In the conventional war, military action, seconded by diplomacy, propaganda, and economic pressure, is generally the principal way to achieve the goal. Politics as an instrument of war tends to take a backseat and emerges again-as an instrument-when the fighting ends . . . The picture is different in the revolutionary war. The objective being the population itself, the operations designed to win it over (for the insurgent) or to keep it at least submissive (for the counterinsurgent) are essentially of a political nature. In this case, consequently, political action remains foremost throughout the war. It is not enough for the government to set political goals, to determine how much military force is applicable, to enter into alliances, or to break them; politics becomes an active instrument of operation. And so intricate is the interplay between the political and the military actions that they cannot be tidily separated; on the contrary, every military move has to be weighed with regard to its political effects, and vice versa.
-David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare.1
That's something the State Department is supposed to handle, but I was the Marine platoon commander, and I had to decide.
-Iraqi war veteran Nathaniel Pick on whether or not to support a local mullah and distribute fresh water to a Baghdad neighborhood.2
FAILURE TO INCORPORATE political goals and requirements into military action has often slowed or even prevented the timely resolution of conflicts. This has especially been the case in the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we initially proceeded as if military power alone could achieve our aims. Political activity in concert with military operations, especially at the operational and tactical levels, will play a huge role in any favorable resolution of these conflicts and any future conflicts that fall under the rubric of unconventional warfare. The insurgencies we face today are, in part, a result of the sweeping political changes wrought by globalization and the relative decline of the nation-state as the basis for international order. Consequently, conventional military force alone will not achieve victory-there will be no battles between massive armies leading to a final resolution of the conflict. Nor will typical state-to-state diplomacy, in which conflict is resolved through a peace treaty, help stanch such insurgencies. In order to succeed, we must try a new approach.
In order to maintain our status as a leading nation and to defend and extend our interests, the United States must integrate military strategies with other national capabilities to create a robust counterinsurgency capacity comprised of all elements of national power-economic, political, information, and military. Additionally, we must deploy these elements of national power at a much lower level and with a consistency that we have not yet seen in our present conflicts. If we do less than this, we will handicap ourselves in a fight against enemies whose borderless "state" is an ideology, ethnic or tribal identity, or religious viewpoint. The enemy does not, unfortunately, make the same clear distinctions we do between political and military strategies and tactics. He does not fight one-handedly, and neither should we.
The Counter-insurgency Challenge
Counterinsurgency efforts have taken on an increasingly important role in the U.S. strategy to defeat global terrorism.3 Since 2001, the budget of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the command specializing in counter-insurgency, has increased from roughly $3.8 billion to $6.6 billion, and the number of its personnel has increased by 6,000, to 51,411.4 Special operations forces (SOF) are deployed in well over a hundred countries, and in March 2005, President Bush put SOCOM in charge of "synchronizing" anti-terrorism efforts.
With these additional resources, SOCOM has significantly increased the number of its Special Forces (SF), civil-affairs, and psychological operations units-all units deeply involved in counterinsurgency operations. …