Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What we're reading #4

Not sure that the others will have the opportunity to chime in on this one, so it may just be "what I'm reading"!


I'm going out of the country for the weekend (again) starting tomorrow -- about six hours of flying and lots of time on the beach -- so hopefully I'll get a couple of these books done. First is Galula's Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958, a monograph that he wrote for RAND in 1963. It's a tactically-oriented catalogue of what Galula did as a company commander during the pacification of Algeria.

Criticisms of Galula's more famous Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice seem to center around the allegation that it abstracts company-level lessons from one specific geographic sector (and one that happened to be reasonably calm, at that) into broad maxims intended for application in all counterinsurgencies in all places. Some of the people who level this criticism are a lot smarter and more well-read than me, so I'm not going to try to debate that here. But it seems like Pacification in Algeria is more narrow in its aims and application -- there's even a sort of disclaimer in the introduction, in which RAND's editorial staff explains the reasons that they've chosen to present the book in the form it is written, with its admittedly limited perspective -- and probably less susceptible to that sort of criticism. Good so far, if not particularly earth-shattering.

I'm also hoping to finally crack open Rufus Phillip's Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned. Amazon usefully informs me that I purchased this book on November 4, 2008, so unless I selected 11-month shipping, this should be taken as evidence that I'm a lazy bugger.

That's pretty much it for this weekend, I think. I've also recently taken in Andrew Exum's Afghanistan 2011: Three Scenarios; Steven Biddle's "Is There a Middle Way?" (Biddle's answer, unsurprisingly: no!) in The New Republic, which Ex calls "important and timely" and I think is neither; LTC Daniel Davis' "Go Big or Go Deep: An Analysis of Strategy Options on Afghanistan," which is really excellent (and which answers Biddle's question in a very different way); and am a couple of pages into Tony Cordesman's "The Levin 'Plan:' A Wrong Approach in Afghanistan," which has a hilariously patronizing title if nothing else.

Have a good weekend, everybody. Hasta next week.


  1. "... which Ex calls 'important and timely' and I think is neither..."

    Thank you. Could not agree more. I would also add "not a single new idea or argument." The think tanks are churning out the same dung in differently molded shapes. Do these people actually get paid to do this? If so, where does the budget come from?

    Biddle's piece doesn't even pass the stupid test. He creates a false dilemma between the McChrystal plan or withdrawing - calling anything in between a "magical" middle way for which there is no option. I guess erecting a strawman is easier.

  2. Yeah, I need to read Go Big or Go Deep, too.

    Have a good trip, Gulliver!

  3. Gulliver, I'm afraid you're right. I'm flying back to the US this weekend so I'll be reading whatever I can find during my seven hour layover in Brussels.