A little more than a decade ago, as an Army civil affairs officer in a part of Iraq that is now in the hands of Sunni extremists, I questioned my commander's use of conventional tactics in a "battlespace" that was clearly more psychological than physical. "The Iraqi people were the prize in this fight, not the playing field," wrote Tom Ricks, recounting the incident in his book Fiasco. As he told my story, Ricks was conveying one of the major lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- one that might explain why many Iraqis now prefer the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which is now calling itself just the Islamic State, over Iraqi forces trained by the same U.S. Army to be warriors far more than public servants. The lesson is remembering that the most important element of Clausewitz's "remarkable trinity" -- the people, not the government or the army -- is the ultimate determinant of war and peace.
Many responsible for U.S. foreign and national security policy prefer to shelve this critical insight: namely, that the ultimate source of security is with the people. But reality keeps getting in their way -- and will continue to as long as they do not fully understand this.