The ‘prose’ vs ‘essence’ of strategy

There’s always a danger of the prose of strategy overriding its substance. This review of Ron Robin’s fascinating book highlights how brilliant thinkers can become captive to such false cognates.

“Powerful nations and empires enjoy a certain luxury in how they make decisions. Herodotus tells of how the Persians, when confronted with a question of foreign policy, would first consider the problem sober, then consider it again when they were drunk. A courtier aiming to sway Louis XVI could not rely on appeal to necessity; counsel had to be laced with wit. Bon mots, wisecracks, and puns ruled the day.

If you are tempted to think that the United States operates in a more reasonable fashion, Ron Robin’s The Cold World They Made: The Strategic Legacy of Roberta and Albert Wohlstetter will disabuse you. The Pentagon is no more immune to claims of form and style than was Versailles.

Robin’s book is about a rabid form of foreign-policy thinking that speaks with placid assurance about “reality,” that presents itself as “pre-emptive” but takes the form of outright aggression, that claims to be “strategic,” but is often more enamored of tactics than actual strategy.”


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