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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual is required reading for troops on frontlines to their commanders at the Pentagon. But the 400-page manual has become surprisingly popular with the general public this year. More than two million copies have been downloaded in the first two months after the manual was posted on the Internet. And there's now a paperback edition published by the University of Chicago Press.

Sarah Sewall is director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. She wrote the introduction of the paperback edition, which, by the way, has a foreword from General David Petraeus - now head of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Professor Sewall joins us from Harvard. Thanks very much for being with us.

Professor SARAH SEWALL (Director, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University): Great to be here, Scott.

SIMON: And do you have any theory as to why these books become so popular apparently?

Prof. SEWALL: One is that (unintelligible) operation in Afghanistan and Iraq have concerned people and left them wondering, can we really do these kinds of operations. But, I think, there's a broader yearning for a way of understanding the security environment and the statements from this administration while they talked about a terror threat don't do much in a way of providing a world view and a framework for thinking about the U.S. role in confronting it. And ironically, I think, this field manual goes farthest in providing us with a useful framework.

SIMON: You said that counterinsurgency brings out the worst and the best in regular armies.

Prof. SEWALL: It is really associated with dirty wars and we've seen in Iraq that troops that are not properly trained and equipped and that are deployed for long periods of time can really fall prey to the same tactics that the enemy uses.

SIMON: The manual says that the object of counterinsurgency operations should be to secure civilians as a priority above destroying the enemy.

Prof. SEWALL: In counterinsurgency, your goal is to enhance the legitimacy and the capability of the host nation government. To do that, you have to create a secure environment for the population. Whereas in conventional war, forced protection for yourself was consistent with the destruction of the enemy.

SIMON: Could you say an operation that destroys, say, five insurgents, but harms 50 civilians is counterproductive?

Prof. SEWALL: Absolutely, and the manual says that very explicitly.

SIMON: The field manual is very frank about saying, to fight this kind of war effectively and ethically, it will necessarily entail more risk than traditional strategies of blowing up (unintelligible).

Prof. SEWALL: Right and that's not something that we're accustomed to as a nation. We have, since Vietnam, decided that we would fight from a distance using our advantages in technology and firepower, and our overwhelming conventional superiority and we've had the experience of minimal risks compared to the casualties that we have inflicted, compared often to the casualties that civilians have suffered in the wars we fought. This manual explains that we can no longer enjoy that distance.

SIMON: Is it your impression that General Petraeus who, you kind of share ink space within the book, is a different kind of military commander? Doesn't he rather famously ask soldiers what did you do for Iraq today?

Prof. SEWALL: The whole different mentality and, I think, it must be extremely frustrating to come into Iraq at this stage of the game in charge of the operation with the litany of mistakes that have gone before him. And so many observers erroneously equate the doctrine with Iraq or the doctrine with the surge when in many ways they're antithetical.

And it's very important to understand that there is resistance within the U.S. military to this doctrine. And one of reasons that I think it's so important that the public read this doctrine is to recognize this doctrine tells us what we can do, so that we're not making the mistakes that we've made in Iraq.

SIMON: Sarah Sewall, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, thanks very much.

Prof. SEWALL: Thanks for having me.

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