Military Review English Edition March-April 2016 - Page 123

REVIEW ESSAY counterinsurgency method as a major subject after the Vietnam War, and it’s easy for the reader to forecast the same happening again, but Donovan doesn’t dwell on it. Far more important to him is encapsulating lessons learned based on his experiences from over four and one-half decades ago in a concise, digestible format for future generations of leaders who will once again, as he argues, have to advise and assist host nations fighting insurgencies. The resulting product favorably compares to other better-known classics of counterinsurgency theory and practice. The work consists of checklists of things to consider or execute, with a few real-world illustrations and examples from the author and other advisor colleagues. Those lists cover everything from strategic estimates to operational design challenges, from specific tactical tenets for advisors to twelve general principles for counterinsurgency programs, and from a dozen ways those programs can fail to what drives a bureaucracy to put the best face on things and paper over such failures. The text is both pithy in its advice and also rich in its rationales and examples. One is reminded of the Samuel B. Griffith translation of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, with its selected ancient commentaries on the master’s aphorisms.2 Like the Chinese classic, Donovan’s Counterinsurgency has something to say to both strategic policymakers and lower-level military leaders, particularly the need for high degrees of discernment and nuance in estimating, MILITARY REVIEW  March-April 2016 planning, and executing support to counterinsurgency. Unlike Sun Tzu’s maxims, this text is written less in a positivist, prescriptive voice and more in a tone warning of dangers to be dodged and pitfalls to be avoided. Most readers with firsthand experience in implementing counterinsurgency in the field will nod their heads in agreement with what Donovan says. Does this book offer anything to those critical of counterinsurgency theory, such as Col. Gian Gentile or Douglas Porch? As can be seen in Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency, Gentile has long been skeptical of the Army’s efforts in developing and implementing counterinsurgency as “community building” at the cost of what the institution is primarily intended to do: dispense organized violence in the service of the state.3 Porch makes a compelling case that counterinsurgency is not so different than other kinds of wars in Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War.4 Given Donovan’s background, his first book, and the title of this one, it’s easy to assume that there is little in this slim volume that answers the concerns of Gentile and Porch; however, that would be a mistaken impression. In chapter 9, “The Soldiers They Send,” Donovan simultaneously stakes out requirements not only for advisors with special training in counterinsurgency, but also for conventional forces that execute more traditional tasks. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that Special Forces advisors and conventional forces 121