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Chewing Qat with a spork?

Monday, September 9th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a popular catch-phrase fumbled ]


TE Lawrence was an original. The “second senior official” either has a poor memory for quotations, or wishes he were an original, sad in either case.

Hat-tip to the Small Wars Journal editors, who noted the combo — they referenced John Nagl, who borrowed his book title from Lawrence, while I prefer to attribute the spoon to Lawrence directly, but no matter.

What comes next? Chewing Qat with a spork?

Nagl: “COIN is not Dead!”

Monday, February 6th, 2012

 Octavian Manea continues his excellent series at SWJ, interviewing the leading theorists, practitioners and critics of pop-centric COIN.  This most recent interview is with Dr. John Nagl, formerly president of CNAS, author of Learning how to Eat Soup with a Knife and currently a professor at the Naval War College.

Nagl has been, it hardly need be said, one of the major proponents of pop-centric COIN and an important figure in the debate over the “Surge” in Iraq and it’s second iteration in Afghanistan:

COIN Is Not Dead: An Interview with John Nagl 

Q: Have we basically relearned, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the old lessons and principles in countering an insurgency? Are the broad historically proven principles of countering an insurgency, still valid guidelines for today?

Nagl: History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. I am currently teaching a course at the US Naval Academy on the history of modern counterinsurgency campaigns. And it is interesting to see how the same principles continue to present and reassert themselves, that the same mistakes are made early as armies adapt to the challenges of counterinsurgency and they learn the same lessons time and time again. They learn lessons like the importance of being keenly sensitive to the human terrain, of understanding its hierarchy of needs, of comprehending the culture, the ethnicity, the religion of the insurgents and of the population. Protecting the population is the key to success. It is important to get the population on your side in order that you can derive intelligence from them on who the insurgents are. It is important that you reform governance to give people hope that if they do side with the government and the counterinsurgents, their lives will be better. It is important to provide inducements to the insurgents. Very rarely are you going to kill or capture every insurgent, although you may coerce some of them away from the fighting. All of those lessons could be drawn from the headlines of the past few weeks on the fight in Afghanistan. I am increasingly convinced that the classic historically tested counterinsurgency principles broadly apply across cases and they continue to apply today, although with variations for the particular country, region, ethnicity, and grievances faced by the population.


Q:What would you respond to the many critics that point out that pop-centric COIN is just a “collection of tactics” and techniques not a strategy in itself?

Nagl: I would say that they missed the first chapter of the FM 3-24. The strategy is to strengthen the government while weakening the insurgents in order to reach an end state in which the government with minimal outside assistance can defeat internal threats to its security. There are a number of tactics required to achieve that, both the killing and capturing of insurgents, strengthening host nation security forces, and improving governance. It all adds up to diminishing the strength of the insurgency, increasing the capabilities of the government and its forces and reaching a crossover point where the host nation forces can carry on with minimal outside assistance. We are about to test this hypothesis in Afghanistan over the course of the next two years.

Read the whole interview here.

It may be that Dr. Nagl uses the word “strategy” in a different sense than I do, or perhaps in a much narrower, context.

Strengthening a third-party government could be a broad US policy expressed in a variety of ways.  Or it may mean, the US military training and equipping certain host nation agencies for particular tactical skills, or leading these allies in counterinsurgency operations.  By itself, “strengthening” appears to me to be better described as a form of “Ways” in the classic “Ends-Ways-Means” triad of strategy. It may or may not be the best option to take – some governments are truly their own worst enemies.

Whether it is a good idea for the US to take upon itself the task of strengthening the host nation state in the first place, is a more strategic question.

More Mackinlay – On Why the USG Doesn’t “Get” AQ as a “Global Insurgency”

Monday, April 19th, 2010

I continue to be impressed with Dr. John Mackinlay‘s  The Insurgent Archipelago . You might not agree with everything Mackinlay has to say on insurgency or COIN theory but his book is deeply thought-provoking the way The Pentagon’s New Map, Brave New War or The Genius of the Beast are thought-provoking books. As a reader, you highlight. You underline. You scribble praise, condemnation or some relevant factoid in the margins.

This is going to be an influential text.


In Mackinlay’s view, America and the West have failed to adequately understand what and whom they are fighting in the War on Terror. The phenomenon that has eluded them is that alongside older, Maoist iterations of guerrilla warfare, the cutting edge of insurgency has evolved up into a decentralized, networked, partly virtual, Post-Maoism. General staffs, intelligence services, national security officials and diplomats remained hypnotized by the Maoist model that was so frequently aped in the 60’s and 70’s by secular leftists and Third World Marxists in Vietnam, Algeria and subsaharan Africa.

Some excerpts, followed by my analysis, which you are free to disagree with or just put in your own two cents about in the comments section:

Mackinlay writes [p. 164]:

….NATO governments and a majority of their security staff did not recognize post-Maoism as a form of insurgency either. Although they lived in a post-industrial era and directly experienced its social consequences, they dealt with post-9/11 insurgent phenomenon from a Maoist perspective; they neither saw it nor engaged it as a global movement that involved a greater array of dispersed supporters. They also failed to recognize it as an insurgency.

Very true. Even though if the organizational behavior of al Qaida and its affiliated movements had taken place within one nation-state, Cold War era graybeard officials and international law NGO activists of 2001-2004 vintage would have called them a guerilla movement; that al Qaida’s activities took place across many international borders seriously confounded them in an intellectual sense. Obviously, they must be common criminals, no different than junkies who stick-up a 7-11, to be properly mirandized! Call the FBI and have OJ’s dream team ready when we make an arrest! Or Osama is a state-sponsored terrorists of Saddam! No, wait, of Iran!

And so it went, and still goes on to this day as the USG contorts itself into a legal pretzel  in order to never have proper war crimes trials or execute convicted war criminals. Or even admit they are “Islamists” motivated by a reified ideology (Mackinlay’s term “Post-Maoist” may soon come in to vogue at the NSC).

America is like the Gulliver of COIN, bound fast by the cords of politically correct nonsense.

….Because few academics had explained insurgency as a multidisciplinary, as opposed to a narrowly military, process they failed to see how their own populations were vulnerable to insurgent movements, and that when it happened to them it would not look like its classic Maoist antecedent. Countering insurgency required a counterintuitive effort and making this intellectual leap was problematic when military planners had such an idee fixe of insurgency as eternally Maoist form.

I interpret this paragraph as Mackinlay blending the Euro-Anglo-American state of affairs, but it does not apply equally to all, in my view.

Humanities and social science academics are simply not as good at or as intellectually comfortable with true multidisciplinary thinking as are their counterparts in the hard sciences. Nor are the social science faculty particularly friendly, in most universities, toward the US national security and intelligence communities or the Pentagon (though I suspect the situation in 2010 is better than in 2000 or 1990). Nor are American universities oversupplied with military historians or scholars of strategic studies.

Academia, however is not at fault as much as Mackinlay indicates. Even if we had Clausewitz collaborating with Ibn Khaldun and Marshall Mcluhan to write our white papers, the USG interagency process is fundamentally broken and could not execute their recommendations. State is grossly underfunded, institutionally disinclined to turn out FSO’s in the mold of Errol Flynn and is in need of a systemic overhaul. USIA and USAID need to be reborn as heavyweight players. The CIA has problems almost as severe as does State and does not play well with others, including the DNI. There is no “whole of government” approach present that could approximate an “operational jointness”, so presidents increasingly rely on the military as the hammer for all nails ( the military may not do the right thing but at least it does something, as the saying goes).

Mackinlay writes [p. 164-165]

….By 2008 the most up-to-date doctrine was still stuck in expeditionary form, in other words focused on a campaign epicentre that lay in a particular overseas territory and its traditional, or at best modernising, society. The following characteristics that distinguished post-Maoism had not been engaged:

  • The involvement of multiple populations which challenged the concept of a center of gravity
  • Mass communications and connectivity
  • The migration factor
  • The virtual factor
  • The centrality of propaganda of the deed in the insurgent’s concept of operations
  • The bottom-up direction of activist energy
  • Absence of plausible end-state objectives in the insurgent’s manifesto

Mackinlay gets much right here but some things wrong – and what is incorrect is arguably quite important – but as an indictment of the failure of the West to adequately address globalized insurgency, it is spot on in many respects.

First, in regard to Mackinlay’s attack on Clausewitzian theory, I am not persuaded that a “center of gravity” for our enemies does not exist or apply so much as its form is not a particularly convenient one (i.e. -easily targetable) or politically comfortable for our elites to acknowledge.

We could conceive of al Qaida’s CoG being Bin Laden’s inner circle hiding somewhere in Pakistan – probably Rawalpindi – that we do not yet dare to strike. Or we could say that the CoG is al Qaida’s “plausible promise” that the “far enemy” of radical Islamism, the US, can be brought down, as was the USSR, by being bled to death by drawing America into endless and expensive wars. Or that the CoG is al Qaida’s peculair, Qutbist-inspired, takfiri, revolutionary Islamist ideology. Our elites recoil from openly confronting any of those possible scenarios but that does not mean that a CoG is not present, only that we lack the will to attack their CoG head-on.

US COIN doctrine is expeditionary – essentially internal COIN for America ended with the Compromise of 1877 and the end of three centuries of “Indian Wars”. Political correctness, not doctrinal rigidity, precludes recognizing Islamist lone wolf terrorists like Maj. Hasan as anything other than mentally ill spree killers, no different from the school shooters at Columbine or Andrew Cunanan. The USG would not recognize an insurgency in the states as an insurgency even if it had flags, a government-in-exile, an air force and armored divisions. Even the capture of verified and admitted members of al Qaida inside the United States, who are covered by a properly authorized AUMF, causes an epidemic of pants-wetting among the elite, if we proceed to try them with military tribunals or commissions.

We do not have a political elite as a national leadership who are prepared to entertain the full strategic ramifications of the existence of a “globalized insurgency”. They do not ignore it completely – the COIN doctrine articulated best by David Kilcullen and John Nagl is to de-fang al Qaida as a strategic threat by isolating it from the “Accidental Guerrilla” groups whose Islamist concerns are parochial and national in character rather than global. So, al Qaida is seen by the American national security community as a de facto globalized insurgency with a reach that extends everywhere – except of course inside the United States. Unless we intercept foreign Islamist terrorists crossing the border or boarding a plane, any violent actions committed here resembling terrorism are purely a law enforcement issue and must be wholly unrelated to Islamist extremism.

It’s a bizarrely illogical strategic worldview – and I fear its’ ostrich-like mentality has already spread from War on Terror policy to matters related to the empirically demonstrable, but continuously downplayed, spillover effects of Mexico’s growing narco-insurgency, where high officials prohibit unvarnished “truth telling” from practitioners in the field from reaching the ears of key decision-makers. It’s no way to run a war – or a country – unless the intent is to lose the former by systematically crippling the ability to respond of the latter.

Mackinlay’s characteristics of “Post-Maoism” strike directly and the political and methodological nerve clusters of a Western elite whose power and status are invested in hierarchical, bureaucratic, institutional structures that are defended from urgent demands to reform, in part, by their ideology of political correctness.

Reflecting on Neo-COIN and the Global Insurgency, Part II.

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Previously, I took a look at an academic paper by David Martin Jones and M.L.R. Smith that engaged in a critical analysis of COIN theory and found fault with its underlying premises. Now, I would like to examine the rebuttal offered by John Nagl and Brian Burton of CNAS.

David Martin Jones* and M.L.R. Smith**. “Whose Hearts and Whose Minds? The Curious Case of Global Counter-Insurgency”. The Journal of Strategic Studies. Vol. 33, No. 1, 81-121, February 2010.

*University of Queensland, Australia. ** King’s College London, UK.

John A. Nagl and Brian M. Burton. “Thinking Globally and Acting Locally: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Modern Wars – A Reply to Jones and Smith.  The Journal of Strategic Studies. Vol. 33, No. 1, 123-138, February 2010.

Center for New American Security (CNAS), Washington, DC, USA.

The rebuttal of Nagl and Burton, at a mere 15 pages including bibliography, was a more persuasive and focused argument than the COIN opus offered by Jones and Smith. Their tone was less academic and more practitioner-oriented, both in terms of policy shapers and soldiers in the field. Strategist Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, thought the entire debate was “too inside baseball” but nonetheless, that Nagl and Burton had the better of the exchange:

It is a sadly ghettoized argument–very inside baseball. And I am dismayed to see it happening in a sub-field that should be more inclusive than the usual war-discussed-within-the-context-of-war with the added dimension of the fight for political control in developing/failed economies (the whole national liberation bit, references to Maoism, etc.). So we’re still basically treated to two legs of the stool: security with the addition of politics/culture, but the economics remains a no-go-land that elicits the mention of jobs on occasion (the assumption usually being, public-sector financed with aid), but that’s it.

….I thought Nagl’s closing comment in response was fine: difference in degree but not kind. The first article reminded me of nuclear targeting theory, it was so esoterically wrapped around itself.

The intellectual insularity to which Tom complains arguably stems from COIN, an operational doctrine, being required to “pinch-hit” as a long-term strategy due to the abdication of responsibility by the civilian political elite to come to a strategic consensus among themselves on the war that would frame our global conflict with radicalized Islamist terror groups and insurgencies and enunciate the objectives we hope to achieve.

This unwillingness or inability of deeply divided USG civilian leaders to effectively, coherently and consistently articulate the nature of the war itself and our adversaries deprives our senior military leaders of appropriate policy guidance in designing campaigns and carrying out military operations. It is also a partial explanation for the determined resistance of COIN policy advocates like John Nagl and David Kilcullen to address the religious ideology dimension raised by Jones and Smith.

In “Thinking Globally and Acting Locally: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Modern Wars – A Reply to Jones and Smith”, Burton and Nagl firmly showcase “Neo-COIN’s” formidibile strengths as policy but cannot escape its’ enduring weakness. Here most concisely:

“Insurgencies, like other forms of armed conflict are better defined by methodologies than by ideologies. While causes change regularly, the fundamentals of insurgent strategy remain relatively constant”

A powerful throwing down of the theoretical gauntlet. It’s an appealing argument rooted in pragmatism, and to some degree, empiricism, becoming more true as one moves down to the level of small unit counterinsurgency and outward from jihadism’s core leadership toward insurgency’s marginal adherents of convenience, the “$10 a day Taliban” and Kilcullen’s “accidental guerrillas”. While it is the case that occasionally in COIN we have actions of “strategic corporals”, most of the warfighting concerns of NCO’s and junior officers will be tactical and eminently practical a majority of the time.

Earlier, Burton and Nagl expounded at greater length and specificity:

But this argument [by Jones and Smith] overemphasizes the superficial features of conflict. While specific characteristics of individual insurgencies have changed with local conditions and the technology of the day, the fundamental dynamics of insurgency remain largely the same. The essential competition remains between the existing power and the insurgents for influence and ultimately control over populations. The insurgent ’cause’, of which extremist religion can be a component, is generalized and malleable in order to mobilize the broadest possible base of followers.

….the fundamental dynamic of any insurgency is that, as David Kilcullen aptly describes, it needs the people to act in certain ways.[It] needs their sympathy, acquiescence and silence, or simply their reactions to provocation, in order to further [its] strategy

[Emphasis in original.]

There are pros and cons to this theoretical position. It is always a good idea to consider who an intended doctrine is written for; instrumentally, COIN doctrine is foremost for the soldiers who are expected to wage that kind of battle on the behalf of the rest of us. Only secondarily, is COIN doctrine intended as a kind of policy talisman for the government officials, politicians, journalists, academics and bloggers whom it has entranced or repelled. It is important to remember, it critiquing the evolving panoply that is USG COIN policy that the fundamental criterion of measurement is not theoretical niceties but real world results, which have been produced. Not perfection, not instantly, not everything we want plus a pony too, but progress in operational and tactical success. Even some strategic success if stabilization of an Iraqi government holds That weighs heavily on the pro side of the ledger.

The cons are of a different nature.

First, in terms of the Maoist paradigm, classical COIN theory is problematic because it extrapolates only from a very short period of Mao’s career as a guerrilla leader, mostly 1946 -1949 when the political dynamic in China’s civil war was a bilateral conflict between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government and Mao ZeDong Communist Party and Red Army. This was a period when Mao, courtesy of the Soviets, had suddenly inherited a great quantity of Japanese arms and could field divisions of semi-regulars to fight conventional battles in addition to insurgent units. Most of China’s long civil war was actually heterogeneously anarchic and Mao’s Communist armies were usually much inferior not only to those of the Kuomintang, but to those armies fielded by many provincial warlords and certainly inferior to the invading Imperial Japanese Army, which Mao strove to avoid fighting whenever possible. Much of Mao’s legend as a military genius is political myth constructed after the fact, and his ultimate success in China owed at least as much to Chiang, Hirohito, Stalin and Truman as it did to Mao’s real but frequently exaggerated political and military talent for insurgency.

Vietnam, another historical touchstone of COIN, acheived the bilateral conflict dynamic described in COIN theory only because initially the Vietcong, on the orders of Hanoi, tacitly supported Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime by eschewing military activities while Diem and Nhu systematically destroyed or weakened other potential military/political rivals to the Communists in South Vietnam. Namely, General Ba’s Hoa-Hao, the Binh Xuyen gangs and the Buddhist political clergy ( the Vietnamese Nationalist Party had previously been decimated by the French in 1930). Russia after WWI, Lebanon in the 1980’s, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Congo in the 1990’s are others examples of societies devolving into anarchic, social darwinian, violence before some became conflicts that are somewhat recognizable in COIN theory.

The heterodox Iraqi insurgency of the “surge”, where Neo-COIN found its proving ground, is really the recent historical rule and not the exception that classical Maoist COIN theory might lead you to believe. The theory in other words, is based upon flawed premises of a bilateral conflict. John Robb’sopensource insurgency” concept gets closer to the probable reality of future COIN wars.

Secondly, the strong dismissal of religious drivers by Nagl under his “Kilcullen Doctrine” is tailor made for “disaggregating” the accidental guerrillas at the tactical level, but it seriously misleads us in understanding or effectively countering the “professional guerrillas” at the strategic or the moral levels of war. Instead, it blinds us by projecting our own elite culture’s secular assumption of religion as merely a cynical and antiquated facet of politics on to adversaries for whom such thought is both fundamentally alien and entirely blasphemous. Such a position is what ideologists of  jihad  argue that they are taking up arms against in the first place.

Erasing the religious or ideological motivation makes incisive analysis of the adversaries strategic decision-making impossible because it removes the driver for which he left home, comfort, family for the danger and privation of war. How can we walk in our enemies shoes, get inside his head, if we deny what is in his head has any relevance?

This position makes no sense on the strategic level. Ignoring the influence of Islamism is a prescription for errors and missed opportunities. It is a politically comfortable position for COIN theorists because our political elite are deeply enamored of a PC ideology that provides an excuse to punish and destroy the careers of officials who challenge the orthodoxy of multiculturalism with frank discussion of facts. Avoiding the question of Islamism in front of politicians greases the skids for COIN. Have you heard many members of Congress make a robust defense of liberal, democratic, capitalist, open societies as a morally superior alternative to autocratic Islamism lately? No? Well now you understand why the COIN gurus are not doing it either. Powerful people in Washington and the media do not want to hear thart message.

Yet without confronting Islamism and the attraction of its call to a dissatisfied “pious middle class” in the Islamic world, we can hardly hope to bring the war to a satisfactory close, much less victory.

Reflecting on Neo-COIN and the Global Insurgency, Part I.

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

Read a very interesting theoretical paper critiquing the merits of “Neo-Classical COIN” contrasted with the concept of “Global Insurgency” by Dr. David Martin Jones and Dr. M.L.R. Smith in The Journal of Strategic Studies, which drew a sharp rebuttal from Dr.John Nagl, the president of CNAS, and Brian M. Burton in defense of a universally applicable COIN paradigm (big hat tip to Steve Pampinella). 

The papers deserve much wider circulation and I encourage you to find yourself a copy. Unfortunately, they are behind an irritating subscription wall, so we have to do this in 20th century, stone-age, fashion….

David Martin Jones* and M.L.R. Smith**. “Whose Hearts and Whose Minds? The Curious Case of Global Counter-Insurgency”. The Journal of Strategic Studies. Vol. 33, No. 1, 81-121, February 2010.

*University of Queensland, Australia. ** King’s College London, UK.

John A. Nagl and Brian M. Burton. “Thinking Globally and Acting Locally: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Modern Wars – A Reply to Jones and Smith.  The Journal of Strategic Studies. Vol. 33, No. 1, 123-138, February 2010.

Center for New American Security (CNAS), Washington, DC, USA.

Jones and Smith are dissecting “the extraordinary renaissance of counter-insurgency thinking within the U.S. military establishment” which they argue has “produced two distinctive schools of thought about counter-insurgency”; the “neo-classical” which constructs a framework for waging COIN from the historical understanding of Maoist guerrilla warfare, and “global counterinsurgency” which is “post-maoist”, conceptual and networked rather than territorial and hierarchical and centered in the ideological turmoil or radical salafist-jihadi Islamism. Together, the two schools comprise “neo-COIN” which yields an “incoherent” and “confused and contradictory understanding” of insurgency which is rooted in a hostility and miscomprehension of Clausewitzian thought.

The breezy summary above was, by the way, a gross simplification of a forty page, heavily footnoted, academic argument, which really needs to be read in its entirety.

Jones and Smith go into considerable depth investigating the intellectual orgins of “neo-COIN” and the leading personalities who shaped the doctrine, including Nagl, Sewall, McFate, Kilcullen, Hoffman and commanding generals like Petraeus and Chiarelli.

Of the two schools, the authors find greater flaws on the neo-classical approach to COIN:

….Ultimately though, excessive deference to Maoist theories of guerrilla warfare led neo-classicism into a strategic, Iraq-centric, cul-de-sac….

….Such crude reductionism, ultimately leads to a cdrude Maoist/Counter-Maoist paradigm that assumes holding on to physical territory, no matter the cost, is the ultimate goal of any combatant. This neo-classical reductionism not only implies that any withdrawal of forces from an occupied territory represents a defeat, it also risks inducing the kind of certainties that influenced the French approach to COIN during the Algerian War with manifestly disastrous consequences

But the global insurgency school, while more accurately conceptualizing the transnational nature of the enemy in the view of Smith and Jones, is not without problems either:

However, when it comews to identifying the drivers of jihadism, global COIN theorists are surprisingly coy. Significantly, global neo-COIN writing goes to great lengths to dismiss the religious and ideological motivation for Islamist activism. Instead, it focuses upon organizational characteristics, social networks, psychological profiling, and patterns of recruitment to understand the new global threat….Like the notion of a War on Terrorism, global counter-insurgency denotes an amorphous threat, conceals hidden assumptions and obfuscates the object of the war, namely militant, ideologized Islam or Islamism.

This “negation of ideological motivation” identified by Jones and Smith in global counter-insurgency, is blamed on two sources. First, Dr. David Kilcullen, the deeply influential Australian Army officer and anthropologist who has been the COIN adviser to the Departments of State and Defense and CENTCOM, who argues for the primacy of “sociological characteristics” as drivers to jihadism; secondly, on a fear of the implications of Clausewitzian theory that causes neo-COIN advocates to purposefully “misunderstand” On War:

From a political perspective, however such neo-COIN misunderstanding is not so strange at all. McFate evidently recognizes Clausewitz’s central premise that  ‘War is a continuation of political intercourse, carried on by other means’. It is this recognition though, that unsettles COIN theorists. The reluctance to attribute religious motives to jihadist action, the emphasis on post-Maoism and the dismissal of Clausewitz, all evince a profound neo-COIN discomfort with the political dimension of war. It is the politics of modern jihadi resistance that contemporary counter-insurgency theorists wish to avoid: for politics denotes complexity, particularity, ambiguity, controversy and the need to challenge or defend specific value systems.


Smith and Jones have identified some real weaknesses in COIN theory, a useful service. However, either they commit the same error in diagnosing the inability of COIN theorists to wrestle frankly with Islamism as they accuse Kilcullen, Nagl, McFate etc. of having made and do so for the same reason, or they evince a childish understanding of politics. I lean toward the former.

The ignorance of irhabi-salafist radical religious ideas and internal debates is a very serious analytical problem for the United States. Few scholars or analysts can boast of simultaneously having fluency in critical langues, a deep understanding of Islamist theology and expertise/experience in terrorism/counter-terrorism studies. And really, to make astute judgments, you need to have a grasp on all three. Avoiding the religious ideology dimension is a serious error on the part of COIN thinkers and Smith and Jones are right to call them out on it.  It would be very helpful, if COIN theorists in crafting doctrine, would avail themselves of the deep understanding of Islamism offered by a Gilles Kepel or an Olivier Roy.

That said, the religious ferment of Islamism applies more to the “professional” and not the “accidental” guerrilla. To the recruiter, ideologists, operational planner and other senior leaders of al Qaida and the Taliban and far less to the rootless cannon fodder, idle adventurers, middle-class losers, itinerant tribals and other flotsam and jetsam who compose the foot soldiers of modern jihad. Applying social network analysis or organizational theory adds a useful perspective to understanding to the mass-movement characteristics of violent Islamist groups.

That is not why Kilcullen or Nagl de-emphasize religious motivations though. It is not that COIN gurus at CNAS do not understand or are uncomfortable with political dimensions or are mystified about Islam and Islamism. That’s an absurd assessment. To the contrary, they understand politics exceptionally well. COIN advocates downplay the religious motivations of Islamist terrorists and insurgents because emphasizing them will cost COIN strategy the political support of many liberal-left Democrats in Congress whose PC ideology cannot tolerate such arguments to be heard, the facts be damned. To make such an analysis, before a group that is not overly supportive of the war to begin with, is to be tagged an “Islamophobe” or a “racist” (even though the latter insult makes no sense whatsoever).

For the same reason, academia having its own PC fetishes to an even greater degree than politicians, Smith and Jones do not specifically identify the domestic political incentives COIN advocates have for ignoring religious ideology.

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