Now, dear Readers, while I do not agree with everything Ms. Marlowe says in her post, I do very much like her line of reasoning. She wonders:
What if counterinsurgency has never, ever, anywhere actually worked? What if our military has been chasing a chimera for almost four years — or more?
Marlowe states that while “COIN makes sense intellectually”
there doesn’t seem to be any increase in security when our troops do the right stuff (getting out among the people, lots of presence, lots of talking). We’ve got it down to a science now: the shuras, the projects, the provincial development plans, the embedded partners…It’s a lovely theory, but it may be a waste of time, and of all those young men and women who get blown up by IEDs while getting out among the people.
If we follow this thinking, it raises several other thorny questions, such as:
- How do we know if it works? By what measures? In whose opinion?
- Do we restrict the question only to COIN as we define it doctrinally, or across the board, to COIN as a concept?
- Do we restrict the question to current operations, geographically and temporally, or across all places and times?
Our own David Ucko makes an astute comment on the post, wondering if we are not falling into the logical fallacy of ab abusu ad usum non valet consequentia (not in so many words, maybe, but the point is there none the less). David asks if it is valid to judge the efficacy of something by examining instances where it is not applied correctly. Perhaps COIN works, but crappy COIN doesn’t.
Good questions, all.
It seems that the conventional wisdoms of the current age–hearts and minds, COIN–are now being challenged. No matter what the answers are, this can only be seen as a good thing.
When we (observers, practitioners, enthusiasts) fail to question, but instead simply drink the Kool-Aid and go along blithely and blindly, we run the risk of falling, lemming-like, over the edge of a conceptual cliff.
The trouble is, after so long in places like Afghanistan, and with the appeal of doctrine such as the current COIN thinking, it takes a great of guts to develop a new approach. Such arguments, made ab inconvenienti, are tricky, but are sometimes exactly what is required.
What if COIN doesn’t work? Is anyone prepared to answer the question, when the end/exit is already in sight? Even if we all agree and answer, “No, it doesn’t”, where will that lead? I have suspected for a long time that COIN itself is merely the knee-jerk answer to a previous question, “Do kinetic/conventional/body-count campaigns work?” The answer was no, so the 180 degree opposite alternative was chosen as the replacement.
Marlowe suggests heading in that direction:
More and more, I suspect that it’s the brutality that works, not the COIN. It’s moving hundreds of thousands of people across a country, or shooting all the men in a village as a reprisal for terrorism, or taking hostages, or doing extra-judicial kidnappings. Of course, the brutality would work without the COIN, too.
The trouble is, according to Marlowe, the paradoxical nature of Western ethics when it comes to waging these types of campaigns:
Brutality works. But that’s not who we are.
So, the real $64,000 question is not, “What if?” but rather, “Then what?”