Donald Trump's New China Adviser: Bill Belichick?

August 17, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ChinaMilitaryTechnologyBill BelichickNFLPatriotsDonald Trump

Donald Trump's New China Adviser: Bill Belichick?

So President Donald Trump gave a radio interview last Tuesday during which he declared he would call on an unlikely source for military advice: New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Trump told host Hugh Hewitt, “You know, if I ever had a military battle, I’d call up Belichick and say what do you think? What do you think? Give me a couple of ideas.” Does Coach Belichick have what it takes? 

Trump should indeed ring Belichick for advice. Who knows what oddball defensive scheme the G.O.A.T. could dream up?

Third rating category: innovation. Clearly U.S. and allied commanders have their work cut out for them confining China to home waters. While the islands are static, dynamism should be the watchword for forces holding the defensive line. Defenders should move from side to side along the island chain as need be, while heavy forces—assigned to act as linebackers and safeties—prowl the backfield at will. Coach Belichick is a master of defensive adjustments. During Super Bowl XXV, for instance, he served as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants. The Giants were facing off against the Buffalo Bills, a franchise quarterbacked by Jim Kelly, one of the all-time greats.

To prepare for the contest Belichick studied patterns in Kelly’s field generalship and determined that he didn’t read defensive coverages as quickly as some other NFL quarterbacks. The QB’s lag in observing, orienting, and adapting was the Giants’ opportunity. When calling each play Belichick took to showing Kelly almost the same defensive look as on past plays. Belichick deliberately made the Giants look predictable. But appearances were false. He constantly tweaked the defense—say, by substituting one player for another in the defensive scheme. Constant adjustments rattled Kelly and held the Bills in check just enough for the Giants to prevail 20-19. Belichick’s Super Bowl XXV game plan now graces the Pro Football Hall of Fame as an example of imaginative strategy and tactics.

Belichick is an innovator. He would counsel President Trump to do his homework on China’s military and concoct ways to outthink, out-adapt, and disorient the foe. U.S. forces should always stay ahead of the PLA in the decision cycle, just as the Giants stayed ahead of Jim Kelly. The coach, then, has much to offer on the human dimensions of competition. In football as in combat, each team tries to impose its will on an unwilling contender. Competition is competition in the end. It’s constant one-upsmanship for strategic gain. What works on one field of competition may work on another.

Human beings reason by analogy from one discipline to another. That’s why sage leaders dabble in many pursuits rather than obsess over one. It helps them comprehend the challenges at hand. And since no one is all-seeing, team overseers surround themselves with people boasting many different backgrounds, experiences, and interests. Individuals cultivate range in themselves—and they make sure the teams they recruit have range corporately.

Why not solicit military guidance from a coach?

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and the author of A Brief Guide to Maritime Strategy. The views voiced here are his alone.

Image: Reuters.