31st December 2012: The Insurgents

Fred Kaplan‘s journalism on nuclear strategy and geopolitics is a personal influence. I’m looking forward to Kaplan’s new book The Insurgents (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013) on how David Petraeus, John Nagl, and others changed United States military doctrines on counterinsurgency. Janet Maslin observes in her New York Times review:


Some of Mr. Kaplan’s book is about significant events, like the handling of Mosul. But most of it concentrates on the theoretical arguments behind even the most minute-sounding differences in military dictums. Even after counterinsurgency began to be codified and taught, it was a source of confusion for junior officers unfamiliar with its ways of utilizing Iraqis and later Afghans, not fighting them at every turn. “I get what we’re supposed to achieve,” one said succinctly, “but what are we supposed to do?”

Even as the counterinsurgency thinkers fine-tuned their phrases — “clear and hold” evolved into “clear, hold and build,” and later into “shape/clear/hold/build,” each with a slightly but significantly different meaning — their approach was viewed by some as a provocation. The book describes how blasts from The New York Post led to the insertion of words like “sometimes,” “some” and “most” into Mr. Petraeus’s field manual, “FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency,” and how the manual’s way of answering old questions only prompted new ones.

The Insurgents will also interest change management, leadership, organisational dynamics, and disruptive innovation practitioners.

Influencing The Gamble

Fiasco author Thomas E. Ricks is gaining positive media reviews for his new book The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (Penguin Press, New York, 2009). The Washington Post has published excerpts; NYT and LA Times have reviews here and here. Ricks joins my list of journalists and open source intelligence researchers who are exem

The reviews suggest Ricks has uncovered lots of rich insights from his reportage on how Petraeus changed US counterinsurgency doctrines in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its policy framework in the Bush administration. Petraeus was informed about Vietnam’s counterinsurgency lessons through his PhD studies at Princeton, completed in 1987. He also chose several foreign-born advisors with subject matter expertise such as Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen. Finally, Petraeus cultivated several allies in military and policy circles who led a counter-response to convince the Bush administration to re-evaluate its policies. American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Frederick W. Kagan was a prominent warrior-scholar in the successful counter-response. So, timing, an institutional track record, a team of advisor-experts and coordination with co-journeyers was vital to Petraeus’s successful case for policy and doctrine change.