Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Not with a bang but with a whimper: An obituary for the Prov. Reconst. Teams

By “Pierre Tea” Best Defense guest columnist Two months from now, in May 2013, the debate on COIN, as applied to Iraq and Afghanistan, will become academic, historical, and ripe for serious post-application analysis beyond the walls of the Pentagon. The COINs will have all been spent, the PRTs’ tents folded, and whatever hearts and ...

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

By "Pierre Tea"

Best Defense guest columnist

By “Pierre Tea”

Best Defense guest columnist

Two months from now, in May 2013, the debate on COIN, as applied to Iraq and Afghanistan, will become academic, historical, and ripe for serious post-application analysis beyond the walls of the Pentagon.

The COINs will have all been spent, the PRTs’ tents folded, and whatever hearts and minds purchased, leased, or lost can be counted, weighed against our costs, and their results. To quote Omar Khayyam, “The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.”

No credible analysis could avoid the obvious: that “something” had to be done about Saddam Hussein who ruthlessly threatened his neighbors (our allies) and his own populations, and about Osama bin Laden and his list of supporters, who directly attacked the United States.  How did the “something” done work out?

As a first-hand civilian witness to the application and aftermath of “money as a weapon” surged by the billions into active and highly-fragmented war zones, I look forward to post-application debates on the key questions of COIN and PRTs: Did they help, hurt, or just fuel the multi-year conflicts to which they were continuously re-applied?

The U.S. dream of a peaceful and democratic Iraq and Afghanistan, however, has not been realized, and instability in adjacent Syria and Pakistan threatens to unravel anything enduring that we may have, through COIN, hoped to purchase from these two countries without any agreement with the Old Man in the Mountain (Iran), whose negative influence remains substantial, and undermines an accurate audit of what actual hearts and minds were purchased, for how long, and to what end.

My suspicion is that once all the COINs are spent, serious post-engagement analysis will end and the domestic shroud of myths needed to justify the honored dead and injured’s contributions will drop in place, with little institutional learning, and even less than myths to show for it.

Leave it to Hollywood to mythologize the region, its history, and the heroism of individuals and incremental missions accomplished and we guarantee that history will repeat itself.

We’ll see.

“Pierre Tea” probably has shaken more Afghan sand out of his shorts than you’ve walked on. This post doesn’t necessarily reflect the official views of anyone but it sure does reflect the unofficial views of some.

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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