From George Packer's interminable 'Letter from Iraq' piece in the April 10 New Yorker, 'The Lesson of Tal Afar':
Counterinsurgency cuts deeply against the Army’s institutional instincts. The doctrine fell out of use after Vietnam, and the Army’s most recent field manual on the subject is two decades old.
That would be the manual with which they ran the counterinsurgency war in El Salvador. By the mid-1980s, the United States funded 90% of the Salvadoran national budget. U.S. military "advisors" (many more than the 500 legally allowed or acknowledged, and many of whom were in combat) directed that war in detail. That level of involvement lasted for a decade.
So in what sense did counterinsurgency doctrine "fall out of use after Vietnam"? Is Packer young enough to have missed the whole sorry, prolonged, despicable collection of U.S. interventions in Central America? Or are they simply inconvenient for the picture he'd like to paint of a good-hearted but sadly ill-prepared military? The truth about U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine in El Salvador is that it did not defeat the insurgents. That's why it "cuts deeply against the Army's institutional instincts."
This is the kind of eyes-wide-shut garbage that makes me hold Packer in lower esteem than do many in the blog world. That, and his pissy defensiveness when called on his condescension towards those who got it right before the invasion of Iraq (on display last fall when Assassin's Gate was featured at TPM Cafe). His position is that noble intentions entitle him to be taken seriously despite large failures of judgment, for which he refuses to apologize (because those noble intentions actually absolve him).
If we're doing counterinsurgency, we're somewhere we shouldn't be. And noble intentions have so often served as cover for the ugliest, most brutal actions taken in our names that they should be a signal for intense scrutiny, not a free pass.
Labels: El Salvador