[December 16, 2015] As military truisms go, this saying has been around since before recorded history. To underestimate your enemy often led directly to your death and to a Darwinian winnowing of leaders. In the business world, a related axiom is that you should never underestimate your competition.
When senior leaders underestimate the enemy, people suffer – massacres, genocides, and holocausts occurred and have brought untold misery. These historical events today still reverberate throughout our social fabric. Like the world underestimated Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini, today we are witness to an evil, the terror group known as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL).
Combined with fear and the lack of moral courage, underestimating your enemy will lead to the expansion of evil like we are seeing in the Middle East with the growth of terror and its strategic expansion. The world’s response has been timid and underwhelming and restricted largely to the West and a few Arabic nations.
The Islamic State has shown considerable military flexibility – city hopping to quickly overcome key cities in Iraq and Syria, bypassing small-garrisoned towns like General MacArthur did in the Pacific during World War II. MacArthur also took the fight to the Japanese homeland in a number of raids. The Islamic State is leveraging the same psychological tactic when it inspired the attacks in Paris France and San Bernardino, California.
For from being the “JV team” or “contained” as President Obama declared, it continues to recruit new members successfully using tools of the West – advanced videography and the internet – that is not just effective but inexpensive and easy to use.
The United States just announced in a speech by President Obama that the Islamic State is shrinking and is being systematically targeted, especially its leaders. This taught them to stay close to highly populated areas where U.S. airstrikes are prohibited by restrictive White House directed Rules of Engagement that limits collateral damage. Like the Vietcong learned when fighting U.S. troops in Vietnam, they closed the gap with our soldiers so air and ground artillery could not be brought down to destroy their formations.
Never underestimating your enemy means not only knowing your enemy but also knowing yourself – your strengths but especially your weaknesses. There are many who criticize the U.S. because it doesn’t know it’s military and thus hobbles it with restrictive rules that serves feel good standards of combat. Those rules, they say, are not based on the Law of Land Warfare but upon a domestic civilian police methodology.
The West underestimates the enemy and in doing so their weaknesses are crippling their successes and magnifying their failures.
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Note: The thumbnail photo is of Cambodian Revolutionary Pol Pot who led the Khmer Rouge from 1963 until 1997. He presided over a totalitarian dictatorship, in which his government made urban dwellers move to the countryside to work in collective farms and on forced labor projects. The combined effects of executions, strenuous working conditions, malnutrition and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population. In all, an estimated 1 to 3 million people (out of a population of slightly over 8 million) died due to the policies of his four-year premiership. The United States and Western allies underestimated him. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pol_Pot