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Getting Rid of the Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency


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eight comments


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In the Chicago School of COIN, is Galula or Petraeus the stand-in for Friedman?
The Chicago Boys are CNAS?


No shout out?

http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/201..


I like where you are going with this and I wanted to add a couple points. First, and I think you come close to saying this, it is hard for us to determine what is “rational” for someone else. Rational self-interest loses its meaning when any choice can be justified as rational. You use the example of the suicide bomber—The bomber thinks suicide bombing is a rational response to occupation. We consider the choice not to suicide bomb rational. So who determines rational or irrational?

Second, I’ve always considered COIN a pop-social science approach to war. Hell, you wrote a few hundred words here calling into question the entire thing. It just isn’t based on any realistic view of human behavior. I wish the COIN crowd would start re-examining their most basic assumptions (you’ve done it for them here) to try to figure out what went wrong. That, at least, would show a little bit of intellectual honesty.


@ Marg – I wouldn’t say the Chicago boys are CNAS. CNAS hugely influenced the COIN manual, and it is much more a mixture of emotions/rationality. Ergo, why that manual—and the CNAS folks—argue for both security, offensive operations, reconstruction and governance all rolled into one.

@ MikeF – We actually had that saved for the next On V Update to Old Ideas. We write the posts ahead of time, and sometimes new ideas pop up in the interim and we don’t have time to show them. Plus, like Starbuck, I can’t resist a subtle Star Wars reference.

@ Keith – That’s funny because for the most part, I agree with pop-centric COIN. My main argument is the idea that we need to go back to only killing. A killing/target centric view I believe would alienate populations more than it would draw them in.

Your point about rational/irrational from a cultural perspective is very important, and right at the heart of this post. For instance, a foreigner killing a local will almost always be perceived poorly by the locals. So is that a rational decision to force rational action? I don’t know, but we need to analyze it more.


First, Pape is, I think, usually peceived as positing a rationalist (rational actor) approach to suicide bombing.

Second, I agree that anything can tautologically be explained as rational action, per the last sentence of Keith’s first paragraph. See Fukuyama, “Trust,” pages 19-20.* But I’m not sure that discredits rationality as fully as this post would have it. Wartime would seem an exemplar of purposeful behavior directed toward well-defined and stable goals: say, the direction of the US military apparatus toward the destruction of the Nazi regime. I think Exum is, of course, borrowing from Kalyvas (another “Chicago Boy,” as it were – both former student and faculty), and I don’t see anything inherently wrong with the notion that as stakes go up (e.g., being a noncombatant in the midst of a warzone), people become very sensitive calculators of the costs and benefits of possible courses of action – put differently, that they approach the ideal-type of the rational actor.

ADTS

*And even what we might perceive as one of the most fundamental political acts – voting – is irrational: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_...


After I wrote the above, I felt compelled to add the following: “subject, of course, to cognitive constraints, limitations and biases such as those noted by the Kahneman, Tversky and others.” So maybe I come down less hard on this issue than I thought I did…

ADTS


Right, and again I feel we are correcting an overreaction (which we have been writing about for the last few weeks). So I don’t believe that rationality has nothing to do with warfare. And some others have proposed terms like exogenous, endogenous, and self-interest. As I said in my last sentence, its a balance of views.

Self-interest might be the best term to use when predicting a population’s behavior. The key, which makes it difficult, is defining a individual/group’s self-interest. Do they see their self interest as defined by their identity? By survival? By money?

Its complicated, I just don’t want us to assume it is as simple as “a cold blooded calculation about survival”.


@ Mike F – Yeah, shout out is coming. And thank you for the SWJ shout out. It’s much appreciated.