Slogan or Strategy?

Slogan or Strategy?

The most crucial aspect of shock and awe in this preliminary analysis and evaluation would be the pursuit of "perfect knowledge." Our knowledge of the enemy has proven unsatisfactory, whether in Vietnam or Iraq. There is no doubt that the United States failed to understand either Iraq or its culture. It appears that the same is happening vis-Ã -vis Iran. Regarding our intelligence, writ large, on China, India and other large states, the jury is still out, despite the raft of genuine experts on each. On those and other challenges, the shock and awe construct could serve as a check on policy traps that may seem superficially or politically appealing but when viewed under a more exacting lens are clearly deficient. Given the stakes involved in evolving geopolitical circumstances, such a construct has added currency.

Two examples are prime for future investigation: China and terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda. The key organizing questions about China are where we would we like to see China in five, ten and twenty years hence, and what leverage or influence we might have in affecting its direction. From there the administration would work backwards. Such an approach would preclude heavily ideological perspectives--an inclination that can be inherently counterproductive, as evidenced in Iraq.

My argument is that we should like to see China as a friend and even strategic and economic partner with an open economy, subject to the rule of law. Others may disagree. But to get there requires a coordinated strategy dependent on far more than military force. Indeed, dependence on the threat of military force or a strong declaratory policy on containing China almost certainly will induce further intransigence on China's part.

Chinese will and perception must be shaped to the degree that they can be. This means far more transparency as well as exchanges of personnel. The military can be the vanguard. Chinese and American military personnel should be exchanged on a growing basis, in part to build trust and confidence and partly to understand one another better. There is also no reason that treaty relationships on arms control, nuclear weapons and other important issues cannot be negotiated. It would also be wise to downplay China as the future threat. That is too far in the future to serve usefully as the basis for planning.

Dealing with terrorists also begins with knowledge. What motivates Osama bin Laden and others? Why does Iran back Hizballah? What are the grievances and forces motivating each? Are any of them negotiable and is compromise possible? Merely answering those questions is valuable in constructing future strategies.

From those departure points, crafting a series of objectives is the first step. From those objectives, the other three characteristics of shock and awe--control of the environment, rapidity and brilliance in execution--can be brought to bear in the form of questions, namely, can we apply each with or without the use of force, and what outcomes can be obtained? Part of this analysis is to determine situations where shock and awe are neither appropriate nor workable. Space precludes a lengthier discussion of specific examples of applying parts of shock and awe to affecting behavior, an examination that deserves far broader treatment than in a short paper.

The larger intellectual advantage of applying this construct of shock and awe to will and perception is that it forces us to state clearly what our objectives are. Those objectives can be debated. However, in the case of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the greatest deficiency was in not understanding how the aims of the campaign to overthrow Saddam translated into making Iraq stable and secure. In future situations, the application of shock and awe, interestingly, may have the unique advantage of forcing us to think through second- and third-order issues. We may not have all of the answers to "what next?", but at least we will have some.

Harlan Ullman is a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a columnist for the Washington Times. His latest book, America's Promise Restored: Preventing Culture, Crusade and Partisanship from Wrecking our Country, is due out in June.

Essay Types: Essay