When you play chess, you learn that you don’t win because of what you did right. You win because of what your opponent did wrong, that the person who wins made the least amount of mistakes. Many commentators are taking about how the US got Bin Laden. Dr. Barnett over at Time’s Battleland Blog mentions Boyd’s take on Sun Tsu, “Interaction permits vitality and growth, while isolation leads to decay and disintegration”. The credit for this isolation is given to the US by the constant pressure we placed on Bin Laden in our efforts to find him. But, one thing I am stuck by, is the lack of mention of Bin Laden by anyone, on either side, for the majority of any of the wars.

Since the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan and ran South of the Durand line, our strategy in Afghanistan has not focused on Bin Laden. Since that time we’ve focused on rebuilding two countries, and termed our enemies as those who are against stable and viable States. The moves we have decided to make have only been in terms of isolation by proxy. Our ability to articulate our goals and the benefits of a liberal system of governance have not been exceedingly successful. We did not isolate Bin Laden. Bin Laden, his ideals and his own strategy did that.

We originally went after a small group who wished to see grand political change from India to North Africa and used the United States as their narrative’s foil. Before 9/11 the perceived size and ability of Al Qaeda was not considered a threat. From the hysteria of 9/11 our perceptions changed and our enemy seemed much larger and more capable. As we got onto the ground first in Afghanistan, then into Iraq, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula we found that not everyone who uses violence and quotes the Koran thinks the same way Bin Laden does. Those who we war against today, have much more local aims than Al Aqaeda does and only align themselves with a more popular organization for clout.

We’ve found that “Global Jihad” has an inherently local flavor. The groups and organizations we fight against form strategic partnerships based upon very specific criteria that do not readily lead to a Caliphate, as the notion of a Caliphate is not something many will rally around. The central failing of Bin Laden has been that you can’t talk to people about radical political change across much of the Eurasian and African landmass when they still worry about feeding their families and the security of their neighborhoods, let alone regional security and clear political hegemony. Bin Laden’s dreams fall flat, even with a central enemy to rally around. We didn’t isolate Bin Laden in any meaningful way. The images of Bin Laden looking like Howard Hughes are fitting not in that he was stuck in a building. But, that he was looking back over recordings of when his message was still viable.

How many right moves have we made, and how many wrong moves have our enemies made? But, the question is more than that, isn’t it? We’re playing a game of chess, where we’re also switching opponents. Bin Laden made a lot of wrong moves. But, what of the rest of the players? There’s a lot more isolation to be done. The war isn’t about geopolitics as much as it used to be, we enter the middle game.

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in History, Strategy, Tactics

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  • The Usual Suspect

    As Tip O’Neil used to say, “All politics is local.” Since we are dealing with tribal peoples, we should not be surprised by the local flavor of the conflicts. The one overarching commonality is their faith. It is a powerful tool that has united disparate people for centuries – Catholic, Protestant, Muslim to name a few. The counterinsurgency measures are not a one size fits all proposition. History and personal relationships amongst other tools in our kit will help us check the enemy. This Long War is an idea that won’t die easily, if ever. My friends from the ME are very capable of carrying a grudge forever. I hear about them over kafta, pita, pickle and baklava. We just have to keep making the right moves as you so artfully put it. The other side has had a tendency to overstep itself. in Iraq, the mistake was killing innocent civilians – kind of the same problem we faced, though we were trying not to kill them and to AQ in Iraq it was a free fire zone.

    bin Laden was a figurehead. He became a metaphor for the “global” movement. I like the term franchise. Similar base product, tailored to the local flavor. I think we have been in the middle game for a while. We will wear them down, but I think never out. You are spot on with your observation of the lack of basic needs being met. I think the Hamas model is a more successful venture than the way AQ has conducted the Jihad.

  • The problem that leadership fails to address is that Islam, through it’s own religious principles, proselytizes by the sword. The Koran mandates jihad and conquest. It mandates that Islam continue to wage war until all of the earth is converted.

    Thus, Islam itself is at war, real actual war, with everything and anything NOT named Islam. It has been the one consistent through 14 centuries that Islam produces nothing and instead takes what it wants by force wherever and whenever it can.

    We may not be at war with Islam, but Islam is most certainly at war with us. This state of affairs will continue around the world until Islam reaches that same enlightenment which every other religion has: Conversion comes through faith, and not through violence. When Islam reaches that stage of enlightenment and tolerance that other religions have, then we may see peace. Until then, there will be war.

  • I we reach so completely as to call “Islam” the enemy; that may or may not be true. What IS true however, is that we do not have to be conducting the types of operations we have during the last decade in response to it.
    If we write “communism” in place of “Islam”; note that we did not invade a host of Soviet sympathetic locations; we contained them and allowed them to feed on themselves.
    The same would work for the mid-east. Simply contain the cancer; no need to be there; just keep them away from “here”.
    Example: the businessman flying from Pittsburg to L.A. or the family trying to fly from Billings to Orlando is NOT the security danger; the student flying in from France…may be.

  • Byron

    “Example: the businessman flying from Pittsburg to L.A. or the family trying to fly from Billings to Orlando is NOT the security danger; the student flying in from France…may be”.

    Sir, with all due respect, this was not true on September 11, 2001.

  • Quite so. We were not aware then.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    So, The grand strategy of Al Aqaeda is untenable. The wars we fight today are not about the same things that started the wars.

    So, that begs the question. What are we at war for? Is continuing the current conflicts actually causing the threats to us to continue? Is it three civil wars we’re in — Pakistan, Afghanistan, and to a much lesser extent Iraq? What of Yemen, Somalia?

    I ask, only to be sure of what we’re fighting in our wars.

  • Matt Yankee

    Don’t forget Libya…we are at war there too if you realize NATO is US Mil.

  • Keith Rosenberg

    Persistence can overcome a host of mistakes.