Barack Obama’s Lesson in Applied Counterinsurgency
One of the more frustrating aspects of counterinsurgency is talking to the people who were recently shooting at you — sometimes while they’re shooting at you. Often that gets misinterpreted as softness, but it’s more of a recognition that the only way to achieve a true victory is by coopting your opponents. What looks like a decisive victory one day can easily be overturned by a simmering sense among the vanquished that they have no place in the new regime, and therefore have little recourse besides resistance.
The objective in launching these sorts of parleys with your opponents is two-fold. First, to see if they can be placated, and whether the price of doing so is acceptable. And second, to visibly demonstrate to the broader population that you’ve taken every reasonable step at reaching out to these adversaries — so if they rebuke you and you counterattack, you look like the reasonable party and they look like the rejectionists. It’s generally a sound strategy, and it’s achieved real results.
Am I talking about Iraq? Sure. Afghanistan? I hope so. But the lesson also applies to Barack Obama’s dinner with Bill Kristol, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, and George Will.