February 28, 2008
Standing Athwart History, Yelling 'Stop'
Abu Muqawama has been reading the new March-April Military Review, which you guys can all find by following this link. The article by LTG William "Braveheart" Wallace is particularly worth reading. It introduces the newest field manual in the U.S. Army, FM 3-0: Operations, and lays out the U.S. Army's vision of the "spectrum of conflict" -- which in turn explains why FM 3-0 now includes things like stability operations as important alongside major combat operations.
According to LTC Gian Gentile, though, FM 3-0 doesn't really matter, because for all intensive purposes, FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency has become the operations manual of the U.S. Army. Gentile is not too happy about this, and in an essay that also runs in Military Review, he takes great exception to a U.S. Army that -- in his eyes -- is now incapable of doing anything but COIN. And he agrees with MG Charlie Dunlap that we can't grow so obsessively focused on counterinsurgency operations that we forget how to do everything else. "Disciples of FM 3-24," Gentile writes, "see themselves as 'out of the box' thinkers when, in fact, they fit very neatly in a ground-based box, one they are unwilling to look beyond."
Now aside from the dig at FM 3-24 "disciples," this is a good warning to heed, and Gentile is nothing if not smart. But Abu Muqawama cannot, for the life of him, figure this guy out. Because this isn't the first thing Abu Muqawama has read Gentile write, and it's pretty clear that for Gentile, this whole counterinsurgency doctrine is personally offensive. For those of you who follow the discussion board on the Small Wars Journal blog, you'll note Gentile has not hesitated to personally attack those he derides as COIN "rock stars" or to call Paul Yingling a coward because, in an essay that will likely end his career, he didn't name names. How twisted is that? Like anyone could accuse Paul "The Generals Have Lost the War" Yingling of moral cowardice. (Yingling's closest friend in the Army might well be John Nagl, though, and unfortunately, that might go a long way toward explaining things.)
Gentile is obviously terribly intelligent and quite useful as a contrarian, but why is offering a criticism of FM 3-24 not enough? Why does he stoop to thinly-veiled personal attacks? Abu Muqawama isn't the only one to have noted the way in which his blood seems to boil at the mere mention of the names Nagl or Kilcullen or Yingling. Just a few weeks ago, Abu Muqawama was back in the U.S. and talking with a noted counterinsurgency scholar who stopped the conversation to ask, "What the %$#@ is wrong with Gian Gentile, by the way?"
Well, if Abu Muqawama had to reason a guess, he would point everyone toward this op-ed in the International Herald Tribune and subsequent exchange on the Small Wars Journal discussion board. Pay close attention to the back-and-forth between Gentile and COL Pete Mansoor. Gentile obviously feels that FM 3-24 amounts to a repudiation of all the work his unit did in Iraq in 2006, and he doesn't like being called a failure. This is an emotional thing for Gentile, and that's finally something Abu Muqawama can understand. No soldier -- no soldier who has seen his men make sacrifices, toil and fight hard, and shed blood on the battlefield -- wants to be called a failure -- or for his unit's efforts to be called a failure. Every officer wants to believe that his or her time in Iraq or Afghanistan made the country a better place and advanced U.S. policy. But some of us -- this blogger included -- were executing less than ideal strategies and tactics in Iraq that might have made the situation worse, not better, and we're all better off when we can admit that. We did some good, yes, but it wasn't all an uninterrupted march to freedom.
Now Gentile is right about a lot of things, and he is quite correct that everything in Iraq wasn't completely screwed up before David Petraeus and FM 3-24 arrived and is now 100% rosy. Abu Muqawama sympathizes there. But he has got to stop this quixotic crusade* against the doctrine that's best-suited to the environments in which we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because, first off, it's embarrassing. Everyone and their brother can see this has moved beyond a reasoned policy debate and has grown personal. And second, we need to win these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After we do that, we can start bickering amongst ourselves as to whether or not we have "over-learned" the lessons of COIN. (And Abu Muqawama has opinions about whether or not that has taken place, just as he has opinions about MG Dunlap's arguments.)
Finally, if LTC Gentile reads this and takes exception to some pseudonymous blogger attacking him, he should write to email@example.com, and we pledge to write him back with our real name and to even give him space to respond on this site if he so desires. Because this is not meant to be a personal assault on LTC Gentile -- Abu Muqawama respects him a lot. But he disagrees with him on this policy debate and, more importantly, thinks he is letting some personal grudges get the better of him.
*'Quixotic': now there's a word the late William F. Buckley would have appreciated.