The Insurgents is the inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars, led by General David Petraeus, who plotted to revolutionize one of the largest, oldest, and most hidebound institutions—the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight the new kind of war in the post–Cold War age: not massive wars on vast battlefields, but “small wars” in cities and villages, against insurgents and terrorists. These would be wars not only of fighting but of “nation building,” often not of necessity but of choice.
Based on secret documents, private emails, and interviews with more than one hundred key characters, including Petraeus, the tale unfolds against the backdrop of the wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the main insurgency is the one mounted at home by ambitious, self-consciously intellectual officers—Petraeus, John Nagl, H. R. McMaster, and others—many of them classmates or colleagues in West Point’s Social Science Department who rose through the ranks, seized with an idea of how to fight these wars better. Amid the crisis, they forged a community (some of them called it a cabal or mafia) and adapted their enemies’ techniques to overhaul the culture and institutions of their own Army.
Fred Kaplan describes how these men and women maneuvered the idea through the bureaucracy and made it official policy. This is a story of power, politics, ideas, and personalities—and how they converged to reshape the twenty-first-century American military. But it is also a cautionary tale about how creative doctrine can harden into dogma, how smart strategists—today’s “best and brightest”—can win the battles at home but not the wars abroad. Petraeus and his fellow insurgents made the US military more adaptive to the conflicts of the modern era, but they also created the tools—and made it more tempting—for political leaders to wade into wars that they would be wise to avoid.
Fred Kaplan is the national-security columnist for Slate and the author of five previous books, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (a Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestseller), 1959, Daydream Believers, and The Wizards of Armageddon. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Brooke Gladstone.
"There is no one better equipped to tell the story. ... Kaplan, a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter … knows the military world inside and out. ... An authoritative, gripping and somewhat terrifying account of how the American military approached two major wars in the combustible Islamic world."
– Thanassis Cambaniss, The New York Times Book Review
– Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker
"Riveting...essential reading... Kaplan's meticulous account of the ways Petraeus found to bring together and nurture the counterinsurgency 'cabal' might profitably be read by anyone interested in bringing change to a giant bureaucracy."
– John Barry, The Daily Beast
“Serious and insightful. … The Insurgents seems destined to be one of the more significant looks at how the US pursued the war in Iraq and at the complex mind of the general in charge when the tide turned.”
– Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
"A very readable, thoroughly reported account of how, in American military circles, 'counterinsurgency' became a policy instead of a dirty word."
– Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Excellent … Poignant and timely. … A good read, rich in texture and never less than wise.”
– Rosa Brooks, Foreign Policy
"A compelling story combined with thoughtful analysis of the development, application and limitations of a new model of applying American military power."
– Kirkus Reviews
“Fred Kaplan has written a dazzling, compulsively readable book. Let's start with the fact that it is so well written, a quality so often lacking in books describing counterinsurgency. Let's also throw in the facts that it is both deeply researched and also devoid of cheerleading for the military or indeed any other kind of political bias. This book will join a small shelf of the most important accounts of the wars America has fought and will likely continue to fight in the 21st century.”
– Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: the Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad
"Fred Kaplan is one of the best in the business, a top-notch journalist and military analyst with serious intellectual chops and a killer pen. His new book The Insurgents tells the story of the rise and fall of the COINdinistas from Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, and it's not only a great read—it's a major contribution to one of the most important strategic debates of our time.”
– Gideon Rose, editor, Foreign Affairs, and author of How Wars End
"A fascinating and powerful work by America's wisest national-security reporter about an epic battle: the Army's search for a way to win the wars of the 21st century. If you love your country, if you care about its soldiers, if you wonder about the wisdom of their commanders, read this book now."
– Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA and Enemies: A History of the FBI
“Fred Kaplan, one of the best military journalists we have, tells the compelling story of how a cadre of officers and civilians tried to rescue victory from defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan by putting the theory of counterinsurgency into practice, revolutionizing the US Army from within. His narrative is vividand revelatory, dramatizing a crucial piece of recent history that we shouldn't allow ourselves to forget, however painful the memory.”
– George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq