The Best Defense

Simpson’s ‘War from the Ground Up’ (II): You may not be interested in COIN, but COIN remains interested in you

Emile Simpson doesn't think we can just walk away from COIN. As he writes in his book, "Counter-insurgency is likely to remain the more effective operational approach to deal with an enemy who wants to fight in an irregular manner," (p. 11).

"The control of political space is as important, if not more important, than controlling physical space," (p. 6). There is a good master's thesis to be written on just exploring that thought.

And don't think you can just ignore the politics. "One cannot refuse to engage in political activity: the empowerment or marginalising of individuals and groups will occur through coalition actions, whether deliberate or not," (p. 107).

He seems to reject the "hearts and minds" shorthand often used for COIN: "‘Classic' counterinsurgency...was far more about population control than about popular support," (p. 150).

Finally, he observes that classic Western military thought calls for concentration of force against the enemy's center of gravity, but warns that insurgencies generally avoid concentration.

His bottom line: "If in a given conflict the policy choice has been to commit military forces to achieve an outcome in a country in which the enemy refuses conventional battle and lives among the people, counterinsurgency, properly resourced, and in a realistic political context, can be highly effective," (p. 235).


The Best Defense

‘Military Review’ steps up

I've been critical on occasion of the Army's Military Review, so I want to point out that the new issue has several provocative articles. The best, I think, is one on critical thinking by Col. Thomas Williams. He argues that Army PME "needs work." He thinks the Army needs to focus "less on knowledge and content and more on the ability to question and argue." He also calls on the Army to develop what he calls heretics -- "leaders capable of challenging convention to create imaginative solutions regardless of the operational environment." Like Roseanne Cash, Colonel Williams knows that the beginning of wisdom is not to walk into a situation thinking you know the answers, but figuring out the right questions.

I eagerly dug into another article, "Meritocracy in the Profession of Arms," and wanted to like it, but put it down disappointed. The author clearly has something on his mind -- basically, re-emphasizing competence. I am all for that. But the article seems to be kind of a rant about the "muddy boots" mindset. He uses the phrase six times in the article, but never defines it, which would be the first step in explaining why he finds it so pernicious. (And to quibble, I don't think the author was well-served by his proofreader: You'd think the Army's premier magazine could spell General Westmoreland's name correctly on page 20. Also, to be even pickier, at the bottom of page 49, the current month is given as "Janaury.")