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"Hey, I Support COIN"

Picking the most damning bit from Rajiv Chandrasekran's Washington Post article on the fundamental disconnect between civilian and military officials during the formulation of the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy is tough. The article is full of details that, frankly, make the Obama administration look more than a little inept. But, for my money, this would have to be the most damning:

"It was easy to say, 'Hey, I support COIN,' because nobody had done the assessment of what it would really take, and nobody had thought through whether we want to do what it takes," said one senior civilian administration official who participated in the review, using the shorthand for counterinsurgency.

As Chandrasekran's article shows, COIN means something very specific to military planners, which is why, after the Obama administration adopted a COIN strategy for Afghanistan, it was inevitable that, in seeking to execute that strategy, McChrystal was going to request a lot more troops. But, of course, COIN meant something much more nebulous to civilian officials; it was more of a pose than a doctrine, which is presumably why these officials weren't prepared for McChrystal's request.

I'm currently working on a short print piece about an outspoken COIN skeptic, who argues that one of the things that makes COIN so ideologically powerful is that--by emphasizing hearts and minds and development strategy and civilian protection--it appeals to a lot of people (humanitarians, academics, development officers, etc) who'd been critical of military operations in previous conflicts. I'd thought this critic was maybe being a bit uncharitable toward these COIN supporters, but, reading Chandrasekran's article, it's hard not to see some truth in what he was saying, at least as it relates to the Obama administration.