at 03:52 PM.
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Old 07-10-2013   #8
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Default SWJ interview

SWJ interviewed Dr Porch:

http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art...-douglas-porch

The interview also mentions a paper by Geoff Demarest that I found very interesting (these have all been discussed around here before, just a reminder).

To clarify, when I said "force mattered" above, I meant that the populations were often brutalized according to other sources than proponents of imperial small wars.

Link to Demarest paper:

http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/Military...8310001-MD.xml

Last edited by Madhu; 07-10-2013 at 04:35 PM. Reason: Added last link
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Old 07-10-2013   #9
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....and the risk that population control methods devised to control some foreign people may be used at home.
Like snooping on home populations in large broad brush swoops? Creepy, all of it.
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Old 07-11-2013   #10
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A lot of the antibodies against COIN and our incredibly lame COIN doctrine is due to the illogic of those who promoted it, which was little more than a thin guise for promoting themselves. People are starting to realize that

"You can't shoot your way to victory, " "you have to win over the population," "we have to build their economy and build schools" are little more than empty rhetoric. Worse it is rhetoric not tied to any strategic end, and lieu of a strategy we confuse our COIN doctrine and its social engineering tactics as strategy. Thus the debate over pursuing a COIN or CT strategy is idiotic since neither are anymore than an assortment of tactics. Finally a paper that puts it all in strategic perspective by Colin Gray. It is only 16 pages, I highly recommend reading it.

http://www.ndu.edu/press/lib/pdf/pri...17-32_gray.pdf

Concept Failure?
COIN, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Theory


Quote:
COIN is neither a concept nor can it be a strategy. Instead, it is simply an acronymic descriptor of a basket of diverse activities intended to counter an insurgency.
Quote:
COIN debate would benefit if the debaters took a refresher course in the basics of strategy. Many fallacies and inadequate arguments about COIN in Afghanistan, for instance, are avoidable if their proponents were willing to seek and were able to receive help from theory.
Quote:
There are no such historical phenomena as guerrilla wars. To define a war according to a tactical style is about as foolish as definition according to weaponry.
(he listed using tank warfare as an example)

Quote:
Counterinsurgency is not a subject that has integrity in and of itself. Because war is a political, and only instrumentally a military, phenomenon, we must be careful lest we ambush ourselves by a conceptual confusion
that inflates COIN to the status of an idea and activity that purportedly has standalone, context-free merit.
Quote:
To be blunt, the most effective strategy to counter an insurgency may be one that makes little use of COIN tactics. It will depend upon the circumstance (context).
Quote:
Such winning can be understood to mean that the victorious side largely dictates the terms that it prefers for an armistice and then a peace settlement, and is in a position to police and enforce a postwar order that in the main reflects its values and choices. History tells us that it can be as hard, if not harder, to make peace than it is to make war successfully.
Quote:
Population-centric COIN will not succeed if the politics are weak, but neither is it likely to succeed if the insurgents can retreat to repair, rally, and recover in a cross-border sanctuary.
Quote:
The principal and driving issues for the United States with respect to counterinsurgency are when to do it and when not, and how to attempt to do it strategically. Policy and strategy choices are literally critical and determinative.
IMO this turns the lame argument that COIN is the way of the future, insurgencies have always been present and likely will continue to be for the next few decades, but that hardly means it is in our interest to get engaged anymore than it is to conduct state on state warfare.

Quote:
Tactical errors or setbacks enforced by a clever enemy should be corrected or offset tactically and need not menace the integrity of policy and strategy. COIN may not be rocket science or quantum theory, but no one has ever argued that it is easy.
Quote:
If success in COIN requires prior, or at least temporally parallel, success in nationbuilding, it is foredoomed to failure. Nations cannot be built. Most especially they cannot be built by well-meaning but culturally arrogant
foreign social scientists, no matter how well intentioned and methodologically sophisticated. A nation (or community) is best defined
as a people who think of themselves as one. Nations build themselves by and through historical experience. Cultural understanding is always useful and its absence can be a lethal weakness, but some lack of comprehension is
usual in war.
Quote:
The issue is not whether Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else either needs to be, or should be “improved.” Instead, the issue is whether or not the job is feasible. Even if it would be well worth doing, if it is mission impossible or highly improbable at sustainable cost to us, then it ought not to be attempted. This is Strategy 101.
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Old 07-11-2013   #11
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Finally a paper that puts it all in strategic perspective by Colin Gray. It is only 16 pages, I highly recommend reading it.
I second that recommendation.

That article really deserves a discussion thread of its own, and could serve as an example to many who write on these subjects. The argument and supporting reasoning are impressive, and it is truly refreshing to see someone match intellectual rigor with a presentation that is clear, precise, and completely devoid of the dense and convoluted jargon that has become so fashionable in so many quarters.

Well spotted.
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Old 07-11-2013   #12
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The Americans still lost in Vietnam, and the French still lost in Algeria. The Philippine conflict was a war of colonial conquest; it belongs to another era and has little or no relevance to today's conflicts.

Would more application of force have "won" in Afghanistan? Maybe, in some places, for a little while. It wouldn't have made the GIRoA any more able to govern, and it wouldn't have made "nation-building" a viable construct.

First step to winning any war, small or large, is a clear, practical, achievable goal. Not sure we ever had one of those in Afghanistan.
All very interesting, but of course none of it has anything to do with the point made in my paragraph that generated it.

Perhaps you are right that our efforts in the Philippines so long ago are not relevant, but I disagree. I think military history most always has things that are relevant and there are things to be learned, especially small wars. I am probably wrong but this is because small wars seem to be more matters of people than weapons and tech. Steve Blair (I think) has a quote from Fahrenbach about the frontier Army knowing all there was to know about small war fighting. That surely was another era but things learned then are still relevant I think too.
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Old 07-11-2013   #13
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Worse it is rhetoric not tied to any strategic end, and lieu of a strategy we confuse our COIN doctrine and its social engineering tactics as strategy.
I haven't read the paper yet but will. In the meantime, people always talk about strategy, but I don't know what they mean in the sense of doing. What, in your view, is a strategy that should be applied to South Asia? What should we do or have done and how? That is a big question but I am not looking for a big answer. But I am sincerely at a loss about actual actions when people talk about strategy.
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Old 07-12-2013   #14
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All very interesting, but of course none of it has anything to do with the point made in my paragraph that generated it.
Perhaps I failed to express the point clearly. Actually two points. First, in the absence of clear, consistent, and achievable goals, "getting it right" on the military level will at best earn transient and localized success. You may win some battles, but you won't win the war. Second, the tactical passivity you decry seems to me largely a consequence of the policy wreckage that I decry. In the absence of clear, consistent, achievable purpose, is it not natural to some extent for those charged with pursuing that purpose to resort to passivity and to focus on protecting their own?

Not that the US military is perfect, but I actually have considerable confidence in their ability to get a job done, provided that the goal is clearly defined and suitable for accomplishment by a military force. If those conditions are absent, we don't need to change the military, we need a better set of goals and we need to choose the right tool for accomplishing the goals.

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Perhaps you are right that our efforts in the Philippines so long ago are not relevant, but I disagree. I think military history most always has things that are relevant and there are things to be learned, especially small wars. I am probably wrong but this is because small wars seem to be more matters of people than weapons and tech. Steve Blair (I think) has a quote from Fahrenbach about the frontier Army knowing all there was to know about small war fighting. That surely was another era but things learned then are still relevant I think too.
In the unlikely and unwelcome event that we ever embark on a war of colonial conquest, the lessons of past wars of colonial conquest might be relevant... though I have doubts. Those lessons would point in directions that cannot be pursued today due to domestic and global political constraints, and they would be employed against a rather different class of antagonist. The world does change.

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I haven't read the paper yet but will. In the meantime, people always talk about strategy, but I don't know what they mean in the sense of doing. What, in your view, is a strategy that should be applied to South Asia? What should we do or have done and how? That is a big question but I am not looking for a big answer. But I am sincerely at a loss about actual actions when people talk about strategy.
Before you can have a strategy, you need a policy. Policy defines the goals. Strategy defines the broad plan for achieving those goals. Assuring that AQ and similar groups will not be able to find refuge in Afghanistan is a policy goal. The decision to achieve that goal by transforming Afghanistan into a western-style democracy is, IMO, where we went wrong: that goal was not and is not realistically achievable by any means available to us.
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Old 07-12-2013   #15
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Perhaps I failed to express the point clearly. Actually two points. First, in the absence of clear, consistent, and achievable goals, "getting it right" on the military level will at best earn transient and localized success. You may win some battles, but you won't win the war. Second, the tactical passivity you decry seems to me largely a consequence of the policy wreckage that I decry. In the absence of clear, consistent, achievable purpose, is it not natural to some extent for those charged with pursuing that purpose to resort to passivity and to focus on protecting their own?

Not that the US military is perfect, but I actually have considerable confidence in their ability to get a job done, provided that the goal is clearly defined and suitable for accomplishment by a military force. If those conditions are absent, we don't need to change the military, we need a better set of goals and we need to choose the right tool for accomplishing the goals.
Nope. Missed the point again.

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In the unlikely and unwelcome event that we ever embark on a war of colonial conquest, the lessons of past wars of colonial conquest might be relevant... though I have doubts. Those lessons would point in directions that cannot be pursued today due to domestic and global political constraints, and they would be employed against a rather different class of antagonist. The world does change.
If you insist on every jot and tittle lining up there are no lessons from history. I think there are plenty of lessons even is there are jittles and tots; especially in small wars which to me are more matters of humans than machines. The world may change, humans, not so much.

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Before you can have a strategy, you need a policy. Policy defines the goals. Strategy defines the broad plan for achieving those goals. Assuring that AQ and similar groups will not be able to find refuge in Afghanistan is a policy goal. The decision to achieve that goal by transforming Afghanistan into a western-style democracy is, IMO, where we went wrong: that goal was not and is not realistically achievable by any means available to us.
All very interesting again, but not an answer to the question I asked Bill.
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Old 07-12-2013   #16
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Nope. Missed the point again.
I see. What was the point, then?

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If you insist on every jot and tittle lining up there are no lessons from history. I think there are plenty of lessons even is there are jittles and tots; especially in small wars which to me are more matters of humans than machines. The world may change, humans, not so much.
If you dismiss historical context as jots and tittles, you're likely to extract lessons that do you more harm than good. I suspect that efforts to apply lessons from 19th century colonial conquest to the problems of 21st century 3rd party intervention would be in deep trouble.

Humans change a good deal. Freedom changes people. In terms of people's ability to effectively prosecute conflict, I can think of few things that change people as much, or as fast, as believing, even knowing, that they can win. Sometimes the genie doesn't go back in the bottle.

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All very interesting again, but not an answer to the question I asked Bill.
Just pointing out that you can't have a realistic discussion of strategy in South Asia (or anywhere else) without first agreeing on the policy goals.
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Old 07-12-2013   #17
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I haven't read the paper yet but will. In the meantime, people always talk about strategy, but I don't know what they mean in the sense of doing. What, in your view, is a strategy that should be applied to South Asia? What should we do or have done and how? That is a big question but I am not looking for a big answer. But I am sincerely at a loss about actual actions when people talk about strategy.
Carl,

Getting to this kind of late, so initial response will be short, but I think Colin Gray captured why our efforts are floundering and it because our senior leadership is too focused on an array of tactical activities that we collectively call COIN focused on winning over the population, but that approach is not moving us towards our strategic ends. In fact our current approach IMO is undermining our effort to achieve our ends. This is what happens when we confuse the tactics of countering an insurgency with our strategy aims. What were/are our strategic aims in Afghanistan and the region (since you pointed out S. Asia)? Those would be the ends. How did/do we intend to accomplish them? The ways. What were/are the resources we will employ to achieve the ends? The means. If we agree that strategy consists of the ends, ways, and means we can start here.

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The principal and driving issues for the United States with respect to counterinsurgency are when to do it and when not, and how to attempt to do it strategically. Policy and strategy choices are literally critical and determinative.
The above quote is critical to my overall argument. If we pursue unrealistic ends, and/or pursue our ends via a strategy that either won't work, or achieve our ends at an acceptable cost (many factors to consider such as time, money, casualties, and other less tangibles), then we already reached strategic failure (despite our tactical successes), but unfortunately it may take us many years to realize it, and by that time there is a lot of blood and money under the bridge. I'm not making this claim from a position I told you so, like many others I didn't see the mess in Afghanistan coming, but I am critical of two aspects. One we didn't change course when we realized (or should have realized) we got it wrong, and perhaps worse the lessons that the Army is drawing from the past 10 years of fighting is we need more Cow Bell (I think you get my point). This gets at Dayuhan's comment,
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Not that the US military is perfect, but I actually have considerable confidence in their ability to get a job done, provided that the goal is clearly defined and suitable for accomplishment by a military force. If those conditions are absent, we don't need to change the military, we need a better set of goals and we need to choose the right tool for accomplishing the goals.
In most cases the military is doing superbly at the tactical level, especially SOF. One thing we learned way to slowly that hurt us was not to act like a jerk. It is true that turning the population against us through brutality or rudeness will hurt us at both the strategic and tactical levels (I'm surprised it took us a few years to really learn that, even in some elements of SOF), but it also true in my opinion that simply winning over the population will not achieve our goals which I expand upon below a little. So despite my sometimes excessive criticism of our COIN doctrine, at the tactical level there are many things in it that are valuable that I hope we don't lose, but of course tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat (hopefully that comes across as balanced, I criticize harshly because the COINdista mentality that pervades our force needs some provocative comments to actually get them to think independently and not recite doctrine line by line and confuse it with strategy).

Denying safe haven in Afghanistan was one of the stated ends (I believe our primary end after the initial combat operations to kill the core of AQ), and our proposed strategic approach for achieving that was installing a centralized and democratic government, and getting the population to support it. That approach may reform a country, but in itself wouldn't deny safe haven, but we ignored that fact. We also ignored the fact we can't transform a country like Afghanistan at an acceptable cost. I don't know we decided to do this based on neocon hubris (the end of history outlook), perception that it was an inherent responsibility (you break it you fix it), but we clearly didn't understand the culture and history which would have indicated this approach wouldn't work without a significant investment in resources and implementing severe population control measures that we can't do by law and custom. This policy end (transforming the nation) and our strategic approach to do so was probably fatal to our ability to achieve our policy end of denying safe haven. It required building a nation from a state composed of tribes with a long history of intertribal warfare. In recent decades the Taliban was the only force that was able to impose some limited degree of stability through tactics we would never employ.

I'm not prepared to argue in detail alternative approaches to achieving our policy end, but will quickly summarize some potential courses of action (that surely are not less realistic than the ones we're pursuing now). In all courses of action I think we started off right with SOF and air power to conduct aggressive combat operations against AQ and their friends (but leaving the door open for their friends to become our friends). Continue pressure on the Taliban/ruling party, and negotiate a settlement with them from a position of power under the table so they can save face and all sides can declare victory except AQ. They agree to deny AQ safe haven in turn for the U.S. not interfering with them. It may be unpleasant to allow these thugs back in power (assuming they regained control, we could have continued covert support to the Northern Alliance), but we live in a tough world.

Another option is no deal, we hit AQ and their friends hard, to include pursuing AQ into Pakistan while we had the global political support to do so shortly after 9/11. That would be a punitive raiding expedition for a couple of months, and then we leave with the promise of returning (based on our recent action we demonstrated we have the means to execute our will, so it wouldn't be hollow threat) if AQ returns. We turn it over to whoever and let them work it out (yes it will be bloody, but not unlike our 10 plus years in country, or the 10 years prior to our raiding expedition). We have every right to conduct a punitive expedition, it didn't need to turn into a humanitarian one. I suspect there are multiple other options that could have been explored related to options with Pakistan, India, Iran and even China at the beginning based on realpolitik opportunities for all concerned that would have got to denying safe haven much more effectively than we have done.

Instead we decided we wanted to install a democratic and central government (which is actually undemocratic in Afghanistan). Not surprisingly the government is opposed by different insurgent groups and our presence is opposed by resistance groups. Our misdiagnosis of the situation led us to naively assume that if we win over the population with economic incentives that insurgents will be defeated and peace will fall upon us and AQ will be denied a safe haven because people have jobs and the kiddies are going to school. Of course the Afghans aren't fighting for our vision of Pleasantville, but for wide range of deep seated hatreds between groups we just can't seem to apprehend. We spent billions trying this approach, and after it failed we assumed we still had the right strategic approach to achieve our end, and decided we needed more cowbell so we surged and spent billions more. Now it seems our leadership realized our current approach failed, but unfortunately the answer isn't adjusting our strategy, but simply leaving. Apparently we never seriously considered actually changing our strategy because we confused our COIN doctrine with the strategy and failed to realize it was the wrong doctrine for this conflict to achieve our end, but we were blinded by the hype that many authors made a good living promoting. This is where the danger of confusing tactics with strategy becomes readily apparent.

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The issue is not whether Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else either needs to be, or should be “improved.” Instead, the issue is whether or not the job is feasible. Even if it would be well worth doing, if it is mission impossible or highly improbable at sustainable cost to us, then it ought not to be attempted. This is Strategy 101.
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Population-centric COIN will not succeed if the politics are weak, but neither is it likely to succeed if the insurgents can retreat to repair, rally, and recover in a cross-border sanctuary.

Last edited by Bill Moore; 07-12-2013 at 07:34 PM. Reason: Modified for clarity
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Old 07-12-2013   #18
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Seriously, if our goal was to deny safe haven, and stabilize Pakistan (a related regional goal) because they're a nuclear weapons state, our ways and means certainly worked contrary to our ends. Killing AQ's core was/is certainly in our interest and should have been pursued even more aggressively. Instead we were distracted by COINdista platitudes that were completely disconnected from our strategic ends. Somewhere along the line the platitudes became the ways even if they were disconnected from our ends. We quit learning/adapting somewhere along the way, and now we have a non-coherent arrangement of tactical efforts working towards no collective end. In some cases our PRTs become the supported effort which gave the insurgents, terrorists, and criminals a great opportunity to make money and freedom of movement, because we forgot we still had to fight. Instead we confused an illogical platitude "we can't shoot our way to victory" with focus on the population, when it should mean that war is more than warfare.

A lack of coherent strategy equated to a VSO program that undermines the our effort to develop a viable central state. A corrupt central state that undermines our efforts to win over the population, and neither have much to do with denying AQ safe haven long term. Our massive nation building efforts floods money into both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That money reinforces corrupt politicians which undermines the nation building, which is irrelevant to begin with. However, that money is diverted to our adversaries empowering them to continue fighting why we are trying to win over the population. Finally we announce our desire to reach a political settlement from a position of weakness, because we announced we're finished and pulling out. We should have had the political settlement as our end to begin with a strategy to get to it. Not strive for it after we are tired. The list goes on and on. It all comes down to having disjointed ends, ways, and means. If we spent more time on developing realistic ends and viable ways (a realistic strategic approach to those ends) we would probably be in a different place now. Our military adapts quickly to the tactical situation if you remove the micromanagers. If those micromanaging were more focused on strategy than tactics maybe we would be somewhere else today?

Coming from a Special Forces background I know this sounds self-serving, but there were a number of options for SOF and especially SF, the intelligence community, and law enforcement to maintain steady pressure on AQ at an acceptable cost, well below the stage lights, that would have ultimately been more effective. You can counter hindsight is 20/20, but we should use that hindsight to help shape future decisions. We need our General Purpose Forces to be combat ready for whatever threat emerges on the scene, and quit confusing our fixation with irregular warfare as we it now as the way of the future. The world is trending towards to some state on state conflicts, transforming our Army into a giant PRT will not ensure our security

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Such winning can be understood to mean that the victorious side largely dictates the terms that it prefers for an armistice and then a peace settlement, and is in a position to police and enforce a postwar order that in the main reflects its values and choices. History tells us that it can be as hard, if not harder, to make peace than it is to make war successfully.
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Old 07-13-2013   #19
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If you dismiss historical context as jots and tittles, you're likely to extract lessons that do you more harm than good. I suspect that efforts to apply lessons from 19th century colonial conquest to the problems of 21st century 3rd party intervention would be in deep trouble.
I think that in a small war, the big picture historical context doesn't make all that much difference. It doesn't matter much why those guys want the villagers to do this or that. They want them to do this or rhat and maybe the villagers don't want to. That conflict at the level where the people on either side know each others names, the essentials of that conflict, the human essentials don't change much. That is why there is so much to be learned from the past. Of course, I'm just a flyover person and the bigwig picture doesn't often register.

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Humans change a good deal.
Nah. Human nature doesn't change. It is now as it has been for hundreds, maybe thousands of generation and as it will be for many more. Us modern people just ain't that special.
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Old 07-14-2013   #20
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I think that in a small war, the big picture historical context doesn't make all that much difference. It doesn't matter much why those guys want the villagers to do this or that. They want them to do this or rhat and maybe the villagers don't want to. That conflict at the level where the people on either side know each others names, the essentials of that conflict, the human essentials don't change much. That is why there is so much to be learned from the past. Of course, I'm just a flyover person and the bigwig picture doesn't often register.
Historical context makes all the difference in the world.

Just to illustrate, suppose you were a present-day sheriff, or a mayor, in a small racially mixed town in the US with a history of racial issues. One of those places where people know each other by name. If you were to ignore historical context and try to manage those issues in the ways that kept the peace so effectively for your predecessors in, say, the 1950s or the 1920s, how do you think that would work out in today's historical context?

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Nah. Human nature doesn't change. It is now as it has been for hundreds, maybe thousands of generation and as it will be for many more. Us modern people just ain't that special.
Human nature may not change, but humans certainly do. It is in their nature to do so.
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