It takes years, and changes in assignment or portfolio, to come to understand the workings of U.S. foreign and defense policy, to say nothing of military operations. For those who achieve decision-making levels, knowing how things are supposed to work is an essential qualification.
But true success in managing the crises that inevitably arise demands more than the wisdom accumulated from previous challenges. The blueprint or contingency plan to which one turns at the outset of a crisis anticipates everything except the circumstances of the new situation, which may or may not resemble the past. To succeed, leaders need to consider changes in why and how conflicts are fought and the fast evolution in Washington’s own national security thinking during this decade.