I just read some excerpts from the new marines field manual, the “FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency”. Apparently, now American troops must be “ready to be greeted with either a handshake or a hand grenade” and must be “nation-builders as well as warriors”. Under the new doctrine, fighting insurgents involves “armed social work”. “Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction,” says the manual. The best weapon is sometimes none at all. The prime objective is not to kill as many insurgents as possible but to maximize support from the local population. Above all, troops must adapt quickly.

Instead of isolating themselves in large camps and driving around in armored vehicles, the manual advises American troops to live “close to the populace”, move on foot, sleep in villages and patrol by day and night. Each company should have a political as well as a “cultural” adviser. Platoons should assign their best soldiers to intelligence and surveillance, even at the cost of firepower. Forget the chain of command: decisions should be taken by consensus where possible.

The 242-page manual reads at times like a list of the things America has done wrong in Iraq. But I don’t find anything about troop withdrawal from Iraq. Everyone is talking about Bush’s sudden shift from “we’re winning” to “we’re not winning or losing” in Iraq. His strategies are based on how he believes Publius (that is, the public) will respond. Our government does not tell us exactly what happens for fear that we may lose confidence in the situation. Bush is taking a step in a better direction: that is, admitting there are serious errors in their military strategy. But there are also serious errors in our foreign policy. The new Military Field Manual is also a set in the right direction, but doesn’t address underlying causes of failure in American foreign policy and occupation.

If American commanders’ response to Vietnam was to foreswear nasty “small wars” as they’re called by the military, their reaction to the fiasco in Iraq seems so far to be quite different: to learn to fight them better. The new manual is a first step, but America’s military culture is in need of deeper change. A start might be to rewrite the first words of its “warrior ethos”, whereby every soldier declares: “I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America.”