Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism in Vietnam

Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism in Vietnam

Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism in Vietnam

Phoenix and the Birds of Prey: Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism in Vietnam

Excerpt

When I first wrote this book, in the mid-1990s, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism attracted little interest within the U.S. government and academia. Few people conducted research on these subjects or taught them. Politicians were contending that the United States should stay clear of counterinsurgency and nation building so as to avoid another quagmire like Vietnam. Then came the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, which led to the proliferation of counterterrorism research. In 2003, when insurgents began attacking American forces in Iraq, the study of counterinsurgency came back into fashion for the first time since the 1960s. In the past few years, think tanks, pundits, and academics with no prior background in the subject have produced a flurry of literature on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, although with such haste that new light has been shed only occasionally. At some military educational institutions, including the U.S. Marine Corps University, where I teach, students now receive as much instruction on these two subjects as on conventional warfare.

In the past few years, because of the renewed interest in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, a variety of U.S. military organizations have asked me to speak about the Phoenix program. When I wrote the first edition of Phoenix and the Birds of Prey, I focused on the history of the program, not its theoretical implications or its utility for present-day problems. I included a chapter on counterinsurgency theory, but that chapter only identified existing theoretical gaps that the book would help fill; thus it covered only a small portion of the topics addressed in the main body of the text. For the most part, readers interested in future applicability were left to draw their own conclusions from reading the history.

With the passage of time and the onset of irregular warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has become clear to me that readers would benefit from a chapter summarizing the principal lessons to be learned from Phoenix and the Birds of Prey and the potential application of those lessons in current and future conflicts. The lessons are not always obvious, and individuals who are at the forefront of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism within the U.S. government are so busy with other tasks that they may not have the time to go through the whole volume and pull out the . . .

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