Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mike Innes, "The occidental guerilla," Weblog of The Complex Terrain Laboratory, May 15, 2009.

Soldier, scholar, linguist, adventurer. David Kilcullen, a former Australian special forces officer with a PhD in political anthropology, is unique in the level of influence and cachet he wields in Washington. A career soldier-scholar, his portfolio derives from a wide range of military appointments, combat operations, and scholarly research. As a senior counterinsurgency advisor to Gen. David Petraeus and counterterrorism advisor to the State Dept., that expertise was tested and refined in America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As an Australian in D.C., he cuts an almost exotic swath: appealing, no doubt, to a distinctly American appreciation of rugged individualism in any form, Kilcullen’s latter day renaissance man is a romantic figure, a throwback, it would seem, to days of empire when orientalist advisors could be brought in from abroad.

It isn’t much of a stretch to suggest that Washington’s attraction to this straight talking foreigner is symptomatic of a loss of faith in itself: that it has ceased, over the last eight years, to trust many of its own, has acknowledged the need for intervention, and worships the source of its deliverance from self-doubt. But it would also be a mistake to dismiss Kilcullen as a colorful anachonism or merely the object of another singularly American trait, a tendency towards political personality cults and military hagiography. He has written some of the most influential articles on modern counterinsurgency published over the last few years, and has the credibility that comes from long immersion in his subject. Based at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), he is well positioned to continue channelling his hard earned wisdom directly to senior levels of the US government and military, where it most needs to be heard.

Which is why his timely new book, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Oxford University Press in North America, Hurst Publishers in the UK, 2009) is so important. An astute work of synthesis, it was amassed, Kilcullen tells us, “between combat operations, research trips, diplomatic meetings, scholarly conferences, and policy planning sessions; on long-haul flights in commercial airliners, corporate jets, and military transports; in hotels, apartments, and cafes, library reading rooms, earthen bunkers, and armoured trailers, on the couches and at the kitchen tables of friends and relatives.” Location, location, location, he seems to be suggesting. Indeed, on the trail of insurgents and terrorists from Southeast Asia to Northwestern Europe, he manages to pinpoint the political shear between minority existential threats to US interests and the majority of locally invested guerrillas who just want to be left alone.

  Instead of fixating on the imputed threat of communities in which terrorists thrive or the places where they live, Kilcullen argues that we should treat them as subversive, exploitative actors, and work from there.

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