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Has a Svengali mesmerized the Pentagon?

jacket imageThe war in Iraq is more than five years old and even though the end is not in sight, the lessons of the war are already being debated within the military.
National Public Radio has a story this morning about the sharpening disagreement in the US Army over how great a role counterinsurgency tactics should play. The story is prompted by an internal Pentagon report that suggests the Army is excessively focused on counterinsurgency training and neglecting conventional force capabilities such as field artillery. The report asserts that 90 percent of artillery units are “unqualified to fire artillery accurately.”
We have of course paid a great deal of attention in this space to the rise of counterinsurgency doctrine within the military, since our publication in book form of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Not only is it interesting to see some Army strategists question whether the pendulum has swung too far in the COIN direction, but some of the commentary would seem to implicate our own role in bringing the COIN manual to a wider audience.
NPR reporter Guy Raz quotes a recent lecture by Gian Gentile, chairman of the history department at West Point:

Gentile, who served two tours in Iraq, is perhaps the most outspoken internal critic of what he calls the Army’s dangerous obsession with counterinsurgency.

“The high public profile of the new counterinsurgency manual, combined with the perception that its use and practice with the surge in Iraq has lowered the violence, I think has had a Svengali effect on us,” Gentile said during the lecture. “It’s almost like we have a secret recipe for success now involving counterinsurgency and irregular war.”

A five year war would, on the face of it, go quite a ways toward proving that no “secret recipe for success” has been found. But then counterinsurgency is always messy and slow.
Listen to the audio of the NPR story. The discussion will undoubtedly continue at the Small Wars Journal blog.