The obscure we see eventually.
The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer
--Edward R. Murrow
We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves
Quick decisions are unsafe decisions
For I have sworn thee fair,
and thought thee bright,
who art as black as hell,
as dark as night
--Sonnet 147, Shakespeare
A recent New York Times feature discussed Infantry and combat soldiers getting pedicures because their boots are so harsh on their feet.
Imagine that! Soldiers now train and run in running shoes, versus my generation which did everything to include physical training in our boots. When was the last time someone ran in combat in running shoes?
Anyway, the pedicures started Ranger thinking about comparisons between counterinsurgency, then (Vietnam) and now. (He is wearing his Special Forces cap while making the comparisons.)
In Vietnam -- as in Iraq and Afghanistan -- there were serious disconnects between COIN as practiced by SF units versus that practiced by maneuver units. The advisers of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) shared the SF experience and deserve to be called Special Ops since they actually lived, fought and died serving VN units as embedded advisers.
In the Vietnam war, SF types lived, worked and stood side-by-side with the Vietnamese and indigenous troops. We knew them as soldiers and friends and knew their families, attending weddings, funerals and celebrations. We were invited into their homes, we ate and drank together, played and had personal realtionships.
Many say disapraging things about the RVN's ability to fight, but Ranger served with RVN soldiers that fought at Dien Bien Phu and were combat-hardened and wise. They were at DBP, but they were Viet Minh, and crossed to the South after the Communist takeover of the North. They had forgotten more about fighting than most U.S. officers knew.
Most of the VN/SF officers were educated and westernized and spoke both French and English. Most were Catholic. Yet despite all of this, we still lost. [But there is a karmic gain, as we now have Asian nail salons in every mall in America and on the bases in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) to tend to the soldier's rough paws.]
But seriously: though COIN strategy in RVN was solid and institutional, it could not change the reality of the war. That reality was that colonialism of any form was longer acceptable. Any government government was more acceptable to the VN than one imposed from external sources. That is one lesson from COIN in VN we still have not gotten.
Soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan can describe their own experiences implementing COIN, but Ranger cautions them to sweep aside the rhetoric and see what is real. What is real is not U.S. combat power alone. Tom Ricks The Gamble explains why Iraq is a political failure, even as it seems The Surge was a military success.
Ricks says violence went down for a number of reasons, including the U.S. shift to protecting the Iraqis by functioning more like soldiers on the beat. But the troops are not cops. Policing should be the function of the Iraqi Army and police.
Iraqi interpreters are back to wearing face masks to conceal their identity (Iraqi Interpreters May Wear Masks.) That says something about the U.S. reception seven years on.