Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘the difference between strategy and tactics

Friday Night Links

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Full Disk Image of Earth Captured August 26, 2011* At right: Hurricane Irene.

* The headline reads, “Nuclear plants in Hurricane Irene’s path.” North Carolina makes the list with Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant near Wilmington.

* Taking his anti-government ideology to its logical extreme, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) told NBC News’ Jo Ling Kent today that there should be no national response to Hurricane Irene, and that government responses should revert back to how they were over 100 years ago.

* How Global Warming Is Making Hurricane Irene Worse.

* Could Louie be the best show on TV? No joke: Last night’s Afghanistan episode really was amazing.

* The difference between strategy and tactics: The Democrats’ sad, stupid, doomed campaign to keep the payroll tax cut.

“It’s completely hapless negotiating!” says Nancy Altman, the co-director of the defend-the-New-Deal-at-all-costs group Social Security Works. “You’re taking something the other side wants and then begging them to take it. I’d expect that Republicans would eventually take it, but in exchange for some other concession. What a perfect position to be in, when you’re begging me and offering me more if only I’ll vote for something I want already.”

* And somebody send these polls results to the White House. Fast.

Late Night Wednesday

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* Obama’s terrible offshore drilling announcement has inaugurated another round of opaque speculation about whether he is a inverterate weakling, a cynical pragmatist, or a master strategist. Maybe the pop-up book told him to do it.

* Relatedly, from James Lovelock: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change.

* Benen and Kos separately debunk assertions that there is no racism in the Tea Party movement.

* Just ask Richard Burr: Health care will not be repealed.

* The University of Washington tried to organize a debate on whether the health-care reform bill is constitutional. But it couldn’t find a law professor to argue that it isn’t, reports the Seattle Times.

* And, in GQ, all about Shatner.

Friday Friday

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* Orrin Hatch is today’s douchebag of liberty, with hypocrisy so brazen it offends even Mark Halprin.

* An interesting paper flagged at The Sexist reveals that young men hold shocking double standards in the way they imagine themselves rejecting sex and the way they imagine women must. There’s an almost total lack of self-reflexivity here, as characterized by one of the authors of the study:

“The gist of it is that these young men evidenced an understanding of and even a preference for nuances and diplomatic communication to refuse sex, but then when discussing rape, reversed course and began to argue that anything the least bit ambiguous was unintelligible,” Millar writes.

* Steve Benen and Kevin Drum spare a moment for student loan reform, the other Big Fucking Deal legislation passed this week. Ezra Klein, too, notes that behind the large-scale reform of health care includes a lot of medium-scale reforms that might have been big fights on their own, but which slipped by without comment—suggesting that perhaps Obama really has been playing 11-dimensional chess all this time.

* The New England Journal of Medicine warns that the war over health care has only just begun. While repeal does not seem to me to be an especially important concern—among other things I don’t think Republicans can win the presidency in 2012 or get 67 votes in the Senate when they don’t—the authors raise important points about some difficult areas of implementation that need to be handled carefully by the Administration.

* Nate Silver has your health-care post-mortem.

On balance, I think if you polled Republican strategists right now and they were being honest, they’d probably concede that Democrats are better off for having brought health care to completion after having invested so much energy in it before. The Democrats have a case they can make now — we’re making the tough decisions and getting things done — which may not be horribly persuasive to much of the electorate but is at least marginally better than the complete directionlessness they seemed to be exhibiting a few weeks ago.

On the other hand, I think if you polled Democratic strategists and they were being honest, they’d probably concede that — electorally-speaking — Democrats would have been better off if they’d found a different direction last year, focusing perhaps on financial reform and then only turning to health care if their numbers warranted it. One of the risks in undertaking health care in the first place, indeed, is that there was essentially no exit strategy: no matter how badly the electorate reacted to the policy — and they reacted quite badly — Democrats would probably have been even worse off if they’d abandoned it somewhere along the way.

* And prodigy, 13, claims age discrimination by UConn. I for one welcome our new adolescent overlords…

Footnote on Tactics

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Via Yglesias, Spencer Ackerman has some background reporting on what the tactical objectives of these additional troops will be.

Senior administration officials elaborated that U.S. troops would primarily focus on southern or eastern Afghanistan — the heart of both Pashtun Afghanistan and the largely Pashtun insurgency on the porous border with the Pakistani tribal areas sheltering al-Qaeda’s senior leadership — while NATO partner nations, which currently contribute more than 30,000 troops, would bolster the north and west of Afghanistan, where security has recently deteriorated.

…How that security will be achieved went largely unexplained in Obama’s speech, but has been spelled out extensively by McChrystal. McChrystal has called the attitudes of Afghan civilians “strategically decisive” in the war, and as such he has ended offensive U.S. and NATO airstrikes, which caused extensive civilian casualties; prevented U.S. troops from returning fire into areas with dense civilian populations; and even changed the rules for U.S. convoy movements to make Afghan roads more accessible to Afghan civilians. Administration officials explained that U.S. troops would primarily operate by securing key population-heavy areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan, but would also use select force to disrupt the Taliban outside of those areas and prevent al-Qaeda from moving into them — something strongly advocated by current and former leadership of the Joint Special Operations Command who remain close allies of McChrystal.

Written by gerrycanavan

December 2, 2009 at 9:46 am

Greenwald, Benen

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Not only did he refrain from those manipulative appeals, he made explicitly clear that we are in Afghanistan to serve our own interests (as he perceives them), not to build a better nation for Afghans. Nation-building, he said, goes “beyond … what we need to achieve to secure our interests” and “go beyond our responsibility.” We’re there to serve our interests and do nothing else. That should throw cold water on all on the preening fantasies of all but the blindest and most naive “liberal war supporters” that we’re there to help the Afghan people.

It’s true that we were never there to nation-build—but if the new strategy is not intended to fulfill, as I wrote last night, our basic obligation to the Afghans not to leave their country in complete shambles as we withdraw, then what it is after? What national interest or security objective is served by prolonging our occupation of Afghanistan? Maddow is surely right that “preemption,” as a strategy, is nonsense. In the post last night, Traxus flags Chomsky’s resource-war critique—but I don’t see how Obama could genuinely think this supposed “interest” could ever be worth the high costs of escalation.

It should go without saying that the need to be perceived (either personally or nationally) as having “won” is not a strategy either. What then is the job that we are now staying to finish?

We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.

But if this is our strategic goal then surely we can never leave.

Let me be clear: none of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan.


To the basic strategy question I can only add Steve Benen’s tactical questions:

I don’t know what the 30,000 additional troops are going to do when they get to Afghanistan. I don’t know what our new objectives are. I don’t know how U.S. troops will begin withdrawing in July 2011 — just a year after additional troops arrive — or what can reasonably be accomplished over the preceding 12 months. I don’t know how we’ll pay for the escalation. I don’t know if we’ll meet benchmarks, or if the benchmarks actually exist. I don’t know how the administration can pressure the Afghan government, or how it will respond. I don’t know if the Karzai government can be trusted, or whether it will ever have the confidence of the Afghan people.

Other than that, the whole situation is as clear as day.

This is the first time I can remember Steve criticizing the Obama White House in such strong terms, which goes to show what a lead balloon this really is. David Dayen says last night’s speech seems “designed to displease everyone,” adding:

Afghanistan and Pakistan is really a least-worst scenario after eight years of war, and so we got an unsatisfying “get in to get out” strategy without any tactical information and based on an extremely shaky premise.

Read Dayen’s whole piece, as his unpacking of this “extremely shaky premise” is more or less exactly right. Like Dayen I can’t share Obama’s judgment that this is “least worst.” This road goes nowhere good. If this is our new strategy, we should just leave now.


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Maddow: Barack Obama, war president. Taking all of Rachel’s points, especially what she has to say about the CIA and Pakistan, I think we do need to recognize that our invasion radically destabilized Afghanistan’s political structure and that accordingly we owe an obligation to the Afghans not to leave their country in shambles as we withdraw. That and that alone should be our sole strategic concern.

I remain fundamentally unpersuaded that additional escalation is the best course of action towards fulfilling this obligation, and deeply hope Obama’s proclaimed 2011 timeline will prove to be sincere—but regardless of what I think the die is cast.

Let’s hope tonight’s announcement truly demarcates an end, and not a new beginning.

The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

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The New York Times Sunday Magazine considers the difference between strategy and tactics in its write-up of the implosion of the John McCain campaign.

Despite their leeriness of being quoted, McCain’s senior advisers remained palpably confident of victory — at least until very recently. By October, the succession of backfiring narratives would compel some to reappraise not only McCain’s chances but also the decisions made by Schmidt, who only a short time ago was hailed as the savior who brought discipline and unrepentant toughness to a listing campaign. “For better or for worse, our campaign has been fought from tactic to tactic,” one senior adviser glumly acknowledged to me in early October, just after Schmidt received authorization from McCain to unleash a new wave of ads attacking Obama’s character. “So this is the new tactic.”

Written by gerrycanavan

October 23, 2008 at 11:56 am


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The McCain campaign directive that ‘The Ayers smears we’ve been enjoying from the McCain campaign since the weekend are apparently no longer operative’ (issued, you may recall, just yesterday) is apparently no longer operative.

I guess this was the “major announcement.” (UPDATE: Martin confirms it was.)

Well done, sir.

UPDATE: Somebody owes Alex $20.

The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

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The difference between strategy and tactics: The Ayers smears we’ve been enjoying from the McCain campaign since the weekend are apparently no longer operative. If this is a case of McCain stepping up and doing the right thing, then good for him, but I’m afraid I suspect Greg Sargent’s theory is more likely:

If it’s really true that the McCain team is holstering this pistol, it suggests that the McCain campaign’s internal polling on how the Ayers stuff is playing is just brutal, likely among independents. It also suggests that Obama’s counter-attack — lambasting McCain’s campaign for wanting to change the subject from the economy to personal attacks — has been effective.

The Keating 5 and Council for World Freedom counterattacks probably helped clarify things a bit for them, too.

It remains to be seen whether Palin and other McCain surrogates will really put Ayers back in the box, or not.

Written by gerrycanavan

October 8, 2008 at 2:30 pm