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The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of Warby Fred Kaplan
Synopses & Reviews
The Insurgents is the inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars, led by General David Petraeus, who plotted to revolutionize one of the largest, oldest, and most hidebound institutions — the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight the new kind of war in the post-Cold War age: not massive wars on vast battlefields, but “small wars” in cities and villages, against insurgents and terrorists. These would be wars not only of fighting but of “nation building,” often not of necessity but of choice.
Based on secret documents, private emails, and interviews with more than one hundred key characters, including Petraeus, the tale unfolds against the backdrop of the wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the main insurgency is the one mounted at home by ambitious, self-consciously intellectual officers — Petraeus, John Nagl, H. R. McMaster, and others — many of them classmates or colleagues in West Points Social Science Department who rose through the ranks, seized with an idea of how to fight these wars better. Amid the crisis, they forged a community (some of them called it a cabal or mafia) and adapted their enemies techniques to overhaul the culture and institutions of their own Army.
Fred Kaplan describes how these men and women maneuvered the idea through the bureaucracy and made it official policy. This is a story of power, politics, ideas, and personalities — and how they converged to reshape the twenty-first-century American military. But it is also a cautionary tale about how creative doctrine can harden into dogma, how smart strategists — today's “best and brightest” — can win the battles at home but not the wars abroad. Petraeus and his fellow insurgents made the US military more adaptive to the conflicts of the modern era, but they also created the tools — and made it more tempting — for political leaders to wade into wars that they would be wise to avoid.
“Fred Kaplan, one of the best military journalists we have, tells the compelling story of how a cadre of officers and civilians tried to rescue victory from defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan by putting the theory of counterinsurgency into practice, revolutionizing the US Army from within. His narrative is vivid and revelatory, dramatizing a crucial piece of recent history that we shouldn't allow ourselves to forget, however painful the memory.” George Packer, author of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq
"Fred Kaplan is one of the best in the business, a top-notch journalist and military analyst with serious intellectual chops and a killer pen. His new book The Insurgents tells the story of the rise and fall of the COINdinistas from Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, and it's not only a great read — it's a major contribution to one of the most important strategic debates of our time.” Gideon Rose, editor, Foreign Affairs, and author of How Wars End
"A fascinating and powerful work by America's wisest national-security reporter about an epic battle: the Army's search for a way to win the wars of the 21st century. If you love your country, if you care about its soldiers, if you wonder about the wisdom of their commanders, read this book now." Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA and Enemies: A History of the FBI
“Fred Kaplan has written a dazzling, compulsively readable book. Let's start with the fact that it is so well written, a quality so often lacking in books describing counterinsurgency. Let's also throw in the facts that it is both deeply researched and also devoid of cheerleading for the military or indeed any other kind of political bias. This book will join a small shelf of the most important accounts of the wars America has fought and will likely continue to fight in the 21st century.” Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: the Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad
"A very readable, thoroughly reported account of how, in American military circles, 'counterinsurgency' became a policy instead of a dirty word." John Barry, The Daily Beast
"There is no one better equipped to tell the story....Kaplan, a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter...knows the military world inside and out....An authoritative, gripping and somewhat terrifying account of how the American military approached two major wars in the combustible Islamic world." Thanassis Cambaniss
"Compelling" The New York Times Book Review
“Serious and insightful....The Insurgents seems destined to be one of the more significant looks at how the US pursued the war in Iraq and at the complex mind of the general in charge when the tide turned.” Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker
The inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars who changed the way the Pentagon does business and the American military fights wars, against fierce resistance from within their own ranks.
Based on previously unavailable documents and interviews with more than 100 key characters, including General David Petraeus, The Insurgents unfolds against the backdrop of two wars waged against insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the main insurgency is the one led at home, by a new generation of officers — including Petraeus, John Nagl, David Kilcullen, and H.R. McMaster — who were seized with an idea on how to fight these kinds of “small wars,” and who adapted their enemies’ techniques to overhaul their own Army. Fred Kaplan explains where their idea came from, and how the men and women who latched onto this idea created a community (some would refer to themselves as a “cabal”) and maneuvered the idea through the highest echelons of power.
This is a cautionary tale about how creative ideas can harden into dogma, how smart strategists — “the best and the brightest” of today — can win bureaucratic battles but still lose the wars. The Insurgents made the U.S. military more adaptive to the conflicts of the post-Cold War era, but their self-confidence led us deeper into wars we shouldn’t have fought and couldn’t help but lose.
About the Author
Fred Kaplan writes the “War Stories” column in Slate and has also written many articles on politics and culture in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York magazine, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and many other publications. A former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Boston Globe, he is also the author of 1959: The Year Everything Changed, Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power, and The Wizards of Armageddon. He graduated from Oberlin College and has a Ph.D. from M.I.T. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Brooke Gladstone.
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