Wrong Turn

America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency

From a prominent critic—and distinguished military man—a searing indictment of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, in the tradition of Andrew Bacevich

“Gentile is convinced that Obama’s ‘surge’ in Afghanistan can’t work. . . . And, if Afghanistan doesn’t turn around soon, the Democrats . . . who have come to embrace the Petraeus-Nagl view of modern warfare . . . may find themselves wondering whether it’s time to go back to the drawing board.” —The New Republic

Colonel Gian Gentile’s 2008 article “Misreading the Surge” in World Politics Review first exposed a growing rift among military intellectuals that has since been playing out in strategy sessions at the Pentagon, in classrooms at military academies, and on the pages of the New York Times. While the past years of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan have been dominated by the doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN), Gentile and a small group of dissident officers and defense analysts have questioned the necessity and efficacy of COIN—essentially armed nation-building—in achieving the United States’ limited core policy objective in Afghanistan: the destruction of Al Qaeda.

Drawing both on the author’s experiences as a combat battalion commander in the Iraq War and his research into the application of counterinsurgency in a variety of historical contexts, Wrong Turn is a brilliant summation of Gentile’s views of the failures of COIN, as well as a searing reevaluation of the current state of affairs in Afghanistan.

As the issue of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan inevitably rises to the top of the national agenda, Wrong Turn will be a major new touchstone for what went wrong and a vital new guide to the way forward.

Note: the ideas in this book are the author’s alone, not the Department of Defense’s.

Praise

“How I wish we’d had this telling critique of counterinsurgency warfare before Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It would have been far harder to make those tragic mistakes. A must-read for our national security experts and U.S. citizens.”
—Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and former columnist for The New York Times
“Provocative, incisive, and imperative. Gentile goes back to the primary sources to show how history has been misused and abused in order to bolster the dangerous myths of counterinsurgency. . . . The United States is locked in a tragic cycle of seeking tactical solutions to strategic problems and fooling itself that the military can fix what policy has broken.”
—Reina Pennington, professor of history, Norwich University
“In criticizing the U.S. military’s current obsession with counterinsurgency, Colonel Gian Gentile can claim a certain precedence: he was there first. Back in 2008, at a time when analysts seemed giddy about the virtues of the surge and were busy constructing a triumphalist narrative of the war in Iraq, Gentile had already stood up as a kind of one-man loyal opposition—poking holes in COIN theory and asking some pointed questions about the army’s ability to transform foreign societies in our image. Wrong Turn reflects not only those original arguments but also five years of mature reflection. It is required reading for military historians and policy makers alike.”
—Robert Citino, professor of history, University of North Texas
“The definitive challenge to what became the prevailing orthodoxy during the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, written by a soldier-scholar who led American troops during some of the worst violence in Baghdad. This book will enter the canon of indispensable works in the history of counterinsurgency theory and is essential reading for soldiers, statesmen, strategists, and anyone who cares about the making of American national security policy.”
—Celeste Ward Gventer
“Colonel Gentile asks us to confront some blisteringly urgent questions. Have COIN tactics ever worked the military magic their proponents claim? Or have they merely provided cover for beating exits from wars that never should have been fought in the first place? . . . Wrong Turn deserves a wide readership by all who must make these supremely important strategy decisions—as well as those who will live with the consequences.”
—David M. Kennedy. professor of history, Stanford University, and editor of The Modern American Military
“A brilliant and persuasive book . . . offers by far the most convincing explanation extant of why America has not succeeded recently with COIN.”
—Colin Gray, director, Centre for Strategic Studies, University of Reading
“Based on his personal experience in Baghdad as well as some fine historical scholarship, Colonel Gentile takes aim at America’s current COIN doctrines and shows how ineffective they really are. An exceptionally courageous book, clearly and forcibly written.”
—Martin van Creveld, author of The Transformation of War
“Lucid . . . a must-read by warfighters and policy makers alike to gain a complete perspective of the effects of COIN in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
—Lieutenant General Dave Deptula
“In war, truth is usually the first casualty. Colonel Gian Gentile rectifies this miscarriage of justice with a compelling book that is destined to be the definitive work on America’s military experience in Iraq. Gentile strips away the mythology that envelops Iraq’s counterinsurgency narrative to reveal a devastating truth: in Iraq, America defeated itself.”
—Colonel Douglas Macgregor (ret), U.S. Army, and author of Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting and Transformation Under Fire: Revolutionizing how America Fights
“A learned and experienced professional soldier, Gentile has filed a passionate and convincing brief against the theory and practice of the counterinsurgency school of modern American war, arguing that in search of the ‘ better war, ’ the military establishment has misread the lessons of the past and taken a wrong turn toward the future. A counterbalance against the breathless hero worship that has framed our thinking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
—Roger Spiller, George C. Marshall Professor of Military History emeritus, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
“Here in this timely, incisive, and unflinchingly honest volume, the essential task of dismantling the myths already enshrouding America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan begins. . . . An important book that will give Washington’s warmongers and militarists fits. ”
—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country
“Counterinsurgency rises over and over again from the ashes of defeat. It is Gian Gentile’s ambition to ‘ drive a stake through its heart, ’ and in Wrong Turn he has succeeded—brilliantly.”
—Marilyn Young, professor of history, NYU
“A lively, provocative and readable book . . . never misses its mark.”
—Sir Hew Strachan, professor of international relations, University of St. Andrews
“Gentile finds the common flaw in our failed strategy as evidenced in our last three military misadventures. . . . We did not lose the Vietnam War—it was never ours to win. Is Afghanistan becoming a repeat performance?”
—General Volney Warner (ret), U.S. Army

News and Reviews

Reason

Reason reviews Wrong Turn

CounterPunch

CounterPunch reviews Wrong Turn