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Old 01-08-2011   #1
CWOT
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Default Does Bin Laden Matter?

So I've been blogging about whether Usama Bin Laden still matters to the global jihadi movement. Essentially, if UBL was captured or killed tomorrow, would it mattter? And, if it does matter, what would be the outcome?

Here is a survey I posted and had some good participation on it, mostly from academics. I throw it up here as I'd like to get the perspective of those that have been deployed to AFG/IZ and other CT assignments. Here are the three questions I posted and would enjoy any and all thoughts on this topic.

Here's the poll:

Overall theme of the poll:
If Usama Bin Laden were killed in 2011, would it matter to the global jihadi movement?

Question #1:

What will be the chief consequence of Usama Bin Laden’s death to the global jihadi movement? (Only pick One!)

-Status Quo- No substantial change in AQ activity
-AQ Central directed plots against U.S. and its Allies decrease substantially
-AQAP becomes new AQ Central
-Some other AQ member in AF/PAK becomes leader of AQ Central
-AQ Central loses its chief sponsor, the Haqqani network
-AQ fundraising increases substantially
-AQ fundraising diminishes substantially
-Taliban more reluctant to make peace with Karzai
-AQ-inspired recruitment slows substantially
-AQ-inspired recruitment accelerates substantially
-AQ Central directed plots against U.S. and its Allies increase substantially
-Taliban pursue a peace settlement with Karzai
-AQ Central shifts focus to pursue guerilla warfare in Central Asia


Question #2:

What will be the chief consequence of UBL’s death for the U.S. and its Western allies? (Only pick One!)

Public pressure forces early withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan.
Public pressure forces a refocus on counterterrorism operations (Biden Plan).
Status Quo- No substantial change in U.S. and Western operations.


Question #3:

Would UBL’s death result in more or less AQ-inspired attacks over the next five years? (2011- 2016) (Only pick One!)

-More
-Less
-No Change in the pace of attacks.


Thanks,

Clint
www.selectedwisdom.com
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Old 01-09-2011   #2
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A couple of thoughts:

1. Killing senior leadership is a slow road to victory (Except in a case where some guy with legal power over people is forcing them to do things against their will. UBL's power is the power of the conditions he exploits, the power of his cause, and his supporters are all volunteers.) Killing him will not weaken the cause, but could make it stronger.

2. Capturing him and attempting a civilian trial under US, or even international, standards would be an IO disaster for the west.

3. He will be replaced. Take out UBL, and AQ gains a new leader who may actually be more effective than the current one. Take out AQ and a new organization will form that may well be more effective than AQ. Success lies in addressing the causes, and so long as the majority of senior leaders believe it is a mix of "malign actors" and "radical Islam" we will continue to chase our tails on this. (both of those are necessary aspects of how the causation is exploited, but are not causal in of themselves).

4. Should we kill him? Definitely. Quietly, relentlessly pursue him and his core followers to the corners of the earth and terminate them where we find them. They have earned that. But that is a handful of guys, and should not be confused with the nationalist insurgents across the globe that respond to the UW efforts of AQ. But as to the causation they exploit, as to the conditions of insurgency in so many countries that they exploit, as to the sympathetic supporters in western communities that either empathize with the people in oppressed lands, or feel strongly that their government at home is an oppressor (or at least an enabler of oppressors); that will all still be in place, and that is the real problem that must be addressed, and killing UBL will have no positive effect on that. That will require an evolution of US foreign policy and will also require evolution of many domestic policies in the nations where this causation is the stongest as well.
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Old 01-09-2011   #3
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Of course it matters. He killed Americans and destroyed our property. Will it stop terrorist attacks no, but it will bear on the mind of future attackers that when we find you, you will be DRT(dead right there).
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Old 01-09-2011   #4
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Quote:
1. Killing senior leadership is a slow road to victory (Except in a case where some guy with legal power over people is forcing them to do things against their will. UBL's power is the power of the conditions he exploits, the power of his cause, and his supporters are all volunteers.) Killing him will not weaken the cause, but could make it stronger.
I agree in the case of a persistent COIN or CT campaign. I see it differently with UBL. His death would create an immediate shift in how the West chooses to counter AQ. He's a big symbolic target for the U.S. and one of the main justifications for being in Afghanistan. I don't think it would make AQ stronger either, but do think the result would be more attacks as followers compete to emerge the new leader.

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2. Capturing him and attempting a civilian trial under US, or even international, standards would be an IO disaster for the west.
Agree, I sure hope they wouldn't take him alive.

Quote:
3. He will be replaced. Take out UBL, and AQ gains a new leader who may actually be more effective than the current one. Take out AQ and a new organization will form that may well be more effective than AQ.
Really good point, I am curious how this will play out. I expect it will happen eventually, and maybe even soon.
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Old 01-09-2011   #5
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Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
Of course it matters. He killed Americans and destroyed our property. Will it stop terrorist attacks no, but it will bear on the mind of future attackers that when we find you, you will be DRT(dead right there).
I know 19 guys who wouldn't have given a damn.
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Old 01-09-2011   #6
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I know 19 guys who wouldn't have given a damn.
Yea,cause they are dead!
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Old 01-09-2011   #7
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"wouldn't have given" referred to the time when they made their final decision.
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Old 01-10-2011   #8
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I don't think the fear of being hunted will keep AQ attacks from occurring. They are seeking death as a way of fulfilling their ideology.
Persistent pursuit does alter AQ's operations and their security. Continued attacking of AQ's leadership shapes their ability to conduct further operations.
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Old 01-10-2011   #9
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Default This "Lie" is far bigger than the one regarding WMD in Iraq

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I don't think the fear of being hunted will keep AQ attacks from occurring. They are seeking death as a way of fulfilling their ideology.
Persistent pursuit does alter AQ's operations and their security. Continued attacking of AQ's leadership shapes their ability to conduct further operations.
OK, quotes on "Lie" because I don't think either was a conscious lie to defraud the American people; but rather that the idea that AQ is about ideology is even more flawed than the idea that going into Iraq was about WMD. Or more analogous, that Soviet efforts to expand their influence during the Cold War were about Communism; or that U.S. efforts to expand its influence are about Democracy. We need to learn to be better at separating Causation from Motivation; and Material Facts from Relevant Facts.

AQ and Bin Laden are an organization and man for their times; much as the Nazi party and Hitler were for theirs. Different times in a different place, they don't occur. Given the time and place, if they did not exist some similar organization and leadership would have eventually emerged in response.

The seeds for WWII were planted at Versailles; or at least were not eradicated and were well fertilized there by the victors of WWI. Similarly the seeds for GWOT have been planted and nurtured over hundreds of years of Western Colonial and Post-Colonial manipulation of the politics and populaces of the Middle East. With the end of the Cold War rationale for such manipulations and the advent of the tools of globalization AQ and Bin Laden were inevitable.

The question is not what happens if we kill Bin Laden. Answer that and get a C+. The real question is what happens if we do not address Western foreign policies toward the Middle East? What happens if the West continues to enable some of the most despotic regimes on the planet to both remain in power and treat their own populaces with impunity? Kill bin Laden, but that is just step 1 in a 100-step process. Personal opinion? We've been way too focused on step 1, and it is distracting us from the hard policy work that is yet to be done on the other 99.
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Last edited by Bob's World; 01-10-2011 at 11:11 AM.
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Old 01-11-2011   #10
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Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
The real question is what happens if we do not address Western foreign policies toward the Middle East? What happens if the West continues to enable some of the most despotic regimes on the planet to both remain in power and treat their own populaces with impunity? Kill bin Laden, but that is just step 1 in a 100-step process.
I've asked this before, I know, but since I've yet to get an answer I'll ask again: where exactly do we "enable some of the most despotic regimes on the planet to both remain in power and treat their own populaces with impunity"? We arguably keep the governments of Iraq and Yemen in power, but these governments are less despotic than ineffectual. We pay the government of Egypt not to mix it up with the Israelis (a good deal for them, since they don't want to mix it up with the Israelis anyway), but we don't enable them to stay in power and we don't enable them to oppress their populace: they could and would do both quite well without us.

We don't enable the governments of Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States at all, except perhaps indirectly through our insatiable appetite for oil. They don't need us to stay in power, and they certainly don't need our help or approval to oppress their populaces. Neither do their populaces, even when they dislike their governments, want us interfering in their domestic affairs.

The idea that we somehow enable these governments to stay in power and oppress their people suggests that we have the capacity to remove them from power, or to change the way they relate to their people, if only we cease to enable. We do not actually have that capacity or that influence, and there are few things more dangerous than assuming a capacity that you do not actually have.

We cannot impose the Cold War paradigm where it does not fit. During the Cold War we openly installed dictators, encouraged coups d'etat, kept dictators in power with aid and force. Those dictators depended on us and we did have influence over them (though it was often diluted by our mistaken belief that we needed them to obstruct the commies). This situation does not prevail in the Gulf. There are despots, yes, but we didn't put them in power, we don't keep them in power, and they don't need us. We don't have the influence to change them, any more than we have the influence to change the regimes in China or Uzbekistan. We deal with all of them, because they exist and we have to, but they are not "our bastards".

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Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
Personal opinion? We've been way too focused on step 1, and it is distracting us from the hard policy work that is yet to be done on the other 99.
What policy changes, exactly, would you like to see?

Does bin Laden matter? To AQ, probably not that much. To the US, certainly he does. Killing bin Laden would provide a certain amount of closure an an era that we'd do well to close. It would allow us to put the counterproductive "GWOT" construct behind us and develop a more realistic presentation of the challenge. it would make an Afghanistan exit strategy more palatable.

While we haven't disabled AQ, it would be a mistake to say things have gone well for them. In SE Asia, which some analysts were once calling the "swing state" for the global jihad, they've fallen flat, not because of anything we did, but they have. The end of the oil glut and the consequent huge inflow of money to the Gulf has largely dismantled the 90s narrative of aggressive self-pity and greatly diminished AQ's traction in the Arab heartland. In other places it's been up and down, but you'd be hard pressed to claim realistically that they're ascendant anywhere. Oddly, they've probably seen the greatest expansion of influence in Western Europe, largely due to economic stress.

Certainly there are policy changes we could usefully make, but messing in the internal affairs of Muslim countries is not going to get us anywhere. I'd like to see us continue the withdrawal from Iraq: certainly they'll have issues, but we don't need to make those our issues. I'd like to see Iraqi oil contracts go to the Chinese and Europeans. That would be a minor setback for some US companies but no strategic problem at all for the US, and it would directly challenge the claim that the US is trying to control Iraqi oil.

Changing our rhetoric toward Israel would also help a lot, though in fact our influence there is much lower than it once was.

In short, there are things we can do to undermine AQs narrative, and we should do them. Trying to do what we can't do is only going to snap back in our faces.
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Old 01-11-2011   #11
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Default Bin Laden is dead * .

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...the idea that AQ is about ideology is even more flawed than the idea that going into Iraq was about WMD.
While I'm fully aware that's what the then and now governments of the US said, I'm quite sure that neither of those 'motives' is or was of any real concern to any real decision makers now or then. I think to base much theorizing on the belief that those things were or are deemed important and truly cause for war would be to begin planning from false premises...
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...We need to learn to be better at separating Causation from Motivation; and Material Facts from Relevant Facts.
Umm, yes, I think so. We also probably need to not say 'A' while being actually motivated by 'R' through 'BL.' Seems to confuse people.
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Similarly the seeds for GWOT have been planted and nurtured over hundreds of years of Western Colonial and Post-Colonial manipulation of the politics and populaces of the Middle East. With the end of the Cold War rationale for such manipulations and the advent of the tools of globalization AQ and Bin Laden were inevitable.
Probably true but there's also been a whole lot more fertilizer spread by many aside from the US. You can prescribe for the US but I doubt you'll get it past the US public or Congress -- and I really doubt you can affect the mores and attitudes of many other nations, nominal friends but a good many of whom have in the past worked and will in future work diligently behind the scenes to insure we stay the big bad, disliked Gorilla...
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The question is not what happens if we kill Bin Laden. Answer that and get a C+.
I wouldn't even give it a 'C.' It won't make much difference either way.
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What happens if the West continues to enable some of the most despotic regimes on the planet to both remain in power and treat their own populaces with impunity?
Define 'enable.' Please provide examples, I'm old and slow...

Also, what is your suggestion to remediate that shortfall you perceive?


* or if not, might as well be, he's broadly irrelevant. That I can agree with...
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Old 01-11-2011   #12
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I don't think the fear of being hunted will keep AQ attacks from occurring. They are seeking death as a way of fulfilling their ideology.
They are seeking death while successfully accomplishing their missions. If they are killed and captured often enough before they have a chance to accomplish their missions, that might have a dissuasive effect as time passes. If you can never get on base, most people might tend to give up the game.
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Old 01-11-2011   #13
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Default Replacing "Containment" with "Empowerment"

A paper I have coming out soon will explore this in greater detail, but here is a snapshot side-by-side comparison of what we've been doing for 60+ years in "Containment" with what I propose is more appropriate for the emerging world with "Empowerment."

Empowerment is a word the President uses a great deal. It's in his intro to the National Security Strategy. But that is all it is, a word. A bold, encouraging word, with little to flesh out what he really means, what is his specific guidance to the government in this regard, how do we operationalize it, etc.

I don't know if this is the answer, but it is something I've been playing with at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. This is just a snapshot, so may well spark more questions than answers, but any comments, pro or con are always welcome from my august peers here at the SWJ.
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"The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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Old 01-11-2011   #14
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Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
A paper I have coming out soon will explore this in greater detail, but here is a snapshot side-by-side comparison of what we've been doing for 60+ years in "Containment" with what I propose is more appropriate for the emerging world with "Empowerment."

Empowerment is a word the President uses a great deal. It's in his intro to the National Security Strategy. But that is all it is, a word. A bold, encouraging word, with little to flesh out what he really means, what is his specific guidance to the government in this regard, how do we operationalize it, etc.

I don't know if this is the answer, but it is something I've been playing with at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. This is just a snapshot, so may well spark more questions than answers, but any comments, pro or con are always welcome from my august peers here at the SWJ.
I agree on containment... silly idea when the antagonist has no specific geographic boundaries within which they can be contained. I don't think you'll find anyone willing to argue against "empowerment" per se... it's a lovely word and very much the mot du jour. There's a reason why it stays mostly in the rhetorical realm, though: it's easy to say and difficult to do. We've a rather indifferent record at empowering our own disempowered citizens, and the complexities multiply when the people we propose to empower are citizens of other nations with their own sovereign prerogatives. How do we "empower" people in other countries, especially those in which our interference in internal affairs is generally highly unwelcome even among those we propose to empower?

Whom do you propose to empower, and how? As always, the devil is in the details...
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Old 01-11-2011   #15
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Question I think you have the idealist and the realist confused. Seriously.

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A paper I have coming out soon will explore this in greater detail, but here is a snapshot side-by-side comparison of what we've been doing for 60+ years in "Containment" with what I propose is more appropriate for the emerging world with "Empowerment."
However, letting that alone for now, I have some questions on your "empowerment" column:

- Who or what establishes -- and enforces (as 'limits' implies constraint of some sort) -- those "clear limits" for 'empowerment?'

- Avoiding excessive partiality and excessive dislike are noble ideals. My suspicion is that US Policy makers may not themselves be idealist enough to adhere to the mantra but of more concern to me are those nations that will not reciprocate that ideal attitude and will endeavor to manipulate it. How do you propose to avoid the first cited possibility and obviate the second?

- Who or what establishes the "clear" limits on freedom and competition? Do we have a 'right' to establish such "limits" while still following our "core principles? If we do, who or what will insure they are followed?

- How do we promote self determination and principles, deny (or did you mean to not deny them...) unalienable rights while at the same time allowing freedom and competition?

- Will the encouragement of "positive behavior" entail bribes as to Egypt, Israel and many other nations over the last half century?

- Who determines what are in fact, not in hopes or personal opinions, "core U.S. principles?" How will we embed the accepted and agreed principles to the extent that political ideologies involved in changes of Administrations will not entail a major policy shift?

I'll also note in passing that yet again you evade a direct response. You wrote:
Quote:
What happens if the West continues to enable some of the most despotic regimes on the planet to both remain in power and treat their own populaces with impunity?
I then asked:

"Define 'enable.' Please provide examples, I'm old and slow..."

"Also, what is your suggestion to remediate that shortfall you perceive?"


If you meant your Chart as partial answer to my requests, I can accept that as your ideas on remediation (subject to my specific queries herein on that Chart ). However, I really would like to know who in the West is enabling and how they are doing that.

As Dayuhan noted, those little details have to be considered...
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Old 01-11-2011   #16
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I look forward to the article, but I don't see the two concepts being mutually exclusive in practice.

Empowering South Korea has the effect in containing North Korea, for example.

As I see it, the issue is one of perspective. Some people see whatever policy or strategy is in question as empowering group A, others will see it as containing group B.

Unfortunately I would point to your quote a few posts earlier - that is all it is, a word - and suggest that the same damnation applies to empowerment as it does containment.

I would like to be proved wrong, however.
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Old 01-12-2011   #17
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Just providing food for thought, and it is good to see that the sharks are feeding.

No time now for a long reply, but some quick inputs:

As to example states? Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Afghanistan to name but four. Each is unique in approach due to the unique relationships. Some are rich but weak, so we protect them from external threats. Some we protect from internal threats. In all we look the other way when they suppress the dissent of their own internal populaces, these nationalist insurgent movements, and bundle it under the auspice of "counterterrorism." Some we do so to ensure access to resources, some to ensure critical sea lanes remain open, some because we mistakenly believe that sanctuary comes from a "space" rather than a mix of more intangible factors. All are held up as friends and allies though all also routinely violate in their treatment of their own populaces core principles that hold out as our trademark and routinely demand of, or condemn other states for not subscribing to.

As to where our "core principles" are defined? Primarily from three documents, enshrined side by side in the National Archives: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Many of these core principles are assessed differently over time, and those assessments are "values," a principle with judgment applied to it. We need to hold true to our own stated values, but we need to not demand them of others. Our core principles are fewer, and much more universal in application, such as a general concept that "all men are created equal," though in reality we understand the value assessed to that principle varies widely. Rights to life, liberty, pursuits of happiness. These too many different things in different cultures, or even within a single culture over time. These differences are values.

As to the common argument for never doing something new, even though most can agree that the current course is in need of change is "that would be hard, how would you do that." I am sure they asked the same thing of Mr. Kennan upon reading his long telegram, but they did not expect him to spell that all out for them. We realize that some things have to be given to the executors as a mission statement, and then figured out within those respective lanes. But this is just a summary slide from a deck of slides that summarize a paper, that in turn summarizes a concept.

Anything worth doing is likely to be difficult. Anything new is likely to be incomplete. For most of us, it is the challenges of new and difficult things that get us out of bed in the morning.
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Old 01-12-2011   #18
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Just providing food for thought, and it is good to see that the sharks are feeding.
Nibbles, no feeding frenzy...

Re: your cited States:
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In all we look the other way when they suppress the dissent of their own internal populaces...
How do you propose we correct their tendency to do things of which you and some others disapprove? (emphasis purposefully added...)

Does not such corrective action interfere with your stated intent:
Quote:
We need to hold true to our own stated values, but we need to not demand them of others.
Dichotomy there, you seem to want to have it both ways. You've never really addressed that issue even though many surface it occasionally. Some of us seem to think it important to your hypothesis...

As several of us -- not just ol' moi -- have mentioned, you cannot correct their attitudes and 'not interfere' at the same time. You occasionally suggest that if we just talk to them, they'll fix it. Lot of skepticism about that...

I'm pretty well aware of what our core principles are supposed to be and from whence they spring. Tthat's not an issue, this is:
Quote:
...Many of these core principles are assessed differently over time, and those assessments are "values," a principle with judgment applied to it.
Exactly. The issue is how you persuade the American public, the Administration and Congress of the day to hew to those values. To say we should do so is easy. It is likely also futile UNLESS you can show a benefit to us for doing so and, thus far, you have failed to do that IMO.
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As to the common argument for never doing something new, even though most can agree that the current course is in need of change is "that would be hard, how would you do that."
I'm all for doing something new and have long had gripes with what we are doing -- but the issue isn't avoiding change, it is how to bring that change about. I agree with where you want to go and have long -- along with several others -- suggested that your goal is good -- what's your strategery to get there?
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But this is just a summary slide from a deck of slides that summarize a paper, that in turn summarizes a concept.
And my questions above were just a summary of the many more questions that slide raises.

Recall the old staffers dictum -- answer the question, answer the question that should have been asked and answer the questions your answer will generate...
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Anything worth doing is likely to be difficult. Anything new is likely to be incomplete. For most of us, it is the challenges of new and difficult things that get us out of bed in the morning.
Yeah. Howsomeever, it's been my observation that it is far less difficult if one provides consensually viable steps instead of just telling the boss he's stupid...
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Old 01-12-2011   #19
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Well, it is the boss that says do "Empowerment." The President put it in his comments in the NSS, and uses it in virtually every forum. By sitting down and considering what he means by that and coming back with a proposal for how that concept might be employed in a new grand strategy/focus to foreign policy, I believe I am merely doing due diligence.

I know for a fact that within the Chairman's strategy team they are drilling into very similar concepts.

No one's calling anyone stupid, but I do sometimes question the motivations of those who ignore specified and implied tasks given to them by their boss if favor of continuing to do what they are comfortable doing. Particularly when it is fairly clear that what they are doing is not working very well.

As to the Realist/Idealist I put that in to make people stop and think. "Containment" has a very "realist" name; but in execution, every since 1950 it has been focused on the containment of ideologies we disagree with. Communism, Islamism. Very Idealistic. "Empowerment" on the other hand has a very Idealistic name, but as I envision it (there is no doctrine or historic experience) it is implemented in a very realist way. Only applying it where national interests exist; and then building coalition and identifying competitors on any given issue by the relative shared and conflicting interests of other parties in regards to that issue.

As an example, the US may only have 20% match on national interests with Iran, but as applied to stability in Afghanistan we may well have an 80% match. A NATO ally such as Germany may have an 80% match with the US in general, but only a 20% match in regards to this issue of Afghan stability. Logic then dictates that the more effective partner for this issue is Iran. This is in concert with Washington's caution on enduring friends and enemies. Containment demands enduring enemies and friends alike. Not very realistic. Empowerment realistically realizes that such issues vary by issue.

As one British leader once said "Britain has no enduring allies, only enduring interests." (or words to that effect).
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"The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)
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Old 01-13-2011   #20
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Thanks for everyone's posts here. I've been analyzing a poll that I put together and this discussion helped my put some things together.
I understand the larger concerns about improving Middle East policy, etc. However, I'm not optimistic that this is really even an option. So, I'm trying to dissect the slow incremental developments which might contribute to a longer run strategy. Overall, I don't think Bin Laden really matters anymore and question whether the Afghan campaign needs to be what it is. I'm really interested in what it should be after the summer of 2011. Hence the question, "Does Bin Laden Matter?" and I think the answer helps us come to a solution for the end of this year.
http://selectedwisdom.com/?p=116

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