Defining a COIN Peace

Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper (ret.) weighs in on a discussion of “hybrid war” over at Small Wars Journal with a good point. Maybe it’s time to get back to the basics and just start calling armed conflicts between enemies “war” again. That reminds me of something French Gen. Vincent Desportes said (.pdf) about “asymmetric war,” namely that all war is asymmetric, because victory depends on playing to your strengths while capitalizing on your enemy’s weaknesses.

More important at this point is to get a consensus on a good working definition of peace. That’s what will ultimately determine when we actually leave the wars we’re currently engaged in. So far, no one has really gotten around to identifying exactly how we’ll know there’s no more job left to be done. Depending on the criteria used, Mexico might not meet the definition. For that matter, a number of American cities during my lifetime might not have either.

That brings me to another element of the peace that we’d better address, and that’s the reintegration of the young men and women coming back home from these wars. President Obama addressed some of that in his Camp Lejeune speech. He made special mention of mid- and long-term healthcare services for vets, which is essential for the well-being of those who sacrificed (and a part of the contract with its veterans that this country has not always honored as well as it should).

But as important for the country’s social fabric, if not more so, will be the promise of a new GI Bill to make sure that today’s soldiers become tomorrow’s middle class. Hopefully that will mean helping them bypass the army-police recruitment pipeline that developed throughout the 1990s. That trend had the effect of increasingly militarizing domestic police forces in terms of personnel. The aftermath of 9/11 has increasingly militarized police tactics and training.

The COIN tactics applied in Iraq span the spectrum from heavy combat to muscularpolice work. The latter might have resulted in a “softening” of war compared to the past. But they amount to a dramatic hardening of policing. Toss in the omnipotence that comes of being an occupying force in a defeated country — epitomized by some of the Baghdad traffic videos that circulate virally on the Web — and you’ve got young men and women who have been bathed in an environment that isn’t exactly a model of democratic law enforcement.

Getting anyone into the middle class over the next few years will be a monumental challenge. But we owe it to the vets, and to ourselves, to get that part of the peace right.

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