March 02, 2009

Bacevich on Kilcullen

One of the things I have always maintained is that realists of the Andrew Bacevich school and counter-insurgents of the David Kilcullen school have more in common than they realize at first glance. No one who really understands COIN wants to do it. Liberal interventionalists and neo-conservatives are likely to be much more enthusiastic than the practitioners themselves. Counter-insurgents, often knowing something of what they speak through practical and hard-won experience, realize all too well just how difficult and costly big schemes drawn up in Washington become when they have to be operationalized. Counter-insurgency is hard. Best to avoid it, actually. Andrew Bacevich read David Kilcullen's new book and I think surprised himself with how much he found in it with which he could agree:

In his new book The Accidental Guerrilla, we actually encounter three Kilcullens. First there is Kilcullen the practitioner, who draws on considerable firsthand experience to offer his own take on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this regard, Accidental Guerrilla resembles dozens of other Washington books, blending memoir with policy analysis, generously laced with spin. Then there is Kilcullen the scholar, presenting his own grand theory of insurgency and prescribing a set of “best practices” to which counterinsurgents should adhere. In this regard, the book falls somewhere between academic treatise and military field manual: it is dry, repetitive and laced with statements of the obvious. Last, however, there is Kilcullen the apostate. With the administration whose policies he sought to implement now gone from office, Kilcullen uses Accidental Guerrilla to skewer those he served for gross strategic ineptitude. His chief finding—that through its actions the Bush administration has managed to exacerbate the Islamist threat while wasting resources on a prodigious scale—is not exactly novel. Yet given Kilcullen’s status as both witness and participant, his indictment carries considerable weight. Here lies the real value of his book.

Read the rest here.