Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

Pragmatism and Counterinsurgency

Thesis:  Counterinsurgency looks no better when analyzed using the pragmatic method.  

The word pragmatism has come to mean “doing things that work,” but at the turn of the 20th Century pragmatism was a philosophical movement started by Charles Pierce and popularized by William James, Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Dewey.   The movement has changed over time, but it remains relevant as a method of analysis.

Charles Pierce, an early American Pragmatist, said:

“Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of those effects is the whole of our conception of the object.”

So we can use the pragmatic theory that “the truth of an idea is in its consequences” to analyze counterinsurgency.

To begin, let’s summarize the consequences of accepting American-style counterinsurgency as a true and useful doctrine. It would mean long, expensive deployments of many thousands of soldiers to far away lands. These deployments would last years, probably decades, and according to Michael Yon, potentially a century. Thousands of our countrymen and women will die, and dozens of thousands will be injured. Additionally, up to 20% of them will suffer psychological trauma. The country that is the object of the counterinsurgency campaign will be largely destroyed, at least initially, and the citizens of that country will have to make brutal decisions about which side to support. The country at some year in the future will come to accept the legitimacy of the government and the United States will be able to turn over internal security to a professional, trustworthy, and loyal internal police force. The United States, will however, still face terrorism threats from other places around the world.

If we accept the consequences of my position, that COIN offers nothing and should be avoided, it would mean that the United States would intervene militarily a lot less around the world. It would not provide guns and money to dodgy “host country partners” and it would be directly responsible for far fewer civilian deaths. American lives would be saved, and a generation of soldiers would know not PTSD. It would mean accepting and recognizing the proverbial “Limits of Power.” It might mean a slightly increased risk from terrorism.

I look at those two options and think it is a no brainer. Even if you were to look at the infinite range between the two positions, the only ethical and moral position is one far closer to COINtra than COINdanista. If the truth of a conception is in the consequences, then COINtras are closer to truth than COINDanistas.

(NOTE: I recognize the existence of alternative visions of truth.)

 

**This post was adapted from my blog comment on Abe Medoff’s blog.

 

 

 

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Written by keithboyea

August 5, 2011 at 9:29 am

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