‘Everything Old Is New Again’


We’ve dipped into the RTJ archive to unearth a little gem from August 1998 titled “The Policy Game.” Sixteen years later it appears more than a little prescient but also disconcertingly timely. Remember that in 1998 we were all riding the dot-com wave, and 9/11 was still three years in the future. Here are a few excerpts:

      The Provisional IRA once warned Margaret Thatcher: “… we only have to be lucky once—you will have to be lucky always.” There’s the rub—terrorism is a numbers game, and Osama bin Laden is the “banker.” He makes the rules. He sets the odds.
      And to win, we’ve got to be lucky.
      We’ve got to defend every embassy, every base, every citizen. And what’s more, we’ve got to protect a highly visible and often unprotected infrastructure….

      In other words, we’ve got to learn to fight a new kind of war. This clearly isn’t Desert Storm. There’s no line in the sand, no big blue arrow, no territory to redeem. As the skeptics have been quick to note, we’re not prepared for this kind of thing. We’re much more comfortable placing our bets on big-money, high-tech programs: sterile, precise things; things like satellites and cruise missiles; things that limit friendly casualties and make headlines but, at least in this context, achieve little else.
      Counter-terrorism is decidedly blue-collar. It’s dirty, tedious, mortal work, full of false trails and long-term, human investments. Osama bin Laden understands this, so do the Israelis. So, soon, will we….

And to beat that game, we’ll not only have to be very shrewd, very strong, and very prudent, we’ll also have to be very, very lucky. But who knows? Margaret Thatcher beat the odds. Maybe we can, too.

      Looking back, we’ve no doubt learned a few things, but to win this game in 2014 (and beyond) we must above all

  1. master our well-documented heritage of hubris and parochial infighting and
  2. recognize and address our biases and limitations.

With this in mind, we invite all policy makers to print, frame, and hang RTJ Red Teaming Law #26 on their walls:

RTJ Red Teaming Law #26: Never regard your adversary with contempt. No good can come of it. The superiority you feel is not worth the surprise that invariably follows.

We’ve even provided an attractive “grunge” version you can download here. Now stop reading our blog, and get back to work! It’s a dangerous world out there.


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