The United States military is arguably the best counterinsurgency force in the world today. But if that is true, it is extremely unusual in historical context. For most of its history, the United States has been mediocre in such activities—if not actively hostile to the idea that it should even bother worrying about them. There were perhaps some exceptions in the early 20th century. But most U.S. history including the Indian wars of the 19th century as well as the Vietnam and post-Vietnam experiences of more recent times—to say nothing of the first 4 years of the Iraq war and first 4 or 5 years of the Afghanistan conflict—have demonstrated American inefficiency and incompetence in this realm of warfare. Thankfully, the U.S. armed forces have become a learning organization, and they adjusted to near-defeat in Iraq with a turnaround in counterinsurgency operations that will hopefully now also help salvage the situation in Afghanistan. But even in Iraq, it was a close call, as most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were skeptical about or hostile to the so-called surge in Iraq even as it began to deliver good results. There are rich lessons here about the difficulties of military reform, but also about the feasibility of rapid improvement in such missions once a nation truly commits to conducting them successfully.
This essay reviews, very briefly, America’s experience in counterinsurgency including some observations about recent improvements.
This suspension [of U.S. military aid] will no doubt put pressure on Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves, but I am skeptical that cutting a few hundred million dollars in assistance will induce Pakistan to make significant changes to its security policy. Today’s announcement sends a signal about the U.S. administration’s intent to hold Pakistan to account in the public domain. Whether it accomplishes more than that is yet to be seen.
The suspension [of military aid to Pakistan] is arguably more significant as a signal of Washington’s discontent than as an act of financial deprivation. The Trump administration has likely sketched out an escalation strategy, and would be wise to pause after Thursday’s announcement to give Pakistan the opportunity to quietly address U.S. concerns.
What do you do when your allies [like Pakistan] are part of the problem? The desire to turn our backs on these people is there, but then you worry that terrorists will have more operational freedom and it will cost you more in the long run.