The Failure of COIN-based Foreign Policy

Revenge of the COIN Doctrine
Kelley Vlahos
The American Conservative
October 31, 2014

I grew up with the doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN). I have a decent stack of doctrine publications and field manuals on the topic, and I have to confess an attraction to the idea that better strategic approaches can beat an insurgency, one village at a time. There was enough evidence from the later years in Vietnam to suggest that, wheile we learned our lessons late, we learned our lessons. It was really hearts and minds, not kinetic weapons.

But the evidence coming in from a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has pulled the bung plug out of the bottom of the COIN boat. Whatever the tactical, short-term value that COIN may have, the shortcomings are enough to send military thinkers back to the drawing board.

The ugly truth – proven in Vietnam, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan – is that no level of success in winning hearts and minds at the village level can translate into nation building unless we have the wherewithal to turn a failed state into a successful one. Our lengthening string of failures since 1945 suggests that we do not have that wherewithal. It is, perhaps, time to stop trying.

Or, to put it more succinctly: we must stop basing our foreign policy decisions on the expectation that we can fix broken states. The money spent in the attempt is clearly better used at home.


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