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No, Really: Is the US Military Cut Out For Courageous Restraint? - page 4 / 5

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Nevertheless, this key tenet of counterinsurgency has not been internalized across the rank and file, even after all of our setbacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. It seems mighty unlikely that true understanding of courageous restraint will suddenly sink in anytime soon. If the mission is to go on unchanged, our military leadership needs to answer several lingering questions:

  • If we take Insurgent Math as a given, and even one soldier out of ten finds his way around the ROEs, will the other nine soldiers have a chance to destroy or neutralize more insurgents than he creates?

  • How should Afghans weigh the chance of being killed by us against the probability of enjoying a stable country when we’re through?

  • At what moral cost comes the eventual outcome of the war? If we take as a given the shaky assumption that the Afghanistan campaign prevents terrorist attacks on US soil, are American lives worth more than Afghan lives?

Nor would institutionalizing restraint guarantee our success. McChrystal himself acknowledged that counterinsurgency is “easy to lose,” and locals can be annoyingly finicky when it comes to foreign occupations. What’s harder for many people to accept is that escalating force in a people’s war ultimately makes victory less likely, not more. The need for strict ROEs is “unfair” in the sense that heeding it will not necessarily endear the locals but dismissing it will probably convince them to support the insurgency. For example, the French in Algeria learned that victory derived from brutally wiping out the FLN was painfully short-lived. As an important mentor once related to me, "The French defeated the insurgency the first three times. It was the fourth time that was a problem.” In fact, RAND just released a study adding to the mountain of evidence that “repression wins phases, but usually not cases” of counterinsurgency in the last 30 years. Of course, force ceases to be futile at the genocidal level.

Unfortunately for guys like PFC Pautsch, the US simply does not have enough at stake in Afghanistan to lower itself to just dropping a ****king bomb on the place. Standing by our values is more important even if, yes, we lose the war. It is imperative that military leaders are forthcoming with their civilian leadership (prerequisite is being forthcoming with themselves) about prospects for US success in the current iteration of counterinsurgency versus other options like Columbia Professor Austin Long’s counterterrorism proposal; to do otherwise is reckless and irresponsible. For the American citizenship, being that we are the United States and not the terrorists we claim to be protecting ourselves from, it is time to take an honest look at whether our military is cut out for what it has been asked to do in Afghanistan.

Jason Lemieux served in the US Marine Corps infantry from 2001-2006. After serving his third tour in Iraq under a voluntary ten-month contract extension, Lemieux was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant. In December 2010, Lemieux will receive his B.A. in Political Science from Columbia University. He is currently a research intern for the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed here are his own.

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July 29, 2010 © 2010, Small Wars Foundation

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