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The Insurgents Hardcover – 31 Jan 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (31 Jan. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451642636
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451642636
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.6 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 146,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Fred Kaplan, one of the best military journalists we have, tells the compelling story of how a cadre of officers and civilians tried to rescue victory from defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan by putting the theory of counterinsurgency into practice, revolutionizing the US Army from within. His narrative is vividand revelatory, dramatizing a crucial piece of recent history that we shouldn't allow ourselves to forget, however painful the memory."--George Packer, author of The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq"

About the Author

Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column in Slate and has also written many articles on politics and culture in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York magazine, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and many other publications. A former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Boston Globe, he is also the author of 1959: The Year Everything Changed, Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 15 Feb. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Kaplan's earlier book, 'The Wizards of Armageddon', about the people who spent their time thinking about nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy was a fine example of historical writing. His new book is of similar quality, one of the best yet about the US military establishment in an era of 'small wars'.

Some years ago while on the staff of the Royal Military College of Science and Technology, Shrivenham I was present at a lecture given by a visiting American 4 star General. His chosen topic was the Vietnam War. He was asked why the US had lost the war. His convoluted reply included the following nugget:'If we had wanted we could have concreted Vietnam from North to South'. This was accompanied by a sweep of the hand on the map.

From that moment on every book I have read about insurgency, and they are numerous, has convinced me that until, possibly, the last 5 years or so the American military have demonstrated little competence when faced by insurgent 'ghosts'. To be fair neither have the British.

Kaplan's book rams this view home with a vengeance. It should be read by all who want to understand why powerful states become involved in wars that do not threaten their national interest, and all too often fail to achieve their stated aims.

I very much doubt if an advanced nation armed with the latest military technology will ever be able to defeat those who fight for freedom, social justice and the right to govern themselves, particularly when these irritating insurgents refuse to stand and fight. Well after the war ended in an undignified American retreat, General Westmoreland was still giving speeches claiming that had 'the US used all its military might,it would have won'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Miller on 18 Aug. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I chose this book because I was interested in an objective summary of what was occurring in Afghanistan under Gen Petraeus's leadership. The book did not disappoint, although the subject matter was much more in depth than just the war in Afghanistan. My last exposure to major tactical shifts was under the air land battle concept, (which I thought was revolutionary). Now the thinking has evolved to the counter insurgency model. The author was totally objective in portraying the pros and cons of the various strategy's and accurately described the subtle coup that evolved on the part of a select group of military academics who favored a restructuring of forces in order to meet counter insurgency threats and wars. As a civilian with limited exposure to the insider politics in the military; the book was an eye opener ! What was surprising was the passion that each side felt toward visions of how future wars were to be fought. After reading the book, I could not form an opinion on the merits for force structure change. World events happen at lightening speed, and the US has to be ready for any contingency, counter insurgency appears to be only one of the many threats. The book puts forth substantive points that are thought provoking and all with merit. This was an excellent book in all respects and highly entertaining as the thought processes and politics within the Army were shown from a personal perspective from the players who were attempting to accelerate change.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 21 Sept. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It is great to read a book that has been so thoroughly researched. Made all the more credible by the list of contributors.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 95 reviews
69 of 80 people found the following review helpful
searchlight on warriors 11 Jan. 2013
By Ron2 - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Let there be light. Fred Kaplan has turned a searchlight on the politicians and generals who have led thousands of men and women into two continuing wars. Those lucky enough to come back may wonder why they were ever there. They were following leaders who had a deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance. The names are familiar----Rumsfeld, Bremer, Wolfowitz, Negroponte. The list is long. And then there were the generals---concerned with prestige and promotion---who did not dare challenge their political masters. For those of us who have spent time over the decades in Iraq or Afghanistan, the possibilities of failure were frightening.

Into this mess came a small group of officers----The Insurgents---Dr. Kaplan so clearly discusses. These were men who knew the politicians and generals were not just fighting yesterday's wars----they seemed to be looking back at ancient battles. These Insurgents were the intellectuals of the army. And no on likes a wise ass---not in the by-the-book military system. It is a complicated story and Kaplan tells it with clarity and style.

David Petraeus is the cover boy of this book (he really is on the cover). He knew how to find the spotlight and sometimes deserved to be in it. But light fads. Counter Insurgency Warfare worked in Iraq as long a certain structure was in place. And then it wasn't.

Then there was Afghanistan where a national structure has never been in place---unless you count corruption as structure.

This book can make you angry. You should be.

A damn good read.
107 of 128 people found the following review helpful
Mixed messages 5 Jan. 2013
By Mark bennett - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a book in three parts. The first part traces the post-Vietnam intellectual evolution of "counterinsurgency" (COIN) warfare thinking within the US military from several different perspectives. The second part describes the history of counterinsurgency on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq while also dealing with its politics in Washington. The final part asks some really tough questions as to what these people accomplished, what the value of the strategy is and what the future of the American military should be.

The book presents counterinsurgency strategy as something that grew out of a "social sciences" subculture at West Point in the aftermath of Vietnam. These people were academics and intellectuals. They studied non-traditional subjects and often held advanced degrees such as PhDs. At one point in the book there is a rather disturbing comment where John Nagl actually describes himself as a "social scientist" and soldier.

The first portion of the book is interesting at first but becomes rather tedious. It's interesting to know all the various people, their social networks and how they influenced change in the military. But at a certain point is a tough read and more like reference material than anything else.

The early part of the book does not challenge COIN enough. In particular, the view that COIN was the answer to victory in Vietnam is utterly foolish. The Vietnam War was not won by the Viet Cong or an insurgency. It was won by the army of North Vietnam launching a conventional invasion of the south. While the war might have been an insurgency in 1963, but 1965 it was a very conventional conflict with the Viet Cong operating in battalion sized units. The US sent the Special Forces to open jungle camps near the border at places like Lang Vei and they were overrun by heavy tanks. The views of COIN advocates on the Vietnam War are quite frankly utterly wrong. So are their views of lessons to be learned from the British in Malaya.

The book also fails to see a very obvious point. If the US has a military larger than is justified to face any possible conventional threat, that is probably an argument for a smaller US military. It should not be an argument that we should keep the same size military and find it new tasks like nation building. The idea that we have to have an army of a certain size & cost and that its size & cost provides itself the justification for doing things like Somalia or Iraq is just crazy.

The definition of COIN employed in the book by its promoters is too broad. It's used to cover both operations to prevent insurgencies and operations to fight established insurgencies. But those are in practice two very different things. The book oddly shows both being successful and both failing. The book claims that COIN was practiced by the US early on in Afghanistan with some success but that it has failed in the last few years. The opposite is true in Iraq where there was no COIN at first and then COIN was used to bring about a conclusion to the war.

The book's coverage of the war in Iraq is rather spotty and one-sided. The author accepts the Patraeus fantasy story spun to the press about his first tour in Iraq while openly insulting Tommy Franks and saying little more about events during the term of Ricardo Sanchez than to call him incompetent. The thing about after the first few months in Iraq is that all the military "superstars" seemed to go home with their combat "credibility" to write field manuals, hang out in Florida, or to do postgraduate studies. Constantly sniping after at those who ended up in Iraq in their place.

The book seems to indirectly suggest that we "won" the Iraq war when Petraeus was allowed to finally stack the promotion board in Washington and push his minions up to the top. A quote from Nagl in the book says it all: "Why haven't I been promoted. We've got idiots running this place."

The book presents a very selective picture of events in Iraq during the surge. It tends to give more credit to military COIN operations and far less credit to changes in political policy at the same time. The softening of policy toward Sunnis in particular is not presented in a comprehensive way.

The author is hostile to McCrystal in Afghanistan. As much as the book tries to make COIN look more successful than it was in Iraq, it goes out of its way to say all the things McChrystal supposedly did wrong. It's almost as if the book intended to present at one point the idea that COIN would have worked if McCrystal had only done in right. It also pushes at the crowd around McChrystal for being arrogant and insular ironically without fully seeing the arrogant/insular nature of the crowd around Petraeus. The impression is given that McChrystal was a little bit too blue collar and not enough Ivy League intellectual for the author's taste in Generals.

In the last ten or so pages of the book, the author seems to completely swing around in his opinions. He offers a rather devastating critique of COIN, COIN wars and the lasting impact of those involved. It's strange because it's so at odds with how the book builds up to that point. I completely agree with his critique to the effect that fighting these large counterinsurgency wars (Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan) is a choice the country makes and it's often the wrong choice to be making. That COIN is designed to fight wars the country should generally be avoiding in the first place. That the history of COIN wars is not necessarily all that positive a legacy. But I still find it strange that he says almost none of this until the very end of the book.

I somewhat wonder if there were changes made to the ending of the book over the last few months. That this book might have been a whole lot more positive toward its subjects originally. There is no way to really know.

My personal belief is that the sort of preventative countinsurgency strategies Petraeus used in his first tour in Iraq were good things and normal things the military should do. But his later counterinsurgency efforts convinced me once again that the tactics can't win wars, they can only create a breathing space to allow country to exit a war in a graceful manner. But what is a graceful exit really worth in terms of money and lives?

As well, the doomsday stories that were used to say that the US had no choice but to stay in Iraq have mostly been proven false now by the civil war in Syria. Syria has been able to totally self-destruct without the entire region falling into all-out war or interventions by its neighbors. Certainly the civil war in Syria is not a good thing, but it does somewhat validate a view that the US could have left an unstable Iraq much earlier without triggering doomsday.

The book is a somewhat useful reference for the rise and fall of the counterinsurgency movement within the military. It can possibly be of use in terms of understanding how a small group of intellectuals can accomplish a great deal of influence in a large organization. Its coverage of the actual wars is at best average with a tendency toward bias in any number of ways. I absolutely agree however with most of the author's conclusions at the end of the book about the usefulness and limitations of counterinsurgency warfare.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
A must read on the American Way of War 11 Jan. 2013
By KCD - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A must read for serious students of the American way of war and the evolution of military doctrine - and an enjoyable read as well. Kaplan opens by describing a tank battle from the `91 Gulf War. It wasn't much of a battle and demonstrated the folly of the American Army's ceaseless preparation for big wars. An emphasis on counterinsurgency grew out of the realization by a cadre of military thinkers that preponderance of conflicts in the future would be `small wars'. These wars would be long and messy, and the American Army was ill-prepared for them. This stood in sharp contrast to the type of conflicts that the Department of Defense was forecasting, namely network-centric warfare that could swiftly defeat threats wherever they might arise. As Iraq and Afghanistan devolved from decisive victories into protracted quagmires, translating COIN thinking into doctrine took on a sense of urgency. Its application, however, produced mixed results. The problems arose less from the doctrine itself, and more from how the very nature of counterinsurgencies contrasts with the preferred American way of war - quick and decisive. The COINdistas arguably saved the American military from failure in Iraq but the cost in blood and treasure was too high to repeat on the same scale in Afghanistan. In neither conflict was COIN able to resolve the fundamental political tensions driving the instability. As this decade of conflict draws to a close, the American military again faces a dichotomy between how it wants to fight wars and the nature of future wars.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Story about Change!! 1 Mar. 2013
By Thomas M. Magee - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is excellent! No matter your background you will love this book. The book isn't just a story of the battles. It is about the war but it is about so much more. If you want to know the story behind the newspaper accounts of the war this is your book. The book is about something more. It talks about an idea and that idea's impact on a large institution and eventually a nation.

The book tells many stories. It reads extremely well. The book is a fast paced story that shows the reader how a successful idea grows from concept to reality. The special part of the book gives the story of how a large organization changes it's ideas from one extreme to the other. He uses General Petrarus's work as a case study on how to do that political game correctly to change course.

General Petrarus started a campaign to change the Army from a big war approach to a counterinsurgency approach near the on set of the Iraq war. That sounds easier than one might think. He implemented this change through a very wide array of activities from holding conferences, rewriting the Army Field Manuals, to continuing his ideas through the critical placement of the right people in the right places. What is even more interesting is to see what happens as this idea grows from one person to others. Then those people expand on it in their own respective way. Through these stories you have a new appreciation of how one person can change the world.

The stories will for sure enhance your knowledge of the war. It also will give you knowledge that might enhance your skills in the workplace. I highly recommend this for all.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Read this for the quality of the author's writing 22 Feb. 2013
By bpr - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Forget the subject matter. This is a must read for those who are often disappointed in recommended books.
Never once did I have a problem following the numerous characters referenced in the book. Mr. Kaplan's prose fell off my Kindle. I cannot remember enjoying an author's thought stream more. Here is a chance not only to learn about current military doctrine but to experience what is possible from a great writer.
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