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Strategy in Whining

October 29, 2013

Quick conversation:

World Leader #1: “Hey, I got information that you’re spying on my, trying to access my phone calls.”

World Leader #2: “Yea.”

#1: “And there are people hanging out around our secret government buildings, we think they’re trying to get out people to turn.”

#2: “Yea.”

#1: “Well, we have a problem with that.”

#2: “Yea.  Hey, that was a nice outfit you wore to bed the other day.”

#1: “This has to stop, or I’ll be outraged.”

#2: “Yea, gotta’ run and spy on someone else.”

I know I’m behind the curve in saying OF COURSE friendly nations spy on each other.  That’s because you don’t need me.  We can find out pretty easily that world leaders order spying on other world leaders.  In fact, read this John Yoo piece for the variety of reasons why.  In fact, saving the faux outrage is usually a good plan.  And it’s good just for occasions like this.

Now that the Snowden news has crashed the beach, the media has gone into high dudgeon over the fact that we’d spy.  That’s a great signal for your average sympathetic, or partially sympathetic, foreign leader to hop on the bandwagon of being unhappy in public.  Because now that leader has an edge up, and the local papers beating our somewhat fuzzy populace, who act outraged as a matter of course.  What happens as a result, especially if the administration is weak in strategic thinking:

Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with close allies.

The resistance emerged as the White House said it would curtail foreign intelligence collection in some cases and two senior U.S. senators called for investigations of the practice.

Here’s a simple rule of leadership (probably #2): don’t piss off the people who know how to do the job you need them to do.  The administration is tossing the people who they desperately need ready to do a job under the bus, and that lack of motivation is going to come back to bite it at an inopportune time.

And here’s an even more simple strategic observation: Letting everyone else pounce on your apparent weakness should not be an opportunity to further weaken yourself.  Usually, it’s the right side of the aisle that’s accused of being the isolationists, but this administration seems bent on embracing foreign entities that won’t hug back, while also finding ways to distance itself from our former allies.  If we don’t have any friends, and our new friends don’t want to play, then who helps us out of our personal messes?

So, the strategy of our allies to whine about the obvious (to them) in order to get a foothold over us… well, that’s brilliant, unless you’re on the losing side.

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