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COIN Dead? Probably the Wrong Question

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I’ve been frustrated by the discussion over counter-insurgency for quite some time.  This week, I took those frustrations out on my WPR column:

Of course, abandoning COIN doctrine would not in itself eliminate the possibility for stupid wars or massive strategic errors. To the extent that U.S. Army doctrine had anything to do with the invasion of Iraq, it was in giving the U.S. the ability to completely destroy fielded Iraqi forces in a short period of time with a minimal footprint. In other words, U.S. conventional capabilities, organized by a doctrine that eschewed serious political or strategic thinking, gave U.S. policymakers the impression that the conquest of Iraq would be cheap and easy. And in the wake of the initial conquest, the response of the U.S. Army to the growing Iraqi insurgency was clearly inadequate. Here, however, Gentile plays a bait-and-switch. He is surely correct to say that good COIN tactics and operational proficiency cannot redeem disaster at the strategic level. However, he does not examine in any serious detail the strategic, which is to say the political failures that led to the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan, preferring instead to critique the work of the surgeons trying to save the patient. The worst that can be said of COIN, with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan, is that it failed in an expensive way to remedy a disaster produced by a combination of civilian strategic incompetence and extant U.S. military doctrine in 2001 and 2003.

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