Wednesday, December 20, 2006
GETTING COUNTERINSURGENCY RIGHT
By RALPH PETERS New York Post December 20, 2006 -- IF a prize were awarded for the most-improved government publication of the decade, we could choose the winner now: "Army Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency" (MCWP 3-33.5 for the Marine Corps). Rising above abysmal earlier drafts, the Army and Marines have come through with doctrine that will truly help our troops. Doctrine matters. It doesn't provide leaders with a detailed blueprint, but offers a common foundation on which to build strategies and refine tactics. Start with a weak foundation, and the wartime house can easily collapse. This new field manual is a solid base. Earlier drafts were dominated by theorists locked into 20th-century thinking - approaches that failed us so dismally in Iraq. But the final document offers a far greater sense of an insurgency's reality. It doesn't have all the answers. No doctrine does. But it provides our battlefield leaders with a genuinely useful tool to help them understand insurgencies. Yes, there's still a little too much "peace, love and understanding" silliness, but it's counterbalanced with blunt honesty that acknowledges that not all of our enemies can be persuaded to adore us. While non-lethal techniques and non-military means certainly have roles to play, the manual now states clearly that there are some foes - primarily religious or ethnic fanatics - who need to be killed. This is a huge step forward for the Army, whose senior leadership has suffered from a Clinton-era hangover in the political-correctness department (many of the manual's tough-minded changes were made to satisfy the Marines - the Corps never lost its grip on warfare's fundamentals). This embrace of unpleasant realities is a step that the rest of our government needs to take. Our politicians need to read "Counterinsurgency." Earlier drafts cautiously ignored faith-fueled insurgencies and even the phenomenon of the suicide bomber; now both topics get intelligent treatment. The academic theorists continue to fight a rear-guard action (there's still too much emphasis on Maoist models), but the acceptance that there's more to many insurgencies than political ideology was a great leap forward (if not a cultural revolution). The absolutes of the draft versions are tempered in the final product, leaving room for the complexity of conflict. There's a genuine acceptance that counterinsurgency warfare has no silver bullets - such conflicts are just plain tough and attempts to simplify them lead to failure. We owe a debt of thanks to the officers (most of them Iraq or Afghanistan veterans) involved in the revision of this manual - which involved a lot of long hours, exasperation and soul-searching. Coming up fast from behind (as one hopes we'll be able to do in Iraq), the doctrine writers shook off much of the spell of the last century's bogus theorizing and began to come to grips with the real enemies we face today and will continue to face in various guises for decades to come. I wrote "began" because, while this document reflects valuable progress in our thinking about the dominant form of conflict in our time, it's nonetheless an interim manual for a military in transition between the failed "wisdom" of the past and the tactics and techniques demanded by a new century. As "Counterinsurgency" is revised based on our experience of conflict, the next set of drafters will need to face critical issues neither the Army nor the Marines have gotten to yet. In the spirit of constructive criticism, here are a few of the gaps remaining: While the sometimes-you-just-have-to-fight realists are in the ascendant at last, the military's academic side still has too much influence. You see it plainly in the illustrative vignettes chosen to accompany the text: They emphasize soft power (doesn't work - sorry) over the need to kill implacable murderers to provide security for the innocent. The bias in the case-study selection still favors the hand-holding efforts that helped create the current mess in Iraq (military academics, like all academics, won't give up on their theses just because mere facts contradict them). The drafters cite the anomalous example of Malaya (while downplaying that campaign's violence), but ignore the same-decade example of the Mau-Mau revolt, in which the British won a complete victory - thanks to concentration camps, hanging courts and aggressive military operations. The vignettes concentrate on ideological insurgencies (the easy stuff), neglecting 3,000 years of ferocious religious and ethnic revolts. On the first page of the introduction, we get the solemn statement that "The tactics used to successfully defeat [insurgencies] are likewise similar in most cases." That's true, but not in the way the drafters intended. They were referring to the hearts-and-minds efforts that defused a minuscule number of insurgencies over the past six decades - while the "similar tactics" that historically worked with remarkable consistency were uncompromising military responses. A huge gap remaining in the doctrine is that, except for a few careful mentions, it ignores the role of the media. Generals have told me frankly that it was just too loaded an issue - any suggestion that the media are complicit in shaping outcomes excites punitive media outrage. To be fair, the generals are right. Had the manual described the media's irresponsible, partisan and too-often-destructive roles, it would have ignited a firestorm. Yet, in an age when media lies and partisan spin can overturn the verdict of the battlefield, embolden our enemies and decide the outcome of an entire war, pretending the media aren't active participants in a conflict cripples any efforts that we make. The media are now combatants - even if we're not allowed to shoot back. Our enemies are explicit in describing the importance of winning through the media. Without factoring in media effects, any counterinsurgency plan will go forward at a limp. Finally, the new manual fails to ask a question that no one in our military or government has yet had the common sense to ask about insurgencies: What if they just don't want what we want? That, indeed, has become the crucial question in Iraq. Despite these criticisms, our latest cut at shaping a counterinsurgency doctrine looks like a noteworthy success. It's overwhelmingly honest, honorable and useful. Now we need to put that doctrine to use. Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit The Fight."