Strategy before resources

I can't believe how often I have had cause to quote Obama. The main thing he did that I applaud him for is to not throw Iraq, allowing the Iraqis to come up to speed. The Iraqis certainly aren't at US standards - but then neither are the enemy they face. The Iraqis have declined to call on the US to come back into the cities, presumably to prove their own competence. And indeed, there's not the slightest threat of the Iraqi government being toppled by insurgents.

Bravo to the Iraqis and bravo to Obama.

But here is today's words of wisdom:

"What I'm not also gonna do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy I'm not gonna be sending some young man or woman over there- beyond what we already have."

That's another one of these implicit assumptions I have had, but never articulated.

Growing up as a kid, indeed, throughout my life, the charities were mainly focussed on throwing money at Africa. Calls for donations were focussed on how we should help the poor starving masses. Who, believe it or not, were perpetually starving, which was of course physically impossible.

So - you have to step back and ask what you're doing here. There's a very limited amount of money available for charity. It needs to be spent wisely. As Obama said - it's important to have the strategy right first.

What's the right strategy for Africa? Obviously having dictators squandering the country's wealth can't be helpful. And implementing communist regimes there isn't going to be helpful either. Obstensibly installing democracy there should solve that problem, as no-one would be so stupid to vote for communism, right? Ok, so I've since modified my strategy a bit, to avoid communism making matters worse. But even before the modification, just the first goal of replacing dictatorships with democracy - unlikely to make anything worse - needed a strategy. BEFORE we started throwing scarce resources to make it happen.

Unfortunately when I was a kid, there was a constant threat of a communist invasion of Europe. In hindsight, with no chance of being proven wrong, it's easy to be an expert and say "it would never happen" or "they would have failed". The first is what Kuwait said prior to being invaded by Iraq. The second is what the French thought about the Maginot line, and what the British thought about German submarines.

If we had started invading African countries to bring them democracy, there was a reasonable chance that that would have triggered off a Hot War with the communists, with Europe being overrun. We needed to instead talk about the inviolability of sovereign states, and concentrate on protecting Europe. Basically defeating the communist ideology was a precursor to fixing the rest of the world.

Also note the importance of resources. It is resources that are used to solve problems and win wars. You need to see what forces have deployed resources against your own strategy, and concentrate on eliminating them first. There is not necessarily one perfect strategy. You may take on the biggest enemy head on, or you may take on some smaller enemies first, to eliminate them from the equation. Note that this applies equally if, as an individual, you are mugged by 3 guys of differing size. There may be multiple winning paths and multiple losing paths and you probably can't guarantee in advance what the various outcomes will be. Of course, you can't guarantee what will happen if you do nothing either. Maybe the thugs will have a change of heart at the last minute, or maybe they will kill you as part of an initiation ceremony. The "do nothing" option isn't very enticing though.

Regardless, that is what all these charities were missing - strategy. They were very good at spending money (who isn't), but not so great at actually making that money produce some long-term effect, such as converting those countries into *exporters* of aid.

So, like Obama, my first port of call in life was to simply elaborate a strategy (basically - convert dictatorships into democracies), and then only fund things that seemed to be achieving that effect. That roughly means - the US et al militaries. But they were already properly funded. I never saw an NGO that was collecting money for the fight against communism (even on Australian campuses). Although I probably wouldn't donate to that anyway, as I don't think it would have had any effect. It wasn't until the Romanian revolution that there was something sensible to donate to. And then another pause until the Iraqi bloggers came online. The Iraqi bloggers weren't for the fight against communism obviously. That was the fight against dictatorship, and against human rights abuses.

So, when we have these debates, in future I will try to ask in advance:

1. What is your goal for the world?
2. What is your strategy for achieving that goal?

And I'll probably simply tear apart the other person's answers to those before promoting my own. One of the big problems is that the other person usually lives in a fantasy world, and will talk in terms of capitalists exploiting the 3rd world slaves every time someone buys a banana (or pair of shoes for that matter) from them. That's why part of my own strategy is to defeat DOGMA, because that is the biggest barrier to progress.

No matter what Galileo was forced to "confess" to the contrary.

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