21 July 2010

Keep soldiers out of politics? But war IS politics.

The first monograph in Understanding Counterinsurgency was penned by Etiene de Durand, the director of the Security Studies Center at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris.  Durand examines the development of French counterinsurgency practice, beginning in the 1830s with the conquest of Algeria, until the modern day.  He puts forth two salient points for counterinsurgency practitioners, and the military profession at large.

First point:  In the wake of the Vietnam War, US military planners, dismayed by the expense of costly counterinsurgencies abroad, sought to craft a foreign policy which would avoid such endeavors.  Yet, in a recent discussion I had with Col. Gian Gentile on the Small Wars Journal message board, I claimed that US forces don't always have the luxury of picking and choosing their battles, to which Col. Gentile replied that a well-crafted foreign policy would give us that opportunity.

Point taken, yet crafting a flawless foreign policy is far easier said than done.  As Durand notes, even the French fell victim to "mission creep" during their initial 19th-Century conquest of Algeria, allowing a campaign against the Barbary Pirates to balloon into a massive exercise in colonialism.  As much as we like to think we have control over our battles and our foreign policy, we don't.  Thus, we need to not neglect counterinsurgency.

Second Point:  Durand mentions that the French armed forces were essentially divided into two main camps:  a large continental army dedicated to fighting conventional battles in Europe (the metro army); and a colonial army, which sought to retain and administer France's colonial holdings (including the Armee d'Afrique).  According to one of the prominent French counterinsurgency theorists, Hubert Lyautey (not David Galula), the rigorous demands of colonial administration--combining military and political action--required the best officers, as the "political and moral responsibilities" were immense.    

As Durand notes, this sort of environment made officers political out of necessity.  By insisting on unity of effort between military and civil institutions, French officers could simply not avoid being political.  

Today, I treat calls to stay out of politics altogether as grossly unrealistic, especially in light of our efforts abroad.  War--especially irregular war--is politics.  We cannot create an organizational culture in which our armed forces are ignorant of all aspects of governance and national power or we'll be certain to fail the next time we wind up in an environment like Iraq or Afghanistan.  And, as Durand mentions, it's a lot easier to blunder into those situations that we'd like to admit.  

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