Strategy and Popularity? DeMarco Banter

DeM Banter regarding How Washington Makes Love for War by Justin Logan. Reading the article below from CATO really hit home in an ah-ha moment. It is something I believe many have known for quite sometime but Justin Logan articulates it so simply. It’s not so much about General Petraeus or even Paula Broadwell…it is systemic of a much larger problem…not benefits given to generals, not the war, it’s bigger.  So this is why strategy is so hard? One can’t help but think back to any great moment in American history and contemplate the debates that occurred as we reached the best answer for our nation, but if those debates are now silent, I fear the future. Ponder our founding fathers and the close to perfect Constitution… there was debate, argument, and some back stabbing due to the passion the concept invoked and in the end America took a huge step forward in the experiment of democracy and a government for the people, by the people. We need leadership, strategy, and a lesson in the history of what made our country great…it was not popularity or personal power…. It was innovation, creativity, and true leaders with a concern for the greater good….

Original Article:  How Washington Makes Love for War by Justin Logan in The American Conservative

The salacious details of the Petraeus affair are pretty captivating. Foreign-policy observers are mostly reading about the sex scandal, but now there’s also the kabuki Benghazi controversy over who said “terror” when and how to define “spontaneous.” While nobody should be surprised that these superficial stories have captured Washington’s attention, the concurrent obsessions point to a substantive problem. The Washington foreign-policy elite is an insular, cosseted clique that obsesses over minutiae and discourages strategic thought.

Cards on the table: I am a dissenter from the bipartisan foreign-policy consensus, so I have an interest in highlighting the pathologies of how the establishment works. But the problems have gotten tough to dismiss.

Consider the C.V. of Paula Broadwell. As a piece by the Post’s Greg Jaffe and Anne Gearan points out, she was “a rising star who seemed destined for a sparkling career in foreign policy.” The question is why. She had no academic accomplishment to speak of, and was bounced from Harvard’s public policy school to a doctoral program in England, which itself is now reconsidering her status because of ethical concerns. According to an unnamed professor of hers at Harvard, “She was not someone you would think of as a critical thinker. I don’t remember anything about her as a student. I remember her as a personality.”

So why is it that this sort of person looks to be a rising star, someone destined for greatness? Simple: She was an effective self-promoter and networker and, most important, she never stopped to question the conventional wisdom. Broadwell’s ascent to prominence was a stepwise progression. The essential first step for Broadwell was allying herself with the emerging conventional wisdom that population-centric counterinsurgency was the missing tool in America’s defense arsenal and that General Petraeus could use it to fix America’s wars. But the crucial step Broadwell took was to use her status as a promoter of the conventional wisdom to attain access to power: in this case, General Petraeus. It was this proximity to power that made her a boldfaced name and won gushing blurbs for her mash-note book about Petraeus from an array of pundits and think tankers, whose imprimatur then signaled that Broadwell was a part of the establishment with wisdom to be heard.

There is one anecdote about Broadwell that perfectly captures the pathology of the foreign-policy establishment: according to one account, when Broadwell would be mildly challenged on aspects of her presentations, she “would frequently become defensive and beg off,” offering responses along the lines of, “Whoa, I thought we were just having a friendly discussion here, not a debate.” In the Beltway foreign-policy community, strategy debate is inherently unfriendly and to be avoided. Part of the reason so much attention is spent on process and operational details and so little time on strategy is that everyone can get together in a room and complain about the inter-agency process without disagreeing with another person in particular. The same isn’t true about choices over strategy. If one strategy is appropriate, the other possibilities are wrong.

While agonizing over process and operations, the Beltway foreign-policy elite goes to great lengths to avoid debate about strategy. Don’t take it from me, take it from the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon. In USA Today before the election, O’Hanlon argued that there were no fundamental differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on foreign and defense policy. In O’Hanlon’s view, this is “a good thing for America.”

Please Read More and let me know your thoughts….

Justin Logan is director of foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute.

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2 thoughts on “Strategy and Popularity? DeMarco Banter

  1. Interesting and sad, if it is really true. The bit written later about the lack of debate concerning a nuclear Iran seems to speak to the irrationality generated by the “Israel lobby” as stated by Mearsheimer and Walt (a very interesting, if controversial, essay if you haven’t seen it yet: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby). I’m not sure I’d agree with either argument (Israel/nuclear Iran), but without consideration its impossible to know whether or not these ideas are valid.

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