Our next president must be a strategic thinker

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.

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3 Responses to “Our next president must be a strategic thinker”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    The most difficult job in the world is in my opinion being Prime – Minister of Israel. The second is being President of the United States. I would say the job of Israeli Prime – Minister is so difficult because the threats are so great and the resources to deal with them so limited.
    With the United States there are even more problems but the resources are so much greater. The U.S. could for instance readily bomb Iranian nuclear facilities out of existence, in the way Israel would have trouble doing. The U.S. can militarily intervene any place there is a perceived direct threat.
    But the U.S. today is facing challenges which are in some ways extremely difficult to define and directly attack. Consider the threats presented by the Islamic world. What is the U.S. supposed to do? Intervene and take- over all fifty- plus potentially hostile Islamic nations? We already see that the involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to yield no major positive results.
    The U.S. as world leader also faces threats from Russia, China, and even Brazil and Turkey , not to mention Venezuela and a whole host of other not exactly friendly nations.
    My own sense is that you are right in saying the U.S needs a new kind of strategic thinking. But that must include thinking about the whole complex of problems, not simply the potential military threats. The deficit, the global warming issue which in forty degree Jerusalem I have felt this week as a very real one, the ‘aging’ of the American population, the ‘weakening of the Will of the European West’ etc etc.
    I do not believe President Obama ‘sees’ it in the right way. But I am not sure precisely the kind of ‘vision’ required now to keep the U.S. and the free world at the forefront of a ‘progressing’ humanity. We seem to be moving now more ‘backwards and down’ rather than ‘forward and up’. I hope I am wrong but Bushehr went radioactive this past week and all we are getting from Washington is more non- reassuring pap.

  2. Nuritg says:

    Our next president must first be a leader, a uniting leader, with it, a decisive, strategic thinker and publically savvy one.

  3. Robman says:

    We rarely elect good strategic thinkers. Nixon was about the best we had in that department. Eisenhower also was minimally competent. Both had glaring weaknesses, but they both thought strategically, at least.

    As presumptuous as this may sound, I don’t think the problem of Islamism is so complicated. We don’t have to defeat all fifty Moslem countries. The wellsprings of this problem are chiefly Saudi Arabia and Iran. They’ve got the money, they are the main players.

    What is complicated is untangling the knot of corruption that they’ve created, by worming their way into our universities, our media, and our government. This latest outrage over the mosque at Ground Zero is just one of many examples. This is like some kind of surreal nightmare, the way this is playing out. Obama was bad enough…and now Pelosi wants to “investigate the funding of the opponents”!!!!! I can tell you all, as a veteran of many e-mail battles with apologists for, or actual members of, the “other side”, this is EXACTLY the kind of debating tactics they use! This is eerie and scary as hell! You’d think Rashid Khalidi was Pelosi’s closest advisor!!

    It is well and good to dream about the kind of leader we need. But we are stuck with our particular political culture, in which strategic thinkers are a happy accident if they ever occur at all.

    I predict we’ll get Sarah Palin, or we’ll get Stanley McCrystal. In the latter case, we get a strategic thinker. In the former, at least we get someone who, as far as I can determine – and I look at these things closely – is not tainted by the petrodollar prostitution ring. Not sure I can say that about any member of the top military brass in this country nowadays (they are rife with anti-Semites, that is for sure).

    We could even wind up with Ron Paul. He was a fringe candidate last time – what he deserved – but in a straw poll at a recent Republican function in New Orleans, he came in a close second behind Romney. I strongly suspect he is Saudia’s insurance against their stooge, Obama, getting booted in 2012. Watch this Ron Paul guy…

    If Paul gets the nomination, it is game over here. The Saudis will have achieved more or less complete control over our national-level politics…as they already have in Britain.