The Foreign Service Journal, September 2009

S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 9 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 51 It’s the People, Stupid! The Accidental Guerrilla David Kilcullen, Oxford University Press, 2009, $27.95, hardcover, 301 pages. R EVIEWED BY D AVID P ASSAGE Although The Accidental Guerrilla is not an attack on American engage- ment in Iraq or Afghanistan, it is a dev- astating litany of mistakes the United States initially made in both of these countries and in Pakistan. It is also the best book on contemporary insurgent warfare I have ever read. David Kilcullen is a former Aus- tralian Army officer with wide-ranging experience with insurgent conflicts in Southeast and Southwest Asia. He was initially seconded to the U.S. Defense Department in 2005, to General David Petraeus in Iraq in 2007, and later to Defense and State as a strategic adviser on counterterrorism. He now serves as a consultant and adviser in strategic approaches to “lawlessness” (whether committed by insurgents or terrorists) around the world. Kilcullen convincingly argues that most of the people the United States government has chosen to describe as “enemies” are, in fact, accidental — even unwilling — participants in con- flicts against us. As he points out, they fight us “because we are in [their] space, not because [they] wish to in- vade us.” Many are villagers whose sole preoccupation is with survival — their own and that of their families, commu- nities and clans. Their misfortune is to live where conflict is perpetrated by a very small number of people who are our enemies, and who use the larger uninvolved population as “the sea” in which they swim — to cite Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s famous metaphor. Chief among the book’s many in- sights is the fact that in wartorn coun- tries like Iraq and Afghanistan, “It’s the people, stupid!” (my phrase, not his). In traditional societies, choices are usu- ally made collectively, by families, clans, tribes or key traditional leaders — not by individuals. The way to pre- vail over insurgents operating among them is to win over traditional leaders and protect them and their people. That is precisely what (then-Major General) David Petraeus did while commanding the 101st Division dur- ing his first tour in Iraq between 2003 and 2005, and what the Marines did to turn the tide in al-Anbar province from 2006 to 2008. Kilcullen emphasizes the lesson the United States learned too late in Viet- nam, only to forget it by the time we began planning for what he describes as our “catastrophically unnecessary” invasion of Iraq: In order for a govern- ment Washington backs to be success- ful, it has to have the active — not merely passive — support of its own people. Insurgents have it easy. Their task is to attack an easily identifiable, even if much more powerful, enemy: the gov- ernment. Counterinsurgents (govern- ment forces) have a much more difficult task: to find and identify their enemies among the people. Destroy- ing insurgents is far easier than finding them. To be successful in Iraq, Afghani- stan, Pakistan and similar environ- ments, Washington needs to focus on Kilcullen emphasizes the lesson Washington keeps forgetting: for a government we back to be successful, it has to have the support of its own people. B OOKS