President Obama's Speech: Classic Lesson in Counterinsurgency

07/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If you don't think that Al Qaida spearheads a growing global insurgency, you have been on Mars for the past 13 years. And if you don't think that President Obama's speech today was a classic lesson in counterinsurgency, then you are not looking at the big picture.

David Galula's 1964 classic, "Counterinsurgency Warfare", tells us that an insurgency is a:

protracted struggle conducted methodically, step by step, in order to attain specific intermediate objectives leading finally to the overthrow of the existing order.

This is the battle we currently are in with the Al Qaida Movement (which is a lot easier to remember than the Global Salafi Jihadist Movement). The President now calls them the "Extremists".

President Obama's speech today was the first step, the outlining of a counterinsurgency "strategy", from which we will enact operations and tactics.

For those that have never studied counterinsurgency, here are a few quick tidbits to keep in mind for when you analyze the effectiveness of the President's speech.

(All of these are direct quotes from either John Nagl, who wrote the forward for the republished 2006 version of "Counterinsurgency Warfare" or directly from David Galula himself, followed by my own comments.)

1. An insurgency is a competition between insurgent and government (in this case, the collective of governments) for the support of the civilian population.

This is crucial. We are in a battle with the AQ Movement for the hearts and minds of young potential recruits and the populations they belong to. Finally, the Iraqis, with our help, have succeeded in winning the counterinsurgency in Iraq. However, in Afghanistan we are currently losing the battle. Overall, I would say that before today, we were losing the global counterinsurgency against Al Qaida strictly within the majority Muslim communities. After today, our actions will dictate if we can win over the support of those civilian populations. We'll start to notice once locals start to provide us with intelligence and hand over Al Qaida's top dogs.

2. Key terrain in an insurgency is not physical space, but the political loyalty of the people who inhabit that space.

Self-explanatory. We need those populations to be loyal to their local governments. If their governments are oppressive, we need to show the population that we are trying to work with them to make them more open. We have to build trust.

3. The insurgent, having no responsibility, is free to use every trick if necessary, he can lie, cheat, exaggerate. He is not obligated to prove; his is judged by what he promises, not what he does.

4. The counterinsurgent is tied to his responsibilities and to his past, and for him, facts speak louder than words. He is judged on what he does, not on what he says. If he lies, cheats, exaggerates, and does not prove, he may achieve some temporary successes, but at the price of being discredited for good.

This was what we failed to realize with Abu Ghareb, Guantanamo Bay and torture. The counterinsurgents are responsible for the safety and security of the population. We violated their trust, and trust is the key to winning hearts and minds. The Bush Administration was discredited within the Muslim majority communities for good. Now, with a new President, we can hopefully be given a new chance for the populations to judge us off our actions. Hopefully this chance is not squandered.

5. The insurgent alone can initiate the conflict.

Never forget that.

6. The insurgent has a formidable asset- the ideological power of a cause on which to base his action. The counterinsurgent has a heavy liability-he is responsible for maintaining order.

Hopefully, President Obama's strategic speech will present populations with a choice of ideological causes to get behind. His speech was entirely about living in peace. The Al Qaida Movement's rhetoric is always about violence, death and jihad(war). I hope that was clear to the populations we are trying to reach.

Congrats to the President for an incredibly successful, classic counterinsurgency speech to win over the hearts and minds of the various populations from which the AQ Movement fills its ranks.

Now it is time for Operations and Tactics (aka ACTIONS) that follow through on those eloquent words.