Tag Archives: Fog of War

10 Most Common Strategic Blunders

Since I mentioned Thomas Ricks the other day, I thought I would post a link to his 10 most common strategic blunders from his blog at Foreign Policy

1. Failure to recognize or take seriously the scarcity of resources.

2. Mistaking strategic goals for strategy.

3. Failure to recognize or state the strategic problem.

4. Choosing poor or unattainable strategic goals.

5. Not defining the strategic challenge competitively.

6. Making false presumptions about one’s own competence or the likely causal linkages between one’s strategy and one’s goals.

7. Insufficient focus on strategy due to such things as trying to satisfy too many different stakeholders or bureaucratic processes.

8. Inaccurately determining one’s areas of comparative advantage relative to the opposition.

9. Failure to realize that few individuals possess the cognitive skills and mindset to be competent strategists.

10. Failure to understand the adversary.

There is a whole book of military history to be written just finding good illustrations of each of those mistakes. I think the United States was guilty of No. 2 and No. 10 in Iraq from 2003 through 2006. I’d say the British tripped on No. 3 during the American Revolution. I think Hitler committed No. 4 when he tackled Russia. No. 10 is probably the most common error.

My personal observations is that No. 1 sunk Rommel in North Africa (I believe his logistics officer was only a Major) and Robert McNamara said in Fog of War that No. 10 was their big problem is Vietnam, it wasn’t Communist expansion so much as it was a war of liberation.  The U.N. mission to Rwanda probably fell victim to No. 7.

Robert McNamara

The Times has an excellent article about his life and death.  If you have not see the Fog of War, you really need to.  It is an amazing documentary of his life which features his own insights on the events as they happened around him.

At a going-away luncheon given by Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Mr. McNamara wept as he spoke of the futility of the air war in Vietnam. Many of his colleagues were appalled as he condemned the bombing, aghast at the weight of his guilt.

He had thought for a long time that the United States could not win the war. In retirement, he listed reasons: a failure to understand the enemy, a failure to see the limits of high-tech weapons, a failure to tell the truth to the American people and a failure to grasp the nature of the threat of communism.

“What went wrong was a basic misunderstanding or misevaluation of the threat to our security represented by the North Vietnamese,” he said in his Berkeley oral history. “It led President Eisenhower in 1954 to say that if Vietnam were lost, or if Laos and Vietnam were lost, the dominoes would fall.”

He continued, “I am certain we exaggerated the threat.”

“We didn’t know our opposition,” he said. “We didn’t understand the Chinese; we didn’t understand the Vietnamese, particularly the North Vietnamese. So the first lesson is know your opponents. I want to suggest to you that we don’t know our potential opponents today.”