I’ve been traveling a lot so have only now gotten around to reading “Dead End: Counterinsurgency Warfare as Military Malpractice,” Edward Luttwak’s article in the February issue of Harper’s. As usual with Luttwak, the article is thought-provoking and stylishly written. It’s also almost entirely wrong.
The blog of the Small Wars Journal has already posted two trenchant critiques of the article, by two of the leading counterinsurgency experts in the world: Dave Kilcullen, a former lieutenant colonel in the Australian army now working as an adviser to General David Petraeus in Baghdad, and Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
I won’t repeat most of what they have to say, except to note that Kilcullen scores a devastating hit when he observes that Luttwak is critiquing an early draft of FM 3-24, the Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual. This draft was changed substantially before its publication in December 2006—a full three months before Luttwak’s article appeared. It is also odd to read in Luttwak’s article that the manual’s principal drafters, Army General David Petraeus and Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis, are “each now responsible for the training and doctrine policy of his own service.” In fact, Mattis left that job last year to take over the First Marine Expeditionary Force; Petraeus left earlier this year to take over the U.S. command in Iraq. The editors of Harper’s seem to have sat on Luttwak’s piece for months without bothering to update it.