Much has been written about counterinsurgency (COIN) strategies and tactics being used in Afghanistan and Iraq – or rather not. Back in my army days in Kandahar in 2007-2008, I remember  commanders endlessy bragging about how “we totally nail that COIN thing”, keeping on gargling out quotes from the likes of COIN scholar David Galula, a French army officer who fought in the Algeria Independence War and is considered the leading COIN theoretician, cited as an inspiration to David Petraeus’ “Surge” strategy in Iraq which helped making that war a little less of a fiasco than it eventually became.

Except we weren’t. At all. This is the second of a three-part series of articles that addresses serious issues about the way US, Canadian and other NATO countries conducted what they thought were COIN operations and suggests new approaches that, in current and future conflicts, may improve efficiency and minimize civilian deaths so that wars can no longer be, in the words of my former PSYOPS platoon commander, “about buying time”.

Part 2 : Politics

In Ancient Times, the Roman Empire was built upon a succession of military conquests followed by the spread of their culture and technology – what they considered “civilization”. Famed political philosopher Montesquieu, whose theories inspired, among many things, the concept of separation of powers in several Western States including the US, once wrote in a work called Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline that “it should be noted that the main reason for the Romans becoming masters of the world was that, having fought successively against all peoples, they always gave up their own practices as soon as they found better ones”.

In other words, they knew that they had to adapt to change if they were going to maintain and expand their empire.

Nowadays, the Western World in general and the United States in particular share many similarities with the Roman Empire, namely a global zone of political influence within which Western technology has spread…And regional wars fought against enemies who wish to bring it down or, at least, drive Western influence out of their respective regions. Such conflicts bring economic instability, political turmoil  and are a mortal danger to civilian populations. Anti-colonialists would argue that the West should just pack up, shut down the “empire” and go home. But one can wonder what would have happened to Mali in 2013 if former colonial power France didn’t send its special forces and much-feared Foreign Legion to drive out the jihadist militias advancing towards the capital Bamako unopposed, after several military defeats and a coup weakened the Malian army to the point where it could no longer fight.

But I digress – countless articles can be written about Western foreign policies and its consequences, and I will most likely peel back to this territory in upcoming pieces in this column.

Let’s get back to a more familiar battlefield – Afghanistan. Sound tactics and a coherent COIN strategy could have improved NATO’s chance of winning the war, and I already discussed some aspects in my two previous articles. But no military strategy can be crafted outside of a country’s or an alliance’s political will – after all, militaries are still subservient to politics. And if that political will in no way connects to the reality of the battlefield, then even the most clairvoyant general can never hope to achieve victory.