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The Insurgents is the inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars, led by General David Petraeus, who plotted to revolutionize one of the largest, oldest, and most hidebound institutions - the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight the new kind of war in the post-Cold War age: not massive wars on vast battlefields, but small wars The Insurgents is the inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars, led by General David Petraeus, who plotted to revolutionize one of the largest, oldest, and most hidebound institutions - the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight the new kind of war in the post-Cold War age: not massive wars on vast battlefields, but small wars - in cities and villages, against insurgents and terrorists. These would be wars not only of fighting but of "nation building" -often not of necessity but of choice. Based on secret documents, private emails, and interviews with more than one hundred key characters, including Petraeus, the tale unfolds against the backdrop of the wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the main insurgency is the one mounted at home by ambitious, self-consciously intellectual officers - Petraeus, John Nagl, H. R. McMaster, and others - many of them classmates or colleagues in West Point's Social Science Department who rose through the ranks, seized with an idea of how to fight these wars better. Amid the crisis, they forged a community (some of them called it a cabal or mafia) and adapted their enemies'techniques to overhaul the culture and institutions of their own Army. Fred Kaplan describes how these men and women maneuvered the idea through the bureaucracy and made it official policy. This is a story of power, politics, ideas, and personalities - ;and how they converged to reshape the twenty-first-century American military. But it is also a cautionary tale about how creative doctrine can harden into dogma, how smart strategists today can win the battles at home but not the wars abroad. Petraeus and his fellow insurgents made the US military more adaptive to the conflicts of the modern era, but they also created the tools, and made it more tempting, for political leaders to wade into wars that they would be wise to avoid.


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The Insurgents is the inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars, led by General David Petraeus, who plotted to revolutionize one of the largest, oldest, and most hidebound institutions - the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight the new kind of war in the post-Cold War age: not massive wars on vast battlefields, but small wars The Insurgents is the inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars, led by General David Petraeus, who plotted to revolutionize one of the largest, oldest, and most hidebound institutions - the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight the new kind of war in the post-Cold War age: not massive wars on vast battlefields, but small wars - in cities and villages, against insurgents and terrorists. These would be wars not only of fighting but of "nation building" -often not of necessity but of choice. Based on secret documents, private emails, and interviews with more than one hundred key characters, including Petraeus, the tale unfolds against the backdrop of the wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the main insurgency is the one mounted at home by ambitious, self-consciously intellectual officers - Petraeus, John Nagl, H. R. McMaster, and others - many of them classmates or colleagues in West Point's Social Science Department who rose through the ranks, seized with an idea of how to fight these wars better. Amid the crisis, they forged a community (some of them called it a cabal or mafia) and adapted their enemies'techniques to overhaul the culture and institutions of their own Army. Fred Kaplan describes how these men and women maneuvered the idea through the bureaucracy and made it official policy. This is a story of power, politics, ideas, and personalities - ;and how they converged to reshape the twenty-first-century American military. But it is also a cautionary tale about how creative doctrine can harden into dogma, how smart strategists today can win the battles at home but not the wars abroad. Petraeus and his fellow insurgents made the US military more adaptive to the conflicts of the modern era, but they also created the tools, and made it more tempting, for political leaders to wade into wars that they would be wise to avoid.

30 review for The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Liam

    On November 9, 2012 (coincidentally my 42nd birthday), David Petraeus announced his resignation as CIA Director and admitted that he had had an affair with his recent biographer, Paula Broadwell. Unlike many people, I was not even slightly surprised. Several Months previously, on April 14, 2012 to be precise, I had just finished reading Ms. Broadwell's book (All In: The Education of General David Petraeus), and was discussing it with my wife. As soon as she saw the photograph on the back of the On November 9, 2012 (coincidentally my 42nd birthday), David Petraeus announced his resignation as CIA Director and admitted that he had had an affair with his recent biographer, Paula Broadwell. Unlike many people, I was not even slightly surprised. Several Months previously, on April 14, 2012 to be precise, I had just finished reading Ms. Broadwell's book (All In: The Education of General David Petraeus), and was discussing it with my wife. As soon as she saw the photograph on the back of the book (see photo here: Paula Broadwell), my wife immediately asked "Are they fucking?", to which I replied "I don't know, but it certainly looks like it."; if it was that obvious to both of us, without being personally acquainted with either General Petraeus or Ms. Broadwell, it should have been obvious to nearly everyone as soon as the book was released the previous January. While I think that the puritanical attitude toward sexual infidelity in this country is infantile, hypocritical, destructive and frankly idiotic, it was absolutely clear to me that General Petraeus was heading for a fall, and would no doubt be publicly shamed & vilified by every political swine in this benighted country as soon as they took their heads out of their asses long enough to notice the obvious. Having said all that, I nonetheless awaited this current book with intense curiosity. It is my opinion that David Petraeus was the most brilliant and talented U.S. Army officer since the late David H. Hackworth. One of the things I learned from 'All In' was that General Petraeus had tastes in reading material which were surprisingly similar to my own, and I looked forward to learning more about the group of officers & academics around him who had become so influential in recent years. I was not disappointed. This book was well-written and fascinating, and I would recommend it highly to anyone interested in either the recent history of the U.S. Army, insurgency/counterinsurgency or simply Military History in general.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    Absolutely brilliant! I was totally engaged listening to the audiobook while commuting to & from work. Sat in my driveway having a very hard time shutting off the cd player each night. Wow! I had no idea the military has so many extremely well educated individuals driving the new COIN philosophy. The planning that went into coming up with counter insurgency strategy is mind boggling. The public has no idea about what needs to happen to really win a war and see it through. Let David Petraeus tell Absolutely brilliant! I was totally engaged listening to the audiobook while commuting to & from work. Sat in my driveway having a very hard time shutting off the cd player each night. Wow! I had no idea the military has so many extremely well educated individuals driving the new COIN philosophy. The planning that went into coming up with counter insurgency strategy is mind boggling. The public has no idea about what needs to happen to really win a war and see it through. Let David Petraeus tell you. He is the most brilliant man the Army has seen in decades. And I don't give a damn who he was sleeping with cause it's none of my business and nobody else's either. This is a book for anyone, not just the military!!

  3. 4 out of 5

    David

    Finally, a book about Afganistan, Iraq and the re-structuring of the US Military that actually makes sense and is readable. These insurgents have names like Nagel, McMaster, Ordierno and Petreus: they are American Officers who plotted to change the way the Amerian Military goes to war in a changing environment. This book was highly readable, well researched and almost impossible to put down.

  4. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is an exceptional book on many levels. First, as a military history, it stands on its own rights. A detailed, well-sourced, readable look at the intellectual groundings of, the planning for, and the implementation of the US Army's new counterinsurgency manual. But strip away the topic, and it's an exceptional story of organizational leadership, dealing with change, bureaucratic in-fighting, politics, and organizational culture. Any businessperson, or MBA student, will find parts of The Insur This is an exceptional book on many levels. First, as a military history, it stands on its own rights. A detailed, well-sourced, readable look at the intellectual groundings of, the planning for, and the implementation of the US Army's new counterinsurgency manual. But strip away the topic, and it's an exceptional story of organizational leadership, dealing with change, bureaucratic in-fighting, politics, and organizational culture. Any businessperson, or MBA student, will find parts of The Insurgents relevant. Just a great book. If there is any criticism of it, I would say that it focuses so heavily on Iraq that there is not enough focus on Afghanistan. That may be that the policies that "worked" in Iraq have not had the same effect in Afghanistan, or it may be for one of many other reasons. But I found it a telling note, and wanted to mention it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Charles Selden

    General Petraeus was an intellectual insurgent who encountered an Army hierarchy wanting little to do with “low-intensity warfare,” the name for guerilla and insurgency warfare. The establishment preferred being ready for wars of based on past conflicts in which big armies battled other big armies, called “high-intensity” conflict. Petraeus understood Pentagon resistance to change was its first step to irrelevance—and losing wars. But in the post-Vietnam military-mindset, direct confrontation by General Petraeus was an intellectual insurgent who encountered an Army hierarchy wanting little to do with “low-intensity warfare,” the name for guerilla and insurgency warfare. The establishment preferred being ready for wars of based on past conflicts in which big armies battled other big armies, called “high-intensity” conflict. Petraeus understood Pentagon resistance to change was its first step to irrelevance—and losing wars. But in the post-Vietnam military-mindset, direct confrontation by even a one-star general was a ticket to command of a small army to defend our border with Canada. The need to develop ways to fight insurgency wars had been mostly ignored. In1962 President Kennedy told West Point graduates we had to learn how to fight these kinds of wars. Forty-one years later, the invasion of Iraq was a short-lived success. Petraeus spearheaded a conspiracy of sorts to overhaul our preparation for 21st Century wars. How he did it is skillfully explained in detail by Fred Kaplan’s book. No American president has attempted to educate the American people about wars that will require a “counter-intuitive” approach, can last indefinitely, and—win, lose, or draw—do not end in parades. The book is also instructive as an “organizational management” book. In 1986, Petraeus wrote a paragraph in an article frequently alluded to in Kaplan’s book. I replaced the original words [in brackets] with my Italicized substitutes to show that the Pentagon problem was adherence to a conceptual flaw in management of a gigantic operation. The book might be useful to making reforms at Hewlett-Packard, General Motors, JPMorgan Chase, and the Catholic Church. We in [the military] top management…tend to invent for ourselves a comfortable vision of [war] our mission…one that fits our plans, our assumptions, our hopes, and our preconceived ideas. We arrange in our minds [a war] an environment we can comprehend on our own terms, usually with an enemy who looks like us and acts like us. This comfortable conceptualization becomes the accepted way of seeing things and as such, ceases to be an object for further investigation unless it comes under serious challenge as a result of some major event—usually a [military] business disaster. (Page 30) An invaluable companion to Kaplan’s book is Sarah Sewall’s 24 page Introduction—subtitled “A Radical Field Manual”— to the University of Chicago Edition of the Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual (University of Chicago Press, 2007.) The Field Manual represents an achievement in the long struggle with the Pentagon by Petraeus and other generals that will outlive the soap opera ending to his career. The new Field Manual is the second step that might open up the organizational challenges and changes needed when America might be headed to a new war of insurgency. The first step is to educate the public about the realities of wars of insurgency. They may be “low-intensity,” but they are longer lasting than wars as we have known them. Toward that end, the last 4 chapters of Kaplan’s book lay it out: We best know what we might be getting into before we get into it. It may astonish us.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul D. Miller

    As a work of history, tracing the development of the idea of counterinsurgency and its adoption by the US Army, this is top-notch and strongly researched. As a work of analysis weighing the merits and track record of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, this book is. Kaplan clearly spent the bulk of his research on the first idea (the history of the COIN idea), and I have seen no better narrative that covers the same ground. But he tries to use that narrative as grounds for reaching some un As a work of history, tracing the development of the idea of counterinsurgency and its adoption by the US Army, this is top-notch and strongly researched. As a work of analysis weighing the merits and track record of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, this book is. Kaplan clearly spent the bulk of his research on the first idea (the history of the COIN idea), and I have seen no better narrative that covers the same ground. But he tries to use that narrative as grounds for reaching some unwarranted conclusions about the validity of the idea of COIN. To reach such a judgment, Kaplan should have spent far more time researching and telling the story of what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, no general history of the wars has yet been written, and is unlikely to be written for decades. In fact, Kaplan stumbles badly in his final conclusion-- essentially, counterinsurgency can't and won't work because Afghanistan. The idea that the war in Afghanistan disproved the principles of counterinsurgency is indefensible. Afghanistan is a very poor test case for the ideas of counterinsurgency. There are no proponents of counterinsurgency, no field manuals, and no case studies that recommend undertaking a counterinsurgency with fewer troops than the military recommended, after having under-resourced the civilian reconstruction effort for nearly a decade, under a pre-accounced withdrawal deadline. The United States did almost everything wrong in Afghanistan for so long that even a perfectly-executed and fully-resourced counterinsurgency campaign would have had a hard time bringing it back from the brink, let alone an under-resourced and time-constrined one. This is an unfortunately weakness in an otherwise excellent book. Read this for the history of how COIN was rediscovered and adopted by the US Army. Ignore Kaplan's analysis of COIN's merits, which is frankly intellectually lazy and unsupported by his research.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Frank Kelly

    Kaplan gives a well-researched and fascinating account of the rise of the "insurgents" in US military strategy - i.e. those like General David Petreaus, Lt. Col. John Nagle (author of the modern classic "Eating Soup with a Knife"), David Kilcullen and other advocates of the still highly contraversal COIN (Counter-insurgency) strategy that was embraced by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. To understand COIN you must understand the devoted advocates who created it, fought for it and then implemen Kaplan gives a well-researched and fascinating account of the rise of the "insurgents" in US military strategy - i.e. those like General David Petreaus, Lt. Col. John Nagle (author of the modern classic "Eating Soup with a Knife"), David Kilcullen and other advocates of the still highly contraversal COIN (Counter-insurgency) strategy that was embraced by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. To understand COIN you must understand the devoted advocates who created it, fought for it and then implemented it. Kaplan does make one isightful ocmment at the very end of the book which says it all - COIN is a "tool, not a cure-all..." My guess is we will debating the effectiveness of COIN for many years to come. But it undoubtedly has forever changed the way the US military thinks about warfare.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    What an amazing book. I have so many good things to say. But first a brief summary: The author Fred Kaplan takes a look at the US Army’s wrestling with the idea and practice of counterinsurgency after the post-Vietnam era. Kaplan makes the point that after the Vietnam War the leadership at the Pentagon never wanted to fight another counterinsurgency again. Instead the military as a whole focused on the more traditional concept of warfare such as big tank battles, heavy artillery and mechanized h What an amazing book. I have so many good things to say. But first a brief summary: The author Fred Kaplan takes a look at the US Army’s wrestling with the idea and practice of counterinsurgency after the post-Vietnam era. Kaplan makes the point that after the Vietnam War the leadership at the Pentagon never wanted to fight another counterinsurgency again. Instead the military as a whole focused on the more traditional concept of warfare such as big tank battles, heavy artillery and mechanized heavy infantry. A lot of this was due to the ongoing Cold War with the threat of Russia and the Eastern Bloc. It was also what was most familiar to many of the Generals and Admirals. But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the fourth largest tank army during Desert Storm soon reduced the likelihood of the traditional warfare that the US wanted. Unfortunately after Vietnam the Army has stopped thinking, teaching and training for counter-insurgency. It didn’t even have a manual for that kind of warfare among its publications! This book focuses primarily on how this mentality hurt the US military and also on the men and women who tried to change the Army’s way of fighting war. It concentrate largely on the war in Iraq though it does give a brief look at Afghanistan. Having recently read a number of books on military history I must say this book was one of the best military history nonfiction I read in the first half of 2016. This book was exciting and eye opening, scholarly yet highly readable for the general reader. It is a look at war but was quite unique with the book’s direction of exploring the role of higher education among a group of unorthodox officers. It is also an evaluation of the military as an institution while also describing in details the progress and growth of individuals who contributed towards the current doctrines of counterinsurgency. Contrary to the subtitle of the book this is not focus primarily on David Petraeus though I suspect the publishers must have added “David Petraeus” for marketing purposes of attracting sales. The last thing I wanted to read was a hero worship of Petraeus though I highly esteem this General. The book’s gives us numerous names and background of these individuals and how they crossed path. These stories demonstrate how incredibly well researched the book was—and also how connected the author was to these individuals. I found the discussion of the contribution of the social sciences among the thinkers and practitioners of counterinsurgency to be the most fascinating. In fact in the beginning of the book the author traces the military’s rather interesting relationship with the study of social sciences to its origin at West Point many decades ago. For many officers they have a rather uneasy relationship with the social sciences but there are also a few critical thinking officers who saw the importance and value of the social sciences at West Point. These men form an informal clique that for decades have been known as the “Lincoln Brigade.” Important for the purpose of this book is how the innovative officers who contributed to the development of counterinsurgency in Iraq were from this “Lincoln Brigade.” For many in the military during the early years of Iraq the word counterinsurgency was a bad word. The military and many of its generals were in denial of what the war in Iraq really was about. There were many cringed moments in the book in which the author demonstrate how clueless and incompetent certain generals were in the early years of Iraq. Yet while the lead generals were clueless there were also some lower level generals and Colonels who were learning and adapting. This was encouraging. I appreciated reading about the initiative some of these men and women took in changing the game. Those who have read Thomas Kuhn with philosophy of science would appreciate seeing the theory of scientific revolutions have relevant applications here with the doctrines of counterinsurgency in that there were politics and infighting between the mainstream army and these newer innovative officers with their new paradigm. As the author pointed out, these counterinsurgency thinkers were themselves ideological insurgents in the war of ideas and philosophy of war within the US Army itself. After reading this book I appreciated the officers who “got it” with the war in Iraq. It was emotionally for me to read about the surge and how it lowered violence and stopped a civil war at that time. Of course one can’t read this book without thinking about the current problem of ISIS. I appreciated the leaders in the book who did their best to fix the mistakes of officers and leaders before them. The book makes you appreciate their contribution but the author at the end of the book reminded us that even legends like General Petraeus was human, capable of err and mistakes. The book also asked deeper questions of whether the US should ever be engaged in counterinsurgency in the first and also how counterinsurgency is not like the other historical counterinsurgency of the past with the changes that the US is officially not a colonial power, the world is ever more connected with CNN and the media and even how horrific so called successful insurgencies were in the past—numbers and suffering that is hard for policy makers to phantom knowingly enter into today. As a political conservative I also realize that there is too much statism in the assumption behind Counterinsurgency. One shouldn’t expect much success in “Nation building” if one understand the economics of how largely inefficient the state is as an agency of bringing about goods and services. Readers who think through this book critically would be more reluctant in their outlook of entering military ventures that often end up being a counterinsurgency.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The title is, of course, ironic. The Insurgents are David Petraeus and others who worked to change the way America fought its wars. It was known as COIN or counterinsurgency warfare. I do have a problem with the subtitle referring to it as a "Plot." I think that was just a way of selling books. I think the names and details of these men and women are worth mentioning: 1. David Galula: He was a retired French officer who wrote Counterinsurgency Warfare, now a class I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The title is, of course, ironic. The Insurgents are David Petraeus and others who worked to change the way America fought its wars. It was known as COIN or counterinsurgency warfare. I do have a problem with the subtitle referring to it as a "Plot." I think that was just a way of selling books. I think the names and details of these men and women are worth mentioning: 1. David Galula: He was a retired French officer who wrote Counterinsurgency Warfare, now a classic of its type. He argued that this type of war required not only killing the enemy, but reforming the government and building up the economy. 2. Colonel George "Abe" Lincoln: He started a Social Science class at West Point just after WWII, realizing the Army needed officers educated in politics and economics, not just war. They would be adherents of Galula's ideas. Lincoln created a network of "Sosh" graduates, nicknamed the "Lincoln Brigade," which persisted in the Army for decades. 3. General John Galvin: Petraeus served under him in Central America, his first exposure to insurgency wars. 4. Lt. Colonel John Nagl: Wrote the classic Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife. A protege of Petraeus at West Point. He lobbied for a COIN strategy in Iraq. 5. David Kilcullen: Australian officer-scholar. He later grew disillusioned with the cause. 6. Eliot Cohen: Professor who gathered 30 counterinsurgency specialists to discuss a better way to fight in Iraq. 7. Kalev Sepp: Wrote an article for Military Review which influenced the inner circle of COIN. 8. Colonel Bill Hix: Convinced Iraqi command to adopt COIN. 9. General George Casey: He adopted COIN in Iraq, but later pushed for speedy withdrawal. 10. General Pete Chiarelli: Pushed for COIN, but was overridden by Casey. 11. Celeste Ward: Wrote a paper concluding Iraq War was hopeless as long as US and Iraq governments diverged. 12. Sarah Sewall: Director of Harvard's Center for Human Rights. Helped legitimize COIN with war critics. 13. Conrad Crane: Led the COIN conference and helped write the manual. 12. Frederick Kagan: Wrote a paper arguing for the "surge" and shifting to a COIN strategy. 13. Colonel H. R. McMaster: Leader of the great COIN success in Tel Afar, Iraq. Traditional officers blocked his promotion. 14. General Jack Keane: Urged Bush to replace Casey with Petraeus. 15. General Ray Odierno: Former door-bashing commander who converted to COIN. To his credit, he admitted what he was doing was not working. 16. Emma Sky: Advised Odierno about Iraqi militants. She was a pacifist. For me, this is how a true pacifist can really accomplish something. 17. Meghan O'Sullivan: Bush's special assistant on Iraq. 18. Colonel Sean MacFarland: Crafted a COIN campaign in western Iraq's Anbar Province. 19. Sheikh Abdul Sattar: Charismatic Sheikh who helped MacFarland in Anbar to convince Sunni militants to ally with US forces against jihadists. He would be assassinated for his work. 20. General Stanley McChrystal: A Sosh graduate who tried to apply COIN in Afghanistan, but the formula didn't fit. 21. Defense Secretary Robert Gates: Switched from skeptic to supporter of COIN. 22. David Petraeus: Afghanistan stumped him too, just like it has so many others. He wanted to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but such a charismatic figure was no longer the type others wanted after Colin Powell. Petraeus's affair is mentioned as "not so surprising." How can anyone expect young men to be away for so long without temptations. Yet that's all most Americans talk about. I remember reading about King Arthur in high school. I realized Lancelot did wrong. We all need to learn that there are things more important than we are.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    I don't think I've given 5 stars before but I think it's deserved in this case. This book is partially a bio of Petraeus and one of the things that kept me reading it was wondering what the author would conclude about him in the end. It is definitely not a hagiography of Petraeus but also, not a take down with malicious intent. Because of this I would say it is a very accurate and appropriate account of US war making in the first decade of the 21st century. In the end Petraeus is a bit of a trag I don't think I've given 5 stars before but I think it's deserved in this case. This book is partially a bio of Petraeus and one of the things that kept me reading it was wondering what the author would conclude about him in the end. It is definitely not a hagiography of Petraeus but also, not a take down with malicious intent. Because of this I would say it is a very accurate and appropriate account of US war making in the first decade of the 21st century. In the end Petraeus is a bit of a tragic character. Intelligent, successful, and ambitious but perhaps misguided in his zeal. COIN methods turn out to have significant dependencies outside of the control of the commanders and several significant ambiguities.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Solomeno

    Fred Kaplan's "The Insurgents" is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding how the U.S. Armed Forces, and the U.S. Army in particular, adapted to the counterinsurgency threat in Iraq. Mr. Kaplan profiles a group of officers - David Petraeus and H.R. McMaster among them - who went "back to the future" to team with academics to study the lessons learned of America's experience in Vietnam. I led a group of Army officers and non-commissioned officers for our professional development readin Fred Kaplan's "The Insurgents" is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding how the U.S. Armed Forces, and the U.S. Army in particular, adapted to the counterinsurgency threat in Iraq. Mr. Kaplan profiles a group of officers - David Petraeus and H.R. McMaster among them - who went "back to the future" to team with academics to study the lessons learned of America's experience in Vietnam. I led a group of Army officers and non-commissioned officers for our professional development reading group. We chose this book and every person in the group, regardless of education and interest, found it interesting and useful. It was the finest book I read in 2014.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the plot to change the American way of war by Fred Kaplan. Fred M. Kaplan (b. 1954) is an American author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His weekly "War Stories" column for Slate magazine covers international relations and U.S. foreign policy. Fred Kaplan’s Insurgents thesis, in my opinion, is that Petraeus and his fellow insurgents made the US military more adaptive to the conflicts of the modern era, but they also created the tools, and made it more t The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the plot to change the American way of war by Fred Kaplan. Fred M. Kaplan (b. 1954) is an American author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His weekly "War Stories" column for Slate magazine covers international relations and U.S. foreign policy. Fred Kaplan’s Insurgents thesis, in my opinion, is that Petraeus and his fellow insurgents made the US military more adaptive to the conflicts of the modern era, but they also created the tools, and made it more tempting, for political leaders to wade into wars that they would be wise to avoid. Kaplan phenomenally illustrates how counter-insurgency doctrine won the “Hearts and Minds” of American political leaders as the way to achieve the desired end state for Iraq and Afghanistan, while not realizing the key component, that if host-nation government isn’t strong enough or willing to enforce its principles for COIN doctrine to be successful, the idea of a counter-insurgency strategy is folly. Summary: The Insurgents is the inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars, led by General David Petraeus, who plotted to revolutionize one of the largest, oldest, and most hidebound institutions - the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight the new kind of war in the post-Cold War age: not massive wars on vast battlefields, but small wars - in cities and villages, against insurgents and terrorists. These would be wars not only of fighting, but of "nation building" -often not of necessity but of choice. Insurgents lays out their pathway to implementation, the effects of COIN in practice, and their ineffective ability to change the American way of war. Analysis: To analyze the Insurgents, I will divide the book into three sections: First, the failures of Iraq that led to political leaders need for a new strategy. Second, COIN in practice as General Petraeus takes command in Iraq. Finally, I will analyze the sections written on the failure of COIN in Afghanistan. Following the immediate success of the initial push into Iraq, American political leaders were left wondering what to do next. LTG Ricardo Sanchez was struggling as the commander to establish phase IV of the Iraqi Freedom War, which was not planned prior to the invasion of Iraq. As the war dove into a full-scale insurgency, many leaders, both militarily and politically, were unsure what course of action to take. Military leadership changed from Sanchez to General George Casey, which did little to quell the violence that was deteriorating Iraq. In pockets of Iraq, such as Mosel, where then Major General David H. Petraeus’ 101st Airborne Division owned operations, counter insurgency tactics where finding some semblance of success. Kaplan perfectly illustrates how the failure throughout the rest of country set the political stage for a new American way of war to take hold. As the country asked for answers on Iraq, there was a need for progress and COIN provided a glimmer of hope. Kaplan successfully explains how General Petraeus acted on all the right opportunities to make counter insurgency doctrine an option for political leaders in Washington. While many new philosophies (Hearts and Minds, & Clear, Hold, Build) were being haphazardly used in Iraq, Petraeus continued to press COIN at Fort Leavenworth, KS. After continued failure, the loss of the majority in Congress, George W. Bush was forced to make changes (Sec. Rumsfeld resigned and GEN. Casey was removed). General Petraeus was inserted as commander in Iraq and the surge was initiated utilizing COIN as the way forward. Much success was found in Iraq, lead to the eventual implementation of COIN in Afghanistan as well. Kaplan effectively details how the strategy was partially successful in Iraq, but did not fit in Afghanistan. Unlike Iraq, there were no key victories for COIN. Neither Generals McChrystal nor Petraeus were able to achieve key outputs. Kaplan argues, which I whole-heartedly agree, that counter insurgency is not A + B + C = D. It is A x B x C = D. If any of the inputs are zero, counter-insurgency does not work. In the case of Afghanistan, the political leadership was the value of zero. It is this revelation, which I assume was well known to those executing the mission, that led to the argument that COIN is, “Folly” if the host-nation government isn’t strong enough or willing to enforce its principles. Summary: Kaplan states that unless the political leadership’s goals are in line with that of the COIN force, the doctrine will not be successful. Furthermore, the American political leadership and population do not have the patience to deal with a war that is long or costly, therefore COIN will never be accepted as a prominent way of war. Instead, COIN should be used a tool to fight war during the short-term, but never used as a way to build host-nation forces. The COIN strategists made the American military more adept at fighting this kind of war, but they didn’t succeed at making this kind of war acceptable (p. 365) Overall, Kaplan phenomenally illustrates how counter-insurgency doctrine won the “Hearts and Minds” of American political leaders as the way to achieve the desired end state for Iraq and Afghanistan, while not realizing the key component, that if host-nation government isn’t strong enough or willing to enforce its principles for COIN doctrine to be successful, the idea of a counter-insurgency strategy is folly.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Some good coverage of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24) and the politics around development of it (which included finding a way to lose less in Iraq). Interesting to see how institutional change happens in the Army -- slowly and then all at once -- with the people pushing for change initially resisted, then conflict, then put in charge (to make their own mistakes later). Especially relevant given that we're finally drawing a line under Afghanistan and getting out, a decision which shou Some good coverage of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24) and the politics around development of it (which included finding a way to lose less in Iraq). Interesting to see how institutional change happens in the Army -- slowly and then all at once -- with the people pushing for change initially resisted, then conflict, then put in charge (to make their own mistakes later). Especially relevant given that we're finally drawing a line under Afghanistan and getting out, a decision which should have happened in 2001 or latest 2002.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    This book provided me with a deeper understanding of institutional change based on the experience of the COIN group trying to modernize the US military. It also provides some useful perspectives on the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a general's struggle to reconcile past experience in a new setting. This book provided me with a deeper understanding of institutional change based on the experience of the COIN group trying to modernize the US military. It also provides some useful perspectives on the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a general's struggle to reconcile past experience in a new setting.

  15. 5 out of 5

    James

    This is a really interesting read, not so much as a history of American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but as how a group of people can influence or change how a large institution thinks about or approaches a problem. Next up is "Moneyball". This is a really interesting read, not so much as a history of American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but as how a group of people can influence or change how a large institution thinks about or approaches a problem. Next up is "Moneyball".

  16. 4 out of 5

    Zac

    This book gives a great insight into top brass and their way of thinking and how PMESII-PT came into play. Some animosity from across the ranks towards one another was also a good insight into how the ”old way of thinking” was not the way forward. Good insight.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Cantor

    A solid book. It shows how we have changed our perspectives on war. It is a nice overview.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sergio

    Solid read. Solid read that at times dragged. Overall very informative on COIN and CT perspectives. Gave good reference material for further readings.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Peter Phillips

    Provides a look into the current cultural patterns and tactics in the US military and is yet another cautionary tale about intellectuals who are in way over their heads.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nevins Smith

    Outstanding. A must read for any student of American history since WW2.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Wischow

    Learned way too much about some counter insurgency manual and intellectual politics in the military. Probably good resource for those acutely interested in the subject.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adam Harrison

    The story of David Petraeus and innovating the Army for counterinsurgency warfare.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    Fred Kaplan’s “The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War” is an interesting story of how the theory of counterinsurgency was brought into practice in the American military play book. The cover fashions Petraeus as the insurgent in the Army hierarchy and the Pentagon who works to change the practice of warfare. This was partially true. Counterinsurgency (part offense, part defense, and part stability operations) – as opposed to conventional warfare (like tank w Fred Kaplan’s “The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War” is an interesting story of how the theory of counterinsurgency was brought into practice in the American military play book. The cover fashions Petraeus as the insurgent in the Army hierarchy and the Pentagon who works to change the practice of warfare. This was partially true. Counterinsurgency (part offense, part defense, and part stability operations) – as opposed to conventional warfare (like tank wars where maximum force rules the outcome) – has been a field of study for a long time … at least since the Vietnam war for American warfighters. Kaplan discusses some of the major thinkers on insurgencies and transformation of the military – people such as Larteguy, Galula, Nagl, Waghelstein, and Wass de Czege. As I read and studied Kaplan’s book, the name of Colonel John Boyd also came to mind … a deep thinker who did his part to revolutionize warfare. Probably the major difference was that General Petraeus achieved an unassailable rank before he started rankling the military, while Colonel Boyd was only a junior officer and thus easily marginalized and prevented from achieving flag rank credibility. What is important to note is that Petraeus didn’t invent counterinsurgency … he was just the poster boy for the concept who could marshall all the past thinking on the subject into one room and had the stars on his shoulder to actually evaluate the implications of counterinsurgency on a larger scale (Iraq). The long term consequence could result in a change in Army doctrine. This book is a mass of detail – who did what when and who wrote this or that on a particular facet of the subject. If the reader is a policy wonk and up for such detail and minutia, this is a great book. You can see the evolution of the counterinsurgency theory and the battlefield success as the US Army brings it into practice in Iraq. If you are looking for quick broad strokes on counterinsurgency theory, look elsewhere. If you want to know who wrote such and such a paper, that was later used as the basis for a book, that was even later used as the springboard for a conference on the subject, this is your book. It documents the slow and gradual acceptance of counterinsurgency as a legitimate option in the US military arsenal of strategy. It also shows how scores of people were involved over the last 40 years in developing counterinsurgency as a strategy. The book is skillful at explaining why conventional forces could not win in Iraq, and how the fits and starts of counterinsurgency led to more or less success in the same theatre. It also explains why the surge was such an important facet of accomplishment in Iraq. Two complaints: one is that Petreaus gets a bit too much credit for implementing the strategy that scores of other people helped develop. Second is the fact that the book touches on but never really explains why the theory of counterinsurgency that was successful in Iraq essentially failed when applied in Afghanistan. But these quibbles aside, this is a neat book on how military policy developed in southwest Asia was applied to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well-written and approachable, this book is highly recommended, especially for current events.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Roger Burk

    The "insurgents" of the title are a set of Army officers who developed an interest in counterinsurgency in the 1990s, when it was out of favor, having been sworn off after the failed attempt in Vietnam and the adoption of the "Powell Doctrine" that the US would not go to war without going all-in. Foremost among them are GEN David Petraeus and LTC John Nagl, but there were many others. The author traces the origin of this group to the Department of Social Sciences at West Point, where the importa The "insurgents" of the title are a set of Army officers who developed an interest in counterinsurgency in the 1990s, when it was out of favor, having been sworn off after the failed attempt in Vietnam and the adoption of the "Powell Doctrine" that the US would not go to war without going all-in. Foremost among them are GEN David Petraeus and LTC John Nagl, but there were many others. The author traces the origin of this group to the Department of Social Sciences at West Point, where the importance of protecting the population in revolutionary war was remembered through its period of disfavor. These soldiers saw the bungled American response to the rise of an insurgency in Iraq and they struggled to get the Army to understand that the methods and attitudes that work for major combat operations are counterproductive in counterinsurgency. They won their case, just barely, and brought enough of the rest of the Army over to their way of thinking (after they had seen the poor results of the old methods) to produce the turnaround that allowed American participation in the war to be ended on more or less decent terms. I've met a couple of the major figures in this book, and nothing about the story rings false to me, though much of it is about the politics of selecting Army commanders, about which I know nothing. However, the well structured narrative loses focus in the last chapters, when the action turns to the rising insurgency in Afghanistan. Before that, the central event is the writing and publishing of Field Manual 3-24 on Counterinsurgency in 2006, which enshrined in Army doctrine an approach to counterinsurgency centered on protecting the population and separating them from the insurgents, rather than violent and destructive offensive operations against an elusive enemy. When the book turns to Afghanistan, the fight is still underway, and it remains to be seen if we will be able to view it as successful. The author does put his finger on a central contradiction of fighting an insurgency in another country. Counterinsurgency is often reckoned as 80% political and 20% military. But it's probably flaws in the civil authority that allowed an insurgency to take root. If the local political power is corrupt, incompetent, or vindictive (as the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be), they may not be working toward the same goal you are, and you could be in an unwinnable situration. Now the question is, will the hard-won lessons on how to fight a counterinsurgency be remembered by the Army, or will they be forgotten again, like after Vietnam, as the Army once again swears off counterinsurgency and refocuses on China? The "Obama Doctrine" gives one concern--he says we will avoid large-scale counterinsurgencies in favor of drone strikes, commando raids, and training support to other countries. But we didn't plan on getting into big counterinsurgency campaigns in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Can we count on not getting into them in the future? The doctrine for them is enshrined in FM 3-24, but will it become a dead letter if troops don't train for it?

  25. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    The author David Kaplan uses "Insurgent" as a metaphor to show how those recognizing the need for different strategies to fight insurgencies (as compared to full scale wars) were themselves insurgents within the US military. While there are many others, Kaplan credits David Petraeus as the key exponent of the new thinking. Kaplan places the beginnings of COIN (counter-insurgency strategies) at post- World War II West Point where a curriculum which added some liberal arts courses (sociology, forei The author David Kaplan uses "Insurgent" as a metaphor to show how those recognizing the need for different strategies to fight insurgencies (as compared to full scale wars) were themselves insurgents within the US military. While there are many others, Kaplan credits David Petraeus as the key exponent of the new thinking. Kaplan places the beginnings of COIN (counter-insurgency strategies) at post- World War II West Point where a curriculum which added some liberal arts courses (sociology, foreign affairs, etc.) was introduced. The program, often called the "Lincoln Brigade" (named for its founder George "Abe" Lincoln) grew and as its graduates went on to Princeton and other ivies. Through it, younger officers had a much broader base of intellectual resources than their older superiors. The young officers with no roots in Vietnam could appraise that war from a distance. They saw it as an insurgency, fought by US generals as though it was a "tank war" - a war of armies with heavy military equipment fighting each other. The COIN supporters saw a lion bothered by flies needing a different strategy than that used for warring with an elephant. The Army's top leadership was not interested in any reappraisal of strategy. Some of it was Vietnam fatigue, some vested interest in the past or status quo, and some felt the winning of "hearts and minds" and the rebuilding strategies were outside of an armed services mission. An early COIN theorist, Andrew Krepinevich essentially ended his career with his 1986 work: "The Army and Vietnam", demonstrating the power of the resistors. With all the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan, the stage was set for Petraeus, John Nagl, Eliot Cohen and the Australian Dave Kilcullen and a host of other "COINdanistas" to introduce the concepts. Kapan takes the reader through the many scenes such as how Petraeus comes to write the field manual, how General Odiero, was converted and how General McCrystal's heavy handed style was received in Afghanistan. Through it all, the lay person learns a lot about how the military works, such as how policy gets written and the importance of its promotion panel and how someone gets on it. Most of the events take place during the Bush years and his absence from the text isn't apparent until the Obama years where the president's engagement is such that it is impossible to miss contrast. One thing missing, to a lay person, is the appointment of Robert Gates. While Kaplan discusses how key positions were filled and why, Gates merely comes to the top job (his overwhelming Senate approval vote is noted) but there is no discussion as to how and why he was nominated. There is a lot of material in this book. The book is short for its topic. It is dense, and each page is important to the narrative - there is no "filler". For those interested in the military policy it is a must read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Douglass Gaking

    This is a fascinating read about how members of the US military, under the leadership of General David Petraeus, created a massive cultural change in a military environment that was extremely resistant to change. Kaplan outlines a history of counter-insurgency theory and practice and how Petraeus and his colleagues applied it to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Counter-insurgency tactics are drastically different from traditional military tactics, requiring a great deal of research and thinking to This is a fascinating read about how members of the US military, under the leadership of General David Petraeus, created a massive cultural change in a military environment that was extremely resistant to change. Kaplan outlines a history of counter-insurgency theory and practice and how Petraeus and his colleagues applied it to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Counter-insurgency tactics are drastically different from traditional military tactics, requiring a great deal of research and thinking to plan. What is most interesting about this book, however, is not the strategies executed to win the "hearts and minds" of the people of Iraq, but the strategies used by Petreaus and others to win the hearts and minds of the military officers who would be executing these counter-intuitive tactics. There are two layers of strategy constantly at play, and there is a great deal to be learned from both of them. In that respect, this is a good non-fiction complement to two sci-fi novels I have read recently. Ender's Game focuses on battle strategy and social strategy and leadership in a competitive environment. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress deals with a revolution on a lunar colony, as view from the perspective of the insurgents. The Insurgents is the real life manifestation of these types of stories. There is so much to be learned from both the real and fictionary tales of these three books, whether you are a member of the armed forces, a historian, or just a casual reader. Kaplan points out how about once per generation the US government engages in an insurgency-driven war, never learning the lessons the previous generation had learned in the same situation (i.e. Iraq as a repeat of Vietnam). How a small group of "insurgent" officers in the US military overcame that obstacle and revitalized a failing campaign in Iraq is an interesting tale. Their bold efforts brought more attention to this issue, and perhaps this book will help break the chain of failed wars happening in generation after generation. The US media ceased to continue documenting the successes of Petraeus in the military after his extra-marital affair became public news. Thankfully, Fred Kaplan has done a fantastic job of document the most specific details of this story so that generations to come can learn about the brave efforts of a small group of military officers who changed the course of two wars and demonstrated the power of thinking outside the box, standing by your principles, and trusting knowledge, research, and logic over stubbornness and fear. Read this book, share this book, and help make sure their story will live on before America puts itself in another situation like Vietnam and Iraq.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    No, this is not about the insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan, at least not directly. It is about the insurgents within the U. S. Military. The Iraq War was a poster child for how not to win a small war. From the Secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld), through the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U. S. civilian authority on the ground (led by Jerry Bremer), and down to the officer and grunt in the field the belief was that there was a path to a quick war: technology, firepower, and "shock and awe" wo No, this is not about the insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan, at least not directly. It is about the insurgents within the U. S. Military. The Iraq War was a poster child for how not to win a small war. From the Secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld), through the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U. S. civilian authority on the ground (led by Jerry Bremer), and down to the officer and grunt in the field the belief was that there was a path to a quick war: technology, firepower, and "shock and awe" woukd defeat the enemy. It was a disaster in progress. Out of West Point's Department of Social Science (SOSH) emerged a new way of looking at local wars: the path to victory lay not in hitting them and killing them (though some of that was needed to deal with hard-core insurgents). Rather, it lay in understanding what the people wanted most and providing it in the hope that the insurgents would be deprived of their most needed resource: popular support. The group that David Petraeus put together, self-proclaimed "COINsurgents,"argued that the right path was through domestic safety, stable political institutions consistent with local culture, electrical power, food, education, and support for other basic needs. Led by Petraeus, the COINsurgents set out to change the way the military thought by writing a new war manual and getting it accepted. The resistence was great, but aided by retirement or firing of several general officers, firing of Rumsfeld and Bremer, and a great deal of clever political strategy, thefield manual "Counerinsurgency" was completed, adopted, and published. Its essential message is that small wars are messy, complex in nonmilitary ways, and take a long time and lots of boots on the ground to resolve--precisely the opposite of the view that prevailed when we invaded Iraq. As the details of the field manual's creation descended into wordsmithing, I felt I had entered a quagmire of my own. But the book quickly picked up as it talked about the execution of COIN in Iraq and discussed the essential requirements for a successful local war. Perhaps the most prominent are (1) the existence of a credible and committed government, sadly lacking in Afghanistan where and Iraqw, where Karzai and Maliki used their power to reinforce sectarian conflicts and line their pockets, and (2) realization that COIN wars are long, messy, and require lots of boots on the ground--a realization sadly absent in the U. S. when we invaded. The book was a solid contribution to my understanding of the problems and prospects of counterinsurgency, as well as to the idiocy that allowed the U. S. to bungle an important and potentially valuable opportunity to assist stability in the Mid-East.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Landsman

    Overall, 3.5 stars. A good book that was relatively faced paced for its genre. Kaplan did a solid job capturing the events that he set out to capture. However, I believe that his conclusions were a bit forced, as though he told the story of this change in thinking about war, and then wanted to draw a profound conclusion from it for the sake of having something to say himself. Maybe I am just being biased. Basically, though, at the very end of the book, Kaplan gets preachy and implies that Petreau Overall, 3.5 stars. A good book that was relatively faced paced for its genre. Kaplan did a solid job capturing the events that he set out to capture. However, I believe that his conclusions were a bit forced, as though he told the story of this change in thinking about war, and then wanted to draw a profound conclusion from it for the sake of having something to say himself. Maybe I am just being biased. Basically, though, at the very end of the book, Kaplan gets preachy and implies that Petreaus somehow "lost" because America and the Army didn't become permanently enamored with the idea of fighting COIN warfare. The thing is, and Kaplan made this clear in much of the book, the "COINdonistas" simply believed that when appropriate, COIN techniques should be implemented. Not that, as Kaplan suggests at the end of his book, that COIN techniques should be America's preferred type of warfare! None of the COINdonistas ever made the case that anyone should be drawn to the glamour of a COIN fight; simply they argued that when the situation calls for it, one must not turn a blind eye and one must use COIN when necessary. If the country "backs into" an insurgency, than it should use Counterinsurgency to get out. But no one ever said we should back into an insurgency for the heck of it, or to achieve American strategic goals. My other concern was that there was no mention of the series of books put out by H. John Poole. Books such as "Militant Tricks", "Phantom Soldier", and "Tactics of the Crescent Moon" had a huge influence on many young officers trying to study up on COIN. However, for some reason Kaplan does not mention them at all. Not one sentence. I just found this a bit bizarre. Anyway I do recommend this book for anyone interested in the topic of Counterinsurgency an the American Army.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Seth Kolloen

    Terrific, fascinating, detailed account of the effort by intellectual officers to jar the military out of generation of outdated thinking...on the fly, as the war on Iraq was being fought. Some good stuff... "In the mid-1970s, after the debacle of Vietnam, the Army’s top generals said 'Never again' to the notion of fighting guerrillas in the jungle (or anyplace else). Instead, they turned their gaze once more to the prospect of a big war against the Soviet Union on the wide-open plains of Europe— Terrific, fascinating, detailed account of the effort by intellectual officers to jar the military out of generation of outdated thinking...on the fly, as the war on Iraq was being fought. Some good stuff... "In the mid-1970s, after the debacle of Vietnam, the Army’s top generals said 'Never again' to the notion of fighting guerrillas in the jungle (or anyplace else). Instead, they turned their gaze once more to the prospect of a big war against the Soviet Union on the wide-open plains of Europe—a war that would play to America’s traditional strengths of amassing men and metal—and they threw out the book (literally: they threw out the official manuals and curricula) on anything related to what were once called 'irregular wars,' 'asymmetric wars' 'low-intensity conflicts,' or 'counterinsurgency campaigns.'" "The captain was flustered. 'Lookit!' he said, pounding a nearby table. 'My job is not to deal with this people thing! My job is to kill the enemy!'" This was really eye-opening and it made me feel stupid that I lived through a revolution in the U.S. military and didn't know that it was happening. Of course in a way the military tries to keep its internal conflicts under wraps...which makes it even more incredible that author Kaplan was able to construct such a definitive account, so soon after the fact. The narrative can get bogged down in detail: "So-and-so sent an email to so-and-so. The next morning, so-and-so responded via email, writing..." but not too much. Scan these parts, get back to the meat of the story, and you're going to learn a lot about how to make change in the military -- and really any hierarchical organization.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Keyton

    An intelligent look at how military strategy and policy has evolved over the last 10 years to slowly acknowledge (and even more slowly, adapt to) the new realities of counterinsurgency, asymmetric warfare, and military-led nation-building. As such, I shouldn't be surprised that it was filled with So. Much. Fail. As a nation, we are truly terrible at this. And although we may be better at it now than we were 15 years ago thanks to the heroic efforts of a few, it's hard to have any confidence that An intelligent look at how military strategy and policy has evolved over the last 10 years to slowly acknowledge (and even more slowly, adapt to) the new realities of counterinsurgency, asymmetric warfare, and military-led nation-building. As such, I shouldn't be surprised that it was filled with So. Much. Fail. As a nation, we are truly terrible at this. And although we may be better at it now than we were 15 years ago thanks to the heroic efforts of a few, it's hard to have any confidence that we would get it right next time. To be fair, it's an extremely tall order even under the best of circumstances. And the military and political cultures of inertia, groupthink, many masters, cyclical tours, and political appointments will never yield the best of circumstances. I (naively) was stunned at the lack of strategy and planning for any scenario other than immediate victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of many examples, p. 59 on Rumsfeld: "He didn't plan for the postwar because he didn't want a postwar. It wasn't an oversight; it was deliberate." The unpleasant truth Kaplan lays out is that the top leadership spent the first 5+ years of the Iraq war with their heads in the sand and blinders on their eyes. The timing was coincidental for me, but this was an interesting companion read to Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living. Gopal gave the view from individuals on the ground living through the chaos (primarily in Afghanistan), and Kaplan started at the top with big picture military doctrine and strategy. Both equally damning, but in refreshingly(?) different ways.

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