Book Review # 1: Beware the use of case studies...

So, here is the first mini-review of the four books I am reviewing for the SMH.  

Contesting History:  The Bush Counterinsurgency Legacy in Iraq.  By Matthew J. Flynn.  Santa Barbara, Calif.:  Praeger, 2010.  ISBN 978-0-313-38488-2.  Notes.  Bibliography.  Index.  Pp.  xi, 164.  $44.95.

This book is a series of case studies that attempts to compare and contrast the US counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq with several historical examples the author describes as insurgencies against an "occupation."  The examples he choose include Mexico in 1863, the Arab revolt of WWI, the US in Vietnam, the Soviets in Afghanistan and Chechnya and, of course, Iraq.

Ok, so there are two dangers to using case studies for historical analysis, as this Grouchy Historian sees it:
1) For every case that proves your thesis, there is another one that doesn't so choose wisely
2) The KEY to this type of analysis is a rigorous and thorough synthesis of each case study to support the overall thesis of the book.

While I found the individual case studies interesting, especially Flynn's choice of the revolt against the French occupation of Mexico on 1863, I did not feel that he made a compelling case overall.  In fact, I actually had a very difficult time trying to determine what his thesis was.  In some case studies, he appears to be making the argument that conducting COIN operations as part of an occupation is difficult (duh), while seeming to try and make a comparison of each case study to Iraq.  In other case studies, he simply appears to be analyzing that insurgency in isolation with no tie-in to the US in Iraq.

But when discussing Iraq, Flynn seems to contradict himself several times, arguing at one point that the US acted like any occupying power, while later saying the US was very clever in NOT acting like an occupying power.  His conclusions on US operations and the "future" lessons learned seemed pedestrian at best, with no major insights and overall this book left me flat.

Needless to say, I am glad that the SMH gave me this book to read.  I would not have paid $44.95 for it.