Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan has an interesting post about a new Army Field Manual on counterinsurgency. He poses a couple of interesting questions:
“Successful … operations require Soldiers and Marines at every echelon
to possess the following,” the authors write. (Emphasis added.) They
then list a daunting set of traits: “A clear, nuanced, and empathetic
appreciation of the essential nature of the conflict. … An
understanding of the motivation, strengths, and weaknesses of the
insurgent,” as well as rudimentary knowledge of the local culture,
behavioral norms, and leadership structures. In addition, there must be
“adaptive, self-aware, and intelligent leaders.”
single high-profile infraction can undo 100 successes. “Lose moral
legitimacy, lose the war,” the authors warn, pointedly noting that the
French lost Algeria in part because their commanders condoned torture.
big questions emerge, without wading into the manual’s tactical
details. First, can American armed forces maintain such exacting
standards over a long, hazy conflict? The all-volunteer U.S. military
is full of extraordinarily smart, dedicated, and disciplined men and
women. But the Army has also been lowering standards lately to meet recruitment targets.
can American citizens and politicians maintain a long-term commitment
to civil and insurgent wars at a cost of hundreds of billions of
dollars and possibly thousands of lives, not just in Iraq or
Afghanistan but anywhere? The question here isn’t whether we should,
but whether we can—whether the political system, with its competing
demands and risk-averse tendencies, is capable of it.