Wrong Turn: COIN Diplomacy and the Profits of War


“War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.”
— Carl von Clausewitz (On War)

“The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.”
— Carl von Clausewitz

As much as we like to play at the metaphor of business being like war, in fact, business even at its most hostile requires peace to work at corrupting a people. I say corrupting because the consumer idea at the heart of modern financial capitalism cannot hope to turn the mind of a people toward wanting the unnecessary until the necessities of life are well on offer. Once all the necessities of life are met, then consumerism can turn the mind away from a healthy life toward an immoderate one.

One way America has sought to turn the minds of other people is through Dollar Diplomacy. Our nation throws around a lot of cash to make sure our business interests are able to get a foot hold all over the world. There has been some form of this practice since the Taft administration. And a variation is present in the current military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet the mindset of dollar diplomacy does not mix well inside the tactics of Counter-Insurgency (COIN). For one, you are not just making a place safe for business interests; you are having to occupy a territory and defeat an enemy.

But here I would adjust my earlier claim about business needing peace: There is one business that does quite well when war is continued as politics by other means… arms dealing and mercenary soldiering. So maybe COIN diplomacy does bring somebody dollar benefits. And all it requires is ceaseless war… how many lives and how much property can ceaseless war cost? For some, the cost is outweighed by the incredible amounts of money and power returned on the investment.

It takes a particular kind of sophistry to keep insisting that the tactics of COIN have been a success. Fortunately for weapons manufacturers and private security firms (what we call mercenaries in our 1984 double-speak), there is no lack of Sophists on Wall Street, in Congress, or at the Pentagon. And that is most unfortunate for the people of the COIN lands and for everyday enlisted soliders.

Counterinsurgency has been around for a long, long time. However, prior to the end of World War II it often was called other things, like guerilla war or small war. The Romans did a form of counterinsurgency in repressing rebellions in their empire, so too did Henry V as his army was harassed by angry French civilians in the days leading up to Agincourt. But modern counterinsurgency, especially being labeled formally as such, really emerged at the end of World War II with the decline of European empires and the rise of nationalist movements like in Vietnam. In fact, American counterinsurgency as codified in the Armys Field Manual 3-24 made famous by Gen. [David] Petraeus and the Surge, is really nothing more than a rehash of the counterinsurgency doctrines developed by the Americans, British and French during the Cold War. It aims to defeat an insurgency in a foreign land by providing infrastructure, governance, security, local security forces and economic improvement to the host population. The idea behind American counterinsurgency is that once these are provided, the counterinsurgent force will then win the trust and allegiance of the local population, which then will allow for the separation of the people from the insurgents. This at least is the theory behind American COIN; unfortunately, in practice by a foreign occupying power, it simply does not work.

via Counterinsurgency Has Been Calamitous Doctrine for US.

One comment

  1. At its peak, Reagan redefined the dollar diplomacy in South America. He was never ashamed to crush a country economically to further the interests of the US. Even if it meant crippling its population for half a century.

    Also, COIN, as you say, is a remarkable failure. Iraq and Afghanistan are two blatant examples of why the strategy doesn’t work in practice. I agree with you.

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