I have this half-written, incredibly snarky entry that, with substantial humor, skewered the Bush Administration. It was actually pretty good for something written in the form of a primer on the concept of planning. It even reached for the rating of “funny”, but now I realize that sometimes the times we live in are not funny. Sometimes the times we live in are fucking hopeless. It’s not that our leaders don’t know how to plan; our problem is, they don’t even know how to _win_.
This episode of melancholy was brought on by a disastrous statement hidden inside an otherwise-par for the course article: “White House: No dramatic Iraq policy shift”:http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/10/24/us.iraq.ap/index.html. Now, the headline gives us non-news news; of course there will be no policy changes. Our leaders lack the ability to learn and improve that allowed, say, the Roosevelt administration to back away from losing strategies in 1941 and develop the approaches that ultimately crushed Imperial Japan. This failure to learn and change has been a given for years, and there’s no use crying over that particular spilt milk. But there is one paragraph in the article, one solitary quote that tells us what’s really going on in our commander-in-chief’s mind:
bq. Bush, in a CNBC interview, said, “Well, I’ve been talking about a change in tactics ever since I — ever since we went in, because the role of the commander in chief is to say to our generals, ‘You adjust to the enemy on the battlefield.’”
Ah. So that’s the role of the commander-in-chief! I somehow had gotten it into my mind that he commanded.
I’ve got a new idea: let’s not adjust to the enemy on the battlefield; let’s make him adjust to us. Let’s have a plan and get so far ahead of the enemy on his “OODA loop”:http://cleverbird.com/wiki/LeadershipTechniques/OODALoop that we’re making all of the decisions and he’s doing all of the reacting. How about that for something the commander-in-chief could put together for (or, better, with) our generals?
Seriously, has anyone out there ever played checkers? So, when you play checkers, you _actively_ try to take the strategic positions along the edge of the board, the ones you can’t be jumped out of. You don’t just sit there and countermove to every move your opponent makes; if you just countermove then suddenly you discover you opponent controls the edges of the board and can doube-jump you whatever move you make. This is basic. This is elementary. Heck, this is _elementary school_. We’re not talking chess here, we’re talking _checkers_. This is, like, Intro to Initiative for six-year-olds.
In war, as in every competitive activity, taking the initiative is key. Having the initiative forces your enemy to _react_, rather than getting to _act_, to do whatever it is that they want to do. While a powerful enemy can react powerfully, at least the universe of reactions is limited to the possible responses to your action, whereas the universe of actions available to an enemy who can do whatever it is they want to do is infinite. Losing the initiative requires you to figure out what to do about all of those potential actions, and sets you up for punishment for underplanning for any given eventuality. I mean, losing the initiative is what gives you situations in which the enemy just landed 300,000 troops in Normandy while you’ve got your whole army in Russia (oops). Heck, _dogs_ appreciate the value of initiative — have you ever seen a pack of dogs? They can’t even see in color and they can take the initiative over that crafty neighborhood cat. Because, you know, that’s the only way you ever get to eat cat.
Somehow, our administration has lost sight of the fact that the initiative is worth having. They’re happy to sit around and wait for the enemy to do something, and then say to the generals “hey, worry about that for us will you, huh?” I will spare you the psychoanaysis but it is fascinating to wonder how people could have gotten so powerful without having to learn that they needed to take the initiative.
At this rate, it’s not just that we’re doing poorly at our wars; it’s that, without any definition of victory and without the initiative, and thus control, in our hands, our wars are acutally _unwinnable_ (although, to be fair, we could still get lucky and have our enemies lose). Heck, at this point, I wish they’d just put Karl Rove in charge of international policy, because clearly he understands planning and gaining the initiative. Why can’t the Republicans run a war as well as they can run an election?