Some questions about COIN (III): Just what do we think we are doing out there?

Some questions about COIN (III): Just what do we think we are doing out there?

By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen’s Royal Hussars

Best Defense guest columnist

Question Set Three — If we aren’t fighting a series of counterinsurgency campaigns, then what are we doing? There are (at least) two possible answers to this question, both of which raise further questions.

The first is that we are fighting a series of punitive campaigns, designed to show to the world the effect of our wrath and the results of crossing us. In which case, why are we concerned with cultural sensitivities and the like — given that it is presumably their culture (or some part of it) that has led them to displease us in the first place? This may be simplistic (it is) but it is still a question that requires an answer.

The second possible answer is that we are fighting old-fashioned wars of imperial aggression, designed to alter the behavior of other countries so that they better fit into the global system at the head of which sits us; in short, we are compelling our opponent to do our will. This raises a further intriguing question — if this is the case, why do we look to historical case studies of decolonization for guidance, rather than case studies of colonization? Is it simply so we can feel better about ourselves? There is a third option: We are compelled to invade a country to change its government because it is sheltering terrorist networks that are attacking us. What then?

Or another option, we are compelled to invade a country because of its foreign or nuclear policy that is hostile to our interests but have no interest in reshaping the society and culture in our image at all. What then?