I'm not going to go into this in depth right now, because I'm on vacation (at least for 36 more hours). I've stayed away from Twitter and blogs for a week, and I didn't even listen to the president's speech on Wednesday. But consider for just a second what COINdinistas Dave Barno and Peter Mansoor's very different arguments tell us about counterinsurgency's place in America's future approach to warfighting. Here's Mansoor:
[T]here's not going to be any stomach in the United States for this kind of thing going forward... We're going to shy away from regime change or these really large-scale counterinsurgency conflicts. That's why you see, in Libya, the reluctance of the Obama administration to do more than what they're doing.And here's Barno:
You're never [going] to see a conventional war ever again that doesn't not [sic] have a very robust irregular component to it. [Nice editing, NJ.]What's missing from both men's vision of the future is any discussion of regime change -- narrowly-focused conventional warfighting missions -- absent a post-war cleanup: stability operations and counterinsurgency. The debate about Libya has been characterized by a decided reluctance on almost all sides to commit American military power to the acknowledged aim of ending Qaddafi's rule. Why should this be so? We have the tools at hand to kill Qaddafi, to destroy his army, to target the regime's resources and infrastructure and to make life very, very difficult for what remains of the government in Tripoli. Why won't we use them? The answer is simple: because we can scarcely conceive of using force to achieve our military objectives without then making an effort to shape outcomes in the postwar period. (I know of no individual, even among proponents of regime change, who believe that U.S. involvement should or can begin and end with the regime's destruction.) We can't even imagine a world where breaking it does not mean also buying it.
Of course, preventive or punitive raiding will always be a part of the spectrum of possible response to threat and provocation, but this has meaningful consequences: we must either accept that the security challenges of the future will be less amenable to solution with the military instrument, or we must struggle to retain (or one day regain) our appetite for expensive, time-consuming, manpower-intensive irregular conflict.