Last week, Gen. David Petraeus delivered a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) as the recipient of the annual Irving Kristol Award. After brief introductory acknowledgements and an anecdote concerning Caesar (?), he said:
I've thought long and hard about what to discuss this evening. I thought, for example, I might provide an update on the Central Command area of responsibility, a region that clearly encompasses many challenges.
Uh-oh. I wonder if there was even minimal squirming in the audience at this point. After all, the general's recent comments echoing the Arabist narrative on Israel as the culpable driver of regional unrest must have penetrated some corners of AEI. Then again, maybe not. Anyhow, he steered clear, saying:
But I've given the "CENTCOM 101" pitch far too many times in this city, and I thought tonight's event called for something different.
The general went on to lecture at length about COIN -- counterinsurgency doctrine (my favorite). Or, mainly, about how, in a short time, he and his team has been able to reorient the armed forces entirely (on the battlefield, in the military colleges, in the Pentagon) around its disastrous principles. And did I say in detail? Example:
While running with several young captains one morning during a visit there in early 2006, I learned that a fair amount of the material they were studying in the Captains Career Course was outdated. This was not entirely surprising, as at that time, the instructors at the school generally had far less time deployed than did the captains who were their students. When I shared my concerns with the Field Artillery School Commandant, a sharp Major General, he got it immediately. In fact, he called me a few weeks later to tell me that he'd shut down the course, engaged the captains in an intensive review of the curriculum, and overhauled the entire program. This was the kind of initiative we needed, and I told our Army Chief about it shortly afterward. "Excellent!" he responded. ...
Later in the speech, this:
So, in 2006 and 2007, we tried to speed our learning process. We deployed additional personnel from our Lessons Learned Center at Fort Leavenworth to the combat training centers and to Iraq and Afghanistan. We supported a new organization, the Asymmetric Warfare Group, that embedded experienced combat leaders with deployed units. We created web-based virtual communities to link those in combat with those preparing to deploy. We funded the network administrators for a virtual band of bloggers from all our Army's branches and communities to support the actual bands of brothers deployed in Iraq. And, after we launched the surge, I ensured that each of our commanders' gatherings in Iraq included time for leaders to share best practices and lessons of general interest. Over time, these and other initiatives enabled us to rapidly refine the big ideas, communicate the refinements, and oversee their implementation, first in the States, and then in Iraq.
It's not just that this is deadly dull detail. What is odd about it, what is odd about the whole speech, is that having designed and instituted the COIN doctrine -- a great feat, so he explains -- Petraeus offered no more than the most cursory comments on how it has actually worked in two wars, three, four years down the road. Maybe that wasn't the goal he set for his speech, as he states it: "to explain the changes we made in our Army in 2006; and, second, to give a speech that I'd like to think Irving Kristol might have enjoyed." But the omission -- juxtaposed with his decision to highlight what sounds like a bureacratic process even as Americans continue to do battle -- seems strange.
He did discuss COIN principles, which begin with "securing and serving the people." Not the American people, mind you; but local populations within and of the Islamic world. It is the disastrous vacuousness of COIN doctrine that it ignores the existence of Islamic culture, Islamic law, as I've written many, many times, but it is the disastrous vacuousness of COIN doctrine that now, by the general's telling, influences all US military thinking. Worse than thinking, however, is how COIN doctrine manifests itself in unconscionable rules of engagement predicated on "courageous restraint" as a means, COIN theory goes, to make them like us. Petraeus didn't talk about any of that, though.
Of course, the addled, PC attempt to make "them" like us -- which inspires these disagraceful ROEs -- is the other fatal flaw in COIN doctrine. In a COIN world, American military success rests on actions beyond American military control: namely, on a chain of hoped-for reactions to American actions by that all-important local "population." (This is why the surge failed in Iraq. US forces were successful in restoring security -- Part 1 of the surge strategy -- but the Iraqis failed, in Part 2, to react as the see-no-Islam strategy promised, with national reconciliation, becoming an ally in war on terror, etc.) COINdinistas, as Petraeis called them, see the world as a series of societies peopled by Gumbys who will bend to COIN will according to bulleted, flow-charted COIN plan.
Big mistake, to say the least.
Or is that "big ideas"? That's what the general calls COIN.
In fact, he repeated the phrase "big ideas" 34 times in the course of his lecture.
And got big applause.