Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Let's get our "colonialist generals" and COIN heroes straight, shall we?

I just came across this presentation (credit to SWJ on Facebook) -- which I take to be recent -- by Hero of the COINtras Doug Macgregor. There's plenty to criticize and some to agree with, but I just wanted to whinge about a relatively small factual mistake for right now.

This excerpt comes from slide 4:

There is nothing new in General McChrystal's strategy, it is merely a rehash of the failed oil spot (tache d'huile) strategy, first tried by French colonialist General Louis-Hubert-Gonsalve Lyautey in Algeria; then tried again under various guises by the US in Vietnam.
1. Tache d'huile, represent!

2. Lyautey was actually a Marshal of France after he was a general, and he held this title at his death. It seems appropriate to refer to him as "Marshal" if we're identifying him by his highest achieved rank.

3. "General" Lyautey was a lieutenant when he first went to Algeria, and a captain when he returned to France. The counterinsurgency achievements for which he is most well-known took place in Madagascar and Morocco, not Algeria (though securing the Algerian border was significant to his Moroccan success).

4. Lyautey was an understudy to Joseph Gallieni, posthumous Marshal of France and one-time governor of Madagascar.

5. While Lyautey may have first employed the term, Gallieni was the real originator of the tache d'huile approach to pacification.

6. "Tried again under various guises by the U.S. in Vietnam"? Here he's likely alluding to the Strategic Hamlets Program, which was pretty much done with by the time the U.S. committed significant resources to the fight and was admittedly a failure. But one of the other "guises" might be the Combined Action Program, which was one of the most effective American counterinsurgency efforts of the entire war.

7. Macgregor is right to say that there's not much new in the McChrystal report. So what? There's plenty in there to criticize besides unoriginality, so what difference does it make if an oil spots/ink blots approach has been tried at times in the past (and successfully, at that!)?

Ok, enough complaining about this PowerPoint. I'm not sure how I missed this in the past, but during the Gulf War, Macgregor was the operations officer for Cougar Squadron of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the parent unit of then-Captain H.R. McMaster's Eagle Troop, which beat the ass off an entire brigade of Iraqi Republican Guard Corps tanks at the Battle of 73 Easting. (Macgregor's author bio and Amazon page say that he "trained and led Cougar Squadron into battle," which is sort of confusing to me. He was the ops officer, right, not the squadron commander?) Anyway, to show what a good guy I am, I'm going to pimp Macgregor's latest book (which I have not read). I'm also going to link to Macgregor's hilariously hagiographic Wikipedia page, which shares some commonalities (er, verbatim rips) with his author-provided bio on at least one website to which he is a contributor.

While we're on the subject, ask Gunslinger about the time that his platoon pulled 73 Easting-Lite on an Iraqi tank battalion back in OIF I. I may have the details wrong, so I'm sure he can straighten you out.


  1. Operation Washington Green.


  2. Thanks for the link. Just reading Boylan's article.