Rock Stars and Pariahs

Winning council member Mere Rhetoric takes a look at the reports coming out of Iraq that claims as accident an event where Iraqi workers erased an ancient Hebrew inscription from the tomb of biblical prophet Ezekiel while renovating a nearby mosque. Mere chance that Muslims renovating a mosque would mistakenly sandblast a Hebrew inscription from a Jewish tomb? Sure. Or-Perhaps-Not:

They irreversibly erased an utterly priceless inscription on a UNESCO site central to the history of roughly half the world’s population. No worries though. It was an accident:

Iraqi workers erased an ancient Hebrew inscription from the tomb of biblical prophet Ezekiel while renovating a nearby mosque, Army Radio reported on Sunday. The tomb is located south of Baghdad in the village of Al Kilf… Professor Shmuel Morre of Hebrew University, who was born in Baghdad, says the Historical damage is irreversible. “There are Muslim elements that are attempting to erase the Jewish character of the tomb,” Army Radio quoted Morre as saying… the Iraqi government dispelled claims the damage was done on purpose, and asserted that it sees the Jewish sites as assets important for tourism.

First of all, no. Reports have been trickling out for weeks predicting that something this outrage was in the works. The plan is to build a mosque on the site and you can’t have the tomb being all Jewish in the middle of a mosque.

In the winning non-council category Zen pundit discusses the COIN (Counterinsurgency) doctrine in terms of how it has become conventional wisdom out of mere necessity and what it means for the future; specifically in terms of fighting the war in Afghanistan.

There has been, for years, an ongoing debate in the defense and national security community over the proper place of COIN doctrine in the repertoire of the United States military and in our national strategy. While a sizable number of serious scholars, strategists, journalists and officers have been deeply involved, the bitter discussion characterized as “COINdinista vs. Big War crowd” debate is epitomized by the exchanges between two antagonists, both lieutenant colonels with PhD’s, John Nagl, a leading figure behind the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual and now president of the powerhouse think tank CNAS , and Gian Gentile, professor of history at West Point and COIN’s most infamous arch-critic.


Unfortunately for the COINdinistas, as George Kennan discovered to his dismay, to father a doctrine does not mean that you can control how others interpret and make use of it. As the new Obama administration and its new commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal conducted its internally contentious review of “AfPak” policy in 2009 on what seemed a geological time scale, the administration’s most restless foreign policy bigwig, the Talleyrand of Dayton, proposed using COIN as nation-building on steroids to re-create Hamid Karzai’s Afghanistan as the secure, centralized, state that it has never been. Public reaction to this trial balloon was poor and the administration ultimately pared down General McChrystal’s troop request to 30,000 men, hedging a COIN based strategy toward policy suggestions made by Vice-President Biden.

COIN is an excellent operational tool, brought back by John Nagl & co. from the dark oblivion that Big Army partisans consigned it to cover up their own strategic failures in Vietnam. As good as COIN is though, it is not something akin to magic with which to work policy miracles or to substitute for America not having a cohesive and realistic grand strategy. Remaking Afghanistan into France or Japan on the Hindu Kush is beyond the scope of what COIN can accomplish. Or any policy. Or any president. Never mind Obama, Superman, Winston Churchill and Abe Lincoln rolled into one could not make that happen.

Association with grandiosely maximalist goals would only serve to politically discredit COIN when the benchmarks to paradise ultimately proved unreachable. Austerity will scale them back to the bounds of reality and perhaps a more modest, decentralized, emphasis. COIN will then become a normal component of military capabilities and training instead of alternating between pariah and rock star status inside the DoD.

There are many trains of thought on this issue and it is one of the challenges that we must consider in light of the changing political landscape of the United States and the nature of the enemy jihadist that doesn’t share the same values as Americans. For a counterinsurgency strategy to succeed we need to get serious about that reality and consider it within the scope of a global jihad. This requires an understanding that we are not simply faced with local insurgency. Our strategy needs to be adjusted within that context in Afghanistan and Iraq. Otherwise we will continue to suffer the unnecessary loss of American life and civilian casualties without realizing the long term goal of winning the war against terror on all fronts.

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