Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tactical vs. Strategic

In the current debate about the effectiveness of "THE SURGE" in Iraq, I think an important point is being missed. As anyone that's ever taken an management course knows, there's a big difference between tactical and strategic plans. GW Bush, our first MBA president, from Harvard no less, should know the difference:

Tactical thinking focuses on means and narrow ends, not global ends, and sees things through a relatively short time period. It is narrow in scope, and affects few functional areas.

Strategic thinking employs tactics. There is a parent-child relationship where a strategy seeks the end; and tactics provide the means to that end. Strategic thinking is broad and has a long time horizon.

The "end" that we are talking about is a stable Iraq with political reconciliation. The Bush folks have enunciated this end in many various ways throughout our five years of war, but with respect to "THE SURGE", they did what any proper businessperson would do. They established benchmarks and timetables (to evaluate the accomplishment of these benchmarks.) This is Management 101...you can't manage what you can't measure.

The tactics employed were a combination of military ("THE SURGE") financial assistance, and diplomatic efforts to effect accomplishment of 18 goals (the strategic "end"). All of this was beat to death in the press right after the 2007 SOTU speech with the promise being that we'd have concrete evidence of results in the early summer of that year.

Well, the deadline was extended into September (which might have got me fired as a project manager). And when Petraeus and Crocker reported back to the government in September, only a couple of the 18 goals that had been promised to the American taxpayers to be complete months before had been accomplished. September was six months ago and there is still very minor progress on those 18 goals that were layed out after the SOTU speech in January of 2007.
This can been seen only as a massive strategic failure.

Yet, the government and Republican nominee have been shouting from the hilltops about the success of "THE SURGE". Let me remind you that "THE SURGE" was but one tactic employed to achieve those 18 goals, two or three of which may have been accomplished. Other tactics were dimplomacy and financial assistance.

But yes, violence is down, and there has been an achievement of a narrow end. This narrow end was but one component for accomplishment of the strategic end. Reduce violence so that the government can achieve reconciliation. The politicians claim that "THE SURGE" has been a success. As more and more information filters out from the Iraqi morass, it seems the "financial assistance" may deserve more credit that "THE SURGE". I've heard more and more that the additional US troops have helped a little, but the bribes we've been paying to former militia are helping much more. All the while the US economy heads for recession. We're paying blood money to keep people peaceful. That does not sound like a lasting peace.

But yet again, the goalposts have been moved. Instead of admitting that the strategic end of the 18 goals declared in January 2007 has been a failure, we're being told that one component...one tactic of the overall strategy worked. McCain has taken this as his clarion call for election. But the questionable success of one tactic does not make a strategic victory.

Suppose I were to introduce a new line of shoes. I had a marketing person with a brilliant campaign where people flocked to stores to check out the shoes. Yet when people tried the shoes on they were uncomfortable and did not buy them. The performance of the marketing person is superior (tactics), but the performance of the offering is terrible (strategy). (We could have paid them money to wear the shoes, but how long could we do that without going broke?)

Basically, John McCain and George Bush are running around telling everyone that "THE SURGE" worked, but we didn't sell any shoes.


dustin.. said...

Great post. Really though, it is more and more becoming apparent that the "successes" were only a temporary thing. We are starting to hear that the bribes we paid are no longer working. The militias that we recruited to take up arms with us are now taking the training and armaments back to the same sectarian violence that existed before the surge. Further, violence against US soldiers has in fact been down in comparison to some previous months, however, violence against Iraqi civilians has not decreased in any measurable level. I really hope that in the coming months, this flawed logic that the current administration and McCain keep using will become apparent. One can only hope.

infogiant said...

I think your assumption is that the Bush Administration cares about the results at this point. We went there to switch oil contracts from Russian and Chinese government control to Exxon and Haliburton and didn't send enough troops or a plan for an insurgency because that didn't fit the low cost projection needed to sell the case to the big dollar taxpayers they needed to support the effort. At this point, they're just stalling to not lose the presidency in '09, but the truth is, they've already got what they wanted...the oil contracts.

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Anonymous said...

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