A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
The inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars who—against fierce resistance from within their own ranks—changed the way the Pentagon does business and the American military fights wars.
The Insurgents is the inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars, led by General David Petraeus, who plotted to revolutionize one of the largest, oldest, and most hidebound institutions—the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight the new kind of war in the post–Cold War age: not massive wars on vast battlefields, but “small wars” in cities and villages, against insurgents and terrorists. These would be wars not only of fighting but of “nation building,” often not of necessity but of choice.
Based on secret documents, private emails, and interviews with more than one hundred key characters, including Petraeus, the tale unfolds against the backdrop of the wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the main insurgency is the one mounted at home by ambitious, self-consciously intellectual officers—Petraeus, John Nagl, H. R. McMaster, and others—many of them classmates or colleagues in West Point’s Social Science Department who rose through the ranks, seized with an idea of how to fight these wars better. Amid the crisis, they forged a community (some of them called it a cabal or mafia) and adapted their enemies’ techniques to overhaul the culture and institutions of their own Army.
Fred Kaplan describes how these men and women maneuvered the idea through the bureaucracy and made it official policy. This is a story of power, politics, ideas, and personalities—and how they converged to reshape the twenty-first-century American military. But it is also a cautionary tale about how creative doctrine can harden into dogma, how smart strategists—today’s “best and brightest”—can win the battles at home but not the wars abroad. Petraeus and his fellow insurgents made the US military more adaptive to the conflicts of the modern era, but they also created the tools—and made it more tempting—for political leaders to wade into wars that they would be wise to avoid.
Despite advances in military technology, American military strategy had failed to keep pace with the realities of modern warfare and its aftermath. General David Petraeus and others recognized an immediate need for new tactics to combat insurgencies like those rising in the Middle East and, drawing on concepts that often had little to do with weaponry, they developed a more thoughtful and integrated approach. Here, Kaplan (The Wizards of Armageddon) charts the evolution of this new philosophy, drawing from personal interviews, meeting notes, and a litany of sources to provide an illuminating and frequently infuriating examination of how the US views warfare. Measured and meticulous, Kaplan's account is informative, detail-laden, and tempered by sharp analysis. Those hoping for insight into Petraeus's fall from grace and subsequent resignation will likely end up disappointed; it's addressed in a postscript but not given much time. However, for readers interested in military history, strategy, as well as the inner machinations of military politics will find a lot to chew on in this lengthy study. 16p b&w insert.
Essential read for defense leaders and policy folks?
This book is fantastic! It is an essential read for policy makers and folks associated with national security and defense - from strategy, planning to logistics. Unless one understands and gets a glimpse into the profound contrary view of folks within the entire apparatus (defense and national security), who have looked at other angles of a situation, serious flaws --- unacceptable cost to the public at large, in lives and resources are expended. As one involved in the the logistics arm and having been part of Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, I can see the flaws in our continued thinking and directing of resources in the prism of WWII and large scale tank battles.
Great Job Fred!