Monday, February 28, 2011

Did the SECDEF do a 180 on COIN?

The SECDEF made a speech at West Point on Friday about the future of the Army. You should read it. What you shouldn't do is read the bulk of the context-free misrepresentation currently passing for news analysis of the speech. Friend of Ink Spots David Ucko is an exception to this trend, and in fact does a great job of describing exactly how much of the media gets it wrong.
There has been ample coverage of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ final speech to the West Point cadets last Friday, with much of the attention focusing on an apparently growing disenchantment with counterinsurgency, a theme previously touched upon on this blog. 
For obvious reasons, the quotation that got the most play in the press was Gates’ quip that any future sec-def who advises the sending of ‘a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined”’. This sentence has been picked up upon as a candid admission by a straight-talking and possibly repentant Secretary of Defense, wishing to use his last appearance at West Point to highlight the folly of ongoing campaigns. In reality, the statement has been taken out of its context and therefore risks being misinterpreted, along with the rest of the address. 
I've got basically nothing to add, so go read David at Kings of War.


  1. Given the almost Talmudic-like study of particular details of this speech here, there, and everywhere, I'm starting to think it wasn't the clearest talk on record....

  2. Madhu -- You make an extremely fair point here, and highlight something I meant to mention but failed to: while it's impossible to know how a speech with be excerpted or qutoed in media accounts, I think Secretary Gates' speechwriter did a poor job of structuring his remarks. All the caveating and hedging makes it difficult to get at the real thrust of what the SECDEF is trying to say, so he didn't do himself any favors.

  3. Vitesse et PuissanceMarch 7, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    Most of what the guy said was inside baseball about the US Army Officer Personnel Management System. Gates keeps holding out for those well-rounded, technical and tactically competent, culturally sensitive Maxwell Taylor type know, good Spec Ops material. Or so they say. Any resemblance to the Army's future is strictly coin-cidental. (I couldn't help inserting the shameless pun there.)


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