Clint Watts, a former US Army Infantry Officer, FBI Special Agent and Executive Officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point argues against slavishly reproducing the tactics that have been so successful in Anbar in Afghanistan.
The U.S. is correct to seize upon any opportunity to dislodge al-Qa’ida from Pakistan’s tribal regions, especially if it involves the use of surrogates. However, it should not use a blanket strategy of alliances with al-Qa’ida’s hosts if the social, cultural and geographic conditions make its chances of success unlikely. If it does, U.S. forces might be the ones entangled, stretched logistically, and in conflict with the local ideology. As al-Qa’ida in Somalia and Iraq has learned, this is a bad place to be.
From one point of view the "real" winning strategy in Anbar had nothing to do -- in the first instance -- with making alliances with tribes. It began first of all with understanding the situation on the ground from which the method of making alliances with tribes followed naturally. The medicine worked fine because it flowed from a correct diagnosis of the problem. But the diagnosis was the key. Had Anbar been misdiagnosed, the wrong "medicine" would have been prescribed and disaster would surely have followed.
This is so self-evident as to be trite. But on closer inspection it's easy to see why the one-size-fits-all strategy is so seductive. Diagnosing the roots of an insurgency take time: it requires a vast investment in learning the language and the culture of the area and probably means making a lot of embarrassing mistakes early on -- mistakes which will be ruthlessly punished by press ridicule, committee investigations and combat loss. Accolades will go to those who, standing on the shoulders of their predecessors, apply the winning solution; but ignominy and ridicule are the most likely wages of the guys who show how not to do it, which is pretty important information in and of itself.
While pain unfortunately precedes gain a sound national leadership will have the patience to make the investment in the learning process. They will not promise instant, magic results to the public. They will candidly learn from mistakes. They will continuously identify successes. And above all they will not turn a nation's war against a deadly enemy into a political football. There lies the irony: it may be far easier to learn how to defeat al-Qaeda in Anbar and the Taliban in Pakistan than it will be to learn how to beat politics in Washington.