It’s remarkable how bad we are at strategic thinking:
The US strategy was to bring democracy to Iraq and by doing so, inspire democratic revolutions throughout the Arab world.
Although inspiring, it was wrong first and foremost because it was predicated on ignoring one of the basic dictates of strategy. It failed to recognize that there were other forces in the region.
It failed to anticipate that every US move would be countered by an Iranian move. And in failing to recognize this basic strategic truth — even though it has been staring them in the face — the Americans aggressively pursued a strategy that became more and more irrelevant as time went by. — Caroline Glick
I’m not going to analyze the (wrong) decision to go to war in Iraq or the mistakes made afterward. I want to talk about strategic thinking and leadership in general.
There’s a kind of arrogance that often characterizes Western leaders: they think that they are the only actors. In their minds their opponents only absorb whatever is done to them, and don’t have the ability to respond creatively or to anticipate our moves.
Yes, I know that a great deal of energy supposedly goes into thinking about “if we do x, then they will do y, after which we can do z…” etc. But it doesn’t seem to show in practice. The debacle in Iraq is a perfect example. Or take Israel allowing the return of Yasser Arafat in 1993, and its evacuations of South Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005. What did they think the other side would do?
The problem is that policy in a democracy is made by politicians. By definition they are creatures of appearance rather than reality, of the next election rather than the longer term.
The developing struggle between the West and radical Islam is characterized by an unbalance of forces. We have a huge advantage in brute power. The US military can vaporize anything anywhere in the world on command — think about what a single aircraft carrier can do, even if limited to conventional weapons. On the other hand, the enemy has a different kind of advantage: they are patient (they think in historic terms, not only the next election) and their leaders are strategic thinkers.
Democracies select their leaders by their ability to be attractive to the appropriate coalitions. Dictatorships and terrorist groups vet them through a brutal process of intrigue. It’s only accidental — especially today, when candidates are sold to the public like long-distance carriers — when a US president happens to be capable of strategic thought. On the other hand, you don’t get to be the leader of Iran or al Qaeda — or Russia, for that matter — by being strategically challenged.
Maybe we should require candidates to demonstrate an ability at chess along with public speaking?
On 9/11, I thought: that’s it. Whoever did this is going to find out that they pulled the tail of a gigantic tiger. We are going to tear them up like we did the Nazis and Imperial Japanese. But that isn’t the way it turned out, and the reason seems to be a failure of leadership — primarily, a failure to think strategically, but not only that.
I am not suggesting that we give up our democratic process in order to produce more effective leaders. We certainly don’t want an Ahmadinejad or a Stalin, regardless of their chess-playing skills (Stalin may or may not have been a strong player, though Soviet citizens were told that he was). But we need to stop electing people for stupid reasons, like ‘I would like to have a beer with this guy’, or ‘it’s time for a black president’.
We are entering a critical period for the West. US leadership will have a decisive effect on the outcome. Here is what I’m looking for in the next president (and may he come speedily in our day):
A sense of history: Middle Easterners — Arabs and Israelis both — are better at this than us.
Strength of character: what JFK learned from the Bay of Pigs: tell the ‘experts’ to go to Hell.
Involvement: think Truman or Nixon. Like them or not, they took the job seriously.
And of course, the ability to play chess better than the Persians, Arabs, Russians and Chinese.