The COINdinista

Commentary Magazine

DEC 1, 2014

Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice
By John Nagl
Penguin, 288 pages

When the U.S. military found itself bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years after 9/11, it was forced to rediscover the tenets of counterinsurgency—a strategic approach to war-fighting that had been all but forgotten following the unpleasant ending of the conflict in Vietnam. That transformation was led in large part by a small cadre of officers who had studied guerrilla warfare at a time—the 1990s—when few thought this arcane discipline had any relevance for future conflict.

Read more: The COINdinista

Why America Won’t Pay Ransom to Islamic State

France, Germany and others shell out millions to terrorists, ensuring more kidnappings and bankrolling violence.

Wall Street Journal

NOV 28, 2014

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria announced on Nov. 16, in another grisly video, that it had beheaded American aid worker and former U.S. Army Ranger Peter Kassig. He became the third American victim of ISIS’s beheadings, after journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Two Britons have also been beheaded, aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.

Read more: Why America Won’t Pay Ransom to Islamic State

Chuck Hagel's firing won't help U.S. foreign policy

Los Angeles Times

NOV 24, 2014

It is a time-honored tradition in American politics: Whenever the president turns unpopular, he fires someone and brings in a tried and tested veteran to clean house. Thus in 1987, in the middle of the Iran-Contra affair, out went Donald Regan as Ronald Reagan's White House chief of staff, to be replaced by steady old hand Howard Baker. In 1994, after Bill Clinton had stumbled on issues including gays in the military and healthcare, out went Mack McLarty as White House chief of staff, to be replaced by steady old hand Leon E. Panetta. In 2006, after the disasters of the Iraq war and the loss of the Senate to Democrats, out went Donald H. Rumsfeld as George W. Bush's defense secretary, to be replaced by steady old hand Robert M. Gates.

Read more: Chuck Hagel's firing won't help U.S. foreign policy

The U.S. strategy against the Islamic State must be retooled. Here’s how.

Washington Post

NOV 14, 2014

This commentary was adapted from a CFR Policy Innovation Memo.

President Obama’s strategy in Syria and Iraq is not working. The president is hoping that limited airstrikes, combined with U.S. support for local proxies, will “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. But while U.S. actions may have blunted the Islamic State’s expansion, they have not shaken the terrorist group’s control of an area the size of Britain. If the president is serious about dealing with the Islamic State, he will need to increase America’s commitment well beyond his recent decision to deploy 1,500 more advisers.

What will it take to achieve the president’s objective?

Read more: The U.S. strategy against the Islamic State must be retooled. Here’s how.

More Small Wars

Counterinsurgency is Here to Stay

Foreign Affairs

November/December, 2014

Although the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are far from the costliest the United States has ever fought in terms of either blood or treasure, they have exacted a much greater toll than the relatively bloodless wars Americans had gotten used to fighting in the 1990s. As of this writing, 2,344 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan and 4,486 in Iraq, and tens of thousands more have been injured. The financial costs reach into the trillions of dollars.

Yet despite this investment, the returns look meager. Sunni extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State, and Shiite extremists beholden to Iran have divided the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq between them. Meanwhile, the Taliban and the Haqqani network remain on the offensive in Afghanistan. Given how poorly things have turned out, it would be tempting to conclude that the United States should simply swear off such irregular conflicts for good.

Read more: More Small Wars

The War on ISIS: More Than One Battle

In the Vietnam War, saving Khe Sanh seemed essential. Turned out it wasn’t.

The Wall Street Journal

October 22, 2014

On Jan. 21, 1968, North Vietnamese troops attacked the U.S. Marine garrison at Khe Sanh in South Vietnam near the border with Laos. A 77-day siege ensued, with the U.S. pouring in ever more firepower. The U.S. would drop 100,000 tons of bombs because Gen. William Westmoreland was determined that Khe Sanh not become another defeat like Dien Bien Phu, which had effectively ended France’s colonial presence in Vietnam 14 years earlier.

Read more: The War on ISIS: More Than One Battle

“Destined to be the classic account of what may be the oldest . . . hardest form of war.” —John Nagl, Wall Street Journal


"Enormous, brilliant and important…. Terrific… Astute… Boot’s Invisible Armies should be required reading in the White House and Pentagon." —Michael Korda, Daily Beast

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