As usual, I'm a bit late to this discussion on Kilcullen, Boyd and Afghanistan Zenpundit started. However, one interesting aspect is the conceptual linkage made here with the theory of state-building and COIN. This is interesting primarily because of the contrast between state-building and the newer concept of "nation-building."
State-building is as old as states themselves. The sociologist Charles Tilly's work on the coercive elements of state-building are rarely referenced in today's talk about proto-states, COIN and strategy despite their towering influence and Tilly's conclusions about the linkage of state-making and war-making. The concept of "nation-building" is difficult to define, but can best be described in a modern sense as the building (through political and development aid) of a modern democratic state.
The primary difference between the two is that nation-building has broadly liberal aims, which can conflict with the coercive means sometimes used to bring them about. State-building, on the other hand, is the fashioning of a unified state through political-military-economic means. They overlap of course, but the idealized way we look at "nation-building" is much different than the often harsh reality of state-building. It is, broadly, the difference between the United Nations' vision of post-conflict transition in places such as Liberia and Turkey's authoritarian modernizer Kemal Ataturk.
While COIN is often described as armed nation-building (and can be at times), it is in reality a small facet of state-building. Take, for example, the prototypical Cold War scenario of a group of American advisers in a underdeveloped Third World state helping build up indigenous armed forces and civilian institutions in order to quell a communist revolt. While the immediate goal is narrow (help the locals defeat the Soviet or Chinese-backed guerrilla army), the mission takes place in the context of the host nation's overall struggle to consolidate the power of the central government.
State-building is often a violent and sometimes cruel process, as alternate power centers are marginalized by the expansion of centralized power. Even when the process is not overly violent, the prospect of violence is omnipresent. Had the crafty French Cardinal Richelieu been transplanted to some of today's battlefields, he would not be surprised or shocked by the level of violence or Sopranos-style maneuvering. His portrayal as a schemer in The Three Musketeers is well-deserved, although Dumas' rather cartoonish rendering of him as a Saturday morning cartoon bad guy is simplistic.
This isn't to endorse the simplistic (and largely modern-day revisionist) concept of "Roman COIN" that Crispin Burke rightly lambastes here. Legitimacy is very important, and even the most coldly realist of ancient philosophers understood this intently. Political power is not solely gained through violence or destruction, it is the product of holistic political, military, ideological and economic struggle. Lastly, Dave Dillege rightly points out that our irregular warfare doctrine must ultimately be congruent with American values.
But we should be clear about the morally complex nature of the processes we are indirectly aiding through participation in counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense missions abroad--especially since local patrons will often drag us into their own power disputes and agendas. And as Zenpundit notes, our evaluation of the suitability of such ventures should hinge on a realistic assessment of its relationship to core interests as well as the suitability of the local patron.