Counterinsurgency: A New Doctrine’s Fading Allure

Counterinsurgency: A New Doctrine’s Fading Allure

The first page of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps’ Field Manual 3-24 (.pdf), entitled “Counterinsurgency,” states, "Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation-builders as well as warriors." Authored in 2006 by Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, now the director of the CIA, and Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, currently the commandant of the Marine Corps, the manual essentially enshrined counterinsurgency as nation-building in U.S. military doctrine. This required U.S. soldiers and marines to undertake, in roughly proportionate measure, five tasks: safeguard the indigenous population, improve democratic governance, combat corruption, deliver economic projects and institute the rule of law as understood in the Western tradition.

Academia and the mainstream press applauded the military’s enlightenment. Normally intended for officers preparing to lead forces in combat, the COIN manual became the first military field manual to be reviewed positively by a Harvard professor in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. The military, which heretofore had enjoyed predominantly conservative support, was now feted by liberal commentators as well.

The manual’s Rousseauian outlook had its roots more in political theory than actual experience. Because 40 years had passed since the American infantry had last engaged in serious firefights in Vietnam, the generals who commanded in Iraq and Afghanistan had no combat experience at the grunt level. By Sept. 11, 2001, they had already risen to the rank of colonel or above.

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