The formulation of sound national policy requires finding the right overarching concepts. Getting the “big ideas” right is particularly important when major developments appear to have invalidated the concepts upon which previous policy and strategy were based — which now appears to be the case in the wake of the Arab Spring.
The biggest of the big ideas that guided the Iraq surge included recognition that:
- The decisive terrain was the human terrain — and that securing the people had to be our foremost task. Without progress on that, nothing else would be possible.
- We could secure the people only by living with them, locating our forces in their neighborhoods, rather than consolidating on big bases, as we had been doing the year before the surge.
- We could not kill or capture our way out of the sizable insurgency that plagued Iraq; rather, though killing and capturing were necessary, we needed to reconcile with as many of the insurgent rank and file as was possible.