Lawrence of Arabia, guiding US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan
Lawrence of Arabia's life and writings still give counterinsurgency experts in the US guidance on how to conduct operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a passage from his "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," T.E. Lawrence recounts days spent struggling against illness in the unforgiving deserts of Arabia. As he lay in his tent, "suffering a bodily weakness which made my animal self crawl away and hide till the shame was passed," the man known later as "Lawrence of Arabia" began to appraise the dynamics of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks – breaking down his ideas of guerrilla warfare into a concept that pitted two opposing forces head-on.Skip to next paragraph
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The lessons of the Arab revolt, which Lawrence helped start in 1916, continue to reverberate today.
For Lawrence, who died 75 years ago last month, the Turks "were like plants, immobile, firm-rooted, nourished through long-stems to the head," and his own band of Arab irregulars were "an influence, an idea … drifting about like a gas … a vapour blowing where we listed."
In just two years, this perceptive vision of warfare would hand Lawrence a stunning victory.
Ninety-four years may have passed since the British intelligence officer put into practice his theories of campaigning in Arabia, but as the United States pursues its campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is to Lawrence that some of its leading military thinkers turn for inspiration and guidance.
"What Lawrence gave us was an appreciation of how difficult the task is in understanding that we have to work through our local allies," says John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, and a coauthor of the 2006 US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which incorporates some of Lawrence's writings. "And also a sense of the independence of thought and action that is required both for good insurgent leaders and, in many cases, for good counterinsurgency leaders."
Lawrence on the syllabus
In Britain, the land of his birth, Lawrence is still revered, a man whose reputation as the force who galvanized the Arabs and propelled them to victory was undoubtedly enhanced (and some say grossly exaggerated) by the 1962 epic film "Lawrence of Arabia."
But observers like Dr. Nagl see him as more than a romantic figure from a vanished age. The counterinsurgency (COIN) manual that Nagl co-wrote in response to the insurgency that threatened America's early occupation of Iraq cites Lawrence's famed 27 Articles, penned in 1917 as a brief cultural guide for British officers working with Arabs, alongside the work of other notable military theorists such as David Galula, the French counterinsurgent who fought in Algeria.