Like, hello?


Is this where some people live?

I noticed an item on the Small Wars Journal blog this morning on my pre-breakfast scan of what’s up on the planet…in it Dr. Christopher Paul comments on an article (also in Foreign Policy) that is strongly critical of the RAND study Victory Has a Thousand Fathers, of which he was the lead author.

Dr Paul would be correct in his comments on the Hoyt/Rovner article except for the minor point that THEY are actually correct in what they say…

I hadn’t read the RAND ‘study’ in question until seeing this item in the SWJ Blog this morning but it is one that would have eventually crossed my desk for review…it’s 187 pages but having just read the summary and introduction, I don’t think it’s going to be a critical read for me anytime soon…

Although it quotes William Rosenau “…insurgency and counterinsurgency. . . have enjoyed a level of military, academic, and journalistic notice unseen since the mid-1960s…”, the authors have not included one single case study from this period that was the heyday of COIN (both as we know it and how others like the USSR and Cuba applied it)…like, hello? By selecting on those campaigns that started after 1978 – you didn’t consider Northern Ireland? Like, hello? – the RAND study only really focuses on a very narrow range of campaigns and even then I’m not convinced that there is much rigour in the selection of campaigns…we all know the COIN campaign in Kosovo, right? and Croatia and Bosnia? Some bad things may have happened in those countries but COIN? Hardly…the COIN campaign in Somalia was concluded in 1991? Papua New Guinea was a COIN loss? By PNG one assumes that the study is referring to Bougainville which is actually a success in that Bougainville is still a part of the nation it sought to break away from and the campaign that was conducted on that island actually addressed the root issues underlying the ‘insurgency’ – actually IAW one of the key COIN trusims…I also note that the use of repression as a strategy is frowned upon when, whether we in the West like it or not, historically (before and after 1978) it is one of the more consistently effective means of keeping a population in line…

I suspect that if I opt to wade through the remaining 161 pages of this ‘study’ (I have to use the term ‘study’ loosely), I will find find more such weak ‘logic’, poor research and inconsistency – and having written this, I find myself resigned to having to read the rest of it…

I wonder to what extent this paper was driven by statements at the COIN Symposium in May where various staff called for a COIN checklist, displaying a fundamental lack of ‘getting it’? While there are some fundamental principles/tenets/truisms for Countering Irregular Activity (COIN is too narrow a term for modern use) that a study like this may have analysed, one of them is that every campaign must be considered on its own merits i.e. there is no checklist in CIA!!

Perhaps, instead of using his position at Foreign Policy to have a self-righteous whiny-nana, Dr Paul might want to reflect on the comments here and in the Rovner/Paul article, and then go back to RAND and redo the job properly this time…

Critical thinking more and more seems to be superseded by a level of superficiality that is quite scary and I wonder if this is due to the economic crisis really putting the acid on academics to publish or really perish…? The really annoying this about products like this RAND ‘study’ is that so much information is freely available for them to do the job properly – the analysis is not that difficult – it’s the application in the contemporary environment that offers up the true challenges and weak superficial work like Victory Has a Thousand Fathers offers nothing to mitigate those challenges…

Later that day…Edit: just used this line in a discussion on this paper on Facebook…pretty well sums up my feelings…

“…I think it’s even worse than that…I simply don’t think they ‘get’ the environment we are operating in now so what they’ve done is pretty much like setting off to study the Third Reich and then limiting themselves to 1946 onwards…”

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