Best Defense

Crumpton’s list (3): The further from home we fight, the humbler we should be

Global war, local solutions



By Henry A. Crumpton
Best Defense guest columnist

3Global War, Local Solutions. The legendary British guerrilla leader T.E. Lawrence, in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, explores the folly of Western military hubris and the necessity of local political allies in the Middle East. Lawrence rallied and led Arab tribes in a brilliant, bold campaign to defeat Ottoman forces as part of Great Britain’s efforts during WWI. We also must emphasize local non-state allies to fight non-state enemies and create the conditions for a lasting victory. Local tribes and clans have the best understanding of the human terrain because they are part of it.

The political interests of these indigenous groups, the ultimate force multiplier, ultimately outweigh those of foreign nations with broader, more conflicting goals. Almost half of Syria’s people are displaced; these 12 million individuals are not just singular victims, they are potential allied armies with more to gain than anybody.

Do not impose a Western bias on them or their war. Rather, embrace the value of humility, especially when far from home. Reality on the ground may erase the defined borders of maps drawn by Europeans almost a century ago.

Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, who led the CIA’s Afghanistan campaign 2001-02, retired from government service in 2007. He is the author of The Art of Intelligence.

(To be continued)

Image credit: Chris Christian/Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at

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