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Two on Strategic Thinking

Colonel Paul Yingling hits a theme much beloved here at ZP:

An Absence of Strategic Thinking

….The future of Pakistan is more difficult to predict. It could limp along as a failing state, or suddenly fail with little warning. The West knows so little about the internal dynamics of the country that virtually any significant change will come as a surprise. Although the exact timing and extent of state failure in Pakistan is difficult to predict, the consequences of such failure are not. Partial or total state failure of a nuclear Pakistan would pose a grave threat to the United States. In such a scenario, the White House would not know who controlled Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. A nuclear-armed al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, or other extremist group would be difficult if not impossible to deter.

ISAF’s exit from Afghanistan has much more to do with American domestic politics than with coalition strategy. American fiscal constraints and political paralysis set this course in motion long ago, and corrective measures are unlikely in the absence of a crisis. Too often, what passes for strategic thought in the United States is actually a struggle among self-interested elites seeking political, commercial, or bureaucratic advantage. Such behavior is the privilege of a country that is both rich and safe. However, a pattern of such behavior is self-correcting: no country that behaves this way will stay rich or safe for long.

Hat tip to The Warlord Loop and SWJ Blog.

Wiggins at the Wohlstetterian Opposed Systems Design blog weighs the question of a grand strategy board and finds it to be wanting:

Everyone wants their greybeard panel but relationships and timing matter

….The influence of these sorts of boards depends massively upon relationships and timing. Senior leaders have tight schedules and must makes decisions with whatever information they have at hand. If the SECDEF or the National Security Advisor knows and trusts someone, even if they don’t have a formal role in government, then an informal conversation with that person might be able to help. But what the senior leader needs at that point is cogent and focused advice, which is why the relationship (does the leader trust the adviser? does the adviser understand what the leader really needs?) and timing (can the right advice be delivered at the right time?) matter so much.

Strategy, fundamentally, cannot be routinized. It cannot, therefore, be broken down into a bureaucratic process. Thus, any attempt to improve strategic thinking through bureaucratic reorganizations misses the point. That reality is unsatisfying and messy but accurate.

A fair point by Wiggins. The existence of a grand strategy board would be a goad to remind an incoming administration that “strategy” is important and would put a tool at their disposal. It would not guarantee strategic thinking in policy making any more than the NSC guarantees an orderly national security decision making process.

Presidents currently get the NSC they want rather than the one that they deserve, and the same would be true of a grand strategy board. Some who recognized the utility though, would use it well.

4 Responses to “Two on Strategic Thinking”

  1. MB1 Says:

    Wiggins piece reminded me of an expression I first encountered when it was attributed to Timothy Geithner in the book Superclass by David Rothkopf

    Also, rather thought-provoking (imho) to consider the how to, when to, where to, and why should we of imposing an advisory board endowed with assets based on what an entity needs as opposed to the seemingly fortunate circumstance of an entity getting the advisory board they want.

    I surmise one might encounter certain interesting paradoxes when attempting to construct the advisory board of need, as well as lively discussions concerning the infringement of executive privilege in the context of a POTUS. Issues of democracy might also arise in particular settings where an advisory board of need is to be implemented.

  2. MB1 Says:

    Mark, I made a typo in my submitted comment.

    What reads as, “…in his book Superclass” should read as “…in the book Superclass”. If you accept the comment, can you correct that typo? Perty please?


  3. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Questions, questions, and more questions. Plus, Zen’s got a point about strategy. Says:

    […] I don’t know the answer and I don’t think anyone does, so Dr. Exum has a point. We have no strategy (link goes to Zen) within which to place “trade offs”. Well, if we do, I can’t see […]

  4. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » On “Leverages” Says:

    […] I don’t know the answer and I don’t think anyone does, so Dr. Exum has a point. We have no strategy (link goes to Zen) within which to place “trade offs”. Well, if we do, I can’t see […]

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