Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

FM 3-XX: Revolutionary Operations

I’ve been looking over the Army’s new manual for stability operations, which the University of Michigan just reprinted with an all-star lineup of introductions by Michele Flournoy, Shawn Brimley, and Janine Davidson. I’m all for the idea. But I wonder if the very title of the manual is incorrect. After all, we didn’t invade Iraq ...

587498_090324_Manual2.jpg
587498_090324_Manual2.jpg

I've been looking over the Army's new manual for stability operations, which the University of Michigan just reprinted with an all-star lineup of introductions by Michele Flournoy, Shawn Brimley, and Janine Davidson.

I'm all for the idea. But I wonder if the very title of the manual is incorrect. After all, we didn't invade Iraq to provide stability, but to force change. Likewise in Afghanistan. And once we were there, we didn't aim for stability, but to encourage democracy, which (the thought is not original with me) in a region like the Middle East generally undermines stability. I mean, if all we wanted was stability, why not find a strongman and leave?

What we really are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think, is instability operations. I don't think the U.S. military really has ever been comfortable with that mission, which was one reason we saw a lot of friction early on between the Bremer team trying to bring change and the Sanchez team simply trying to keep a lid on things. Personally, I think the mission of changing the culture of Iraq was nuts -- but that was the mission the president assigned the military.

I’ve been looking over the Army’s new manual for stability operations, which the University of Michigan just reprinted with an all-star lineup of introductions by Michele Flournoy, Shawn Brimley, and Janine Davidson.

I’m all for the idea. But I wonder if the very title of the manual is incorrect. After all, we didn’t invade Iraq to provide stability, but to force change. Likewise in Afghanistan. And once we were there, we didn’t aim for stability, but to encourage democracy, which (the thought is not original with me) in a region like the Middle East generally undermines stability. I mean, if all we wanted was stability, why not find a strongman and leave?

What we really are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think, is instability operations. I don’t think the U.S. military really has ever been comfortable with that mission, which was one reason we saw a lot of friction early on between the Bremer team trying to bring change and the Sanchez team simply trying to keep a lid on things. Personally, I think the mission of changing the culture of Iraq was nuts — but that was the mission the president assigned the military.

I think a more intellectually honest title for the manual would be “Revolutionary Operations.” Don’t hold your breath.

As long as I am quibbling with official government usage, is “the interagency” even a grammatical term?

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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