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Charlie vs. The Commandant

My pseudonymous friend Charlie has been AWOL from her perch at Abu Muqawama for so long that I thought Undersecretary of Defense for Policy-designate Michele Flournoy might have offered her a job. Alas, she’s just had to endure an extended jury duty stint, but now she’s sort-of back, and she has Gen. James Conway, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, in her sights.

The Commandant wants to send Marines to Afghanistan, again, shifting troops from Iraq. (This isn’t really news is most defense circles…people have been working this for quite some time.) But why does Gen Conway have to say such utterly maddening and patently false things like this?

“It’s very much a nation-building kind of environment that’s taking place there [Iraq]” now, Conway said, adding “that is not what we do, and we need those Marines elsewhere.”

…For starters, this is ahistorical bullsh*t. (I’m of half a mind to send The Bateman over for a remedial lesson on Marine Corps history). The Marines have arguably done more of this sort of work than any other service; they literally wrote the book on it.

Indeed. As Charlie can tell you, Conway, a former Marine commander in Anbar Province, has sounded cautionary notes about counterinsurgency throughout his tenure as USMC commandant. Those who want to see the corps embrace counterinsurgency more thoroughly tend to promote Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis — Charlie, with characteristic understatement (like I’m one to talk), says, “Maybe Gen Mattis needs to take Gen Conway out back, smack him around a bit, and tell him to get on board for the big win.” Earlier this week, Mattis made this interesting comment:

But Mattis emphasized that technology alone can’t fight and win wars. “I want the best possible technology in the hands of our troops,” he said. “But the idea that this is going to solve the problem of war is a little silly if you study history.”

That’s because although technology has altered the character of war, “the fundamental nature of war has not changed,” he said.

Mattis said this at a Brookings Institution forum for a new book by defense scholar P.W. Singer that aims to put “the robotics revolution” in the context of war-fighting. (And which, awesomely, starts off with a Battlestar: Galactica reference.) His willingness to provide that sort of pushback is part of why the COIN set likes him.

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