Decoding a new Army manual.

Military analysis.
July 8 2006 7:09 AM

Counterinsurgency by the Book

The lessons of a new Army Field Manual.

David Petraeus. Click image to expand.
Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus

Two messages flutter between the lines of the U.S. Army's new field manual on counterinsurgency wars, its first document on the subject in 20 years.

One is that Pentagon planning for the Iraq war's aftermath was at least as crass, inattentive to the lessons of history, and contrary to basic political and military principles as the war's harshest critics have charged.

Advertisement

The other is that as a nation we may simply be ill-suited to fight these kinds of wars.

The field manual's chief authors—Lt. Gen. David Petraeus and retired Col. Conrad Crane—would never make these points explicitly. When Petraeus was commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq, he combined combat power and community-building more astutely than any other officer. Crane, director of the Army's Military History Institute, is one of the leading scholars of "irregular warfare." They both support the war's aims. And they outline their new doctrine—or, rather, their revival of a very old doctrine—very thoughtfully and thoroughly.

Yet the undertone of this 241-page guidebook—not yet publicly released, but obtained by Steven Aftergood and posted this week on his Secrecy News Web site—is one of grim caution.

Counterinsurgency involves rebuilding a society, keeping the population safe, boosting the local government's legitimacy, training a national army, and fighting off insurgents who are trying to topple the government—all at the same time.

As the manual puts it, "The insurgent succeeds by sowing chaos and disorder anywhere; the government fails unless it maintains order everywhere."

From first page to last, the authors stress that these kinds of wars are "protracted by nature." They require "firm political will and extreme patience," "considerable expenditure of time and resources," and a very large deployment of troops ready to greet "hand shakes or hand grenades" without mistaking one for the other.

"Successful … operations require Soldiers and Marines at every echelon to possess the following," the authors write. (Emphasis added.) They then list a daunting set of traits: "A clear, nuanced, and empathetic appreciation of the essential nature of the conflict. … An understanding of the motivation, strengths, and weaknesses of the insurgent," as well as rudimentary knowledge of the local culture, behavioral norms, and leadership structures. In addition, there must be "adaptive, self-aware, and intelligent leaders."

Meanwhile, a single high-profile infraction can undo 100 successes. "Lose moral legitimacy, lose the war," the authors warn, pointedly noting that the French lost Algeria in part because their commanders condoned torture.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.