The Winning Formula

The Wilson Quarterly, autumn, 92-4
Review of Mark Moyar’s A Question of Command. Counterinsurgency From the Civil War to Iraq. Yale University Press, 2009.

In the summer of 2003, during the early days of the Iraq war, “counterinsurgency” was still an odd and cumbersome word. Soon it dawned on politicians, military officers, and scholars that they better understand its nuances. The literature on “coin” began to mushroom, and today small libraries could be filled with the books and articles devoted to the subject. Most notably, in 2006 the U.S. Army published a much-anticipated field manual, Counterinsurgency. Known among aficionados simply by its official publication number, FM 3–24, it became the blueprint for improvement in Iraq, and now, possibly, Afghanistan. The University of Chicago Press republished the manual in 2007 as a book, and it became one of the publisher’s bestsellers in recent years. The gist of the counterinsurgency wisdom is that the local population, not territory, is what matters most. Counterinsurgent and insurgent, in theory, compete for the trust of the locals, for legitimacy. The population is the “prize.”

Mark Moyar pitches his book as a challenge to that thesis. Counterinsurgency must not be just population-centric. Nor can it be merely enemy-centric, as conventional wars against opposing armies were. No, successful counterinsurgency is “leader-centric.” Counterinsurgency struggles are contests between elites, in which the elite group with better “leadership attributes” usually wins.

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