Summary: John Quiggin writes about zombie economics, theories false but too politically useful to die. COIN is an example of zombie military theory. In the 60 years since Mao brought 4GW to maturity, foreign armies of every type have employed it against local insurgents, with an almost uniform record of failure. America’s COIN-istas — brilliant, experienced sirens — lured us to defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they’re trying for a third FAILure. Will they succeed? Give your forecast in the comments.
John Nagl’s counterinsurgency failed its way to popularity before,
and is now trying to make a comeback.
By Kelley Vlahos
The American Conservative, 31 October 2014
Reprinted with their generous permission
“Your table manners are a cryin’ shame. You’re playing with your food this ain’t some kind of game. Now if you starve to death you’ll just have yourself to blame. So eat it, just eat it.”
-– Weird Al Yankovic
In his first book, counterinsurgency advocate Ret. (Lt. Col.) John Nagl told us how to Eat Soup with a Knife. It turned out that it really was easier to eat soup with a spoon, or frankly, not to eat it at all. Today, after two failed interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nagl has written a follow-up, but it has nothing to do with eating humble pie.
In Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice, Nagl has abandoned the dining motif along with the format. The book is a memoir in which he tries to cast himself as both a inside player and a outside rebel, one who had to struggle to bring a new counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy to losing battlefields in Iraq in 2007, then Afghanistan in 2009.
Thus, the knife depicted on the cover of the book, which was released this month, is no table utensil, but a hunting knife. That might be fitting, considering the many ducks, blinds, and decoys he presents throughout. But like everything else Nagl has promoted over the years, it’s all just a bit difficult to swallow.
Simply put, Nagl, once called the “Johnny Appleseed of COIN,” uses his memoir to
- a) paper over the huge failures of counterinsurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan by saying the best we can hope for now are “unsatisfying but not catastrophic outcomes”;
- b) to distance himself — and COIN — from defeat by blaming everything but the strategy for why it didn’t work as promised in the field; and
- c) burnish his own resume — which takes up much of the book — for a possible return to a Democratic administration in 2016.