For those of us who can’t find the time to read Lawrence Freedman’s momentous new book Strategy: A History, Paul Kennedy has an excellent review in Foreign Affairs. One passage made me think of events in recent days:
. . . For example, although the section on Mahan does explain that author’s belief that the nation with the greatest fleet would control the seas, Freedman gives more space to a lesser-known naval strategist, Julian Corbett, because he prefers the latter’s emphasis on geographic position, communications, and trade to the former’s more simplistic study of great fleets and the Trafalgar-like encounters they engaged in. Generally, Freedman approves of theorists with a Corbettian approach, since no single strategist can comprehend all aspects of war and get it right; once a conflict erupts, calm judgment and careful reasoning will prove more useful than fixed mindsets. Appropriately, this section of Strategy ends with al Qaeda, an adversary that has demonstrated the importance of surprise, confusion, luck, and passion -- and the futility of trying to use a fixed strategy against it.
What aspect of the West's strategy in dealing with ISIS is 'non-fixed'? ISIS, like al Qaeda, has been deft at using elements of confusion and surprise to its advantage, but also in adapting to new circumstances. While the US is conducting airstrikes and partnering with local forces in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria now, in all likelihood the method will need to change soon enough.