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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