Our commander in chief, aka President Obama, has created quite the tempest in the teapot of our nation's capital. You see, he committed the sin of speaking the truth to us as if we're rational adults when he stated that "we don't have a strategy yet," for dealing with ISIS in the Mideast. For this he is being pilloried by the usual suspects (well that and the sin of wearing a tan suit. BTW, I think he looked mighty dapper. Kudos Mr. President for your sartorial boldness). Of course the talk that's making the rounds is all about how frankly speaking to the American people about grave matters is somehow a "mistake" in the high school like social environment that hangs heavy in the humid, heavy swampland of Washington D.C. in August. (Having lived in the District decades ago, I assure you that getting the hell out of town in August is a sign of both good judgment and marked sanity).
So why am I fine with the President's candidness? Simply put, it shows that we are employing the principle of "ready, aim, fire" instead of "fire, aim, ready" that is sadly found throughout history. In this I take great comfort in the fact that the President is taking the time to consider what actions are "feasible, acceptable, suitable, and complete." * In short, he's thinking and acting like a true strategist. Join me below the fold as I bloviate further on the concept of true strategy as well as explain why the phrase feasible, suitable, acceptable, and complete warrant quotes and an asterisk.
And here's the why. That phrase constitutes the standards that any military plan has to meet for it to be considered practical. So says the 7 step Military Decision Making Process, aka MDMP, that was pounded into my skull over the course of two decades plus of commissioned service, and that is taught at the institution where I teach, the US Army Command and General Staff College. I am here to tell you from personal experience that the MDMP is painfully arduous and time consuming. And that is just for military operations at the relatively straight forward lower tactical and operational levels. Throw in the complexities inherent to formulating courses of actions (note the plural) at the national strategic level and hell's bells this get hard! Which is why it's best left to the folks who have spent several decades in national service, whether as member of the armed forces, federal civil service, and most importantly of all, elected officials. Getting these three communities together to fully analyze and develop a plan as well as considering the unintended consequences that will pop up, takes time. The price of not doing so properly results in catastrophe that boggles the mind.
Consider just 3 well known examples from recent history. The first is what happened exactly 100 years ago when the Great Power fell into a war the precisely none of the heads of states wanted but where "unable" to stop. The world bumbled it's way into a horrific bloodbath as each of the Great Powers essentially reacted to individual events and acted upon general agreements without taking a step back to consider the consequences. A great example of this happened when Germany was mobilizing it's army according to the war plan that called for an invasion of Belgium and France, even though all the Kaiser wanted to do was (re) act against Russia. When asked if the planned could be changed, Chief of General Staff von Mole replied that it could not as its success depended on rapid implementation. To this the Kaiser wistfully replied that von Moltke's uncle, the chief of the general staff during the wildly successful wars against Austria and France 40 some years earlier, would have given a different answer.
The next two examples come from our own history. Think back to October of 1962 when the world stood at the brink of destruction. We along with the Soviets where well along the way to falling into the same trap that the Great War leaders fell into 48 years earlier, taking action against individual events without considering if such actions actually supported a desired end state i.e. not blowing the world to kingdom come. Think how easy it would have been for a relatively new president that was broadly thought of as feckless and not experienced enough (sound familiar) to just go along with the advice of his national security advisors and just press the button to demonstrate our toughness and resolve. Thank God Jack Kennedy had the strength of character to see through that nonsense and act like a true strategist (what course of action can the US take that gets the missiles out of Cuba that doesn't turn the Northern Hemisphere into a radioactive ash heap).
The final example involves the Big Dog himself. I am of course talking about the Kosovo War of 1998-1999 "What war?" You most likely are asking yourself. I am referring to the air campaign that NATO (i.e. us) conducting against Serbia in order to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. At the time this was billed to us a a limited, punitive action. Nothing to see, all just a part of normal day to day operations. This of course is pure bullsh*t. Trust me, anytime you drop any amount of ordnance on another nation's territory that results in people dying and things breaking, you are at war with them whether or not you call it war. In any event I site the Kosovo War as an example of success when national leaders take the time to consider not just the actions but their possible and probable consequences as well. We were able to halt a national genocide using relatively limited means, ie air power without ground forces, without it blowing up into the dreaded World War 3 precipitated by a nationalist Russia deciding to come to the aide of their Serbian Slavic brothers, which by the way set off the previously mentioned First World War.
So what was the point of these three case studies? In the first we see the consequence of blindly following plans that are in place because resolve must be shown (can't be perceived as weak and feckless ya know), the second what can happen when you have a chief decision maker who insists on more than acting in the heat of the moment, and the last, what happens when the right questions are asked and the answers are given with appropriate thoughtfulness to outcomes and consequences.
So when the leader of the planet's most lethal military force states "we don't have a strategy yet" I take great comfort in the realization that aforementioned world's most lethal military force is in the hands of someone thoughtful and mature enough to take a step back and consider the full range of actions and consequence before pulling the trigger.