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There it became indelibly linked to two especially cruel initiatives in a war steeped in imperial brutality. In the process, the strategic-hamlet program made many ardent recruits for the communist-led forces of the National Liberation Front—the original insurgency in South Vietnam. A group of ambitious generals, liberal think tanks, and lefty journalists sold both Bush and Obama on their beguiling dream of a more perfect intervention.

But while Vietnam was where war planners embraced modern counterinsurgency doctrine most fully, it was hardly the first time American forces experimented with the idea. But this foray into counterinsurgency warfare was a decidedly violent affair, characterized by water torture, mass killing, and forced relocations. According to State Department statistics, the war killed forty-two hundred Americans, twenty thousand Filipinos, and two hundred thousand civilians ; of the victims, fifteen thousand were Muslims.

Gian Gentile — E-International Relations

Army Gen. Throughout the s and s, U. Marine Maj. But where the Iraq con job was carried out by the right-wing D.

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In each case, though, the end result was the same: more blood, more destruction, and a legacy of war that will leave the Middle East an imperial battleground well into this century. Petraeus had been obsessed with Vietnam since his days at West Point.

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This outfit was a joint venture between the CIA and the U. Agency for International Development that would go on to direct the counterinsurgency in South Vietnam. Over the next decade, they and other like-minded military thinkers began reaching out to academics and human rights groups to marshal intellectual support for a new kind of foreign policy that could accomplish ambitious military objectives while staying true to American values of democracy and human rights.

They picked up speed after the disastrous Battle of Mogadishu in , when a U. Special Forces team was ambushed by Somalian militias during a UN-sanctioned snatch-and-grab operation—underscoring the perils of humanitarian interventions.

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If these types of U. Just as the CORDS crowd in Vietnam had brought in academics and think-tank intellectuals to help subdue their insurgency, the Petraeus group found allies for future counterinsurgency campaigns at Harvard, the Brookings Institution, and in the media. Detractors of the movement were less impressed. Kilcullen, one of the stars of the Quantico conference, became, with Petraeus and Nagl, a critical third apostle of the new millennial COIN gospel.

He was a retired Australian Army officer with a PhD in anthropology and had spent several years in Indonesia, which was ruled for decades by a murderous but fiercely anti-communist general named Suharto. During one of his tours, he encountered Islamic militants on the island of Java opposed to the central government and developed an appreciation for the grievances that lie behind guerrilla wars. Those experiences, and his writings about them, caught the attention of the Bush administration.

And that was getting short shrift in the media. But it certainly was noticed inside the Pentagon. They invited their fellow COINdinistas to come together to draft a new guide for the counterinsurgencies to come. Their discussions culminated in the December publication of the famous Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

This key strategy directive would become the basis for U. Kilcullen later wrote the civilian handbook that USAID officials and contractors used during the occupation phases of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. All this work paved the way for the hearts-and-minds offensive in Iraq, beginning in February , when Petraeus, with Kilcullen at his side, was dispatched to lead the surge. But for the most part, clear, hold, and build was a grueling hunt and kill operation, masterminded by Petraeus and Kilcullen and assisted by intercepts of enemy communications by the National Security Agency.

Command brought in former U. After the Iraq surge, with Petraeus moving up the chain of command, Kilcullen became the pet counterinsurgency thinker for the D. The company had particularly close ties with the COINdinistas: in , Kilcullen, Nagl, and Sewall were all named to its advisory board. In , Flournoy was appointed undersecretary of defense for policy, the number three spot at the Pentagon. He, too, served on the CNAS board of advisers. In addition, Nagl hired Andrew Exum, a former U.

Army captain who served in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks and later led Army Rangers there on special operations missions. Thus was the COINdinista circle of policy insiderism elegantly closed, in the heady early days of the Obama administration—and in a suitably bespoke and self-congratulatory setting. This liberal charm offensive sought to convince Congress and the White House to sign off on the counterinsurgency. Gentile makes his case in four astutely argued chapters.

They locked them into fortified camps, successfully isolating the guerrillas. Despite the narrative that the United States rushed into Vietnam, guns blazing, hoping to defeat the Viet Cong with superior firepower, Gentile maintains that pacification was a goal from the start and persisted throughout the American presence. Remember me Login. Amanda Neal.

Wrong Turn : America's Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency

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