Col. John Boyd (he died in 1997) is considered one of America's best military thinkers. His thinking dramatically influenced the plan of attack in the first gulf war. Boyd's thinking also serves as a good basis for a deeper understanding 4GW (fourth generation warfare).
Grand strategy, according to Boyd, is a quest to isolate your enemy's (a nation-state or a global terrorist network) thinking processes from connections to the external/reference environment. This process of isolation is essentially the imposition of insanity on a group. To wit: any organism that operates without reference to external stimuli (the real world), falls into a destructive cycle of false internal dialogues. These corrupt internal dialogues eventually cause dissolution and defeat.
The dynamic of Boyd's grand strategy is to isolate your enemy across three essential vectors (physical, mental, and moral), while at the same time improving your connectivity across those same vectors. Here's more detail:
  • Physical isolation is accomplished by severing communications both to the outside world (ie. allies) and internal audiences (ie. between branches of command and between the command organization and its supporters).
  • Mental isolation is done through the introduction of ambiguous information, novel situations, and by operating at a tempo an enemy cannot keep up with. A lack of solid information impedes decision making.
  • Moral isolation is achieved when an enemy improves its well being at the expense of others (allies) or violates rules of behavior they profess to uphold (standards of conduct). Moral rules are a very important reference point in times of uncertainty. When these are violated, it is very hard to recover.
Our progress so far
When we evaluate our progress in the war on terrorism based on Boyd's measures of isolation, the following is seen:
  • Physical isolation. America has been physically isolated from many of its allies due to its rush to war in Iraq. It also has demonstated (via the slow process by which news of Abu Ghraib reached the President and Congress) that internal communications have been disrupted. The destruction of al Qaeda's training camps and visible communications systems have resulted in a degree of isolation. However, the network-based organizational structure of al Qaeda and its ability to manipulate the media to send messages to supporters has mitigated this effort.
  • Mental isolation. The rapid emergence of new threats (al Sadr, al Zarqawi, and Fallujah) and the myriad of geographically dispersed attacks that require response (from Spain to Saudi Arabia -- from Basra to Mosel) have served to isolate the US on the mental plane. It is also very difficult, due to ambiguity of information, to determine who the enemy is (this is true in Iraq and across the world from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia). The bulk of the early effort to continuously attack al Qaeda has subsided as the US concentrates on Iraq -- our early gains have been squandered.
  • Moral isolation. The excesses at the Abu Ghraib prison demonstrate a classic violation of moral codes of conduct. The evidence indicates that the US intentionally (in that there was a climate of urgency that permitted it) violated these rules due to desire to gain information needed to fight guerrilla groups in Iraq. Another example of moral isolation is America's insistance on the right to self-defense, at the expense of the rest of the world. There has not been any evidence that al Qaeda sponsored operations have drastically violated any internal moral codes. However, the proliferation of groups associated with al Qaeda have resulted in attacks (for example: attacks on Shiites in Pakistan and Iraq that are against al Qaeda policy) may serve to isolate al Qaeda if their actions are adopted by the main organization.
A vision statement for this conflict
From this analysis it is clear that the US is, as the result of this war, more isolated than our enemy. However, Boyd suggests that the best corrective action is for the US to articulate a grand unifying vision for this war. A "with us or against us" approach and unilateral military action is not productive (it drives isolation). A better vision statement (we should have a contest for this):The United States will commit all of the resources at its disposal to help nations everywhere preserve those values that we all hold as vital to our future success."