William E. Odom combines expertise in political science and military affairs to challenge both conventional and unconventional wisdom about insurgencies and political development. The author concludes that in all three components of U.S. strategy for counterinsurgency—political, economic, and military—faulty notions of causation inform policy. U.S. advice to embattled governments fails to recognize the inherent clash of development goals; direct fiscal aid hurts more often than it helps recipient governments; and the focus of U.S. military assistance on fighting insurgents plays to their strengths and fails to exploit their weaknesses.
On Internal War reviews the contrasting theory and practice in Soviet and American approaches to their competition in the Third World and relates them to indigenous causes of internal wars. Odom also integrates the military dimensions of insurgencies with external influences and internal politics. Drawing on political development theory, he underscores the sources of instability in Third World states that make insurgencies more likely and offers ways to assess the prospects for democracy in specific cases.
The centerpiece of the study is a practical application of the author’s analysis to three case studies—El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Philippines—and a regional assessment of the Middle East. Odom provides no panaceas but suggests that more promising strategies can be devised.