The Catch: The Cognitive Dissonance of COIN
“The Catch” is, from here on, the heading and category for “Recommended Reading” posts here at Red Herrings.
Recommended reading from Small Wars Journal:
The Cognitive Dissonance of COIN
Right Doctrine, Wrong War
by Jason Thomas
“The psychological investment in COIN is now so deep that the cognitive dissonance would be too great to change course or admit COIN is the right doctrine for the wrong war. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that despite contrary evidence, people are biased to think of their choices as correct. Like climate change, so much has been invested in counterinsurgency with huge reputations at stake, that anyone who challenges COIN in Afghanistan could be labeled a COIN skeptic. No matter how much we try to win the hearts and minds, no matter how many millions of dollars is spent on development and regardless of attempts to improve governance and eliminate corruption, the socio-cultural ecosystem of Afghanistan does not respond to the doctrine of counterinsurgency. While the pockets can be won the heart and minds in Afghanistan will always remain notoriously capricious.
There are many reasons to continually question COIN from every angle, but the two this paper is concerned with are i) whether COIN could be the right military doctrine being applied in the wrong campaign; and ii) preparing for the next major unconventional war – as is often the case in political campaigns and war, we tend to find ourselves fighting on the issues, theories or practices in the last campaign.
This paper will attempt to “play the ball and not the man” by pointing to the range of reasons unique to Afghanistan on top of self-imposed obstacles that reinforce the hypothesis of right doctrine, wrong war.”
All in all, a thought-provoking paper that is well worth a read even if you don’t agree with the author’s argument. Personally, I don’t think COIN is the wrong doctrine for Afghanistan. At least, not all of Afghanistan. If the Taliban is seeking to create a parallel, non-secular, (Pakistan aligned) government that usurps the government of Kabul. That makes it an insurgency. The problem is using COIN in Afghanistan is that it is being used across the board, even in places where the Taliban isn’t active. If there isn’t an insurgency, you can’t wage a counterinsurgency. Personally, I think the disconnect about using COIN as the go-to doctrine of the U.S. forces, comes from an inflexibility of practitioners to have multiple doctrines. Everything is COIN because counterinsurgency is the sexy buzzword of the moment. However, COIN is not an anti-terrorism or homeland security doctrine. If you are chasing Bin Laden, you shouldn’t be using a COIN doctrine.
Actually, what I found most interesting about the article were the author’s 6 points for adapting COIN for future campaigns. I felt they had a great deal of 5GW resonance.
“The following are suggestions for improving the adaptability of COIN for future campaigns:
1. Stress test COIN and other military doctrines against a range of insurgent scenarios taking place in potential host countries – what is unique about the cultural and tribal dynamics.
2. Anticipate the next host nations and begin a coordinated, international effort to limit the opportunity for the global jihadists to re-base themselves (Australia has done a good job with its intense support of governance, security and development initiatives in Indonesia) – almost an interntional version of COIN.”
3. Develop sophisticated social networking and internet countering-platforms devised by and run by maintstream, globally recognised and respected Muslim organisations.
4. Intesify the global ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to convince young, mobile and increasingly sophisticated Muslims that the West is not a threat to their belief systems. This must be coordinated at an international level across governments and non-government actors.
5. Identify communications strategies and tactics to undermine the jihadists perceived legitimacy in the minds of eye of mainstream media. Every time the insurgents claim ‘civilians have been killed by US forces’ this is treated as fact by the media.
6. Avoid seeking a generic, off-the-shelf, model of COIN devised from previous campaigns to be applied to the next campaign.”
All six of these points are in line with 5GW thinking. First, working to trigger established rule-sets of a target population’s Orientation by feeding them information in specific context, through their own prefered information channels, is the basis of Fifth Gradient doctrines. 5GW is also inherently strategic in scope, meaning that anticipating the next hot-spot and preemptively targeting it with 5GW operations is required. Above all, adaptability is a hallmark of, not only 5GW, but XGW itself. A basic tenet of XGW is to create a specific doctrine for the situation at hand that is X+1 of the doctrine being used by your opponent, there is no such thing as an “off-the-shelf” doctrine.