Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Cohen updates the COIN canon

Johns Hopkins strategic guru and former Condi consigliore Eliot Cohen, who inexplicably has been neglected by Great Satan’s Girlfriend, helpfully rounded up some recent works on counterinsurgency in the Washington Post the other day. Here are the highlights: –James Arnold’s “Jungle of Snakes” is useful to learn the fundamentals, competently summarizing past counterinsurgency campaigns in ...

575835_080610_hagen5.jpg
575835_080610_hagen5.jpg

Johns Hopkins strategic guru and former Condi consigliore Eliot Cohen, who inexplicably has been neglected by Great Satan's Girlfriend, helpfully rounded up some recent works on counterinsurgency in the Washington Post the other day.

Here are the highlights:

--James Arnold's "Jungle of Snakes" is useful to learn the fundamentals, competently summarizing past counterinsurgency campaigns in the Philippines, Algeria, Malaya and Vietnam, but offering few striking insights. Read it if you want to learn the basics of the American CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) program in Vietnam, for example, or learn who tortured whom in the Battle of Algiers.

Johns Hopkins strategic guru and former Condi consigliore Eliot Cohen, who inexplicably has been neglected by Great Satan’s Girlfriend, helpfully rounded up some recent works on counterinsurgency in the Washington Post the other day.

Here are the highlights:

–James Arnold’s “Jungle of Snakes” is useful to learn the fundamentals, competently summarizing past counterinsurgency campaigns in the Philippines, Algeria, Malaya and Vietnam, but offering few striking insights. Read it if you want to learn the basics of the American CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) program in Vietnam, for example, or learn who tortured whom in the Battle of Algiers.

–Rand Corp. has recently released its own COIN study, “Reconstruction Under Fire.” … [T]his new book typifies much of the contemporary Rand product: brief, lots of bullets and diagrams, thumbnail sketches of conflicts, and a conclusion pleading for further research.

–David Ucko’s “The New Counterinsurgency Era” is a dense, scholarly and useful work on how the American military adapted to counterinsurgency during the Iraq war, both on the ground and in the classrooms of Fort Leavenworth, where most of the Army’s thinking gets done. The book captures the Army’s self-inflicted amnesia about counterinsurgency in the wake of Vietnam and the difficult steps needed to relearn old lessons.

–Mark Moyar’s “A Question of Command” . . . reminds us that it takes a special kind of soldier — reflective, patient, creative — to lead counterinsurgency operations.

–Todd Greentree, the author of “Crossroads of Intervention,” is an active diplomat who . . . weaves together personal knowledge and scholarly study and reminds us of forgotten conflicts in Central America that still have much teach us about small wars. As miserably unpopular as the Salvadoran conflict was, and as doomed as many considered the U.S. effort there, it succeeded in defeating a communist insurgency that once stood on the verge of success.

–The balanced and well-researched “Vietnam Declassified” by Thomas Ahern, a former CIA operations officer, describes the agency’s role in Vietnam. But, like so much history of that war, it barely deals with the Vietnamese; it’s all about us. And herein lies the greatest weakness of the COIN literature: It often lacks deep knowledge of the other side.

I like what Cohen has to say here. In particular, I think Rand Corp. especially needs to wake up. Sometimes it produces good work, but generally it just hits the bullseye for predictable mediocrity. I suppose someone has to give the Pentagon what it needs to hear, but what a dismal way to spend a career…

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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