Winning any battle can be aided by having a good strategy. Determining and ordering the pertinent strategic issues is therefore a fundamental task. Currently, the U.S. is in danger. The American people view both political parties with some disfavor, and in 2008 in naming the top four characteristics of each party gave positive evaluations for the first three. For the fourth characteristic, they differentiated strongly between the Republicans and the Democrats. They saw the Republicans as greedy. They saw the Democrats as weak. (See a summary of the Pew report at [].) In the 2012 Presidential debates, Romney seems to have conceded tactical issues to Obama and to have restricted his attacks primarily to questions of capital investments in aircraft carriers, missiles, tanks, etc. Current issues are analyzed by another Pew report: []. Other election issues bearing on strategy include how to deal with the national debt, how to improve the economy, etc.
During the 2008-2012 Obama administration, very little in the way of strategy was communicated to the American people. Issues tended strongly to be addressed in terms of political survivability, and issues such as the environmental effects of large energy resources being made available (shale oil and gas, for instance) were subordinated to presentations that might temper Republican and big business demands for unfettered ability to extract value from the environment.
In order to have a stable and viable course, in order to create a optimal strategy, one must have a situational awareness that extends far in both space and time. Ironically, the Joint Chiefs have been more articulate in regard to environmental and economic grand strategy than the politicians. The political consideration may be that it is better to avoid arousing the unthinking anger of those who conform to the Republican worldview purveyed in conservative talk radio and other authoritarian-flavored mass media presentations and hope that thinking members of the body politic will not need to be educated on these issues.
Population increases vs. habitat decrease
(Chinese one-child policy aside) the only thing that has materially damped down population growth has been better educations and better standards of living. Even if economic conditions remain constant, population will grow and cause degradation of the environment in marginal areas. But degradation of the environment puts an even greater strain on remaining arable areas. As living conditions deteriorate there will be less and less motivation and ability to limit the size of families.
The weight of various factors influencing global warming is still not entirely clear. It is possible that we are living in a period of increasing ensolation. If that is the case, it would not be to our advantage to multiply the problem by creating more and more greenhouse gasses. It is also possible that we are living in a period of decreased ensolation, a decrease in external energy that is masking part of the warming effect of the current levels of greenhouse gasses. If that is the case, when ensolation returns to recent previous levels the temperature will rise in response increases in both factors.
To the extent that we do not control global warming, the environment will suffer. Drought and climate changes could be disastrous, especially in areas that are already marginal.
Population increases and global migrations
The greater the economic disparity between areas, the greater the motivation to emigrate from a poorer area toward a richer area. As population increases in areas of higher poverty, the richer areas will experience increased immigration, and it will become more and more difficult to manage the flow. What once consisted of minor problems with visa status, etc. can escalate to major social turbulence and even outright conflicts.
As populations continue to rise and the environment degrades accordingly, the probability and magnitude of conflicts among population groups sharing regions will grow.
The prudent and humane way of managing this problem is to raise the standard of living in the poorer areas and thereby take the pressure off borders. Unfortunately, one heritage of the value system encouraged by Republicans since at least as early as the 1950s has been to regard foreign aid as a manifestation of the so-called "welfare state."
Anger among the poor and dispossessed motivates revenge taking
It is difficult to remain unmoved when one sees oneself and one's group disadvantaged by factors that appear to be under the control of others. The perception of unfairness, not to mention the appearance of antagonism and disdain, is a strong goad to anger and the desire to fight back, to gain one's rightful share in the good things of the world.
History and memory of past conflicts can give additional fuel to demands for retribution, redress of injustices, and settling accounts.
Power can be grabbed by fanning the flames of hatred
The individual who can give permission for the expression of forbidden desires can obtain great power through the willing obedience of those to whom he grants absolution for what would otherwise be regarded as anti-social or immoral behavior.
Power can be mobilized by religious zealots
Step back from the religious wrangling for a moment and observe how and why religious leaders of all stripes are fanning the flames of hatred and violence. Note that groups as close together ideologically as Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and Sunni and Shi'a in the Middle East have killed their co-religionists with enthusiasm -- even though they all presumably buy into the Ten Commandments. Given benevolent and humane leadership, all of these groups are capable of getting along. It is even said that in his day St. Francis went on a mission of peace to a Muslim counterpart and was well received.
If it is a crime for a subject to arrogate power to himself by claiming to speak in the name of his king, then it must be a sin for a religious leader to present his own wishes as the commands of God. But people who desire power frequently will use any means that test out as being efficacious. These leaders insist that they have the legitimate power to tell people what to believe, although they may disguise this claim a bit by trying to take over control of the educational system and use its powers to indoctrinate people to beliefs that are favorable to them and to their causes.
The more people are afraid, the more they are willing to cede control of their own lives and give over control of their own actions to an authority figure. Therefore it is most helpful to a religious zealot to contrive to have his group attacked by "the infernal enemy." The course of guerilla leaders is always to tempt their enemies into committing atrocities. The loss of hundreds of their own people is, to them, a small price to pay for rousing the hatred of the enemy that will deliver power more firmly into their hands.
For the principaled leader, the need in such cases is to understand the manipulation and to teach and reteach the strategy of the enemy to the leader's own subordinates and troops until they have over-learned the message and can be depended upon to maintain group discipline in the face of temptations to react violently against non-combatants, members of other religions, etc.
Meeting the Challenges
Facing strategic issues effectively requires the employment of strategic thinking, and strategic thinking depends on maintaining total situational awareness. Striking at one point without anticipating the consequences in the wider world can produce long-term catastrophic results.
During the early Obama years, attention needed to be focused on the afterburn of the invasion of Iraq, and the severely deteriorated situation in Afghanistan. Not only had adequate resources not been supplied but also because attention has been diverted from that arena to feed war efforts in Iraq during the Bush administration. The problems have not gone away, but attention must now be directed to the question of whether democratic governments in those two countries can resist challenges by Salafist organizations. Almost anything that one does in such situations will have counterproductive components.
Blind to counter-productive consequences, the Bush administration rushed to war in Iraq. Not only did they fail to consider the implications in the war's broader context, they even failed to understand the enemy they were attacking. They grossly exaggerated the threats posed by Iraq's conventional military, and grossly underestimated the potentials for guerilla resistance after the central government was toppled. Current problems center around the asymmetrical power situations of representative governments and authoritarian and terrorist Taliban forces.
Before 2009, the context for dealing with the Iraq aftermath includes our relationships with adjoining nations, regional nations, and all the nations of the world, and much needs to be healed. Some of the obvious needs for coherent policies are:
- A plan for Iraq endgame -- Not "cut your losses and run," but a series of signals and steps indicating that we are not staying in Iraq forever. (It may be easier to specify conditions under which we would not withdraw troops.) As of 2012, we are already in and going past the endgame, waiting to see how well Iraq can manage its own problems.
- Mending relationships with other nations While nothing is perfect, the reputation of the U.S. in the eyes of the world is now much better than it was during the Bush years.
- Retroactively supplement international efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, in other words, seeking whatever part still possible of the coalition for the first Gulf War.
- Outreach to the Muslim world in terms of their own interests and values.
- Reducing the Delta between first-world and third-world economies since power gets diverted and absorbed by parasiticL social entities when there is a flow of wealth between legitimate social entities.
Currenet strategies have not been fully disclosed and discussed by the Obama administration, and Republican plans are skeletal at best. A major reason for not discussing strategy issues from the top down may be that the Obama administration fears the fallout from the selfishness and fear of the portion of the American electorate that resists self-education and objective inquiry.