Fletcher in the News

James Holmes (F98) on Prof. Richard Shultz's Book, The Marines Take Anbar

4 Tenets of Fighting Insurgents

Providence has blessed the Naval Diplomat with a series of great and powerful mentors, them Professor Dick Shultz of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Professor Shultz — I'm congenitally unable to call my former professors by their given names — is a specialist in the dark arts of intelligence, covert operations, and counterinsurgent warfare. He recently came out with a book titled The Marines Take Anbar, detailing how U.S. Marines deployed to Iraq's Wild West, Anbar Province, forged alliances with tribal leaders to battle the common foe: al Qaeda. Check it out. Herewith, my top four takeaways from the book:

4. Numbers matter … if you use them right. Shultz points out that the marines started taming the insurgency in the Sunni triangle of western Iraq during the grim days of 2006, well before the Bush administration commenced the troop surge that put more boots on the ground. The surge was about numbers, to be sure. But it was mostly about embracing methods meant to separate evildoers from the Iraqi populace, their chief source of supplies and concealment, while laying the groundwork for a more humane society. Throwing manpower and materiel at problems may be the American way, but it seldom works when done willy-nilly. How you do things counts.

3. Know your allies ... as well as yourself and the enemy. Sun Tzu famously counseled commanders and sovereigns to know themselves and enemies before embarking on an enterprise as perilous as war. To do otherwise courts disaster. Similarly, Shultz details how the marines rejected the haughty attitude toward the tribes that emanated from the coalition leadership in Baghdad. Top officials saw them as an inert if not retrograde force. Marine commanders, by contrast, regarded Sunni tribesmen as partners in a common cause, learned the virtues they prized, and discovered common cultural ground between the tribes and the Marine Corps (a fiercely independent tribe in itself). You needn't like your allies, necessarily, but you do need to glean some idea of what makes them tick. Nor will a measure of respect go amiss. Diplomacy depends on empathy, a virtue that's just as critical when working alongside some tribal potentate as it is when conferring with presidents or prime ministers.

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