Knowing Your Opponent

It goes without saying that in conflict, one should focus on who is on the other side. It is obvious, right? It is obvious, and yet we often don’t.

Two examples.

During the US adventure in Afghanistan, the US thought it was fighting the Taliban. That, of course, seemed like a mismatch. Now, as the US prepares to pull out of Afghanistan in frustration after years and years of conflict, we begin to see who the real enemy was. It was an enemy inside Pakistan who the Americans had thought was a friend. It was the enemy who provided institutional support for the Taliban. And who is waiting for the US to pull out.

During the cold war, the west understood who the enemy was. It was “communist countries” most notably the USSR. Then the cold war ended. The USSR became Russia and gave up its communist ideology. Was it no longer an adversary? Well, it seemed that things had changed. But suddenly in 2014 Russia has invaded Ukraine and the west is caught flat footed. Perhaps we got it wrong in the first place.

My point here is a rather simple one. Knowing who your opponent is means more than identifying a person or an institution who poses a barrier to getting what you want. The reason is that we don’t fight against people.

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