THE ARMY AND IRAQ. Although it almost certainly comes too late and with too little material support to affect operations in Iraq, this New York Times article (which Blake flagged this morning) highlights the fact that the response of the Army to the conflict in Iraq has been radically different than its reaction to failure in Vietnam. As is detailed both in Andrew Krepinevich's The Army and Vietnam, John Nagl's Eating Soup with a Knife, and Stephen Rosen's Winning the Next War among others, the Army attempted to hold the lessons of counter-insurgency at arms length during the Vietnam conflict. The Army pursued doctrine that largely discounted the importance of securing the civilian population and concentrated on using firepower and mobility to destroy insurgent concentrations. These tactics failed, yet the failure produced little in the way of an organizational search for solutions or post-conflict assessment. In short, the Army tried not to learn anything about counter-insurgency warfare during the conflict, and tried to forget what it had learned when the war ended.
The situation in Iraq has been different. For whatever reason (an end to conscription, the absence of the Red Army, etc.) the Army has been much more willing to think hard about counter-insurgency warfare. With only mild hyperbole, everyone in the Army is reading Nagl and Krepinevich, and serious work on creating new counter-insurgency doctrine has been done. The problems remain profound and probably insurmountable; the transformation pursued by Rumsfeld runs directly counter to good counter-insurgency operations, the first months of the occupation were badly botched, the civilian leadership is extraordinarily inept, and the material resources (primarily manpower) are inadequate to the task. Nevertheless, I'm impressed that the Army has devoted such serious attention to the theoretical and practical problems of counter-insurgency. I'm also impressed with the Marines, but their history has been a bit different.