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Col. Charles D. Allen
Military scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

Start with "what" and "why"

Question: Like U.S. presidents, military and non-profit leaders often face the equivalent of "midterm elections" in which they and their strategies are subject to an initial market test or performance evaluation. What's the first thing President Obama, or any leader, should do or say when confronted with unambiguously negative results from a mid-course evaluation?

Military leaders are often questioned on the efficacy of their plans because of the ability to assess execution during implementation and the immediate consequences (the adage, "no plan survives contact with enemy"). Under special scrutiny are the costs in resources and lives (friendly, enemy and non-combatant) when pursuing a combat mission or matters of national defense. This occurs at several levels--the conduct of tactical battles, the stringing together of battles for an operational campaign and the military strategy linked to national security policy and goals.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama "confronted unambiguously negative results" during U.S. military operations in Iraq (2007) and Afghanistan (2009), respectively. In evidence were the lack of results in providing security for local populations, failure to achieve traditional lasting victories against non-traditional forces, and a persistent challenge to link the military operations to clearly definable policy goals. Both commanders-in-chief sought to examine then revise the strategies in each theater of operations by first consulting with their senior military leaders. Both also recognized that other elements of national power (diplomatic, informational and economic) were necessary and essential components of a holistic strategy that had to encompass more than military action.

When plans and strategies appear to falter, the simplest questions are often the ones that are the most overlooked. "What were we trying to accomplish and why?" At the strategic level, these answers should be tied to our professed national values and the protection our U.S. security interests. The result should be a clear statement of purpose and the development of well-defined goals.

What were the going-in assumptions for the plan, and were they still valid during implementation? Plans are based on internal organizational conditions and an assessment of external actors (allies, foes and those in the middle) and environmental conditions.

Given the first two sets of questions, it is important to ask during execution, "What is happening? What is not happening? And what should we do about it?"

At the tactical level of military operation, seizure of critical terrain or defeat of traditional enemy forces are fairly easy to ascertain and may provide a false sense of accomplishment toward the big picture. Consider the anecdote about the Vietnam War. General Frederick C. Weyand, former commander of Military Assistance Command- Vietnam (MACV), is quoted in an interview saying, "'You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,' I told my North Vietnamese counterpart during negotiations in Hanoi a week before the fall of Saigon. He pondered that remark a moment and then replied, 'That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.'"

What is relevant to our nation is to ask the strategic questions of "what" and "why." That should be starting point for evaluating results.

By Col. Charles D. Allen

 |  November 3, 2010; 1:40 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Crisis leadership , Making mistakes , Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The first thing Obama should have said is to express a great sorrow that the American people have been duped by the Republicans, Fox propaganda, and massive corporate advertising distortions! Then assure the people that he would oppose the Republican agenda to repeal the gains for the people during his first two years in office, allow the Bush Tax cuts to expire, and aggressively challange the Republicans to reduce the massive debt inherited from the Bush administration by cutting the military budget by 25% each of the next 2 years as we unwind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, the President should aggressively promote financial reforms to really regulate wall street, put a cap on incomes of all wall street workers of 1 Million dollars each year, reinstall glass-seagal to prevent banks with FDIC from gambling with deposits, restrict FDIC banks to 10% cap on interest rates and regulate all fees! Finally, challenge the Republicans to get their corporate sponsors to either crankup employment or support a massive public works effort by the Federal government to rebuild crumbling infrastructure and build new infrastructure for the needs of the 21st century.

Posted by: CHAOTICIAN101 | November 3, 2010 3:44 PM
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