Stephen Walt’s Opinion About Counterinsurgency

In a blog published yesterday on ForeignPolicy.com (http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/11/16/building_on_2_blunders_the_dubious_case_for_counterinsurgency), Stephen Walt dismisses the need to better prepare the US military for future counterinsurgency (COIN) operations.  He says that the COIN efforts in Iraq and Afghanstan resulted from two mistakes (the failure to capture Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders at Tora Bora, and the decision to invade Iraq), and argues that military planning should not be based on past strategic blunders.  Mr. Walt embraces the view that the US should focus on maintaining air and naval dominance, and prepare to fight “great power” wars.

US strategists will almost certainly continue to give primacy to conventional threats when it comes to force planning if history is any guide, and Mr. Walt’s concern about a “radical” shift towards COIN is excessive.  However, COIN may continue to receive more attention than it did between the end of the Vietnam War and 9/11, a period when the military essentially ignored COIN and prepared for conventional battles like Gulf War One.  This development is prudent, because there is a significant probability that the US will have to fight more “small wars” in the coming decades.  Just because the COIN operations in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from what could reasonably be considered “mistakes” does not mean that America should not make a major effort to prepare for similar conflicts.  American leaders have been, and will continue to be, capable of making mistakes, and the military should be prepared for unconventional warfare, whether it is the result of blunders or not.

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