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.