First, the good news: a long and fairly thorough work on US sponsored insurgencies and counterinsurgencies is now available for free online. It’s called Instruments of Statecraft: US Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990. You can find it online at Statecraft.org.
And now for the bad news: it’s a pretty conventional anti-American, Marxist view of history. If you think the nation’s top historian is Howard Zinn, or maybe Noam Chomsky, you’re going to love Michael McClintock’s view of American actions through red-star glasses. From the introduction, which is apparently McClintock writing of himself in the third person:
America has maintained forces -including the OSS, the CIA, the Green Berets, and the Delta Force-that have specialized in dirty warfare with impunity, in Nicaragua, Lebanon, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Africa, Cuba, Central America, and Greece, among other places.
We have to get that added to the business cards: Dirty Warfare with Impunity. It’ll go somewhere between Revolutions Started and Virgins Deflowered.
His failure to complete his PhD — we can’t imagine why; this work would have been a viable dissertation in any Marxist history department, which is most of them — has deprived some deserving university of a campus clown. He’s now a “human rights monitor” (and, presumably, a barista, but mostly a barista) for the sort of “human rights group” that is all wound up about cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal, but never noticed that there were and are a whole bunch of isolated, fenced compounds full of scrawny people in every “Scientific Socialist” state.
The benefit of the book? He has assembled a lot of case studies of insurgencies in one place, although he usually gets the rather vital why and what was the alternative wrong. In the laundry list of places given above, he describes a number of places where we supported some nasty people in order to defeat people who were not only nastier, but opposed to our national interests. But McClintock is consistent in rejecting national interest as a basis for national policy (which makes his choice of the URL “Statecraft” unintentionally ironic). He considers that we should consider human rights as our lodestone in international relations.
Human rights deserve consideration, but the details quickly take on Satanic form (and scope). For example, in the Vietnam war, both sides committed human rights violations, but the side the US supported, as opposed to McClintock’s preferred side, committed rather fewer of the, and had the potential to evolve away from its authoritarian state-of-being, much as Taiwan and South Korea (as well as many South and Central American dictatorships) have done. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam had much lower potential to evolve away from its totalitarian state-of-being, and indeed, despite some economic liberalization, it has not done so in nearly 40 years. It is still repressive towards dissidents, the religious, and such minorities as the Montagnards and Nung. (We believe the Cambodian minority to have been subjected to ethnic cleansing). You will read nothing of this in McClintock.
He also makes some rather long-reaching assertions that he hasn’t got the facts to back out. In several places he explicitly ties US counterinsurgency doctrine, operations during Vietnam, etc. to World War II Nazi counter-partisan strategy and tactics. This is so far wrong as to be silly. The US model in Vietnam was the British defense of Malaya against McClintock’s ideological fellow travelers, a sophisticated defense which defeated the Communist terrorist insurgency in that country. US COIN officers were well aware of the effect of Nazi repression — it turned Ukrainians, for example, who bore Stalin a grudge and were ready to collaborate, into armed partisans harassing German lines and installations. No one studies Nazi COIN for anything but a bad example.
In the end, the book is worth reading, as long as you understand that McClintock is captive of an ideological straitjacket:
The partnership arrangement had certain advantages over overt colonial domination: It permitted executive military action that the political restraints of the United States’ democratic system would not have permitted under other circumstances. It also masked U. S. colonialist interests under the guise of neighborliness, and so maintained the United States’ image at home as the international good guy, as well as the new international legal order that served as a shining lamp of U. S. postwar policies.
If a guy thinks that Vietnam, for instance, was the equivalent, say, of the French reduction of Dahomey (or the US driving the Cherokee to the Trail of Tears, for that matter), his education is as narrow as he thinks it is broad, and he’s going to err rather spectacularly in his conclusions and policy prescriptions. QED.
Anyway, bottom line: it’s worth reading at the price (free) if you’re interested in UW/GW/COIN.