The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War

(Simon and Schuster, 2013)

Book Forum
March 18, 2013 12:30PM
Hayek Auditorium
Featuring the author Fred Kaplan, “War Stories” Columnist, Slate, with comments by Spencer Ackerman, National Security Correspondent, WIRED; and Janine Davidson, George Mason University; moderated by Christopher Preble, Vice President, Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute.

In The Insurgents, Fred Kaplan tells the story of how a small group of soldier-scholars revolutionized the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight a new kind of war in the post–Cold War age: “small wars” in cities and villages, against terrorists and insurgents. These would be wars not only of fighting but of “nation building,” often not of necessity but of choice.

Kaplan describes how these men and women maneuvered their ideas about counterinsurgency — or COIN, for short — through the bureaucracy and made it official policy. 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. By adapting the U.S. military to fight the conflicts of the modern era, they also created the tools — and made it more tempting — for political leaders to wade into wars that they would be wise to avoid.