Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Neocons and Liberal Hawks Converge on Counterinsurgency

(Inter Press Service)

As the United States prepares to reduce its military presence in Iraq while intensifying its war effort in Afghanistan, hawks within both the Republican and Democratic parties have come increasingly to believe that counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine offers a solution to the central security challenges Washington will face in the twenty-first century.

Drawing on the perceived, if still uncertain, success of the U.S. "surge" in Iraq, many prominent opinion-makers—notably neoconservatives and "liberal hawks"—have joined COIN advocates within the military itself to argue that "small wars" theory should be the cornerstone of U.S. military strategy going forward, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

But COIN’s current ascendancy masks several lingering points of contention.

For critics, the current enthusiasm reflects a fundamental overestimation of the efficacy of military force, and a desire for technocratic solutions to strategic problems that presume a neo-imperial nation-building role for the United States.

Even among hawks, COIN has drawn fire from those who dispute the supposed "lessons" of the surge in Iraq, and from those who argue that conventional warfare against potential rivals like China and Russia should remain a much higher priority than irregular warfare against non-state actors.

COIN is a fundamentally broad-ranging concept, encompassing all "military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions" used to defeat insurgency, according to the 2006 Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

It emphasizes protecting and winning the "hearts and minds" of civilian populations—summed up in the mantra "clear, hold, and build"—meaning in practice COIN can often shade into "nation-building."

A team led by Gen. David Petraeus, the most prominent COIN advocate within the military, authored the Army field manual. Now head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) overseeing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Petraeus has become an icon among hawks due to his perceived success in pacifying Iraq.

Many commentators across the political spectrum have called for the principles of the COIN doctrine used in the Iraq surge to be institutionalized as the guide for future military campaigns.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the hawkish independent Democrat from Connecticut, for example, called in January for an enhanced effort in Afghanistan built around six linked "surges"—in troop strength, strategic coherence, civilian resources, "native" support, regional integration, and political commitment.

While conventional warfare remains the centerpiece of military spending—Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently estimated that "irregular warfare" accounts for only ten percent of the new defense budget—COIN has come to dominate conversation in Washington foreign-policy circles, and many argue that "small wars" will characterize the 21st century.

"In a multipolar world where small wars proliferate, there is reason to believe that [COIN] doctrine will shape not only the next phase of the fights in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the future of the U.S. military," according to John Nagl, a former Army officer who contributed to the COIN manual and now heads the influential think-tank, Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

CNAS, which was founded in 2007 and has served as something of a pipeline to senior ranks in the Obama administration, appears to embody the new bipartisan conventional wisdom in Washington. Its “mediagenic” Rhodes Scholar president has become a poster boy for COIN enthusiasts, including influential neoconservatives who featured Nagl at the March kick-off of their newest think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI).

COIN is especially attractive to many liberal hawks, however, because it emphasizes civilian protection and knowledge of local cultures, in contrast to the "shoot-first" style that often characterized U.S. military policy in the early Bush years.

But although advocates portray COIN as a purely pragmatic and non-ideological response to the security challenges of the twenty-first century, critics charge that its focus on "small wars" and nation-building simply assumes that the main goal of the U.S. military should be subduing local populations of far-flung but strategically important countries. In that respect, they argue, COIN can serve as a smokescreen for maintaining a U.S. imperial posture.

"Great powers wage ‘small wars’ not to defend themselves but to assert control over foreign populations," wrote Andrew Bacevich, a former Army colonel and Boston University professor, in his 2008 book "The Limits of Power." "Historically, that is, ‘small wars’ are imperial wars."

"[T]o assume that wars like Iraq define the military’s future evades a larger question. Given what the pursuit of American imperial ambitions in the Greater Middle East has actually produced … why would the United States persist in such a strategy? Instead of changing the military, why not change the policy?" asked Bacevich.

The history of COIN in the United States is in fact intimately tied to the history of imperialism, dating back to the "Indian wars" and the suppression of insurgencies in Cuba and the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century.

Many of the classics of COIN literature, such as David Galula’s "Counterinsurgency Warfare," came out of the French colonial experience in Algeria. The heyday of COIN came in the 1960s, when the United States supplemented its military forces in Vietnam with tens of thousands of civilian advisers applying the latest social-science findings to everything from police training to land reform.

The U.S. defeat in Indochina made COIN anathema to a generation of military officers who demanded an end to murky and open-ended nation-building engagements. The "Powell Doctrine," which demanded overwhelming force in the pursuit of clearly defined goals, was emblematic of U.S. military thinking post-Vietnam.

While the immediate post-Cold War period saw the U.S. intervene in “small wars” in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans, the George W. Bush administration came to office promising an end to such commitments. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to transform the military into a technology-heavy force designed to defeat rival states quickly and with as few "boots on the ground" as possible.

It was Rumsfeld’s failure to anticipate the challenges of post-invasion Iraq that sent the U.S. officer corps scrambling back to the archives in search of their predecessors’ wisdom about how to conduct counterinsurgency.

Ironically, many of the same neoconservatives and liberal hawks who now tout the virtues of COIN were previously firm believers in the high-tech Rumsfeld military. This has led critics to charge that these new COIN enthusiasts simply aim to foster a belief in the efficacy of military force and interventionist foreign policy.

Bacevich and other critics caution against falling back into the same illusions about military efficacy that drew the United States into Iraq in the first place.

"U.S. leaders should … be wary of the potential moral hazard represented by the COIN [field manual]: thinking they have figured out the journey, they may be tempted to go down the road more often," Colin Kahl, a CNAS fellow who will head Middle East affairs in the Pentagon, warned in Foreign Affairs< /em> in 2007.

Others dispute the notion that the drop in violence in Iraq was due to the surge and the use of COIN doctrine. Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, a West Point professor who has been foremost among these critics, argues that success was due primarily to other factors—notably the decision to begin paying former Sunni insurgents to stop attacking U.S. forces.

Even among neoconservatives and other hawks, it remains to be seen whether the current enthusiasm for COIN will outlast the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some, such as the influential neoconservative columnist Robert Kagan, have already begun to argue that state powers such as China and Russia pose a greater long-term threat than terrorism and other non-state actors, which would once again push conventional capabilities to the forefront of Washington’s military priorities.

This focus on conventional warfare would dovetail with the inclinations of many within the military itself, where the newly influential COIN advocates appear to remain in the minority.

Daniel Luban writes for the Inter Press Service (IPS) and contributes to PRA’s Right Web. IPS writer Jim Lobe also contributed to this article. Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe

Citations

By Daniel Luban, "Neocons and Liberal Hawks Converge on Counterinsurgency" Right Web with permission from Inter Press Service (Somerville, MA: PRA, 2009). Web location:
https://rightweb.irc-online.org/rw/4997.html Production Information:
Author(s): Right Web
Editor(s): Right Web
Production: Political Research Associates   IRC logo 1310 Broadway, #201, Somerville, MA   02144 | pra@publiceye.org

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Bret Stephens is a columnist for the New York Times who previously worked at the Wall Street Journal and the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary.


Donald Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr is the focus of a growing controversy over the Robert Mueller report because his decision to unilaterally declare that the the president had not obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation.


The Republican Jewish Coalition is a right wing Jewish advocacy groups that promotes an aggressive pro-Israel and anti-Iran policy.


Erik Prince, former CEO of the mercenary group Blackwater, continues to sell security services around the world as controversies over his work—including in China and the Middle East, and his alleged involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—grow.


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.


Gina Haspel is the first woman to hold the position of director of the CIA, winning her confirmation despite her history of involvement in torture during the Iraq War.


United against Nuclear Iran is a pressure group that attacks companies doing business in Iran and disseminates alarmist reports about the country’s nuclear program.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The new government will, once again, be the most right wing in Israel’s history. But this time, the length of the new government’s tenure will depend more on Netanyahu’s legal troubles than on the political dynamics of the coalition.


Given such a dismal U.S. record on non-proliferation, why should North Korea trust U.S. promises of future sanctions relief and security guarantees in exchange for denuclearization? If anything, the case of the JCPOA has demonstrated that regardless of its pledges the United States can reinstate sanctions and even bully private multinational companies to divest from Iran.


As Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman clamor for a war against Iran, they seem to have conveniently forgotten the destruction and mayhem wrought by the American invasion of Iraq 16 years ago.


President Trump’s announcement that he would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the western part of the Golan Heights destroys the negotiating basis for any future peace between Israel and Syria. It also lays the groundwork for a return to a world without territorial integrity for smaller, weaker countries.


The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Saudi/UAE-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The vote marks the first time since the War Powers Act of 1973 became law that both chambers of Congress have directed the president to withdraw American forces from a conflict.


The Trump administration’s failed “maximum pressure” approach to Iran and North Korea begs the question what the US president’s true objectives are and what options he is left with should the policy ultimately fail.


In the United States, it’s possible to debate any and every policy, domestic and foreign, except for unquestioning support for Israel. That, apparently, is Ilhan Omar’s chief sin.


RightWeb
share