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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Women of Counterinsurgency Theory

Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent has been writing an extensive series of articles about counterinsurgency theory, a relatively new defense “movement” that is rapidly gaining adherents throughout the military (viz. Gen. David Petraeus) and in policy and political circles. His installment yesterday focused on an interesting phenomenon: the striking number of women among counterinsurgency theory’s leading lights.

While women are still underrepresented in the national-security apparatus — and at the Pentagon specifically — counterinsurgency, more than any other previous movement in defense circles, features women not just as equal partners, but leaders.
There’s no one answer for why that is. In a series of interviews, leading woman counterinsurgents, and some of their male colleagues, discussed how the unconventional approach to military operations calls for skills in academic and military fields that have become open to women in recent decades. Others contend that counterinsurgency’s impulse for collaborative leadership speaks to women’s “emotional IQ,” in the words of one prominent woman counterinsurgent. Another explanation has to do with coincidence: the military’s post-Vietnam outreach to women has matured at the same time as counterinsurgency became an unexpected national imperative.

Ackerman introduces us non-defense-experts to such luminaries of counterinsurgency theory as Erin Simpson of the Marine Corps University at Quantico; Janine Davidson, until recently at the Pentagon’s Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict and Special Capabilities unit; Sarah Sewall of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights (and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense); Michele Flournoy and Tammy Schulz of the Center for a New American Security; and Montgomery “Mitzi” McFate, who’s worked at the Institute for Defense Analysis and the Office of Naval Research.
Though much of Ackerman’s piece involves discussion of why women are so prominent in this particular field, there’s no question it’s a very welcome trend. As Erin Simpson said to Ackerman:

The reason we need women working national security is the same reason we need women in medicine and engineering: this stuff is really hard. And we aren’t going to win by telling half the population they can’t play. It’s always important that we have the sharpest, most creative minds working on defense and security issues as possible.

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