April 08, 2009

Abu Muqawama Employs the Strategic Reserve

Michael Cohen is pursuing a Taliban-esque strategy of exhaustion against me both in terms of his articles on Democracy Arsenal and his ridiculously prodigious emailing, which I do not have time to respond to. (Fun fact: your blogger regularly gets in excess of 250 emails a day.) I also have a lot of writing to do. So I'll let you guys debate his latest.

Over at the excellent Abu Muqawama blog, my new friend Andrew Exum has responded to my post of a few days ago about the trouble with counter-insurgency. He says that my argument "ends up ignoring the great many of us who never want to fight another counter-insurgency campaign again but still think it's a damn good idea to have the doctrine and best practices handy."

I'm sorry, but I simply don't buy this argument and I think it minimizes the deleterious impact that a focus on COIN could have, not just for the US military, but for US foreign policy, writ large.

Look, if COIN-dinastas don't want to fight counter-insurgencies and there is growing evidence that both in the US and overseas this sort of military doctrine is simply not politically viable, why then were COIN advocates pushing for a rather fulsome and ambitious counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan? This wasn't a case of having "best practices handy" it was a case of advocating for what Exum calls a doctrine and making it the strategic foundation for our continued involvement in Afghanistan. Andrew says that my problem is with policy not military doctrine; and to some extent he is correct - I want our civilian leadership to fundamentally reassess the threats we are facing and think about how our military should be repositioned in order to most effectively confront these challenges. But as I'm sure Andrew knows, if you're not careful military doctrine can quickly evolve into a national security policy.

I don't think Michael is sensitive enough to (or even aware of) the divisions within the community of scholars who debate and study COIN. Some of us, for example, think that others drift -- in the words of a friend -- from the promotion of COIN as doctrine to COIN as strategy. But it's an ongoing and rich debate to which folks interested in defense policy should pay attention.