29 November 2009

Congratulations to the COINdinistas

Tom Ricks posted an article in Foreign Policy Online listing the top ten brightest minds in the world of counterinsurgency (commonly known as COIN). Collectively, these men and women are known as COINdinistas.

The first nine names do not come as a surprise--names like Gen. David Petraeus, Lt. Col. John Nagl, Dave Dilegge (retired Lt. Col.?) of Small Wars Journal, Lt. Col (Ret) David Kilcullen of the Australian Army, Andrew Exum...you get the picture.

But the last name kind of surprised me: noted COINtra (someone who opposes what is commonly known as the "COIN Kool-aid") Gian Gentile. Say what you want about Gentile, but he does serve as a useful voice of balance against becoming too focused on counterinsurgency. There may be other wars we will find ourselves in, of only for a brief time.


Unknown said...

What I found interesting about the list is that nearly everyone on it actually has military experience. Absent for the most part are the “defense intellectuals,” the people whom one often sees on TV and reads in the op-ed pages but lack the practical experience of getting shot at, mortared and IEDed. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I have more faith in the opinions of people who have experienced war up close and personal (even if I find their opinions uncomfortable) than the opinions of people who only have an academic understanding of it — no matter how much field research they’ve done.

I’m far from persuaded that COIN is going to do more than allow us a fig leaf under which to withdraw within the next few years. It might give the Afghan central government a fighting chance of survival, but no matter how long we stay the various warlords (whether Taliban warlords like Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar and Haqqani or “our” warlords, like Dostum and Rabbani) are still going to be waiting in the wings along with the narco-traffickers and groups supported by states in the region (e.g., India and Pakistan). In that regard, it seems to be the least bad option.

What the application of counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan will do is give our military an opportunity to imprint COIN principles in the minds of enough junior officers — who are likely to be colonels and generals in the next major conflict our politicians decide to get us involved in, like yourself if you choose to stay in — that we might be able to shave a few years off the total time of involvement and avoid some casualties.

Starbuck said...

I think you're right about COIN's application in Afghanistan--it's certainly not a good long-term solution. However, I think that applying COIN should give ourselves some breathing room to at least exit Afghanistan gracefully.

Iraq has its share of flaws, but at least it has had some history of nationalism and central government. Plus, it has a relatively educated citizenry (good for elections), and oil wealth. Afghanistan has little to sustain democracy, and very little sense of national identity.

However, if we can give the place some semblance of basic services, then we stand a chance, much like we did in the early days of the Afghan War. We must also understand that it's best they govern it their way they want to, not the way we think is best. That's the way to build the most enduring institution. It may not be perfect, but it will be a semblance of stability in a country that has seen little.

Certainly, while the next war may not be a pure counterinsurgency, it will certainly have elements of a counterinsurgency.