Guest Post: Few’s The Serenity Prayer for Grand Strategy

[Cross-posted from SWJ Blog]

Major Mike Few, one of the SWJ Blog’s trusty editors opines on the nuts and bolts of “doing grand strategy”. Pay close attention to points #2 and #7. Hopefully, the first of many guest posts here by Major Few, if I can steal some of his time from Dave Dilegge 🙂 :

The Serenity Prayer for Grand Strategy: Nine-Step Recovery Method for Reframing Problem Solving

by Mike Few

Recently, our authors began to shift from problem definition to reframing problem solving. Over the last year, we published some remarkable works effectively describing Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Libya, and others. Simultaneously, we published several series on design and wicked problems.

The challenge we are posing is can someone produce a concise document applying design to an existing problem? If we cannot find practical application or wisdom, then the process becomes a moot effort. Below is my white board attempt to provide an example and discussion for others to follow. This blog post is similar to many of the discussions our authors and readers have daily in the classroom and nightly at the pub or dinner with colleagues. Simply put, I am merely merging the sum of our published thought and discussions.

Three years ago, I was challenged to determine if my experiences in big wars and counterinsurgency could be applied to the macro level. On the tactical level, I found that I simply relearned the lessons of those that had come before me, the countless art of war and warfare. However, when I consider how my thinking had changed, I feel that perhaps there are some lessons that can be applied for us all.

In combat, I finally learned the limits of my own control. This understanding freed me to concentrate focusing on changing the things that I could control. I look at framing problem solving in international relations in a similar manner. It’s kind of like the Serenity Prayer for Grand Strategy. So, as a practical exercise, below is an example of how I would use Design, Wicked Problems, and Military Decision Making Process using the example of Mexico.

1. Define what we cannot control. We cannot “fix” Mexico. They are a sovereign nation-state, and they must choose to work on their internal issues. Moreover, our “solution” to their problems may not be a proper fit despite our best intentions. Our intervention efforts in Central and South America over the past sixty years (or more) have had mixed results.

2. Define the problem as it is not as we wish to see it. Are we really in a war on poverty, drugs, education, terrorism, and governance? Are we really at war? Labels are often limiting, but there needs to be some common framework to understanding. Typically, that can be driven by good communication and active listening. We must learn to transcend how “I” see the problem and work towards how the collective group sees the problem accounting for all stakeholders.

3. Define our relationship. How does the US and Mexico see each other? This perception requires a degree of self-introspection and humility. Are we a brother attempting to help our sibling overcome addiction or work through difficult financial times? Are we a parent disciplining a spoiled child? Are we a spouse in a broken marriage? How we see ourselves defines our national interest. If we see ourselves as the parent, then we’re self-imposing a conceptual block.

As Martin Luther King wrote while sitting in the Birmingham Jail,

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds…In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”

4. Describe what we are currently doing and how we can adjust these things.

– Impact of NAFTA

– Border Security

– FID efforts in Mexico

– Counter-Drug efforts in Mexico

– Counter-Drug efforts in the United States

– Anti-Gang efforts in the United States

5. Discuss the cost benefits of future intervention efforts and internal reforms

– Comprehensive immigration reform

– Dream Act

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