Gian P. Gentile, Paul Olsen, and others are debating over whether counterinsurgency is dead. Elsewhere, Colin Clark reports that COIN is being “scrapped” by the military. Gentile and Douglas Ollivant has written about the formation of a dominant COIN narrative, and it’s clear that at for a combination of material, academic, and political reasons this narrative is no longer dominant. But is COIN dead? In suspended animation? Some quick thoughts as I continue to hack away at the information warfare and deception research project…
First, it is a bit too soon for us to hail or mourn the death of COIN. What this represents is the end of COIN as practiced and theorized by elements within the Army and Marine Corps from 2006-2010, just as the Kennedy-era idea of counterinsurgency within elements of the US defense establishment died with Vietnam. The United States has faced insurgencies, terrorists, armed rebellions, guerrillas, partisans, and irregular raiding forces since the early days of colonization. It will continue to do so in the near future as long as American allies, clients, and proxies face irregular threats, although the shape of the response will vary.
Second, COIN, for all of the heat and noise about it, is still rather poorly understood in Iraq and Afghanistan. So much of the debate is weighted down with external baggage, mainly because it was never entirely about Iraq or Afghanistan. Rather, the COIN debate was often a proxy for many different political, professional, interdepartmental, and other battles within the United States political and defense establishments. Ollivant’s paper, and newer research highlights significant uncertainty to cause and effect in both sides of the COIN debate that will likely not be definitely settled soon.
Most importantly, it is important not to replace one orthodoxy for another. The emerging consensus of drones, special forces, and Asia has its own flaws which need their own airing.