Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

The Leaderboard

Most Read: National

From the Blogosphere

Jena McGregor

Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Military Scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the professor of cultural science in the department of command, leadership and management at the U.S. Army War College.
» All Posts by Col. Charles D. Allen

Reflections from the US Army War College

Question: Finding and killing Osama bin Laden has required focus, patience and persistence from presidents and top government officials over a decade of repeated setbacks--qualities that are in short supply in a world where time horizons are becoming increasingly short. How can leaders resist the natural temptation to move on to other priorities when goals begin to look like they might be out of reach?

Monday morning at the U.S. Army War College, the hallways and seminar rooms were all abuzz with the news of Osama bin Laden’s death.  For over a decade, bin Laden’s plans and actions have directly affected U.S. Army War College students.

The August 1998 bombings of American Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, changed the security procedures for all Army garrisons.  In October 2000, I watched with my War College classmates the videos of the USS Cole being hauled back to the U.S. after its bombing in the Yemen Port of Aden.  Each of us can recount in detail exactly what we were doing when we first heard the unfolding events of September 11, 2001.

This was clear Monday as I met with a retired officer in the War College cafeteria.  He was in the Pentagon that bright clear morning when American Airlines Flight 77 plunged into the building and 125 Americans perished.

A large percentage of our military students for this academic year have deployed to Afghanistan (41 percent), Iraq (66 percent) or both, as a consequence of the attacks of 9-11.  They have intently studied national security topics over this past year and most have prospects for future deployments after graduation in June.

The assorted conversations here did not focus on the punitive action, but rather the corporate need to bring the man to justice in the name of the nearly 3,000 civilians and soldiers killed on American soil.  Since these attacks planned and executed by Osama bin Laden, twice as many American service members have died in this War on Terrorism. Many tens of thousands of troops have suffered physical, mental and emotional wounds.

In intense discussions in Carlisle, students and faculty pondered the great expense devoted for nearly ten years to attain this result—the killing of bin Laden.  A colleague followed up the discussion with the following quote from Carl von Clausewitz’s On War (Chapter II : Ends and Means in War):

"Still more general in its influence on the resolution to peace is the consideration of the expenditure of force already made, and further required. As war is no act of blind passion, but is dominated over by the political object, therefore the value of that object determines the measure of the sacrifices by which it is to be purchased. This will be the case, not only as regards extent, but also as regards duration. As soon, therefore, as the required outlay becomes so great that the political object is no longer equal in value, the object must be given up, and peace will be the result."

The value of the object—justice—demanded “focus, patience and persistence,” with the attendant sacrifices.

View all panel responses to the discussion The Osama bin Laden mission, and the art of persistence

Col. Charles D. Allen  | May 2, 2011 6:15 PM

Read what others are saying