The Irrelevance of Counterinsurgency Theory

I have all kinds of disagreements with today's Max Boot column, but there's a deeper meta-level disagreement I also have with him and with General David Petraeus, "Front Man for Bush's Iraq Plan" namely that I don't see how all this stuff about counterinsurgency is even relevant to the situation in Iraq today. To the situation in Iraq in 2003? Sure maybe. Maybe even some time into 2004. Back then you had an insurgency/counterinsurgency dynamic. You had a political entity we were wholeheartedly backing -- the Coalition Provisional Authority -- and you had insurgent groups fighting against it. Chestnuts like "Which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is most likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population's stand" were likely applicable then.

Today, though, we're beyond all that. The dynamic in Iraq has become complicated and multi-faceted. We don't wholeheartedly support the agenda of Nouri al-Maliki's political coalition. There are competing armed groups in Iraq whose power we'd like to check. There is, as everyone knows, a condition of multi-pronged civil war and we're not eager to take sides in it. Under those circumstances, however, handbooks about beating back insurgencies aren't relevant. If we had some coherent political goals, it would be worth having a discussion about methods of achieving those goals. But we don't have them. The administration's policy is based on the idea that the Middle East is meaningfully divided between an "extremist" team (the Mahdi Army, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, UPDATE: and al-Qaeda) and a "moderate" team (Israel, Sinioria, King Hussein, the United States, Mubarrak) and that we're trying to help the moderates beat the extremists. This is just a giant, baffling, analytical error and no number of handbooks is going to change it.