After disseminating some copies of my recent article on language training for counterinsurgency, I received some great thoughts from Dave Foster, a former USMC officer and now test engineer at Naval Air Systems Command:
Yes. I had been thinking in 2006 and 2007 that it seemed fairly clear that the services weren't at all serious about counterinsurgency—what then seemed all the rage—because so few of our officers outside special operations and foreign areas types had explicit, in depth language training and competency. That would have been about the easiest thing to do: America is full of all manner of language speakers. We probably can't really have true armed bureaucrats at the strategic corporal level—too much to pack into a 21 year old brain. But we could have made tens of thousands at the senior NCO level , the 25 to 30-year old squad leaders. Just take the normal grunt routine for a single year, spread that same workload over two year, and fill the remaining time with language and political economy. It could have been done, but that it wasn't shows (a) the continued actual disinterest in the historically normal form of war (small) and (b) the Defense Department’s general sclerosis.
Then again, when counterinsurgency thought was reflowering a decade back, and we were starting to see all of the Kilcullen-like using social science and field anthropology—more or less what Bernard Fall was doing—field research followed by the work in the stacks kinds of academic work—I'd thought that, yes, this was the SunTzu stuff. Learn about the context. Learn your enemy. Learn about the ‘sea' that the ‘fish' were swimming in. But I did not think that this knowledge should be used for do-gooder purposes, the typical bureaucratic command intrusions we've seen for a century or two. Rather, we should be learning about the fish and the sea in order to understand the context of what matters and what doesn’t. This way, we wouldn’t attempt to "solve" things that Americans would see as problems. As Peter Galbraith said, if there was no bridge connecting two thousand year-old towns separated by a river, perhaps there was a reason it wasn't there. So the language/cultural understanding was to be gained in order to understand how to optimally apply carrots and sticks according to the local context, not do things the way we'd do at home—which clearly don't always take in any case.