Right to Be Wrong (Redux)

Gian P. Gentile reviews Fred Kaplan’s The Insurgents: “The story of Petraeus’ triumphalism has become the stock narrative for many writers on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars”:

 Mr. Kaplan’s The Insurgents is a peculiar book. At the end of the book he points out “the modern age itself has reduced much of the whole Coin concept to folly.” This, as Mr. Kaplan notes was the “dark side of counterinsurgency” Petraeus and his crew of dissidents helped to put in place with the Surge of Troops in Iraq and then carried directly over to Afghanistan a few years later.

Mr. Kaplan is exactly right: It has been “folly” to think a bundle of methods derived from unsuccessful counterrevolutionary wars of the 1960s could be applied by the American army to transform Islamic societies at the barrel of a gun.

The peculiarity of The Insurgents is that Mr. Kaplan raises this fundamentally correct criticism in the concluding handful of chapters of the book, but the preponderance of the book is nothing more than a paean to Petraeus and the Coin experts.

As they say, read the whole damn thing.


Update: As JDP notes in comments, Col. Gentile has been a longtime public critic of Petraeus & US counterinsurgency policy. Whatever one’s personal feelings about COIN and the cult of Petraeus, a book review shouldn’t be used to further sharpen an already well-ground ax without full disclosure (and even then it is still poor form to essentially commission a hatchet job).

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"I don't fuck much with the past but I fuck plenty with the future."

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • It should not go unnoted that Gian has a very strongly expressed prior perspective on the issue (as in, the chances that he would come out with a favourable review hover at roughly the same odds as me being named King). I like Gian and all (and agree to varying extents with many of his perspectives), but this isn’t exactly what one should want out of a book review.

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