The premise of the book is to explain why some insurgencies, consisting of poorly equipped and numerically inferior forces, can defeat powerful nations with are, at least in comparison, limitless material resources. The author looks at specific factors of insurgencies and how these factors affected the outcomes of eleven insurgencies where the insurgents defeated a larger, more powerful opponent. He then looks at the role of external support in aiding insurgents, concluding that, statistically, it is the most significant single factor. The author then attempts to apply his analysis to the current insurgency in Iraq and draws some conclusions concerning the likelihood of an insurgent victory there.
The factors analyzed by Dr. Record are the will to fight, including the political will of the antagonists; strategy and the strategic interaction of the opponents; regime type (liberal democracy versus authoritarian) and external support to the insurgency in the form of money, weapons, personnel and safe areas.
External support, being the single most influential factor in determining the success of the weak versus the strong, rates its own chapter. This chapter does not get stuck in a scientific statistical analysis, Dr. Record analyzes qualitatively as well as quantitatively. His analysis is not a sterile comparison of a set number of variables, but a wide ranging analysis of many factors and indirect influences on the external support and the outcome of the insurgencies.
Taking on a hot media topic, Record compares Vietnam and Iraq. He highlights the differences, the similarities and how these factors can influence the outcome of the war in Iraq. He looks at strategies, will at all levels, political factors in the U.S. government and external support. This chapter is a great help in breaking some myths perpetuated by the popular media.
Dr. Record's analysis of the American way of war surpasses the insightfulness of the earlier chapters. He describes how the separation of politics and war violates all of the basic principles of counterinsurgency and as a strategy is doomed to failure in the long term. His assessment of this way of war is spot on, and explains much of recent American military history.
This apolitical way of war leads inevitably to the strategy of attrition, and tactically to search and destroy operations. This may have many short term successes, and may even be a critical part of an effective counterinsurgency strategy, but its exclusive use is counterproductive and leads to failure.
In the final chapter, Record enumerates several conclusions which must be recognized by American politicians, military leaders and, hopefully, by the American public if we are to reach any sort of agreeable conclusion to the Iraq war.
This book is very well researched, documented and presented. Dr. Record does fall into a trap which the book is trying to correct, thinking of the insurgency in strictly military terms and whether the U.S. military can defeat the insurgents in Iraq. There is no military solution, there can only be a political solution brought about by the Iraqi people. I believe these minor lapses are more a result of word-smithing in the final copy than any academic mistake on the part of Dr. Record. He also includes some incorrect data, which is only due to his lack of access to anything other than open source information; but these are almost too minor to mention.
I would highly recommend this book to any national level elected political officials, military personnel of all ranks, civil servants dealing with foreign policy or the Department of Defense and to any citizen who wants to know more than the popular media can give you. Excellent work.