Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Two cheers for COIN

It has become fashionable to trash counterinsurgency.

(Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
(Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

It has become fashionable to trash counterinsurgency. In the regular Army and among some Marines I see the smirks and hear the snide asides about, “What was that all about?”

Yes, there are serious questions to ask. Foremost in my mind is whether the American military and people have the patience required to give a counterinsurgency campaign the time it requires. Or the generosity to give those who cooperate American citizenship if it is needed. We are spendthrifts with our money but tightwads with our time and privileges.

And yet. If you listen to American commanders who by objective measures succeed, they will tell you that what works in the long run when operating among the people is not firepower and maneuver — though that capability must be maintained.

It has become fashionable to trash counterinsurgency. In the regular Army and among some Marines I see the smirks and hear the snide asides about, “What was that all about?”

Yes, there are serious questions to ask. Foremost in my mind is whether the American military and people have the patience required to give a counterinsurgency campaign the time it requires. Or the generosity to give those who cooperate American citizenship if it is needed. We are spendthrifts with our money but tightwads with our time and privileges.

And yet. If you listen to American commanders who by objective measures succeed, they will tell you that what works in the long run when operating among the people is not firepower and maneuver — though that capability must be maintained.

So, in a nutshell, what works? How about this, from Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc: “My theory at the time was pressure, pursue, punish. My three Ps now: presence, patience, and persistence.” (Quote from p. 8 of Daniel Green’s In the Shadow of the Warlords).

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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