(Page 2 of 2)
The surge narrative was employed to rally the American people to the cause of open-ended, armed nation building. That effort failed; the vast majority of Americans still consider the war to have been a colossal blunder. The public's appetite for the war in Iraq waned when they realized that the costs far outweighed the benefits, and their attitudes didn't improve after Petraeus' MacArthur-esque arrival in Baghdad. A June 2008 Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans considered the war in Iraq to have been a mistake, up from 53 percent in December 2006.
This skepticism was warranted. Even if the addition of tens of thousands more U.S. troops in early 2007 coincided with a decline in violence among Iraqis, that does not mean it caused the decline. Gentile points to evidence suggesting the trends were improving well before the first surge troops arrived in Iraq. That was not the lesson drawn by American elites, however, who believed that it had been so effective that it should be emulated in Afghanistan. Now the public has turned decisively against that war, too.
In general, the American people, quite wisely, are not willing to stay for "as long as it takes," nor to spend as much as it takes, to convert failed states into healthy ones.
Perhaps most importantly, neither are many members of the military. For those men and women on "the sharp end," Gentile explains, the reality of COIN warfare is becoming clearer by the day. In the end, they will have to convince civilians that better war-fighting tactics don't transform dubious interventions into worthy conflicts.
In the closing pages, Gentile notes that "a story of failure and redemption" appeals to Americans, especially to the troops who want desperately to believe that their sacrifices were worthwhile. Likewise, members of the military are attracted to COIN because it links U.S. actions with "the ostensible moral objective of protecting innocent civilians and making their lives better."
"I lost five men from my cavalry squadron in west Baghdad in 2006-I understand this moral need," Gentile concludes. "But I also understand the need for truth, and in the end, to me, the truthâ€¦is more important for the American military and the American people than the maintenance of the myth."
Find this and hundreds of other interesting books at the Reason Shop, powered by Amazon.