Saturday, December 23, 2017

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Steve Metz on strategic planning

Insightful analysis by Steve Metz of how persistent “incendiary hyperpartisanship” — i.e., malignant tribalism — adversely affects strategic thinking, planning, and communications . Best I’ve seen on this.

“Today most people consume information that reflects their preexisting beliefs rather than the authority of the source and its methods of obtaining, selecting, and vetting information. The result is incendiary hyperpartisanship. Most people only consume the information that reflects their ideological predilections without having to consider or grapple with different perspectives, living in what is often labeled an information bubble. Pundits and people who might be called “infotainers” define and shape the political agenda more than elected officials. The result is an unwillingness to compromise or cooperate across partisan boundaries. As a recent Pew study found, “What is striking is how little common ground there is among partisans today.”

“There is little sign that this hyperpartisanship will subside given that it is structural rather than something the political leaders and opinion shapers can simply choose to resist. For strategic leaders, this means that long-range planning and programming will be extraordinarily difficult since there will be no predictability in defense spending. It also means that protracted operations that cross multiple presidential administrations will be nearly impossible. Every time a different party takes control of The White House, it may feel compelled to reverse the policies of its predecessor. This might force strategic leaders to avoid operations likely to cross multiple administrations, instead recommending suboptimal options that can be undertaken in one presidential term. …

“Information technology is undercutting traditional notions of operational security and force protection as well. Strategic leaders—and commanders at all levels—now must assume that their operations will be broadcast to a global audience in real time. This alters strategy and operational planning. Strategic leaders also have to grapple with the fact that their troops have online personas, which can create vulnerabilities. It is not hard to imagine a future enemy targeting the families of deployed troops. Strategic leaders would then have to decide whether it is reasonable for deployed troops to expect that the families they left behind will be better protected than the rest of the American public.

“The profusion of information and the decline of authority will also make narrative shaping by strategic leaders both more important and more difficult. Narratives will be fluid with public opinion both in the United States and abroad swarming on particular themes or ideas and then moving on to something else. America’s adversaries will build resistance to U.S. policies by dynamic narrative shaping potentially influencing American policymakers. Russia’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. election and ones in other nations is only the first volley in this. At the same time, new technology will make it very hard for the public in the United States and in other countries to distinguish reality from fabrication—many commentators warn that the world has entered the “post-truth” era. This will destroy the traditional American notion of strategic communications, which is based on the belief that there is a ground truth and it ultimately will win out over lies or fabrications. Like past strategic leaders, future ones must be effective communicators, but what this means may be dramatically different.”

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