cover image Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency

Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency

Colonel Gian Gentile. New Press (Perseus, dist.), $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-59558-874-6

In 2006, after five years as a warzone, Iraq was descending into chaos. But then General David Petraeus arrived, adopted counterinsurgency (COIN) tactics, and ended the war. That’s the official story, but according to Gentile (a former Iraq War commander and current director of West Point’s military history program), it didn’t really happen that way. In this vivid and astute polemic, Gentile argues that the U.S. military’s appropriation of COIN, a strategy with a long and fraught history, as the author explains, was a dangerously misguided attempt “to refight the Vietnam War—but this time in Iraq.” COIN, in Gentile’s estimation, is little more than “a recipe for perpetual war.” In fact, he argues that the conflict in Iraq was settled not by Petraeus’s use of COIN; rather, the violence subsided when Sunni insurgents turned against al-Qaeda, and Shia factions quit fighting one another. Yet that hasn’t stopped the powers that be from implementing COIN in the Afghan theater. Gentile ultimately offers a sobering warning—if we refuse to learn from the failures of COIN and end our foolish belief in savior generals, we are “doomed to repeat the same mistakes for a long, long time.” This should be required reading for military scholars and active soldiers. (Aug.)