Friday, June 12, 2009

Just Five Smooth Stones

New Yorker recently published an article called "How David Beats Goliath." I have been thinking about it a lot since I first came across it thanks to 10-4 Good Buddy.

The basic thesis is simple. The only way that a smaller, slower, weaker team/person/nation/army can beat a larger, stronger opponent is to redefine the rules of the game. The smaller entity must refuse to play by the rules of the larger, and instead play only the game that maximizes whatever advantages they have, but downplays or minimizes their weaknesses. The article mostly uses a basketball analogy, but shows some applications to other spheres as well.

This is one reason this article so captivated me. It strikes me as one of those observations that holds so much truth on so many levels that it bears real study. Of course, the most obvious application is at a national level where we are having to learn quickly to adapt our goliath nature to use davidian tactics. One of the most remarkable things about today's U.S. Military is that they actually are beginning to learn how to use Davidian tactics, even though they are goliath. Can they learn them fast enough and apply them consistantly enough? Or are we doomed as goliath to always be at the mercy of little people with slingshots?

There is a tendency to be angry at the terrorist for not playing fair. I think we can be angry at them for attacking us. We can be angry at them for being wrong, and wrongheaded. We can be angry at them because they have sworn to be our enemies. But we can't blame them for adopting the tactics they use. There are no other tactics open to them. They simply cannot defeat us in open direct battle. They HAVE TO use guerilla tactics. They have to refuse to play by our rules. Recognizing that, then we need to refuse to play by theirs. Meaning we need to be better at their game than they are. I'm thinking mostly of the situation in Iraq here, possibly also Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not so much terrorist attacks here in the U.S.

Cheney and his gang, seem to think this means we should terrorize the terrorists. That is why we can't refuse to use torture techniques. I have read some persuasive arguments along these lines. Even so, I think that that may be falling into the trap of playing their game of their strengths. They are good at creating chaos, dividing allies, sowing fear. It is cheap, direct and hard to stop.

Unless...we play the game by our strengths. We have resources and expertise. Rather than attacking the terrorists, perhaps we should place more of our resources and energy into protecting -- and thereby winning the hearts of -- the people. Repair the grid. Provide clean water. Help with food, clothing, cooking fuel, heat. At the same time, use military force to stop bombs and attacks. Make the streets safe. Rather than attempt to instill terror in the hearts of the people, we should be protecting and providing for them to win over the hearts of the people.

As the articles suggests, this is a hard hard strategy. Like the full court press, it involves a great deal of physical commitment and dogged determination and real stamina. But it has the advantage of effectively undercutting the terrorist agenda. Far from being soft and squishy, it is actually a seriously hardnosed approach.

Beyond the national political and military implications, I also love this article for the personal implications. Davidism as a way of dealing with personal problems. Refuse to play the game given you. Instead, redefine the game to your own strengths. I'm working on this.


Anonymous said...

I am confused... Isn't repairing the grid, keeping the peace, etc. been what we have been doing the entire time. Yes, the Marines go in a kick but, but everyone I speak to about their time in Iraq it has always been stories of rebuilding communities and helping people.

Anonymous said...

That would be, "kick butt"..

Dubbahdee said...

Yeah...this is the danger of writing stuff like this late at night just to get SOMETHING on the blog. I've been thinking about this for a while, but when I sit down bleary eyed to commit it in writing, I tend to leave out key points like the fact that we actually ARE doing a lot of what I suggested. That's what I think is so amazing. What we are seeing is Goliath learning to act like David. Not perfectly, and it's a very clunky process with lots of mistakes and reiterations. Even so I have to hand it to the US military who has really taken an enormously difficult situation and been making real progress.
I suspect that those who complain about the slowness of the process have no real concept of the difficulties involved, and see the difficulties as reasons to quit. The US Armed Forces, on the contrary, have been given a job, by and large a job they believe in, and have eschewed the temptation to give in to excuses and simply adopt a strategy of continuous forward movement in the face of huge obstacles. A big part of that is constantly reviewing, refining and redefining the rules of the game.
It's been fascinating to watch.