I wish John Nagl well in his quest to get the United States military to increase its commitment to having American soldiers serve as advisors to foreign militaries. Capacity-building in partnership with other states is likely to be just as important as traditional "blowing stuff up and killing people" (the cool kids call it "kinetic") operations in the future. But I also hope he has success because I can then start writing somewhat skeptical posts that involve "Train in Vain"
For example, Nagl writes that "Based on American experiences in Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador and now in Iraq and Afghanistan, an advisory strategy can help the Iraqi Army and security forces beat Al Qaeda and protect their country." This has something of an assume a can opener air about it, but more to the point with regard to Iraq it's missing a big part of the picture, namely politics, motives, and goals
. The U.S. military hasn't quite gotten around to crushing al-Qaeda yet, and it's not because our soldiers aren't trained. And of course what well-trained Iraqi security forces do is going to have a lot to do with what their leaders want them to do. As of last week, it seemed like what their leaders wanted them to do was to engage in internecine fighting with Shiite militias belonging to rival political parties.
Training, in short, is all well and good, but its advocates sometime talk as if governance problems abroad are purely technical issues that will somehow melt away in the force of really excellent training. History and common sense tell us otherwise. The Republic of Vietnam government, for example, had legitimacy problems that well-meaning foreigners couldn't solve -- part of the problem, after all, was a sense that it was a tool of foreigners whereas its adversaries were authentically Vietnamese.
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