TCS: Counterinsurgency and the American Way of War
My latest piece, “Counterinsurgency and the American Way of War,” is up at Tech Central Station.
The problem in Vietnam and Iraq is not so much that the U.S. military is bad at counterinsurgency but that insurgencies are incredibly hard to defeat. Whereas a conventional force fights in the open and can be taken on directly, an insurgency fights piecemeal and hides among the civilian population. This puts the counterinsurgency force — especially a foreign power — at a great disadvantage. On the one hand, they can go in full force to kill insurgents and almost certainly kill innocents, alienating the local population whose support is desperately needed. On the other, being too patient allows the insurgents to continue their reign of terror, not only killing friendly soldiers but also creating the impression that the host government and/or its foreign backers cannot keep order.
A professional military can defeat an insurgency despite these obstacles but, unfortunately, they can not do it quickly. In a society that demands fast results, that time is usually not a luxury the military has. This is even more true in an age of 24/7 television and the constant clamoring of pundits on the tube, talk radio, and blogs. Add to that an increasingly hostile partisan atmosphere and a never-ending campaign cycle, which means that politics no longer end at the water’s edge, the pressure is even stronger.
The bottom line is that the United States military is pretty good at counterinsurgency. The American public, however, is not.
More at the link.