By Levins, Harry
St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
After the messy scandal of a few months back, Gen. David Petraeus needs a pat on the back. He gets one from military writer Fred Kaplan in "The Insurgents."
Kaplan portrays Petraeus as the key "insurgent" the main military thinker in pushing the Army away from its heavy firepower, pile-on, kill-the-Russians mindset and toward the more subtle approach of counterinsurgency warfare (or, in the inevitable military acronym, COIN).
In 2006, when the Iraq war was turning sour, Petraeus put together a field manual that was what Kaplan calls "something different: a how-to book for a kind of war that the Army's leaders had decided long ago to stop fighting, yet here they were fighting this kind of war and doing it badly. By its very existence, the manual would burst forth as a manifesto, an urgent assault on the Army as an institution. This was serious, risky business: the mounting of an intellectual insurgency from within the Army itself."
Petraeus put his theory into practice in Iraq and turned that war around. He then tried the COIN approach in Afghanistan, where it fell short in the face of too much ground and too few GIs. Still, says Kaplan, the COIN approach is here to stay with the Army perhaps even when a different approach would have better results.
Readers lacking a military background may have trouble staying in step with Kaplan's prose. Much of his book details military wonkery and bureaucratic turf wars within the Army as COIN believers knock their heads against the Pentagon's walls.
Still, Kaplan deserves a salute for giving Americans a big- picture look at the Army's doctrinal about-face in the way it fights wars and Petraeus' willingness to stand up front in the face of bureaucratic fire.
By Fred Kaplan
Published by Simon & Schuster, 418 pages, $28
The point of military historian Max Boot's "Invisible Armies" gets spelled out in its subtitle: "An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present."
From what is now Iraq in the Third Millennium B.C. to Petraeus' surge into Iraq in 2007-08, Boot lays out the challenges facing guerrillas and the regular soldiers who confront them.
In the end, he writes, the soldiers win more often than the guerrillas, although that winning percentage has slipped since the end of World War II.
Boot refuses to limit himself to a strictly military account. Instead, he delves into the techniques, tactics and even the thinking behind guerrilla warfare (and its close kin, large-scale terrorism). …