Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

More on Rustin and strategic thinking

Karin Chenoweth, a friend who first mentioned the underappreceiated civil rights leader Bayard Rustin to me, wrote to me in response to the item the other day that Rustin, whom she knew, thought, "in terms of underlying principles, large goals consistent with principles, strategies to meet the goals, and tactics that served the strategies." Read ...

via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

Karin Chenoweth, a friend who first mentioned the underappreceiated civil rights leader Bayard Rustin to me, wrote to me in response to the item the other day that Rustin, whom she knew, thought, "in terms of underlying principles, large goals consistent with principles, strategies to meet the goals, and tactics that served the strategies."

Read that again. That's a good summary of effective strategic thinking and even above strategy, good overall conceptual thinking. When strategy is taught, the top end is often forgotten-which is that strategies must be designed to meet goals consistent with underlying principles.

Indeed, that sentence of hers could be used as a guide to critiquing American policy in Iraq. Did we go to war for principled reasons? Were our goals there consistent with our principles? Did we have strategies to meet those goals? Were our tactics consistent with our principles, goals and strategies?

Karin Chenoweth, a friend who first mentioned the underappreceiated civil rights leader Bayard Rustin to me, wrote to me in response to the item the other day that Rustin, whom she knew, thought, "in terms of underlying principles, large goals consistent with principles, strategies to meet the goals, and tactics that served the strategies."

Read that again. That’s a good summary of effective strategic thinking and even above strategy, good overall conceptual thinking. When strategy is taught, the top end is often forgotten-which is that strategies must be designed to meet goals consistent with underlying principles.

Indeed, that sentence of hers could be used as a guide to critiquing American policy in Iraq. Did we go to war for principled reasons? Were our goals there consistent with our principles? Did we have strategies to meet those goals? Were our tactics consistent with our principles, goals and strategies?

 

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. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.