January 15, 2009

Gian Gentile versus Abu Muqawama, Round 582

I assume most of you have seen Gian Gentile's latest piece, in Foreign Policy. He takes a series of statements regarding defense policy and then offers a short argument in favor of or in opposition to each one. Always one to rise to the bait, here's my take on each:

"The U.S. military is still too focused on conventional warfare."
Gian Gentile: Absolutely not.
Abu Muqawama: You have got to be kidding me. Just look at the budget and where the money is being spent. Governing is budgeting. From the limited perspective of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, I could see where Gian might be able to argue that we have embraced COIN whole-heartedly. (As well we should have, as those are counter-insurgency campaigns.) But there are two other services in the U.S. military against whom the U.S. Army and Marine Corps compete for budget share. And the Congress, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the defense contractors, the defense industry, and many within the uniformed officer corps of all services have interests in keeping the U.S. military focused on conventional warfare -- and the big, expensive, job-producing weapons systems needed to fight conventional warfare.

"Small wars are the wars of the future."
Gian Gentile: Perhaps.
Abu Muqawama: Small wars are the way of the present and, likely, the future as well. But that does not mean the threat of large-scale state-on-state wars has gone away forever. That's just ridiculous. We more or less agree here.

"The surge worked in Iraq."
Gian Gentile: Not quite.
Abu Muqawama: I agree. I think it worked operationally and perhaps strategically but failed politically. Where Gian and I disagree is when he says that we in the U.S. Army were all doing the right things as early as the fall of 2003. Please. This is simply not true. The historical record does not bear this out, and I, for one, had a rather unfortunate front-row seat to history there.

"General Petraeus is a military genius."
Gian Gentile: Time will tell.
Abu Muqawama: Indeed, it will. And I don't know if the guy is a genius. But he's very smart -- militarily and politically. And he has done wonders so far. And it's not as if the United States has been blessed in its recent history with a lot of smart, competent generals. Can anyone name three current general officers of three or four stars better than Petraeus? So maybe he deserves the praise he gets.

"The military should embrace nation-building."
Gian Gentile: If those are the orders.
Abu Muqawama: Agreed. If those are the orders. Which they may well be until we can build capacity elsewhere and fix the inter-agency.

Now here's a question: Isn't there anyone other than Gian Gentile willing to take up the anti-COIN crusade? Where is everyone else? I want to ask him that when he visits the 202 area code in the next few weeks. (We're having dinner, actually, which I am greatly looking forward to.)

Update: Gian responds in the comments section. I have work to do and thus can't participate in what promises to be a lively debate, but that shouldn't stop you.