In 1964, the old Asia hand Lucian Pye astutely noted that, despite a long and well-documented history of insurgent warfare in the world, governments that have faced insurgencies--or were once insurgents themselves--tend to be quick at forgetting their roots. For militaries, this loss of memory has not been passive, but rather reflects a conscious effort to marginalize insurgency studies. "They fail to acknowledge and codify their accumulative understanding of how to cope with insurrections," Pye lamented. "Thus each outbreak of insurgency seems to call for relearning old lessons."It's the usual litany of forgotten lessons, and we would do well to pay some freakin' attention to what this author has to say. When you talk about blowing people up, you can't do better than talking to the folks who brought us Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This is serious stuff and the kind of information that prospective progressive candidates need to pay attention to. Without a grasp of the intermarriage of strategic defense and political thinking, we're going to keep walking into traps like the one in Iraq.
A constant throughout all counterinsurgency literature is the importance of understanding not just the finer points of the nation and culture where one is operating, but the nature of insurgency itself. It was, therefore, nothing short of jarring when, on June 23, 2004, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz declared on MSNBC that what was happening in Iraq was "not an insurgency."
Wolfowitz explained that an "insurgency" is only synonymous with an "uprising." As such, he continued, the fighting in Iraq does not constitute an insurgency, as it's a "continuation of the war by people who never quit," waged by the same enemy "that fought us up until the fall of Baghdad and continues to fight afterwards."
Those with an appreciation for the nuances of counterinsurgency were shocked. Wolfowitz's comments demonstrated that the Pentagon leadership still believed that Iraq could be pacified through the conventional (and escalating) application of force. Moreover, it suggested that senior Bush administration officials were ignoring intelligence reports that the insurgency was far more diverse than holdouts from Saddam Hussein's regime. But perhaps most troubling was that Wolfowitz revealed either flagrant disregard for--or complete ignorance of--an esteemed National Defense University (NDU) text that foresaw these problems 13 years before the fall of Baghdad.