Strategy vs. Tactics

I meant to post something on this after the first presidential debate, and my recent wargame post reminded me. John McCain’s attempt to school Barack Obama on the meaning of “strategy” was incredibly annoying.

Here’s the thing. McCain is absolutely correct in terms of the doctrinal use of the term “tactics” within the US military. E.g. in the wikipedia entry on tactics someone (presumably trained by the US military) has written that tactics involve units no larger than a division. The problem is that the US military is stupid.

Tactics are how. Strategy is why. Strategy is picking goals. Tactics is figuring out how to achieve them.

Petraeus changed our tactics in Iraq. He did it for strategic reasons (our old tactics weren’t working), but that doesn’t make it a strategy. If we gave our troops faulty ammo and switched to giving them good ammo, would that be a change in strategy? Of course not! (It wouldn’t be a tactic either.) Would it have a strategic impact? Of course.

Important note: being really good at tactics doesn’t make General Petraeus less of a man than if he were really good at strategy. For that matter, he may be really good at strategy, I don’t know. He probably is. He’s certainly good enough at strategy to recognize when a strategic goal isn’t being served by current tactics. Tactics aren’t “less important” than strategy. Executing well is great; executing the right thing is even better.

There’s no evidence to suggest that McCain is any good at strategy or tactics. He seems to think that the US could have won the Vietnam War. He certainly seems to have sucked as a pilot (crashing twice and nearly a third time in training, and being shot down by the Vietnamese who were at a huge technological disadvantage).

Our strategy in Iraq did not change (or did not change much). We’d already given up on turning Iraq into a western-style democracy — a beacon of hope for the yearning masses in the Middle East, and we’d simply decided to settle for a not-obviously-failed state. That was a huge strategic change (really just a recognition of the unattainability of our earlier goal), but nothing to do with The Surge. The one way in which The Surge was a strategy and not a tactic (creating a bit of breathing space for the government to congeal) it was a spectacular failure — the breathing space was created (the tactics worked) and nothing happened (strategic assumptions incorrect). Again, the strategic goal (leaving Iraq a non-obviously-failed state) hadn’t changed, merely the means of achieving it (reducing violence for a bit). So, calling even this aspect of The Surge a strategy is stretching it.

Unless you’re using a boneheaded definition such as “tactics is anything you do with a small number of soldiers”.

Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch…

Anyone with any amount of political radar knows that Letterman leans Democrat and Leno leans Republican, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Letterman is a little more critical of McCain than another talk show host might be but it’s not like Letterman doesn’t get along with McCain or give him a lot of slack when he’s on the show. (After all, McCain announced his run on Letterman.)

McCain has screwed the pooch so many ways here it’s not funny. First, as Letterman points out in no uncertain terms, he doesn’t even trust Palin to run an election campaign, let alone anything of consequence. Second, he isn’t rushing to Washington to save the country, but to Katie Couric for a sympathetic interview. Third, if you’re going to ditch a talk show to “save the country”, don’t go do another interview on the same network so that the talk show host has live footage of you getting makeup applied while you’re “rushing to save the country”.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

It’s official: Paris Hilton > John McCain

You’ve probably already seen this video but in case you haven’t, well there it is.

Paris Hilton’s energy policy is actually better than McCain’s. It’s probably not intended to be taken seriously, but it’s worth noting that the two things it adds to Obama’s policy comprise an environmentally friendly version of McCain’s offshore drilling proposal which, itself, will not yield significant results in the short term, and an electorally attractive but pointless and perhaps expensive proposal to give US automakers tax incentives to do what they should have been doing all along, and are now scrambling to do without incentives — i.e. build fuel efficient cars.

US car makers spent the last twenty years bribing congress to block improvements to the CAFE fuel economy standards which would have helped make them ready for the current crunch and possibly averted it in the first place, and bailing them out of the mess they’ve gotten themselves into is just a waste of time and money since all they’ve achieved in this period is to become almost economically irrelevant.

There’s been discussion lately of removing GM from the Dow Jones index since it is by far the lowest market cap member (5.8B as of writing; compare this to Caterpillar (makers of tracked earth moving equipment, among other things) with a market cap of 42.7B) and — some argue — technically insolvent. It might be replaced by Toyota (131.6B) and/or Honda (57.4B), both of which are solvent, profitable, and currently manufacture and sell reliable, fuel efficient cars in the US without special tax incentives or subsidies.

So, Paris’s energy policy is better than McCain’s since it’s essentially McCain’s existing policy (which achieves almost nothing in the short term) tempered by environmental considerations (which will prevent it from achieving much good or damage in the long term) plus Obama’s policy (which is what we should have been doing all along) plus an electorally attractive, but vague, bad idea (giving more money to failed US automakers). If she were a real candidate, I’d read this as (a) triangulating McCain’s offshore drilling proposal by saying “sure we’ll do it, but in an eco-friendly way” either turning it into a non-issue or forcing McCain to differentiate himself by saying he’d do it in an eco-hostile way, (b) co-opting Obama’s policies which are basically good, and (c) proposing a vague, but probably popular, “US worker-friendly” policy that can be disposed of after the election because it’s “no longer necessary”. I’d actually say this is better packaging than Obama’s campaign has managed for, essentially, identical policies, but Obama can’t afford to pull stunts like (c) because he’s taken more seriously than Paris Hilton (or McCain) and he’s likely to be required to put dollar amounts on it. Still, not bad for a bimbo.