And that is the approach Laitin said he used to identify the key messages from the workshop: “What have I learned in the past two days that will help me give General Mattis a state-of-the-art answer?”

The Value of Stories

Continuing with his hypothetical scenario, Laitin said the first part of the answer is that “the new commander of the International Security Assistance Force–Somalia should hear some stories.” Stories are a good starting point for understanding a situation and for generating ideas about how best to deal with it. They also serve as a basic source for the analytical hierarchy process and the Delphi method that domain experts can use in solving various sorts of problems, as Robert Sargent described in his workshop paper, “A Perspective on Modeling, Data, and Knowledge.”

What sorts of stories? Some of them should be from people experienced in past campaigns, Laitin said. Robert Oakley, the special envoy for Somalia under President George H.W. Bush, could describe his successful management of Operation Restore Hope from 1992 to 1994. “He saved ten thousand lives getting food out to Baidoa and other cities,” Laitin said. Another story worth hearing would be that of Mahmoud Sahnoun, a United Nations special envoy who worked with the various warring factions in an effort that might have stopped Somalia’s civil war if he had received support from some of the world’s powerful countries. Then there was Colonel Kenneth Allard, U.S. Army (retired) who wrote Somalia Operations: Lessons Learned (2002), a book that described how the UNOSOM II mission to Somalia collapsed, which led to the disastrous Blackhawk Down battle.

There are also a variety of local stories to be told, Laitin said. One would describe how the Hawiye clan broke up, which was the root of the collapse of Somalia and the resulting 20-year war. Another would be the tale of how the Isaaqs in Hargeisa were able to negotiate a settlement with the Warsangeli and Dhulbanhante Daarood, an act that has allowed Somaliland, an autonomous region of Somalia, to have maintained a long-standing peace amidst the chaos that reigns in the rest of Somalia. And what were U.S. policy makers thinking when they encouraged Ethiopian troops to invade Somalia in an attempt to overthrow the Islamic Courts Union regime? A story could illuminate the reasoning behind that decision.

“Stories are a basic source for analytic hierarchy process of domain experts, and I think these stories are essential and comprehensible,” Laitin said, “and that is what makes them essential for any commander.” They

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