In a fascinating story today in the New York Times, ELISABETH BUMILLER reports that there is broad and intense debate among the faculty of West Point on whether or not the War Doctrine by which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still relevant given the massive cost in financial and human terms of the decade long wars and the very limited results.
Broadly, the question is what the United States gained after a decade in two wars.
“Not much,” Col. Gian P. Gentile, the director of West Point’s military history program and the commander of a combat battalion in Baghdad in 2006, said flatly in an interview last week. “Certainly not worth the effort. In my view.”
At West Point the arguments are more public than those in the upper reaches of the Pentagon, in large part because the military officers on the West Point faculty pride themselves on academic freedom and challenging orthodoxy. Colonel Gentile, who is working on a book titled “Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace With Counterinsurgency,” is chief among them.
Colonel Gentile’s argument is that the United States pursued a narrow policy goal in Afghanistan — defeating Al Qaeda there and keeping it from using the country as a base — with what he called “a maximalist operational” approach. “Strategy should employ resources of a state to achieve policy aims with the least amount of blood and treasure spent,” he said.
Counterinsurgency could ultimately work in Afghanistan, he said, if the United States were willing to stay there for generations. “I’m talking 70, 80, 90 years,” he said.
Colonel Gentile, who has photographs in his office of five young soldiers in his battalion killed in the 2006 bloodshed in Baghdad, acknowledged that it was difficult to question the wars in the face of the losses.
“But war ultimately is a political act, and I take comfort and pride that we as a military organization, myself as a commander of those soldiers who died, the others who were wounded and I think the American Army writ large, that we did our duty,” he said. “And there is honor in itself of doing your duty. I mean you could probably push back on me and say you’re still saying the war’s not worth it. But I’m a soldier, and I go where I’m told to go, and I do my duty as best I can.”