Monday, October 12, 2015

Quotable: Max Boot on “Counterinsurgency is Here to Stay”

Sunday, October 11th 2015

“Counterinsurgency is here to stay” said Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.  His essay will surely interest all Public Diplomacy officers who were or are assigned to Iraq and/or Afghanistan, but it has broader implications for the future.  There's no explicit mention of Public Diplomacy in Boot's article, but its relevance is obvious.  Public Diplomacy, like economic development and political transition, suffered from the lack of a strategy, planning, and enough people.  Here are some excerpts of his article, “More Small Wars,” in the November-December 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs:

The United States has a long tradition of bungling the conclusions to wars, focusing on narrow military objectives while ignoring the political end state that troops are supposed to be fighting for. This inattention made possible the persecution of freed slaves and their white champions in the South after the American Civil War, the eruption of the Philippine insurrection after the Spanish-American War, the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the Communists in Russia after World War I, the invasions of South Korea and South Vietnam after World War II, and the impetus for the Iraq war after the Gulf War. Too often, U.S. officials have assumed that all the United States has to do is get rid of the bad guys and the postwar peace will take care of itself. But it simply isn’t so. Generating order out of chaos is one of the hardest tasks any country can attempt, and it requires considerable preparation of the kind that the U.S. military undertook for the occupation of Germany and Japan after 1945 -- but seldom did before and has seldom done since. * * * * *

The United States also needs to cultivate better strategic thinkers in both the military and the civilian spheres. The country’s best and brightest made mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq that were just as monumental as the ones famously made by their predecessors in Vietnam. * * *

Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq who led the civilian side of the surge in 2007–8, represent two of the very few senior officials to emerge from the wars with their reputations improved. That’s because they exhibited a rare quality in the U.S. military: strategic acumen. * * *

The U.S. government ran into trouble in Afghanistan and Iraq in large part because it simply was not set up to do nation building and counterinsurgency. When it became clear after Saddam’s downfall in April 2003 that Iraq wouldn’t automatically govern itself, the job was given first to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and then to the Coalition Provisional Authority -- both ludicrously ill prepared for the monumental challenges they faced. Whereas military units train for years to take down regimes like Saddam’s, their civilian counterparts had at most a few weeks to prepare for the much more difficult task of governing a foreign land. * * * * *

The civilian side is in even worse shape. For all the talk of a “civilian surge” in Afghanistan and Iraq, the State Department and other government agencies could never provide enough skilled personnel in such areas as governance and economic development to complement the military’s efforts; soldiers wound up filling many of the jobs. The problem is that no agency within the U.S. government views nation building as its assignment. The closest any comes is the U.S. Agency for International Development, but it has a nebulous mission and scant resources of its own. * * * * *

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