Courtesy Reuters

To the Editor:

Colin Kahl details how The U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (COIN FM) was conceived and written, what it says, how its recommendations could be effected, and why its authors mean to use it. Kahl goes on to quote my book as saying that "no matter how much they differ in form, duration, and intensity," most insurgencies share "opposition to foreigners," and so "the single absolutely necessary ingredient in counterinsurgency is extremely unlikely ever to be available to foreigners." He then hesitantly mentions that I have pointed out that when tried, COIN has not worked. Those are exactly my conclusions. But Kahl then remarks that the dozen case studies I offer to prove this point "are not fully representative." Permit me an analogy: it is as though he had lovingly described the wings, tail, fuselage, and motor of a new airplane -- then declared that although the airplane has not flown in any of the instances we know of, it might have flown somewhere, sometime.

Surely, those who believe in COIN must support their contention with an example. What can they point to? Chechnya, where a fight has been going on intermittently for two centuries? Colombia? Kashmir? The Philippines? Somalia? What has ended most insurgencies is not COIN or attempts at genocide but the withdrawal of the foreigners.

The COIN FM is not just a "book" but also the guide to a policy that is now being widely, if often covertly, applied. The doctrine has the potential, as I conclude in my book, to lead to the death of millions of people and the further draining of the United States' most precious asset, what Wendell Willkie called the "gigantic reservoir of good will toward us, the American people."


Former Professor of History, University of Chicago, and the author of Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, From the American Revolution to Iraq