Friday, February 23, 2007

# Posted 1:48 PM by Patrick Porter  

KILLING INSURGENCIES: Ralph Peters has a combative (and ill-tempered) article in the Armed Forces Journal.

It is his rebuttal of America's new Field Manual on Counterinsurgency (FM 3-24), and of the 'PhD gang' whose theories he mocks.

It castigates the approach of General Petraeus, commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq who co-authored the Field Manual, and the 'Phd gang', which presumably includes today's class of 'warrior intellectuals' with their influence on American doctrine.

His argument, crudely put, is that insurgencies must be put down mainly with brute strength. Not hearts and minds.

Almost as a variation on Stalin's comment about people and problems and the value of removing people to solve problems, Peters seems to be arguing that because insurgencies are caused by insurgents, killing insurgents is most often the solution.

Peters also argues that this applies pretty generally throughout history.

This sits oddly with his other assertion against universal solutions, that 'the medicine for one type of insurgency can be deadly in another.'

However, his main argument is clear enough. My own response right now is more a series of questions and doubts rather than an alternative hypothesis. Mainly, I hope he is wrong.

He's right that the hard core of jihadists are bent on domination, martyrdom and apocalpytic conflict, and cannot be dissuaded peacefully.

This would not seem to be the case necessarily for all of those they recruit, however, or for the surrounding populations whose active support and information we need.

And its hard to argue against the proposition that many regimes have suppressed insurgencies successfully by simply applying overwhelming force, often indiscriminately.

He mentions Imperial Rome amongst others to support this.

But is that the only way realistically to prevail? I hope not. I'm not sure we would want to ape the methods of those who, for example, crucified rebel slaves to deter others, no matter how effective.

Do we actually want to fight the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq in the same spirit as the successful ones Peters mentions: the Indian Wars, the Boxer Rebellion or the Moro insurrection?

In the context of more global struggles, we might well suppress whole populations more effectively if we behaved like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, but then again, those efforts had mixed results.

Peters notes that insurgencies often rise or fall not on people power but on the role of third parties or external forces, such as the British support for the Spanish guerrillas, and on the back of media coverage. Which is true.

But if the role of outside powers and media scrutiny matter, a policy of uniformly unrestrained force might be counter-productive in that environment.

And the fate of insurgencies can rest on other things that are more political than directly military. The successful counter-insurgencies in Malaya and Greece were aided by certain political conditions: the communists in Malaya were mostly ethnic Chinese and regarded as interlopers, while the fallout between Tito and Stalin meant than the Greek communist insurgents lost their external patron.

In other words, COIN warfare is not necessarily a 'fight to the death', but a political struggle for legitimacy. Where events, friction and public opinion can tilt the balance.

Another difficulty here is that Peters talks about winning, but talks much less about the issue of winning to what purpose?

There is counterinsurgency simply to maintain dominance, and a more liberal concept of counterinsurgency, intended to create an environment where the native population can achieve political freedom, economic security and ultimately self-determination.

Obviously, those goals are not being met in Iraq. But I'm not convinced that Peters' alternative, of storming mosques rather than respecting them, or of fighting every battle like Fallujah, would be any more effective.

The more I read about these issues, the more the material and economic dimensions seem to matter. While culture and violence are often discussed, it seems that people embrace warlords, jihadists or 'ethnic demagogues' when there is a lack of law and order and where there is such material deprivation that they go back to their primary loyalties.

Despite all this, Peters work is always provocative and passionate, and gets the grey cells thinking.

Your views?

UPDATE: Thanks to all those who posted comments. The discussion reinforced my impression that for force to be the lone decisive element, other political preconditions have to be present, and they often aren't.

And 'hearts and minds' is not necessarily an opposite and hostile alternative to force, but a necessary step in locating and defeating the core of the insurgency.

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(28) opinions -- Add your opinion

LIND and LUTTWAK have better critiques of PETREUS than PETERS. And, they have concrete proposals to end a lost war.

The problems with PETERS are (a) how to make fewer insurgents (b) killing insurgents rather than collateral. And, (c) there is the problem of, failing that, how to keep a frustrated Army from turning on the republic.

Part of (c) is pretending that the Army is invincible so that defeat can only be blamed on the republic.

Do we need to fear the PhD gang or failed soldiers who wallow in self-pity?
I'm bothered, a bit, by Peters' accusation that the manual is "Determined to prove that, in the end, all insurgencies really are the same"; he seems to think he is opposing them with a view that "the medicine for one type of insurgency can be deadly in another", and yet he is proposing a single universal medication: "those [insurgencies] confronted by adequate military forces resolutely employed failed". Well, isn't that a bit tautological? If the insurgency didn't fail, then the military force attempting to make it fail wasn't adequate for that task?

Still, it's possible that I'm being bothered by the way he says things, not by the underlying viewpoint. He says that "our well-intentioned, naive decision to stay out of mosques guaranteed that mosques would become terrorist refuges" and I can't see any way to deny that, in my reading of it. Your reading is apparently different: you're not convinced that "Peters' alternative, of storming mosques rather than respecting them" would be more effective, and I don't see that storming vs. respecting is a proper statement of his alternative, which is that "we needed to put the onus on our enemies for any violations of holy precincts." He's not saying disrespect; does he mean disrespect? Maybe. Still, imagine a much more heavily photographed invasion and still more heavily photographed post-invasion than what we saw; imagine that almost every time a mosque was used as a base, that base was attacked, but the justification was immediately made as clear as possible on radio, TV, and the web. In effect, saying that we're not the ones who disrespect the religious site. I think this might have had the effect Peters is looking for. (Or it might not, but at least I think this illustrates that his alternatives may not be quite as you're describing them, if I understand your description correctly.)

On the general point that, as you describe his argument, "insurgencies must be put down mainly with brute strength," I have to say I hope he's wrong because I don't think that modern America can still put down insurgencies mainly with brute strength...but it's possible that we can still apply brute strength first, and even apply brute strength unreservedly, even if (as Barnett keeps saying), Leviathan has to be followed with SysAdmin, and most of the work is SysAdmin work. (I'm a Barnett fan for this decade, although I don't believe his claim that he thinks across decades, because I think cross-decade thinking has to be dominated by Moore's Law and associated geekery....but then, I'm a geek myself, with a PhD yet...but it's only in geekery, so I'm not really a member of the previous commenter's PhD gang.)
Peters assumes that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps either have the combat power, the political capital, or the pure bloodthirstiness to engage in the purely military strategy he is encouraging.

The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya at no time approached the ferocity of the Sunni insurgency. Only 32 white settlers were killed, and less than 20,000 Kikuyu. The internment of the Kikuyu population never numbered more than 100,000 at a time. Iraq passed that level of violence a long time ago, and the hostile population is far larger than was the case in Kenya.

And what COIN successes in Central America is he talking about? El Salvador, where the guerrillas fought the government to a stalemate despite a genocidal campaign? Or Guatemala, where the results were even worse in terms of civilian deaths but also resulted in a negotiated settlement rather than a government victory?

In all those cases, the insurgents were far weaker than the Sunnis in Iraq are now and the populations involved smaller as well. It's Peters who has his history screwed up --- but what can you expect from a guy who predicted that the Soviets could win an invasion of Western Europe in the 1980s and who dismissed the idea of a civil war in Iraq even after the Samarra bombing?

Ever wonder why grunts hate intel officers? See: Ralph Peters.
Rand has one of the most interesting and enlightening monographs on modern protracted warfare that I've read.

As the war lasts, the war itself becomes the central issue and the ideological advantage of he insurgent decreases considerably. The population's attitude is not dictated by the intrinsic merits of the contending causes, but by the answer to the two simple questions:

1. Which side is going to win?
2. Which side threatens the most, and which side offers the most protection?

This is why a counterinsurgency is never lost a priori because of a supposedly unpopular regime.

People calculate who will win, whence goes their hearts and minds. Military success is thus necessary and probably sufficient to defeat an insurgency. Humanitarian assistance is neither necessary nor sufficient, but it is a kind of force multiplier.

There is NO substitute for killing the enemy, publicly and brutally and decisively.
The previous link was broken. The monograph is here: Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1959.
His argument, crudely put, is that insurgencies must be put down mainly with brute strength. Not hearts and minds.

I have a quick question on "hearts and minds" which you specialists here may be able to answer for me (I am waiting on a book on the subject to arrive, but Amazon has been slow, and I have been waiting over a month now). Namely --

"Hearts and Minds" seems to come out of the Malayan emergency, right? As a tactic that is. And the set of tactics that seem to be called "hearts and minds" appear, on casual inspection, to consist of:

(1) An aggressive disinformation campaign (CC Too and all that).

(2) Concentration camps (the Briggs Plan) to inter the segment of the population most strongly represented among the hostiles (there, the Chinese Malaysians).

(3) Poisoning the crops of suspected hostile villages, to encourage them to "voluntarily" enter the concentration camps, where they could be controlled. I think they called this the "Hunger Drive."

(4) Small military operations against enemy forces.

Am I missing something? Are the casual sources I've been looking at confusing the "hearts and minds" campaign with other policies pursued during the Malayan emergency? Because, again on brief inspection, "hearts and minds" looks like nothing more than Orwellian doublespeak.
Jeff - That must be why the Russians were so successful in Afghanistan.

Strategies that focus predominantly on military solutions to political problems only work when one side has overwhelming force on its side. This is not the case in Iraq, especially if Iran ever decides to swing its own weight there.
"Hearts and Minds" is a familiar locution from the Vietnam era; thanks for making me look it up, I think, at wikipedia. It's apparently a Johnson back-reference to John Adams describing the American revolution's basis for success; I didn't know that. But I do think that we are in a Long War now, one which we have to win, in a way that did not apply to Vietnam.
hey everyone,

great discussion, I agree with Tom Myers on the self-contradiction in Peters argument, that he is making universal claims while deriding the manual for also making universal claims.

I take Jeff's point about overwhelming force. But I also agree with tequila that the preconditions are rare in which overwhelming force alone can decisively prevail in COIN.

This is one of the difficulties of Peters' article: he wants to argue that military solutions are universally the best response.

but he also notes that this can be made more difficult by other political developments, for example, by external powers intervening to prevent the 'stronger' side winning (eg the Brits in the Peninsula war, or say the Chinese in the Vietname war).

In other words, brute strength can smash an insurgency, but only when awkward political conditions/circumstances that get in the way are not present. and this is a rare luxury, I suspect.

anyway, carry on, this is kind of thread that I blog for!

I'm not sure how much disagreement there actually is here; it could even be that we're just contrasting forceful expressions of "X, but also Y--although Y's not my department" with "Y, although then some X--which I leave to you." I think I'd agree with you (and Peters, and I think our host as well) that we need overwhelming force, that there is as you say "NO substitute for killing the enemy, publicly and brutally and decisively." Yes, that's true, in any war, and insurgencies are not an exception. (Okay, maybe the Netherlands-Sicily War was an exception.) But I don't think that anybody thinks we needed to kill all the German or Japanese soldiers in WWII, or that we need to kill all the Islamists who want to kill us now. They are indeed our enemies, but we don't want to kill more than we must. WWII was a success, not leading to another German (or Japanese) war, and that's partly, I suppose, because we killed even more Germans than in WWI; it was also a success partly because that killing was followed by people like John Seymour Chaloner (who died Feb 9) helping to set up a free press. Connectivity improved; Germany became a part of the world in a way that it hadn't been. We didn't need (or want) to rule Germany (or Japan) for long. Yet we did need to rule both for a while.

Patrick, when you ask "winning to what purpose" it seems to me that there are two ingredients. One is Barnett's focus, and he's mostly right to focus on it: connectivity. Commercial and political and personal connectivity. We have good Friedmanesque reasons for hope, though without certainty, that China's economic connectivity will slowly push China towards a legitimate consent-of-the-governed sort of government, without ever being occupied or having an imposed democracy. Take that hope as a template of my hopes for a world which right now looks scary, but still immensely more hopeful than it did when I was a kid. Connection, however, is not quite enough; I think the other ingredient is something I'd call reconciliation. Acceptance? That doesn't mean they have to like us or agree with us; reconciliation is not that high a hurdle. I'm remembering my dad in 1970, having dinner and trading WWII Pacific memories in Buenos Aires with a Japanese businessman, a guy who'd volunteered as a kamikaze (but the atom bomb intervened); they laughed a lot. And his dad once wrote a Baltimore Sun "I Remember" column about having been a Sun photographer's assistant at the Gettysburg 50th anniversary events, where Blue and Gray met with their long white beards -- it was all about reconciliation. Acceptance. If we win, there will be people who get together many years from now, and you may have dinner with someone whose turn as a suicide bomber didn't quite come up. That's okay. But it might take an atom bomb to make it work. It will take many deaths of good people to make it work. And if it doesn't work...Moore's Law and the related exponentials are bringing all kinds of nastiness within the reach of all kinds of people. Thirty years hence, if we haven't already won, the atom bombs on our doorstep will not be ours. (But maybe I'm as wrong about that as I was in 1968. I hope so.)

Worth noting that that monograph on Algeria was written by David Galula, whose work "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice" is a key plank of a lot of Petraeus-school thinking. He would be unlikely to agree with your overall prespecription. The point is that you have to do all the mushy non-military stuff in large part in order to be able to locate and isolate the insurgent and knife him - killing is part of it, a big part of it, but it requires an holistic approach. That's not to downplay the military aspect - but certainly Galula himself would almost certainly have actively disapproved of Peters' prescriptions and vice versa.

I happen to know several people who know Ralph Peters personally and he is held in high esteem - rightly so, as he is a very smart fellow. However, I think there's a fairly general consensus that his recent written output has gone off the boil somewhat and he's certainly doing himself no favours by adopting the sort of strident, hectoring, self-righteous tone that appears to be the only tune he can play these days (ironically, in person he is apparently a lot more even in temperament).

As for the article in question, Peters needs to be careful of the old formulation of throwing stones and glass houses - having castigated the COIN theorists for bad history, his own historical examples are largely misleading and completely shorn of context. And frankly it's one thing to rail against contemporary political correctness, but channelling the experience of the Roman legions in Gaul as an alternative is altogether too cute.
Age of Frivolity, my word. If you are going to appeal to history, you have to get it right. Peters doesn't.

During the strategic stalemate of the Cold War ...

Actually, we won the cold war; it wasn't scored as a draw.

Theorists with little or no military experience flourished, propounding visions of how war should be waged that were so disconnected from reality they resembled unicorn sightings.

I don't agree with his characterization, but in any case, with WMDs that could destroy the world hundreds of times over, new ideas were going to be necessary. What made WWI such a bloody catastrophe was a military leadership on both sides reared on cavalry formations fighting with machine guns and poison gas. And a single name could put Peters' critique into perspective.

Oddly, his critique of Iraq is at least on point: our theorists cling to a few transitory tactical successes as evidence that their constructs can work, if only, if only, if only we keep reinforcing failure. Yet this is strange because last year he wrote Dude, Where's My Civil War? denying even the existence of a civil war.

Now we get into the COIN manual itself. ...any COIN strategy that fails to plan for the media's inherent hostility to any American endeavor sets itself up for unnecessary failures. Who is this guy? We live in Athens not Sparta. While his point that COIN needs to admit the existence of media, everything else he says detracts from his argument.

COIN is 'winning hearts and minds' and the insurgents are doing exactly the same thing. Yes, this is fought on many levels by both us and our opponents, on the street and in the media.

Until we force the media to admit its role ...

The West won the Cold War and WWII against infinitely tougher opponents than AQ with the Freedom of the Press. These freedoms aren't our weaknesses; they're our strengths.

Ultimately, this guy is a minor league Tom Clancy. An anti-intellectual intelligence officer, he doesn't get anything right.
"Winning hearts and minds" is used by too many people who have given little thought to the circumstances where it can work.
Is it not obvious that it it is useless when those "won over" will be punished by the other side?
Agree that Peters is limited by his kneejerk dislike for senior leadership and theorizing about how this war differs from those that have gone before (and how it shares characteristics with them).

"Hearts and minds" has practical *military* value. We get tips from the populace that help us id terrorists, find safe houses, destroy IED factories.

I've been as frustrated as anyone at the start-and-stop staggering of many operations in Iraq -- 1st Fallujah being a prime example, and the Brits in Basra being the poster child example.

That said, Petraeus and his co-author are looking to win the wider war, of which terrorism is just one part. Barnett has a hobby horse to ride, but he is right to note that we all win when 3rd world countries survive contact with the global culture and economy and beginto contribute thereto. The Islamacists are determined to avoid that connection of muslim countries to the wider global sphere. Terror is just one of their weapons to that end -- and anti-insurgency is just one tactic in our response.

Peters can't see the forest for the trees on this.
Balfegor wrote: "Jeff - That must be why the Russians were so successful in Afghanistan."

The Russians failed in Afghanistan precisely because they couldn't achieve military success. The US succeeded precisely because it did achieve military success. Afghanistan's "hearts and minds" and their politics went with the winner in both cases.

Balfegor wrote: "Strategies that focus predominantly on military solutions to political problems only work when one side has overwhelming force on its side. This is not the case in Iraq, especially if Iran ever decides to swing its own weight there."

I think we do have overwhelming force, but we choose not to use it. If the Ethiopians can drive out entrenched Islamists in Somalia, surely the US has the combat power to drive out Islamists in Iraq. Ethiopia didn't have the combat power of US forces, but they had something the US lacks: the will to overwhelming force.

Patrick Porter wrote: "But I don't think that anybody thinks we needed to kill all the German or Japanese soldiers in WWII, or that we need to kill all the Islamists who want to kill us now. They are indeed our enemies, but we don't want to kill more than we must."

Let's err on the side of killing too many of them, shall we? It's true that we don't need to kill all of the Islamists, but we do need to kill enough to convince the general population that we will win, decisively and permanently. When Iraqis are convinced that we will win, perhaps they will stop destroying their own utility and humanitarian infrastructure. Merely observe what the Kurds have done with humanitarian assistance compared to the pitiful Iraqi Arabs.

Tom Myers wrote: "The point is that you have to do all the mushy non-military stuff in large part in order to be able to locate and isolate the insurgent and knife him - killing is part of it, a big part of it, but it requires an holistic approach."

It's a question of aims. The humanitarian assistance supports the military aim of defeating the enemy, not the other way around. That's my point. Wars are won by creating the defeat phenomenon in the enemy, a psychological condition. For defeating an enemy, humanitarian assistance is far inferior to killing him.
Generally, we have a tendency to reinvent the wheel because we can't accept the way warfare and the world worlds. Many of the latest COIN stuff, imo, emphasizes the soft at the expense of the hard. Someone mentioned Galula. Galula knew that it wasn't just is hearts and minds, but hearts, minds and balls. He specifically took to school the 'psychologists' who thought you could win the war without harsh methods.

This meants at least two things. First, you not only have to take as much wind out of the insurgency as possible with good works, careful fire management, and politics, but also have to make examples of the unredeemable. For Galula, this meant executing insurgents in Algeria for violent acts. We in the West typically tend to see too many of the unredeemable as redeemable, i.e. guys like Sadr and much of the local Sunni leadership in Iraq.

Second, as someone says, it isn't merely that people -want- you to win, but that they believe you will, and that they have a physical incentive -now- to help you.

This means making it good living for those who help you, but also making those who don't miserable. We don't like this because it means collective punishment, but collective punishment is key to COIN.
worlds = works
"Patrick Porter wrote: "But I don't think that anybody thinks we needed to kill all the German or Japanese soldiers in WWII, or that we need to kill all the Islamists who want to kill us now. They are indeed our enemies, but we don't want to kill more than we must."

actually, I didn't write that, it was Tom Myers!

The problem is that we must balance the need to target the unappeaseable core of militants with force, while doing all we can to influence the ocean of people around them. Does that mean we can dissuade people from joining? I doubt it, but we can seek out the active assistance of those who can help us. Hearts and minds still counts.

Besides, as someone else said, hearts and minds campaigns, effectively conducted, can help us isolate and kill/capture the extremists. Force and 'non-kinetic' operations should be mutually reinforcing.
The Russians failed in Afghanistan precisely because they couldn't achieve military success. The US succeeded precisely because it did achieve military success. Afghanistan's "hearts and minds" and their politics went with the winner in both cases.

Jeff, why do you think we have won in Afghanistan? How is our occupation there any different than the Russians, occupying the major cities and facing Taliban spring offensives? What military success have we achieved that the Russians didn't?
US political objectives for the Afghanistan theater were and are to "establish a stable, moderate, and democratic state that respects the rights of its citizens, governs its territory effectively, and is a reliable ally in the War on Terror." By and large the US and NATO have archived these objectives. The Russians failed to achieve even one of their political or military objectives.

Discussions about war on Oxblog tend draw straw man arguments. NATO political objectives do not require ending perpetual warfare within Afghanistan; hence neither do NATO war objectives.
Patrick, would you care to relate this discussion to Taylors post below?

I am probably closer to Taylor than Peters on this issue.

We are proving efficient at killing/capturing Taleban. And we have a decent chance at containing their presence in the region. But in terms of fundamentally breaking them, I'm not confident that force will be the lone decisive element.

the porous borders, the problems with narcotics, poverty and recruitment, the strategic costs of some air-strikes and the weak political will of some NATO members suggest that there are significant political obstacles that prevent Peters' doctrine of force succeeding in this case.

But I should shut up. Your views on Peters, liberalhawk?

In case anyone's interested, there's an archived video interview with Peters at the following link:


I think it showcases Peters in an environment where he comes off as somewhat less strident than in his recent written work (I think Anatol Lieven was a very good choice of interviewer, incidentally). That's not to endorse everything he says, mind. But worth a look if you've got time to kill.
Jeff - The Ethiopians won in Somalia because the ICU ran guntrucks up against tanks and fighters. Just like the the Saddam Fedayeen.

You seem to believe that the only thing keeping the U.S. from winning is American refusal to fight a conventional war. Sorry, dude, it's the other way around.
Seeing as liberalhawk hasn't (yet) given a take on Peters, I figure I might as well make some general comments - which people may feel free to contest.

Overall, I think the strategic debate is the better for Peters being involved in it. That said, I consider it a mixed bag. A couple of years ago a friend of mine, who knows Peters personally, stated that he thought Peters got it right perhaps 80 per cent of the time (this was, incidentally, in the context of a comparison with Bill Lind, who came of rather worse). I wouldn't go that far - at least not recently.

The most creditable parts of Peters' record, it seems to me, relate to his work on emerging trends. Obvioulsy his "New Warrior Class" output from back in the day is most well known. One does not need to agree with all of it in order to recognise its importance.

Also important but less widely recognised is that Peters was an early voice making the argument that the battlegrounds of the future would be predominantly urban. This has recently become a very fashionable topic but Peters was banging the drum a decade and a half ago.

He also writes very good novels.

OK, the flip side. Back in 1999, Colin Gray wrote that he thought it possible that Peters might emerge as a strategic writer of the significance of a TE Lawrence. I think it's fair to say that in the intervening period that promise hasn't really been fulfilled and on current form isn't going to be.

One of Peters' main selling points is the fact that he is apparently very widely travelled. Implicit in this fact is the notion that unlike the armchair strategists who know everything and understand nothing, he is a grizzled man of the world who has seen it all and is equipped to Tell It How It Is. However, it really isn't immediately obvious to me quite what "value added" his foreign travel has lent to his work. His analyses of foreign cultures and political systems are often crude and bordering on two dimensional. He seems to have no patience for the sort of detailed ethnographic approach deployed by people such as David Kilcullen and Anna Simons. Put bluntly, his reporting from Iraq has been piss poor. For all that he has laid into professional journalists for bias and allegedly failing to explore outside the Green Zone, his own escapades seem largely confined to hanging out with the Kurds in the pacified part of the North (he's ardently pro-Kurd to a degree that I find unjustifiable) and going on a heavily-chaperoned ridealong with a US patrol.

My standard line of argument has tended to be that there are two Ralph Peters - the one who writes for the NY Sun and the one who writes professional articles. Unfortunately, the two seem to be merging to a degree and not in the more positive direction. Peters has always been an abrasive writer, but I find the tone of his AFJ article startling for something that is aimed at what is essentially a professional journal. Furthermore, because he is now a recognised "public intellectual" it seems to me that his writing is increasingly angled to sell to those who read his journo output, whereas previously he was aiming at a professional audience (albeit with quite an iconoclastic aim). To put it mildly, a combination of ad hom attacks, straw man arguments and extremely sloppy historical analogy does not showcase his genuine talents to best effect.

Finally, I think there are areas of his professional analysis that are not particularly realistic and others that aren't very sophisticated. At the operational level, for all the interesting and intricate theory he has developed, his solutions tend to be pretty much the same - the only language understood by the foreigner is force and there are few problems that can't be solved by the application of fairly extensive firepower, skilfully delivered. At the higher strategic levels, he has come up with a number of ideas in the course of his career which combine being extremely aggressive with being pretty much unworkable. The most recent example is his idea for new geographical divisions in the Middle East, which would be a recipe for immediate and generalised regional conflict both internally in the region and generally between the USA and every other grouping in the Middle East save for the Israelis and the Kurds. But then from Peters' perspective, the fault is not his for coming up with an unworkable and dangerous plan but everybody else's for being too lily-livered to get with the programme.

Looking at it, this analysis probably comes over as too harsh. I'd just say again that I do think Peters has made important contributions in the past and that at his best he is very good indeed - even when one may not agree with him. Furthermore, he comes over far better in person than when he's venting his spleen on paper. I just think that it's be a while since we've actually seen him at his best and I'm not really convinced that we're going to see him at his best again, frankly.

I am probably closer to Taylor than Peters on this issue.

We are proving efficient at killing/capturing Taleban. And we have a decent chance at containing their presence in the region. But in terms of fundamentally breaking them, I'm not confident that force will be the lone decisive element.

the porous borders, the problems with narcotics, poverty and recruitment, the strategic costs of some air-strikes and the weak political will of some NATO members suggest that there are significant political obstacles that prevent Peters' doctrine of force succeeding in this case.

But I should shut up. Your views on Peters, liberalhawk?"

I wasnt particularly disagreeing with you on Peters.

It was more that my impression was that you found the optimal approach to involve a mix of military and political means, and that that in fact was the Petraus doctrine.

In his post, Mr Owens seems to be arguing for an even more limited use of force than the Petraeus doctrine calls for - EG not using air power if its likely to lead to even a single civilian casualty. And that he attributes virtually all the problems in Afghanistan to a US policy that he sees as basically the Peters doctrine, which seemed to me (but then im not there) like a strawman.

I was wondering if you thought that Mr. Owens gave A. a fair charecterization of what we are actually doing in Afghanistan or B. A fair representation of the Petraues doctrine

And I realize this could be read like im trying to provoke a fight. I am not, I just get profoundly different impressions from your post, and from Mr Owens post (and his reply to my comment) and Im genuinely uncertain if there is actual disagreement here.
"But worth a look if you've got time to kill."
Pun intended, Patrick?

My own two-cents is that some of Peter's writing looks like political inside baseball, especially whining about PhD theorists.

Another part looks a little like he is writing in the vein of there-is-no-"proportion"-in-warfare, just war.

The focus on 'the media' is misdirected, it seems to me. What's at issue is what a society is willing to accept done in its name, in order to "win". Sufficient brutality will "win" almost any armed conflict, but the question is at what cost and whether the end result is recognizable as something worthy of having achieved (if one fills up mass graves with 30% of the population, maybe half or more of which are innocent, can a Republic that stands on those bones be noble?). Victor Davis Hanson has also written on how our values of today shape what we think is achievable by warfare and also about what he sees as dire parallels from History for democracies that go "soft".

In his short article, there are other points Peters ignores, but given his thesis, you can see why they may not be important to him. The MNF is a foreign force. There is a double-standard for conduct that is applied to the foreign forces. Kick in a door, and Islam is under attack, etc. This is a complicating factor for this insurgency. It's not enough from which to generalize, but there was one report I read of Iraqi soldiers laughing at the "p.c." steps that the U.S. soldiers go through. Rumsfeld wanted to fight and/or be judged by "local standards", as best I recall; but, as history would have it, he hit the wall on that early on with Abu Grhaib.

To me, Peters puts his finger right on one key assumption of COIN, as it is being executed, which is that there is a peace-loving populace to befriend AND employ, and for which one wins hearts and minds (solely?) by "good deeds", and eschews (in all circumstances?) using "terror" to counter "terror", on their perceived behalf. I don't think that the recently more empowered PhD-set are ignorant of this assumption, however, and have recognized it in their comments about trying to contain the sectarian violence before it deforms a pliable public, for lack of a better analogy. Also, it seems to me that this would be the right place to start, no matter the cost in lives, before moving on to 'darker' views.

Also, I'm not sure what his view of the strategic is or why he discounts or denigrates (?) as "tactical" the successes, or partial successes, that the PhD set use to support their thesis. I wonder if a longer or wider string of such 'tactical' successes wouldn't constitute a 'strategic' win?

I don't think it is wrong to assume that the natural state is peace - most people WANT the blessings of peace. What I do think might get underestimated is how a few people can set in motion a dynamic to disrupt that peace. It's on that basis, I'd imagine, that one can think of aspects of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency (or National Building itself?) from the bottom-up, as a strategy of bring to the forefront the moral choices of individuals. We might think of this as the 'organic' way that people could come out of a state-of-nature/chaos to form civil society, first local, then regional, then national. [as an aside, one can question whether 'tribe' as a unit of political organization lends itself easily to this 'organic' conception or not].

The alternative is that a Political Vision or Collective Will is imposed on the populace, at *whatever cost*, in order to restore political order - this just looks and feels a lot more like 'regular warfare'. Peter's read of History seems to support this top-down view of what needs to be done, slightly balanced with other considerations, before too many marines die trying to do the other thing. Yet it just seems plausible that more civilians, rather than army, would die implementing this method (whatever its effectiveness, the insurgency cannot kill nearly as fast as the military could in restoring order). If the prior moral/political question comes down to using combined operations to shape and win the desired result of the question, "will you cooperate willingly for something other than them (rule of law?) more than you will cooperate out of fear of them", the top-down strategy forms the question, "fear us more than you fear them - we're coming" [as an aside, this has Ba'athist overtones, so it may also become a consideration in other ways ...].

I do think that there is a tipping point in many insurgencies in which people are willing to sell their hope for freedom for security, physical OR otherwise. Theoretically, after that point is definitively breached, counter-insurgency operations would seem to have no place, and a red line is passed. At the same time, one could imagine that there might be flux around that point for a considerable period - either violent stalemate or actually a shifting back-and-forth of bids for sheer security (I've read that into some of the reports of what is going on inside Ramadi, with some tribal leaders dumping al-qaeda quasi-partnerships, even this late in the game).

[o.k., so that turned out to be too much more than 2-cents. Sorry.]

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