Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

More questions about COIN (VI): Do we really understand the nature of the fight?

By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen’s Royal Hussars Best Defense guest columnist Question Set Six — Do the historical case studies that we do use stand up to scrutiny? Again, one question leads us onto a series of further questions. Those case studies (assuming that they are relevant, and that we should not in fact be ...

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By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen's Royal Hussars

Best Defense guest columnist

By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen’s Royal Hussars

Best Defense guest columnist

Question Set Six — Do the historical case studies that we do use stand up to scrutiny? Again, one question leads us onto a series of further questions. Those case studies (assuming that they are relevant, and that we should not in fact be looking to Omdurman instead) — are they based on the accepted narrative or on the historical record? Did the British really rely on the principles of minimum force, winning popular support, and an adherence to the law? Or did they in fact use torture, exemplary force, and laws which in essence placed themselves above the law? The emerging archival evidence on the British approach, particularly in Kenya, is beginning to show that this might in fact be the case. This is an area which requires more work because the answer to it may well hold the key to answering Clausewitz’s question — what is the nature of the struggle in which we are involved?

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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