The Surge of Ideas and a Surge of Action (Part 4)

From the archives…

Finishing up our look at General David Petraeus’ speech “The Surge of Ideas,” Petraeus spoke of the simple but important fact that “ideas precede action.” He then spoke about “Laying the Groundwork for the Engine of Change.”

“Well, let me take you back some four and a half years. Our effort in Iraq was beginning to struggle. Despite progress in a number of areas, the insurgency was spreading. Levels of violence were escalating. Political progress was at a virtual standstill. And in the wake of the February 2006 bombing of the Samarra Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shi’a Islam, sectarian violence, in particular, began to grow at an alarming rate. A sense of fear and terror grew through the summer as the violence began to tear apart the very fabric of Iraqi society. And while new operations periodically arrested the downward spiral at various intervals, in their wake the violence grew even more.

In truth, by late 2005, a number of us–including my Marine counterpart, General Jim Mattis–had felt it was important to produce a doctrinal manual on counterinsurgency operations. The developments in 2006 heightened the imperative to identify what changes might be necessary in Iraq as well. Indeed, as events marched on in 2006, we increasingly came to recognize the need for change if the forces in Iraq were to arrest a steadily deteriorating situation and help the Iraqis knit back together the fabric of their society.”

In part 1 of this series I mentioned an experience I had last month with some wonderfully successful and smart conservatives. They were informed but pessimistic. Let me just say, I’d lay a bet that things in Iraq were worse in 2005 and 2006 than what we face today here in America.

Sure, most young people have been mal-educated. Yes, the big engines of pop culture — media, TV, and Hollywood are dominated by nutty left-wingers. Yes, government is the equivalent of an 800 pound person that can’t leave his house.

Call me crazy but I think Americans have faced equally big challenges in the past. Ending slavery. Enduring a Great Depression. Fighting and winning two World Wars and a Cold War.

Young people can learn. Talk radio, the Internet, and Fox News are making gains in providing an alternative source for news and information. TV and Hollywood — well, we have work to do there. And something called liposuction exists to deal with our 800 pound government.

In his speech Petraeus talked about changes that were being implemented — but —

“General Schoomaker wanted even more change, as he, too, was beginning to recognize the urgency of the situation in Iraq. And so, when he sent me to Fort Leavenworth, he gave me some simple, direct guidance. ‘Shake up the Army, Dave,’ he told me. I was delighted to salute and help do just that.”

Petraeus said this about the “process of change”:

“As I saw it then–and as I still see it now–there are four steps to institutional change.

First, you have to get the big ideas right–you have to determine the right overarching concepts and intellectual underpinnings. Second, you have to communicate the big ideas effectively throughout the breadth and depth of the organization. Third, you have to oversee implementation of the big ideas–in this case, first at our combat training centers and then in actual operations. And fourth, and finally, you have to capture lessons from implementation of the big ideas, so that you can refine the overarching concepts and repeat the overall process.

Now, as anyone who has been involved in transformation knows, change can be hard. It can be challenging. And it can be frustrating. Inevitably, all institutions resist change to some degree–even when all recognize that change is needed.”

What resulted from months of work by many people was the rewriting of the “Counterinsurgency Manual.”

To all you pessimists out there, I’ve got news for you. We’re not quite dealing with combat operations here in the 50 states. At times it might feel like bullets are whizzing by or mortars and IEDs are exploding — but that’s just your body and emotions getting some exercise.

I’d encourage you to take the time to watch and/or read “The SurGeneral Petraeus’ speech. And then think about what we can do differently to reach and win the hearts and minds of more of our fellow citizens.

This article first posted in June 2010.

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