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The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War Hardcover – January 2, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Finished before the November 2012 resignation of CIA director David Petraeus, Kaplan’s study contains a curiosity: a footnote cites All In, by Paula Broadwell (2011), a biography of Petraeus by his notorious femme fatale, to the effect that Petraeus was denied the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and given the CIA instead. Why? Stay tuned while we review Kaplan’s account of a coterie of army officers who campaigned to raise the importance of counterinsurgency in American military doctrine. This grouping, which included Petraeus, shared an intellectual perspective on warfare and ascended in influence as the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan descended into protracted, irregular combat. What Kaplan offers is a highly detailed episode in the Pentagon’s bureaucratic politics, which pitted the counterinsurgency-minded officers against brass more mentally comfortable with conventional warfare and which were conducted through conferences, promotions, and annunciation of doctrine. Petraeus’ internecine victory, the publication of Counterinsurgency:FM 3-24 (2007), peaks Kaplan’s narrative, which then elides into that field manual’s application to Iraq and Afghanistan. Intensively researched and factually presented, this work most suits mavens of military affairs. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Newsworthiness instantly expands Kaplan’s intended audience; many of the figures interviewed here might, as Washington’s investigatory machine gears up, be seen again soon. --Gilbert Taylor


"Thrilling reading. ... There is no one better equipped to tell the story. ... Kaplan, a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter … knows the military world inside and out. ... An authoritative, gripping and somewhat terrifying account of how the American military approached two major wars in the combustible Islamic world." (Thanassis Cambaniss The New York Times Book Review)

“Riveting . . . Combining superb storytelling and meticulous journalism, Kaplan has produced an unparalleled account of how the U.S. military has adapted itself to the realities of the Middle East.” (The Washington Institute, Silver Book Prize Winner)

"One of the very best books ever written about the American military in the era of small wars. ... Fred Kaplan brings a formidable talent for writing intellectual history." (Thomas Powers The New York Review of Books)

“Serious and insightful. … The Insurgents seems destined to be one of the more significant looks at how the US pursued the war in Iraq and at the complex mind of the general in charge when the tide turned.” (Tony Perry Los Angeles Times)

"Compelling" (Dexter Filkins The New Yorker)

"The Insurgents is a tremendously clear and informative guide to the strengths and weaknesses of the military we have today and to the decisions we are about to make. … Anyone who reads The Insurgents will be better prepared to understand what America has done right and wrong with its military over the past generation." (James Fallows, The American Prospect)

"Excellent ... An intellectual thriller." (Joe Klein Time)

"Riveting...essential reading... Kaplan's meticulous account of the ways Petraeus found to bring together and nurture the counterinsurgency 'cabal' might profitably be read by anyone interested in bringing change to a giant bureaucracy." (John Barry The Daily Beast)

"A very readable, thoroughly reported account of how, in American military circles, 'counterinsurgency' became a policy instead of a dirty word." (Janet Maslin The New York Times)

“Fred Kaplan has written a dazzling, compulsively readable book. Let's start with the fact that it is so well written, a quality so often lacking in books describing counterinsurgency. Let's also throw in the facts that it is both deeply researched and also devoid of cheerleading for the military or indeed any other kind of political bias. This book will join a small shelf of the most important accounts of the wars America has fought and will likely continue to fight in the 21st century.” (Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: the Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad)

“Excellent … Poignant and timely. … A good read, rich in texture and never less than wise.” (Rosa Brooks Foreign Policy)

"A compelling story combined with thoughtful analysis of the development, application and limitations of a new model of applying American military power." (Kirkus Reviews)

"The book's strength lies in the rich detail Kaplan offers the reader as he traces the network of colleagues all dedicated to stopping the violence in Iraq by employing classic counterinsurgency techniques. He untangles the web of professional connections much the same way an intelligence analyst might track down the associates of an al-Qaeda cell... What emerges is a meticulously researched picture." (Washington Monthly)

“Fred Kaplan, one of the best military journalists we have, tells the compelling story of how a cadre of officers and civilians tried to rescue victory from defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan by putting the theory of counterinsurgency into practice, revolutionizing the US Army from within. His narrative is vividand revelatory, dramatizing a crucial piece of recent history that we shouldn't allow ourselves to forget, however painful the memory.” (George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq)

"Fred Kaplan is one of the best in the business, a top-notch journalist and military analyst with serious intellectual chops and a killer pen. His new book The Insurgents tells the story of the rise and fall of the COINdinistas from Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, and it's not only a great read—it's a major contribution to one of the most important strategic debates of our time.” (Gideon Rose, editor, Foreign Affairs, and author of How Wars End)

"A fascinating and powerful work by America's wisest national-security reporter about an epic battle: the Army's search for a way to win the wars of the 21st century. If you love your country, if you care about its soldiers, if you wonder about the wisdom of their commanders, read this book now." (Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA and Enemies: A History of the FBI)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (January 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451642636
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451642636
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #350,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Let there be light. Fred Kaplan has turned a searchlight on the politicians and generals who have led thousands of men and women into two continuing wars. Those lucky enough to come back may wonder why they were ever there. They were following leaders who had a deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance. The names are familiar----Rumsfeld, Bremer, Wolfowitz, Negroponte. The list is long. And then there were the generals---concerned with prestige and promotion---who did not dare challenge their political masters. For those of us who have spent time over the decades in Iraq or Afghanistan, the possibilities of failure were frightening.

Into this mess came a small group of officers----The Insurgents---Dr. Kaplan so clearly discusses. These were men who knew the politicians and generals were not just fighting yesterday's wars----they seemed to be looking back at ancient battles. These Insurgents were the intellectuals of the army. And no on likes a wise ass---not in the by-the-book military system. It is a complicated story and Kaplan tells it with clarity and style.

David Petraeus is the cover boy of this book (he really is on the cover). He knew how to find the spotlight and sometimes deserved to be in it. But light fads. Counter Insurgency Warfare worked in Iraq as long a certain structure was in place. And then it wasn't.

Then there was Afghanistan where a national structure has never been in place---unless you count corruption as structure.

This book can make you angry. You should be.

A damn good read.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a book in three parts. The first part traces the post-Vietnam intellectual evolution of "counterinsurgency" (COIN) warfare thinking within the US military from several different perspectives. The second part describes the history of counterinsurgency on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq while also dealing with its politics in Washington. The final part asks some really tough questions as to what these people accomplished, what the value of the strategy is and what the future of the American military should be.

The book presents counterinsurgency strategy as something that grew out of a "social sciences" subculture at West Point in the aftermath of Vietnam. These people were academics and intellectuals. They studied non-traditional subjects and often held advanced degrees such as PhDs. At one point in the book there is a rather disturbing comment where John Nagl actually describes himself as a "social scientist" and soldier.

The first portion of the book is interesting at first but becomes rather tedious. It's interesting to know all the various people, their social networks and how they influenced change in the military. But at a certain point is a tough read and more like reference material than anything else.

The early part of the book does not challenge COIN enough. In particular, the view that COIN was the answer to victory in Vietnam is utterly foolish. The Vietnam War was not won by the Viet Cong or an insurgency. It was won by the army of North Vietnam launching a conventional invasion of the south. While the war might have been an insurgency in 1963, but 1965 it was a very conventional conflict with the Viet Cong operating in battalion sized units.
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Format: Hardcover
A must read for serious students of the American way of war and the evolution of military doctrine - and an enjoyable read as well. Kaplan opens by describing a tank battle from the `91 Gulf War. It wasn't much of a battle and demonstrated the folly of the American Army's ceaseless preparation for big wars. An emphasis on counterinsurgency grew out of the realization by a cadre of military thinkers that preponderance of conflicts in the future would be `small wars'. These wars would be long and messy, and the American Army was ill-prepared for them. This stood in sharp contrast to the type of conflicts that the Department of Defense was forecasting, namely network-centric warfare that could swiftly defeat threats wherever they might arise. As Iraq and Afghanistan devolved from decisive victories into protracted quagmires, translating COIN thinking into doctrine took on a sense of urgency. Its application, however, produced mixed results. The problems arose less from the doctrine itself, and more from how the very nature of counterinsurgencies contrasts with the preferred American way of war - quick and decisive. The COINdistas arguably saved the American military from failure in Iraq but the cost in blood and treasure was too high to repeat on the same scale in Afghanistan. In neither conflict was COIN able to resolve the fundamental political tensions driving the instability. As this decade of conflict draws to a close, the American military again faces a dichotomy between how it wants to fight wars and the nature of future wars.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is excellent! No matter your background you will love this book. The book isn't just a story of the battles. It is about the war but it is about so much more. If you want to know the story behind the newspaper accounts of the war this is your book. The book is about something more. It talks about an idea and that idea's impact on a large institution and eventually a nation.

The book tells many stories. It reads extremely well. The book is a fast paced story that shows the reader how a successful idea grows from concept to reality. The special part of the book gives the story of how a large organization changes it's ideas from one extreme to the other. He uses General Petrarus's work as a case study on how to do that political game correctly to change course.

General Petrarus started a campaign to change the Army from a big war approach to a counterinsurgency approach near the on set of the Iraq war. That sounds easier than one might think. He implemented this change through a very wide array of activities from holding conferences, rewriting the Army Field Manuals, to continuing his ideas through the critical placement of the right people in the right places. What is even more interesting is to see what happens as this idea grows from one person to others. Then those people expand on it in their own respective way. Through these stories you have a new appreciation of how one person can change the world.

The stories will for sure enhance your knowledge of the war. It also will give you knowledge that might enhance your skills in the workplace. I highly recommend this for all.
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