Thursday, May 14, 2009

# Posted 5:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE COUNTERINSURGENCY READING LIST: Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) has just updated his counterinsurgency reading list. It's a great resource.

The list begins with three items that Andrew identifies as absolute essentials for anyone studying counterinsurgency. Two of them are relatively short (but excellent) articles. The third is David Galula's classic treatise from the 1960s, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.

I recently took a second look at Galula, which I first read before my stint in Iraq. It is an excellent book, but also one with some definite shortcomings. These flaws have little weight compared to the books merits, but I think they are essential to point out nonetheless.

In his book, Galula constantly emphasizes the importance of the insurgents' cause. He argues that counterinsurgents can co-opt the cause, but doesn't seem to believe that the counterinsurgents can offer a truly unique cause of their own that has the potential to galvanize public support. In the French colonial context, this may have been correct. What could the French truly offer Algerians or Vietnamese who truly wanted their own sovereign state more than anything else?

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation is fundamentally different. One of the central premises of our counterinsurgency efforts is that we can offer the population true self-government, whereas the insurgents clearly reject democracy as inherently illegitimate. Of course, there are serious debates about the extent to which promoting democracy in either Afghanistan or Iraq is plausible, but there is a serious debate to be had.

On a different note, Galula argues that the size of the counterinsurgency force should be ten to twenty times larger than its adversary. This is surprising, given Galula's emphasis on securing the population as the essential objective of counterinsurgency. In that regard, the new US Army manual on counterinsurgency emphasizes that the size of the force depends on the size of the population it must protect, not the size of the adversary's force.

Finally, Galula is more fond of centralization than perhaps he should be. If you look at Andrew's excellent list of Galula quotes, you will notice this one:
"Clearly, more than any other kind of warfare, counterinsurgency must respect the principle of a single direction. A single boss must direct the operations from beginning to end."
Galula also writes that:
The insurgent can afford a loose, primitive organization; he can delegate a wide margin of initiative, but his opponent cannot.
In contrast, the Petraeus approach to counterinsurgency is to delegate a tremendous amount of authority to brigade-level commanders. Perhaps this is the right approach in Iraq, but not elsewhere. Yet Galula might not consider it at all.

I think it's right to hold up Galula's work as a classic in its field, perhaps the most important work on the subject in its generation. At the same time, it is worth approaching even the best work with a critical eye, lest we become too enamored.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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