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Once Again, We Should Have Seen It Coming

The current banking crisis has drawn attention to the long-term financial health of the United States. When positing future scenarios and strategies, analysts and red teamers will be negligent if they overlook the unfavorable budget trends David Walker and his colleagues outline on the Peter G. Peterson Foundation site. At the very least, strategic red teamers should consider the following four implications of the massive federal burden:

  1. The United States is likely to be more constrained financially in the future. This constraint will influence program and operational spending, both directly and through public pressure.
  2. Adversaries and competitors are certain to factor the massive federal burden into their own long-term calculations. As always, our decision makers should consider an adversary’s awareness when formulating U.S. strategies and plans. This is an area where informed red teamers can help shape strategy for the better.
  3. More generally, decision makers will sometimes overlook or minimize future troubles, particularly when these troubles weigh against a favored course of action. It is not too cynical to suppose that a decision maker will trade immediate gain for undervalued long-term pain. Red teamers should not simply assume that someone else–most likely someone more senior–has the issue covered. Good red teamers should be willing to ask tough questions and challenge overly optimistic forecasts, as unpleasant as this can sometimes be. Of course, the red teamer who plays the role of the contrarian too aggressively too often will tend to lose his or her credibility.
  4. On the plus side, hard constraints often encourage creativity. Red teamers should actively encourage financially constrained decision makers to seek unconventional solutions to challenging problems.

      Good decision making in a complex world is admittedly difficult. It is even more difficult when we set aside contrary evidence and dismiss opposing points of view. Once again, we face a crisis we probably should have seen coming–a situation that should bolster our commitment to honest, well-informed red teaming.