The COIN Myth, Part III

Parts I and II discussed how our counterinsurgency doctrine’s requirements for a reliable host-nation government, a reliable host-nation security force, and reliable intelligence are impossible to achieve in our present wars. The third and final part of the series focuses on the futility of counterinsurgency itself as a tool of U.S. foreign policy.

Our counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan were doomed by incompetent and corrupt host-nation governments and security forces and an inability to produce reliable intelligence about cultures we have little or no understanding of. Of even greater concern, though, is that our COIN efforts have little or nothing to do with our national security objective of protecting the homeland from terrorism.

A Case of the Creeps

"Mission creep" is the incremental expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals until the mission concludes in catastrophic failure.

The flimsy excuses we were given by the Bush/Cheney administration for the invasion of Iraq were the threat from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program (he didn’t have one) and the not so subtle implication that he was involved in the 9/11 attacks. (He wasn’t. Among the Americans who still fall hook, line, and sinker for the 9/11 ploy is Fox News commentator and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.)

We successfully achieved the military objective of booting Hussein from power, but we failed to plan for the unintended consequences of an insurgency-style civil war that still rages almost seven years after the staged toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad. There’s every reason to expect that the Pentagon and/or Iraq’s President Nouri al-Maliki will trump up a security-related excuse to keep American troops in Iraq beyond the December 2011 deadline prescribed in the status of forces agreement. Gen. Ray "Desert Ox" Odierno, commander in Iraq, is on record – thanks to the Long War camp’s official stenographer, Thomas E. Ricks – as wanting to see a "force probably around 30,000 or so, 35,000" American troops in Iraq through 2014 or 2015.

Bush and the rest of the pro-war jackdaws justified our prolonged involvement in the Mesopotamia Mistake by proclaiming Iraq to be the "central front in the war on terror," but it was never anything of the kind. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was a bastard franchise of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda that may comprise as few as 850 full-time fighters whose importance in Iraq’s insurgency was deliberately exaggerated by the Pentagon’s propaganda directorate during the Bush administration. AQI would never have existed if we hadn’t invaded Iraq and beheaded a regime that managed to keep Iraq’s herd-of-cats society under control, and if we ever do leave Iraq, they have no interest in following us here.

One may be tempted to view our expedition to Afghanistan as being more relevant to our counterterrorism and national security aims, but one would be mistaken. The Afghanistan project has been a cluster bomb since it began in October 2001. The stated aim of Operation Enduring Freedom was to capture Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking al-Qaeda officials and destroy the entire al-Qaeda organization.

We came nowhere near achieving that end. We instead let bin Laden and his top henchmen slip away at Tora Bora (out of kindness, I suppose) and then claimed to have defeated the ruling Taliban. We seated a warlord with ties to the Afghan opium trade, Hamid Karzai, on the Afghan throne, making him, in essence, the "mayor of Kabul." His government has little to zero influence outside of Afghanistan’s capital city; the respected International Council on Security and Development in London says the Taliban have a "permanent presence" in 80 percent of the country.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, "King David" Petraeus’ anointed fellow COINdinista who commands U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, managed to manipulate President Obama into further escalating his war in order to conduct a "well-resourced" and "classic" counterinsurgency operation as described in the field manual FM 3-24, which as we have discussed is a self-defeating doctrine infested with internal fallacies.

Economy of Farce

Our counterinsurgency doctrine, especially the way that we’ve been conducting it, bends virtually every accepted principle of warfare and tenet of operational art over the kitchen table. It especially violates the vital principles of objective and economy of force.

Our two full-bore COIN operations have not eliminated al-Qaeda as a threat to the American homeland, as the recent panty-bomber affair plainly illustrates. Our terror wars aren’t even taking place on the right chunks of real estate. Saddam Hussein had no involvement with 9/11, and the rifle-toting garage band that calls itself al-Qaeda in Iraq mainly consists of disgruntled Iraqis who have no interest in or potential for harming Americans other than the ones presently occupying their country. The 9/11 attackers were not Afghans. Fifteen of them came from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon.

Yet we’re executing nation-birthing operations in support of two of the most corrupt regimes in the world. At the rate we’re going, we’ll be changing Third World despots’ diapers for decades.

The panty bomber was supposedly trained in Yemen by al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, but he isn’t from Yemen, he’s from Nigeria. But lipstick neocon Joe Lieberman says Yemen is now "one of the centers of the fight" on terrorism and that "If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war," and his fellow warmongers say, "Amen, Sister Joe."

Actually, as Joe is aware, Yemen is today’s war. We’ve already deployed "trainers" (Special Ops) and intelligence gatherers (CIA) to the country, and we’ve bombed it with carrier and cruise-missile strikes. Joe and his hawk cronies apparently want a boots-on-the-ground Yemen surge to match the ones we’ve already so foolishly foisted on ourselves in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If we send a significant number of troops into Yemen, we’ll get our mitts caught in the same old ringer. Yemen is nowhere as corrupt as Iraq or Afghanistan; Transparency International ranks it as the 25th most corrupt nation of 180 rated, as opposed to Afghanistan and Iraq, which are second and fifth, respectively. But Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has the same kind of insurgency problems that Hamid Karzai and Nouri al-Maliki have. He has Shi’ite and Sunni militants in the north and separatist rebels in the south.

We’ll once again be bogged down in someone else’s insurgency for the sake of denying sanctuary to a handful of Islamo-hooligans. Referring to the total strength of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi says there are "maybe" two or three hundred of them.

President Obama’s National Security Adviser James Jones admits there are fewer than 100 al-Qaeda skulking around in Afghanistan, and a senior intelligence official in Kabul estimates there are only 300 al-Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The 850 al-Qaeda copycats in Iraq don’t present a terror threat to America, so they don’t count if we’re really conducting a war on terror with the purpose of protecting the homeland.

The cost of our wars in Iraq in Afghanistan just topped $1 trillion. We still have in the neighborhood of 115,000 troops in Iraq, who are contributing little to the war on terrorism other than acting as recruiters for the terrorists.

Stan the Man with the plan for Afghanistan envisions an eventual escalation of forces that will include a half million U.S., NATO, and Afghan troops for the purpose of conducting a counterinsurgency campaign that may go on for decades to deny a safe haven to fewer than 400 terrorists.

Military scholars and experts disagree on what exactly the various terms used in military art mean, but nobody would suggest that what we’re doing overseas reflects economy of force.

That’s especially true when one considers that a historical analysis conducted by the RAND Corporation offers inarguable proof that military action is an impotent means of countering terrorism: policing and political solutions account for 83 percent of "victories" over terrorist groups. Military action has only been effective in 7 percent of terrorist case studies dating back to 1968.

The only way our counterinsurgency doctrine relates to economics is as a way to justify conducting endless small conflicts in support of the Pentagon’s Long War doctrine as a fuzzy excuse for maintaining a large Army in the face of economic challenges.

And the economic value of the Long War is the perfect excuse to kill health reform and education reform and Social Security and Medicare and every other "social program" in the federal budget except for the biggest social program of all: the military-industrial complex.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.