I very much like the turn toward the publication of short interviews with experts occurring of late at SWJ BLog, for example the COIN series by FP’s Octavian Manea. To toot my own horn for a moment, I did an early one for SWJ when I interviewed Tom Barnett.
There are two new ones up right now that I recommend:
Q: To what extent should Algeria be a warning for present?
A: The warning it should provide is that you should never think that improved tactics, whether it is a conventional or a counterinsurgency war, can rescue a failed strategy or policy. Sun Tzu offers one of the most profound statements on the relationship between tactics and strategy: Strategy without tactics is the slow road to victory, but tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Another historical example comes to mind. The German army up to a certain point in WWII was arguably one of the finest tactically fighting armies in history. But it lost. The warning is to be careful how much faith you place in the idea that better tactics can save a failed strategy or policy (or in the case of the Vietnam War – better tactics rescuing a war that was unwinnable in the first place)
A: Alas, Arquilla’s representation of these incidents as primitive versions of modern concepts are a stretch, when not total misrepresentations. At worst, his examples are lifted from context, include material factual inaccuracies, and misconstrue reasons for French “success.” (The “successes” themselves are debatable.) Finally, Arquilla perpetuates the fundamental COINdanista heresies that tactics can rescue flawed policy and defective strategy, while “modernizing” Western occupations will be perceived as “liberation” by indigenous societies. I will take each of Arquilla’s examples in turn to explain their context, in the process illustrating why an incomplete history can lead to misleading results.
Under Suchet, Aragon did in fact enjoy the reputation as the most pacified Spanish province in Spain. But Suchet’s achievement was temporary, contingent and a “success” only when contrasted with the overall catastrophic outcome of Napoleon’s Spanish project. Aragon and the sliver of bordering Catalonia over which Suchet had charge only shines in context: The French totally lost the narrative in Spain. Napoleon’s deposition and imprisonment of the Bourbon Ferdinand VII — whom he replaced with his brother Joseph Bonaparte in 1808 — established a government regarded as illegitimate, not only in Spain, but in Europe and Latin America as well. The obligation imposed by the Napoleon that the Spaniards pay the costs of occupation meant high taxes and requisitions of Church lands. “Modern” French secular ideas taken from the French Revolution were an affront to the values of conservative Spaniards, who were horrified that Napoleon had imprisoned two Popes and annexed the Papal States to the Roman Republic. The fact that Napoleon was unable to vanquish Great Britain, and the presence
Kudos to Bill and Dave! Keep’em coming!