Best Defense

Strategy (Vth and last): The importance of surfacing differences

The essence of strategy, of course, is making hard choices — figuring out what is essential and what is merely important, one the key distinctions that General Eisenhower made in planning the implementation of grand strategy in World War II. Krepinevich and Watts make the important point that in order to do so, it is ...

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The essence of strategy, of course, is making hard choices — figuring out what is essential and what is merely important, one the key distinctions that General Eisenhower made in planning the implementation of grand strategy in World War II.

Krepinevich and Watts make the important point that in order to do so, it is necessary to have some pretty tough arguments. Under President Eisenhower, they note, the members of the NSC’s “Planning Board” “sought to deal with disputes among  their principals by emphasizing differences and conflicts rather than by sweeping them under the rug.”

So, I think, one of the key measures of a strategic process is this: Does it identify and explore these disputes? On the Iraq war, I think the Bush administration sought to downplay differences (for example, the running feud between the CPA and the U.S. military) and so expensively and sadly wasted three or four years of blood, treasure and power.

Krepinevich and Watts suggest re-establishing the NSC’s Planning Board, an idea I think should be explored.

It strikes me that Eisenhower is getting a lot of good press nowadays, coming to be seen as perhaps our only strategically minded president of the last 50 years. In my recent travels (I’ve moved from subways to airplanes) I’ve begun reading Dear General: Eisenhower’s Wartime Letters to Marshall. In the introduction, Joseph Hobbs, the editor the volume, notes that in 1962, a poll of historians rated Eisenhower “near the bottom third of American presidents.” His reputation certainly has risen through the decades.  

Hey, maybe I’m becoming an Eisenhower Republican — just as the last of them are becoming scarcer than right whales as they are marginalized by the out-of-power and out-for-blood radicalized GOP. One of Ike’s most scathing terms of criticism was “hysterical.”

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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1
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