An interesting and at the same time disappointing article from Max Boot in the Foreign Affairs today titled Lessons From a Decade of War: More Small Wars. The interesting part was that despite its major flaw of strategy incompetence Mr Boot does have some good tactical recommendations and lessons learned for counter-insurgency fighting. However the lack of even basic understanding on the part of Mr Boot of what is a achievable strategy, is the reason why so many of our recent police action wars have been a failure.
What Mr Boot does not seem to understand is that the strategy we choose whether in Iraq or Afghanistan has to be tailored to the conditions on the ground. Unfortunately he repeats the well worn out and unsubstantiated beliefs that if only we would have stayed longer in Iraq and if we stay forever in Afghanistan the people there would be building themselves free and democratic societies. Nothing is further from the truth.
Mr Boot does not seem to understand that in Iraq the Sunnis will not reconcile themselves to be ruled by Shias. The only thing our long term presence in Iraq would do is to keep the country together against the wishes of its different ethnic and religious groups. The surge of US troops in 2007 was not successful because of the added 30,000 men, that has been done before in 2005 with no effect. The success came because the Sunni tribes were getting ethnically cleansed by the Shia militias while at the same time the insurgent leadership was decimated by the US special forces. Therefore they saw the only way to survive was to align themselves with the US, not because they were against Al-Qaeda but because they were losing the Iraqi civil war. The end result of the surge was not peace, but an unresolved armistice between Sunnis and Shias that collapsed at the beginning of 2014. The so called hearts and minds would have been nothing but a monumental failure without the Sunni tribes alliance with US. The fundamental misunderstanding of these results by people such as Mr Boot is also what also drove the failed surge in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan the surge was applied without any long term strategic answer of how the corrupt and incompetent Afghan government would rule over the Taliban free areas. The government in a box concept was even more laughable. All politics is local as Mr Boot seems to not to understand. You can’t rule people in a free society that we claimed to be building in Afghanistan by establishing a government they did not choose. The only way the surge in Afghanistan could have succeed is if actually took over governing in a colonial fashion, which of course would not and should not happen.
The successes of German and Japanese occupations are also presented in the article without clear highlight of how decimated and destroyed those counties were. The fundamental cultural differences between them and the Middle East are also not shown because that would defeat the whole point of Mr Boot’s article. Which at its core says that a US can conduct successful counter-insurgency and nation building effort on behalf of an incompetent and corrupt local government, which of course is nothing but a fantasy. The simple answer to Mr Boot is that strategically there is no reason for the US to conduct a large scale counter-insurgency campaign overseas. If we couldn’t even do it here at home after the civil war. All these failed strategies create is dependence and costs the US lives and treasure. We very simply don’t have to be involved if we don’t want to, especially as Mr Boot so clearly pointed out as our military and civilian agencies lack the basic cultural and linguistic skill to understand foreign non- western societies.
If anyone wonders the reason why we keep getting involved in protracted foreign conflicts that do not fundamentally threaten our way of life, people like Mr Boot are a contributing factor. They don’t understand how to create an achievable national security strategy that deals realistically with the internal conflicts of foreign nations. And so it never ends. As French Officer Galula wanted to do in his counterinsurgency book and as our generals ask now, is all they need is a few more years and the mission will be accomplished. Of course those few more years inevitably continue to stretch every year further and further into eternity and that’s the reason why thirteen years later in Afghanistan it is still an unmitigated failure. That is also why people like Mr Boot should be ignored in their strategic recommendations.