COUNTERINSURGENCY….Via Jim Henley, Jason Vest takes a crack at answering a question I was asking last night: why is it that after two years in Iraq, the Pentagon still isn’t committed to fighting a counterinsurgency? The answer, Vest suggests, is that from the top down they still don’t really believe we’re fighting an insurgency in the first place:
A constant throughout all counterinsurgency literature is the importance of understanding not just the finer points of the nation and culture where one is operating, but the nature of insurgency itself. It was, therefore, nothing short of jarring when, on June 23, 2004, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz declared on MSNBC that what was happening in Iraq was “not an insurgency.”
Wolfowitz explained that an “insurgency” is only synonymous with an “uprising.” As such, he continued, the fighting in Iraq does not constitute an insurgency, as it’s a “continuation of the war by people who never quit,” waged by the same enemy “that fought us up until the fall of Baghdad and continues to fight afterwards.”
Those with an appreciation for the nuances of counterinsurgency were shocked. Wolfowitz’s comments demonstrated that the Pentagon leadership still believed that Iraq could be pacified through the conventional (and escalating) application of force.
Well, it’s hardly the first thing Wolfowitz has been wrong about, is it? In fairness, though, Vest says that no one in the uniformed military really wants to fight a counterinsurgency anyway. They like their current setup better:
U.S. ground forces are only now beginning to readjust their approach toward counterinsurgency warfare. But to many knowledgeable observers, it’s looking like too little, too late ? thanks largely to the Pentagon’s myopic leadership. It isn’t just that the Pentagon’s civilian ideologues and acquiescent brass failed to entertain even the possibility of an insurgency. And it’s not merely because the civilian leadership has demonstrated a profound and deadly ignorance of insurgency’s historical lessons.
It’s also because, despite a plethora of writing from soldier-scholars and the informal attempts at innovation by a handful of junior officers, no formal organizational strategy exists that allows the army to rapidly and effectively adapt. All counterinsurgency scholars agree the viability of any counterinsurgency endeavor, especially one undertaken by an occupying force, depends upon this capability.
A serious commitment to counterinsurgency wouldn’t guarantee success in Iraq. However, a lack of commitment to it probably guarantees failure. It’s way past time for the commander-in-chief to kick some butt over this.