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COIN’s Clauswitzian disconnect

Posted by on September 6th, 2011

From our partners at

By Dave Anderson:

Before the True Surge after the mini-Surge in Afghanistan (Feb. 2009), I noted the fundamental problem with COIN in a democracy, especially a COIN campaign in an area of tertiary interest:

COIN today promises the same type of inputs — ten to twenty year wars, operational costs of one to two points of annual GDP at a time of structural deficits and domestic fiscal crisis — with the same type of outcomes — weak, client states in need of continual support in secondary or tertiary areas of interest.

And shockingly the public of democracies don't like COIN nor do they want to spend those resources for minimal real gains in security that operational and tactical successes may or may not generate. 

So if we assume that democracies are not likely to support doctrines, strategies and techniques  that produce long term ongoing costs with minimal prospects of producing desired long term political benefits, the problem in the Clauswitzian perspective is not the grand strategic level, but at the strategic and operational levels where the COIN doctrine is implemented in disregard to the grand strategic appreciation of forces and reality. 

Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal echoes this disconnect in his criticism of COIN boosterism from Col. Nagl of CNAS:

By failing to take into account the lack of political will in the United States for an extended COIN fight – and the lack of an effective Afghan partner - counter-insurgency advocates have ensured that the tactical gains made on the ground won't be sustained. This has likely left Afghanistan in worse shape than if they had recognized this reality from the get go. The United States would have been far better off putting in place a strategy for Afghanistan that could be sustained for the long-term, both politically and militarily. Instead COIN advocates overreached, believing that they could convince the President to give them more time to implement a well-resourced COIN strategy. It didn't work out that way and the result is that now we are looking at the likelihood of a more precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan with the US having done little to lay the groundwork for our eventual withdrawal (and with even less political will to get things right before we leave). 

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