If you follow anything around U.S. foreign policy, you have probably seen the highly publicized comments from Marie Harf on how the root causes of the U.S. State Department cannot “kill our way” to victory over proponents of an Islamic state.
Here’s the video:
Steering clear of the politics that tend to bloom around comments of this type, Harf’s talking points are a striking instance of strategic leapfrogging.
First off, Ms. Harf is in all likelihood “right” about needing to address the root causes of ISIS’ ease of recruiting.
Second off, Ms. Harf is probably right about what the root causes may be.
However, her talking points ignore the reality of today, where ISIS is already marauding. She leapfrogs to high concept and ignores low reality.
This happens often when unsavory or necessary tactics get in the way of high minded strategic nirvana.
Don’t want to talk about the ugly business of killing people who are, themselves, killing at will?
Start talking about how the root causes of the killing are in the socioeconomic dynamics in the free world and in the communities the killers reside within; and how it’s important to solve those…
This is a classic example of a speaker spouting high minded (and probably “right”) strategic principles to skirt the need for low-minded (and probably “necessary”) tactics.
Ms. Harf has been beaten up in the media plenty for her talking points, and in my opinion rightly so… She is propagating a narrative that is essentially a redux of the old “belling the cat” fable.
To wit, from Wikipedia:
“The fable concerns a group of mice who debate plans to nullify the threat of a marauding cat. One of them proposes placing a bell around its neck, so that they are warned of its approach. The plan is applauded by the others, until one mouse asks who will volunteer to place the bell on the cat. All of them make excuses. The story is used to teach the wisdom of evaluating a plan not only on how desirable the outcome would be, but also on how it can be executed. It provides a moral lesson about the fundamental difference between ideas and their feasibility, and how this affects the value of a given plan.”
Strategists have to keep practicality in mind
Or else, even when they are right, they can be wrong.