‘Tactics of Mistake’

July 1, 1993

I have just finished rereading an old science fiction favorite of mine, Tactics of Mistake by Gordon R. Dickson. It is a book about military strategy and tactics. It shows how winning battles and wars is about dislocating your enemy rather pounding him into submission. The very first step is to get the enemy to paint a picture, to try to predict the future. Then you wait until they commit their forces based on the picture painted. Then you do something unexpected. So the real effort is to get the enemy’s mind into a state that does not conform to reality.

I think President Bush and our current military command are experts at this mongoose type strategy where the main effort goes into dislocation so that mastication, if required, is relatively easy. We saw this in the Iraq war. America “always” starts a war with a long air bombardment. In the Iraq war, the preliminary bombardment was minimal, and the ground pounders were moving with the start of bombing. Our behavior did not meet expectations. We were expected to subdue Basra before going to Baghdad. We bypassed it. Our best rate of advance in any previous war was 100 miles a day. In Iraq, we did 160 miles one day. We caught the Iraqis by surprise. In Afghanistan, we fought a war in a way never done before. We basically fought a war in a country we had no logistical access to at the start of the war. By week three after the sneak attack, we had boots on the ground and bombs on target without having to move whole divisions. We used local talent combined with American advice and bombs to rout an enemy who reasonably believed that he was very hard to reach. In every case so far, the American military has done the unexpected.

Which brings me to President Bush. He seems to bring the same attitude toward the political side of his job that the military brings to their job. He does the unexpected. He does it simply. First he announces his goals. This gets the opposition thinking. They formulate a counter strategy. They take a position. Then George takes out their position and makes them look foolish. He has been doing this for the last two and a half years, and his opponents have yet to catch on. It is a little early in the current game, but it appears that the African uranium connection is likely to have been at worst a reasonable mistake. More likely, knowing the method of this president I’d say it is quite likely to be found true. If that is the case, the president’s opponents will have defeated themselves by underestimating him. That is the tactic of mistake. They have based their opposition on a mistaken view of the world. The most humiliating part is that the president has done this right out in the open with an audience watching. He has outsmarted his opponents by appearing to them dumber than he is. This gives him the advantage of playing the game one or two levels deeper than his opposition. Devastating.

M. Simon is an industrial controls engineer for Space-Time Productions and a Free Market Green. © M. Simon—All rights reserved. Permission granted for one time use in a single periodical. Concurrent publication on the periodical’s Web site is also granted.

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