How a group of farsighted Army officers gradually forced competence in fighting insurgents upon a hostile military establishment.
When David Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974, there were no courses on counterinsurgency. The generals were only interested in training for the next real war, by which they meant tank battles on the plains of Europe. The collapse of the world's third-largest tank army in Desert Storm persuaded some young officers that such a war would never happen. American forces would instead fight small wars against insurgencies—a word that was taboo in the Pentagon for years—and it would be necessary to study and train for these wars if the Army was to conduct them successfully. Pulitzer Prize winner Kaplan (1959: The Year Everything Changed, 2010, etc.) describes how a cadre of officers, of whom Petraeus was only the most prominent, risked reputations and careers to struggle to overturn the Army's institutional aversion to counterinsurgency. These "insurgents," as they thought of themselves, assembled doctrines and procedures for fighting such wars from long-ignored, nearly forgotten texts, white papers and dissertations, then field-tested them with considerable success when they were urgently needed in Iraq. Kaplan describes the networking and bureaucratic maneuvering involved as the participants read each other's papers, met at conferences and began appointing each other to influential positions until they succeeded in establishing counterinsurgency as a centerpiece of American military strategy. Along the way, the author incisively examines some of the inherent shortcomings of counterinsurgency doctrine, explaining why it is difficult for Americans to support this approach and why it was more likely to succeed in Iraq than in Afghanistan, where the Obama administration is moving to a more conventional counterterrorism approach.
A compelling story combined with thoughtful analysis of the development, application and limitations of a new model of applying American military power. EDITOR'S NOTE: This review was completed prior to the news of the Petraeus scandal.