30 January 2010

Got my stuff from Iraq back...

I just started going through my stuff from Iraq, and I dug out my copy of Dr. David Ucko's The New Counterinsurgency Era. I ordered it from Amazon in August and received it just as we were packing up to head home. When faced with the decision between one book and my lightweight Kindle with hundreds of books, I stuck with the Kindle.

Fortunately, now I can start reading it. The book features impeccable research into the US military's initial aversion to, and later reluctant adoption of, counterinsurgency principles. From my initial glance, Dr. Ucko--who now blogs at the new and improved Kings of War--seems to make a distinction between units in the field, which were relatively quick to adopt counterinsurgency, and what we in the military generally refer to as "Big Army" or the ever-present "they", who continued with educational programs and procurement policies largely dedicated towards major combat operations against a large nation-state.

As I thumbed through the book--and this may be a bit of an unfair assessment as I haven't delved into the book that deeply yet--I noted Dr. Ucko spoke about the dilemma faced by the US Marine Corps in the realm of counterinsurgency versus their traditional maritime role. On one hand, some Marines seem to be averse to being a counterinsurgency/occupation force. This is, of course, kind of amusing, since the original counterinsurgency manual is the US Marine Corps' "Small Wars Manual"--a book written during the "Banana Wars" of the early 20th Century. The book almost certainly lends its name to the counterinsurgency blog "Small Wars Journal", run by former US Marine Corps officers.

On the other hand, there is also value in the Marine Corps' ability to rapidly project power from the sea, as recent experience in Haiti has shown. Procurement programs for each mission set are often mutually exclusive, and I have to admit that I can see the merit to both camps.

I now also realize the challenges that many defense writers have to deal with when writing about a topic which is currently ongoing. Certainly, right as the book was coming out, some tidbits of information became obsolete. For example, Dr. Ucko criticizes the decision to continue with development of the Army's Future Combat System. However, right as the book was being released, the Army's FCS was, indeed, cancelled by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, largely due to the fact--as Dr. Ucko notes--it was seen as ill-suited for counterinsurgency.

Truly, this will be a good read, although I have to sequence it in among my writing about the Lebanon War for CENSA's latest essay roundup (which will feature Adam Elkus)

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