August 02, 2010

Diffusion and Counterinsurgency

I start my week with diffusion on my mind: why do tactics, techniques, procedures and strategies migrate from conflict to conflict and from military organization to military organization? One of the reasons this subject is on my mind is the publication of my friend Michael Horowitz's new book by Princeton University Press. I just bought The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politicsir?t=abumuqa-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0691143951 for my Kindle. Don't let the fact that Mike is my friend and teaches at my alma mater fool you: he is widely considered one of the smartest young security studies scholars in the United States. (Check out this article of his on the Crusades in International Security.) He has also been writing about diffusion for some time, and I find his thesis persuasive. ("My theory, named adoption-capacity theory, argues for any given innovation, the financial resources and organizational changes required for adoption govern the system-level distribution of responses and influence the choices of individual states.")

I can't say the same for Laleh Khalili's article in the new International Journal of Middle East Studies, which I just read this morning. On the one hand, I really appreciate the time and attention Dr. Khalili has devoted to considering counterinsurgency from a left-of-center, Russell Square perspective, although a lot of what she has to say seems mired in a post-colonial narrative that makes it tough for her to consider counterinsurgency operations in another context. Most of us counterinsurgency scholars, granted, prefer to consider counterinsurgency theory and operations from a purely pragmatic perspective, examining operations and strategies without considering the colonial context in which many of these operations were carried out in history -- and there are rather obvious scholarly weaknesses to this approach.

On the other hand, I find Dr. Khalili's attempts to link counterinsurgency as practiced by the United States and its allies to "counterinsurgency" as practiced by the Israel Defense Forces in the Palestinian Territories only expose her lack of understanding of the U.S. military. I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the debates and movement that brought counterinsurgency to the fore in U.S. military doctrine, training and thought, and I can't recall the IDF having ever been used as a reference point in those debates. The lone exception to this would be when folks use the IDF's performance in 2006 in southern Lebanon as a warning for what can happen when military organizations allow their "conventional" skills to atrophy while engaged in long-term low-intensity combat operations that demand a different skill set, but that's pretty much it. If anything, the adoption of population-centric counterinsurgency by the U.S. military has caused U.S. military officers and analysts to cast new doubts on the efficacy of Israeli strategies and tactics in the Palestinian Territories. (And in southern Lebanon, as my buddy Dan Helmer points out.) I looked through Dr. Khalili's extensive endnotes and didn't see the U.S. military's counterinsurgency manual referenced once. Maybe that's because you can't look at the way the United States wages counterinsurgency warfare and the way Israel occupies the Palestinian Territories and determine shared paternity. The tactical and operational preferences of the two armies are just too different, and I suspect the political aims of the combatants -- the Israelis wish to stay; the Americans wish to train up local forces and leave -- determine some of that. I just moved offices here at CNAS, but as soon as the e-mail is back up and running, I plan to write to Dr. Khalili and see if she wants to expand on this for the readership, because it is, at the least, an interesting topic for discussion.