Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Accidental Guerilla by David Kilcullen

The U.S. military leadership seconded Lt. Col. David Kilcullen of the Australian Army to work with them on devising and testing a new counterinsurgency strategy that might allow the U.S. Army to extricate themselves from their "kinetic" engagements around the world. Things weren't going real well in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, and our military commitments were breaking the bank. Kilcullen calls himself a professional soldier, but he is also an anthropologist. This book is Kilcullen's attempt to explain his thinking on the worldwide Islamic insurgency and the best methods for the U.S. to try and counter it successfully. Kilcullen thought the U.S. intervention in Iraq was an extremely serious strategic error, but tried, as assistant to General Petraeus in 2007, to devise a method to stabilize the Iraqi population, reduce violence, and establish governance so that U.S. troops could effectively withdraw and leave Iraq to the Iraqis.

Kilcullen thinks globalization and anti-globilization, and overwhelming U.S. military dominance are drivers to conflict in the 21st century—that citizens of countries around the world become involved in conflicts not of their making when warring groups enter their “space.” They choose the least foreign “side” and fight for their group. In this book, Kilcullen first introduces successful attempts to reduce violence and increase local participation in governance and stabilization in Afghanistan, then sheds light on the conflicts in Iraq, and then discusses East Timor, where he earned his credentials as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the 1999. He then discusses Thailand, Europe and Pakistan. Trying to understand an ongoing conflict is extraordinarily difficult, but Kilcullen draws on his experience, research, and natural bent to establish a framework he insists can, will, and is working in various conflict theatres around the world.

I instinctively like what Kilcullen is saying and have an affinity for his natural respect for cultures living out their lives in remote areas of the world. He and I would agree that globalization and U.S. cultural dominance is not only unappealing to much of the world, it is central to many conflicts we become involved in. He suggests that American military power is so out of proportion to every other nations’ military expenditures and capabilities that an American military presence creates its own weather: it creates resistance and backlash because it gets in the face of other groups, cultures, nationalities. He suggests there may be times when we might even eschew overt military retaliation to a direct attack when the target is difficult to eliminate without killing innocents or involves a massive military presence, which would increase local distaste, distrust, and hatred. He instead suggests relying on generous aid and assistance, developing a relationship of trust and cooperation, working through local tribal leaders, deferring to local customs and keeping a small footprint so as not to create a larger backlash than necessary.

This line of thought is already central to our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has proponents, and detractors. In important ways, it needs to be discussed and tested over and over because each conflict and set of objective circumstances is so different, and results may vary widely depending on the locale and circumstances. But it is a remarkable change of mindset for military men and women, and places value and weight on different skill sets than have traditionally been recognized in our bureaucratic corps. It almost seems as though I can actually see a generational changing of the guard with the ascendancy of Kilcullen’s theories on counterinsurgency. Perhaps we are actually evolving as a species.

That having been said, the following quote is from a Time Magazine article dated April 11, 2011:
All told, U.S. military spending in 2011 will exceed $700 billion — the most since World War II. That amounts to more than half of all government discretionary spending. It represents 35% of total military spending on the planet. And yet it's doubtful that the idea of substantially reducing the defense budget was raised by either side during last week's [Congressional budget] negotiations.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

No comments:

Post a Comment