Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Ounce of Prevention

Governor Jerry Brown just declared the three-year drought in California over. There have been record rains and snows throughout the state with some of the worst storms that I can recall. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Meteorologists all predicted a La Niña year (low to no moisture). Weather forecasting is the one job where it’s OK to be wrong most of the time.

Wanting to know what’s going to happen is natural. Popular entertainment has explored the future and its relationship to the past and present in a myriad of ways (books, movies and on TV where the SyFy channel is loaded with shows exploring the subject). Some of us read our horoscope; others go to psychics and mediums.

As a business strategist, much of my career has been spent making and implementing recommendations based on forecasts. I take an array of data points and mix them in a proverbial bowl and then make determinations as to which ingredient should be weighted more than another. Each business is different and each circumstance unique. Similar situations yield different solutions. I make those decisions guided by the principles, goals and motives of the owners.

In an era of declining income the solutions are generally to increase revenue and decrease expenses. The balance of which is tweaked depends on the industry, market trends and many other factors. The strategic analysis is relatively simple – the strategic implementation is where the challenge and a dash of artistry come into play.

President Obama on Monday evening outlined his strategic analysis/vision as it relates to the U.S. action in Libya. The Obama Doctrine was clearly and effectively articulated. It appears to be well reasoned and considered. Ultimately it’s not persuasive. It’s missing context and ignores history.

There are many areas of the world where people are in crisis. The question isn’t whether they need help – they do. The question is what type of help to provide. If the American foreign policy is to provide humanitarian help worldwide, then let’s provide it in a non-militarized fashion. Right now which country gets help feels random largely because it’s dependent on whether the area is battle ready and Pentagon approved. The President said that helping in one part of the world and not another is a “false choice.”

It’s true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. … To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and -– more profoundly -– our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

This is a powerful, passionate argument for American morality to govern involvement in regions around the world. It’s just that’s not been our history nor is it part of our guiding principles. Section 10  of the Constitution (the nation's fundamental laws and guiding principles) states unquivocably: “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress … engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger …”  Even if we ignore the requirement that Congress declare war - nothing in the Libya situation indicates the U.S. is in imminent danger or has been invaded.


The United States has a noble history of non-interventionism for the majority of our existence as a nation. President George Washington advised the country to "avoid foreign entanglements." Thomas Jefferson favored "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none." John Quincy Adams wrote that the U.S. "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy."

In fact, in the 1930’s Congress passed a series of Neutrality Acts designed to keep the country focused on internal matters, especially after the Depression. The Acts were largely repealed in 1941 in the face of German submarine attacks on U.S. vessels and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which led to U.S. involvement in World War II. (This was the last time that the U.S. Congress actually declared War.)
The unblemished history of non-interventionism lasted until April 6, 1917 when Germany sank seven U.S. merchant ships. After World War I the U.S. entered a long period of isolationism – trying to return to its Constitutional roots of not getting involved in foreign conflicts.

The stunning impact of the U.S. military victories that helped end World War II is now legendary and paved the way for a foreign policy that is based more on what the military can do rather than on what the military should do. In addition military action is taken based on what might happen rather than on what has happened ... let alone whether the sovereignty of the U.S. is at risk.

President Obama said that the military action of the U.S. and her allies in Libya “prevented a massacre.” It’s impossible to prove.  Other prevention efforts haven’t been effective. Preventing Saddam Hussein from having Weapons of Mass Destruction allowed the U.S. for the first time in her history to attack another nation preemptively. Eight years later there have been thousands of deaths and more than $1 trillion spent on the prevention efforts that yielded not one WMD.

Ben Franklin famously said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Those who support the Doctrine of Interventionism (be it Obama’s, Bush’s, Clinton's, Kennedy's...) would believe that this quote supports their philosophy of preventative action.  Instead the ounce of prevention is preventing war itself – and the best way to do that is to return to America’s roots and tradition of non-interventionism.

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