He is sharp about the UK’s performance in Basra and Helmand, Iraq, about which he says, though not in the book, “the British totally screwed up.” With Britain’s enduring admiration for the army, I am not sure that the message about former British prime minister Tony Blair’s two major deployments has quite sunk in. Even the severest British critics have not described the UK’s performance in quite such stark terms. However, is that any surprise? Britain has allowed 10 years to elapse since the Iraq war, yet there has still been no report on the decision to go to war.
Unsurprisingly, Porch, who lectures at the Department of National Security Affairs at Monterey, California, expects to be given a hard time when the message of his book reaches historians, who he believes have distorted the record to show the success of COIN strategies, yet never considered the blowback in their own democracies. Edward Snowden’s revelations about US National Security Agency surveillance of US citizens and the fears expressed recently in the US Senate about FBI drones spying on innocent US citizens underline that aspect very well.
Yet he was not writing simply for the pleasure of causing conniptions in the US and UK militaries. The book came from listening to his students, many of whom are seasoned officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who repeatedly told him that COIN hadn’t a hope of changing the countries for the better. And when he lost two students to “green on blue attacks”, he felt an obligation to expose the official doctrine and, in some way, to stop scholarship being militarized.
If I have a reservation about Porch’s book, it is that he does not offer any alternative strategy. There remains a question of what the best response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was: without COIN, there would certainly have been a policy vacuum.
However, for British and US readers, and to a lesser extent French readers, his polemical history will be a chastening experience. It is compelling because his insights about war are as important as what he says about three providential democracies that are his subject — in other words, those countries that believe they have a duty to export their values through dominion, even though that compromises the qualities and systems they proselytize.