He talked about his new book, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. I think it is the best book I have read so far about the current wars the USA is engaged in, why they went wrong, and what to do about it. The phrase “must read” is over-used. I try not to over-use it. “Accidental Guerilla” is a must read.
It is very much worth listening to, and I won’t summarize the talk here, which is itself a summary of the book.
Dr. Kilcullen chatted with members of the library beforehand. I actually joined the Library so I could get in on that. It was my first time at the PML, though I have been getting their emails since it opened. I have been planning on going to one thing or another, yet never got over there before. Having seen the place, which is very nice and very professionally run, I would now like to get back to hear some other speakers.
The chitchat beforehand was interesting, but nothing terribly noteworthy. One thing I asked him about was whether the USA had even had a Pashtun phrasebook for the troops when it invaded Afghanistan. I had read somewhere that we did not, and even made that claim in a comment on this blog. I was wrong. Dr. Kilcullen said, “Oh, yeah, we had a Pashtun phrasebook for the Army back in the 1990s, when we were in Afghanistan helping them clear mines.” So, there ya go. If you did not know it already, remember this: Don’t take anything on any blog as gospel, even if it is on ChicagoBoyz, and even if it is from me. Trust but verify, dammit.
Waiting in line to get my book autographed, after the talk, the guy in front of me asked Dr. Kilcullen, “could you recommend three books on counterinsurgency?” Kilcullen started to hedge, “well, I can’t really … .” I intervened, “c’mon, your on the spot, go ahead and name three.” He smiled and sat back and said, “well, OK, I’d say Seven Pillars, and Galula on Counterinsurgency, you know Galula? And also one, by an Al Qaeda theorist, called the Management of Savagery”.
You have to imagine all that in an Australian accent.
An interesting top three. Galula is pretty much the Bible, though there are dissenters, who dismiss Mao-era counter-insurgency as outdated. Obviously, Kilcullen does not think so. And T.E. Lawrence seems to have a more mixed reputation, but Kilcullen came up with his book first. And I am a fairly obsessive amateur, yet I had never heard of the Management of Savagery.
So, put those three near the top of the pile.
(Dr. Kilcullen may have said that The Management of Savagery was “by al-Suri”, but I may not have caught precisely what he said. I wrote about Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a/k/a “al-Suri”, here and here. But the pdf says it is by a guy named Abu Bakr Naji. Same guy? A quick search on the Internet does not say so. Al-Suri used a lot of psuedonyms. So, maybe Kilcullen knows that Abu Bakr Naji is really al-Suri? If anyone can clarify this arcane point, please leave a comment.)
(As a further aside, see this excellent post from the Insurgency Research Group, linking to this article, Dissidents in al-Qaida: Abu Mus‘ab al-Suri’s Critique of bin Ladin and the Salafi-Jihadi Current. I will read that one on the train … .)
I asked Dr. Kilcullen if he had paid any attention to the debate about whether there is a “Kilcullen doctrine” and whether an operational and tactical doctrine for counterinsurgency can be the basis for a strategy or a national grand strategy. (See, e.g. this Zenpundit post, and links at the bottom, and this CB post by SmittenEagle.)
Dr. Kilcullen’s response, a shrug, and: “I don’t generally pay any attention to the critics”.
So, a firm “no comment” on that debate from Dr. Kilcullen. At least for now.
Dr. Kilcullen also posts on the Small Wars Journal Blog. His collected posts are here.
Dr. Kilcullen wrote a widely cited article entitled Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency, which seems to be a modern classic.
(On a personal note, I had to get from the Loop over to the PML, and anyone who was in Chicago yesterday can attest that we had a soaking, torrential rain. Of course, rain like that at 5:00 P.m. = no cabs. So I just walked over. Poor planning on my part: no umbrella, no boots, no rubber totes for the shoes. I was absolutely saturated. And, yeah, it was worth it!)
(I also enjoyed meeting our stalwart commenter ElamBend at the PML, as well.)
UPDATE: How embarrassing. It came to me in a flash that I had heard of The Management of Savagery, in fact, I had an excerpt on my own bookshelf. It is excerpted in The Canons of Jihad: Terrorists’ Strategy for Defeating America, which excerpts several major documents in “jihadi” thought. I have not yet read this book. I did start reading TMOS, however, and it is interesting so far. (I better get focused on finishing my first pass through Xenophon, though, pretty soon … .)