The Theory of Counterinsurgency in Six Easy Paragraphs

By William Christie

January 31, 2006

Special to Defense and the National Interest

A neighbor and I were discussing my previous commentary, Still Looking Out From the Forest of Iraq: At Iran.

“I know the media’s all hot about Iran,” he said. “But I’m a lot more worried about Iraq.”

“You’re not alone,” I said. “Even when the military officers I correspond with talk about Iran, their minds are still on Iraq.”

“I don’t know who to believe,” he said. “If you listen to the press, it’s all bad and the military and government are selling you a bill of goods. If you listen to the military and government, we’re winning and the press is only looking for the bad.”

“They might both be right,” I said. “In counterinsurgency you can win all the battles and still lose the war.”

He asked me to explain that, and I said I’d try and put a few thoughts down on paper.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “I know you writers like to write. How about something short.”

“That’s a tall order,” I said. “It’s a subject that doesn’t led itself to short.”

“I have a job and a wife and kids I like to spent time with,” he replied. “I need short. And how about something I can relate to?”

So here is a theory of counterinsurgency. In six paragraphs and the form of a parable. Set in the rural South, where we both live.

The house next door to you is sold, and the people who move in are white supremacist skinheads. You discover that they’ve started up a methamphetamine lab in their basement. You think about calling your County Sheriff’s Department, but you’re not so sure. The cops strike you as generally overweight and none too swift. The only time you ever see them is in the mall, two cruisers parked side by side, the deputies gossiping and waiting for the next radio call instead of being on patrol. You’re afraid that if you tell them about your neighbors the news will leak out and you’ll get your house burned down one night. After all, you have a wife and kids and a mortgage.

But one day the SWAT team shows up to serve a warrant and kicks down the neighbor’s door and drags them off to jail. You’re incredibly pleased and highly relieved. You vow that the next time the Department is doing some charity work you’ll write a check. And you tell one of the deputies that if he sees you out in the yard to stop and you’ll let him know what’s going on in the neighborhood.

Now let’s shift that scenario to a slightly alternate universe where the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply. The Sheriff’s Department gets the word that someone in the neighborhood is cooking meth. They don’t know who, but since no one in the neighborhood is telling them anything they think everyone might be white supremacists. So one night they kick down your door looking for the meth lab. They point guns at your kids and your wife and scare them half to death. While searching your home they break your furniture and throw your belongings everywhere. And they slap you around trying to get you to tell them where the meth lab is. By now you’ve forgotten all about your scary neighbors—you just want to get even with those cops.

Even worse, let’s say that the cops find out exactly where the meth lab is. But they’re afraid of the neighborhood, and they don’t want to get shot at taking down the lab. So they call in a fighter bomber and drop a 500 lb guided bomb on your neighbor’s house. That takes care of the meth lab, but it also blows down one wall of your house, breaks every window, and destroys the car you need to get to work every day. You don’t know what you’re going to do.

A couple of nights later, another neighbor comes to your door and says he’s making a bomb to blow up the next patrol car that comes down the road. And would you help him dig the hole for $100?

You’d probably do it for nothing, wouldn’t you?

William Christie is a former Marine Corps infantry officer who left the Corps as a First Lieutenant in 1987. He is the author of 5 novels, including most recently The Blood We Shed, currently in hardcover from ibooks. And Threat Level, which will be published in October by Pinnacle Books/Kensington Press. He can be reached at .

Also by William Christie: Still Looking Out From the Forest of Iraq: At Iran