Just one thing before the Hill confirmation hearings begin. There’s a reprint of the U.S. Army’s stability operations field manual out now. Tom Ricks reads it and recontextualizes it entirely:

What we really are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think, is instability operations. I don’t think the U.S. military really has ever been comfortable with that mission, which was one reason we saw a lot of friction early on between the Bremer team trying to bring change and the Sanchez team simply trying to keep a lid on things. Personally, I think the mission of changing the culture of Iraq was nuts — but that was the mission the president assigned the military.

I think a more intellectually honest title for the manual would be "Revolutionary Operations." Don’t hold your breath.

That’s really rather brilliant, and it speaks to a certain blind spot among the counterinsurgency community: missing the broader relationship between counterinsurgency and foreign occupation. This is at the heart of an unfolding debate over whether counterinsurgents are and/or ought to be agnostic on the circumstances under which a counterinsurgency campaign is waged. The field manual says up front that it views Iraq and Afghanistan as anomalies. So what are the other cases in which COIN is employed, goes the question, and now Ricks adds: under what conditions do they make the U.S. a force for instability?

Crossposted to The Streak.