A Failure To Plan Is A Plan To Fail

By: Phil Williams

I’m watching with increasing discomfort as the Biden Administration fumbles its way through foreign and military policy as if there’s no plan. What is the intended end state? What is their analysis?

Those who have experience with leadership know the old adage that, “A failure to plan is a plan to fail.” There will always be those times when leaders have to adapt, or pivot to new opportunities, or seize momentum. But whenever possible, a leader must have a plan.

In the private sector, a new business should have a full SWOT analysis to examine the business case in light of strengths, weaknesses, obstacles and threats.

When attorneys go to court, they should have a litigation plan with a desired end state in mind that comes from having researched a position under the law before ever appearing before the Judge.

Every young Army officer is taught to write and disseminate a five paragraph Operations Order that clearly outlines the mission, the enemy situation, the commander’s intent. A plan that specifies subunit tasks, command and signal, and key timelines.

True planning provides an orderly and cogent means of helping to guide the leaders’ thoughts with the ultimate purpose clearly in mind. In the absence of a plan missions can go awry. What we are watching right now with the U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine is a form of international hopscotch that comes from having no coherent strategy.

President Biden went to Ukraine and Poland this past week. In a very tired and dispirited manner he spoke to NATO leaders saying that the U.S. is “in it for as long as it takes.” With his face sitting on folded hands, he quietly urged other members of NATO to “do their part” to stop the Russians. Back at home, we can’t see the end state.

To be clear, there is no one in the West that wants Russia to win. Sovereign nations should not be allowed to just hop across a border and seize land at a whim.

But what does “for as long as it takes” really mean? Billions of U.S. tax dollars have been committed, but we don’t know what the outcome is supposed to look like. Is there a true strategy? Is there a milestone, or better yet, a series of milestones? Who’s in charge? Has NATO been given any additional instructions? Is the Secretary of State negotiating anything or just playing catch-up? Can anyone articulate a foreign policy position, or strategy, or doctrine to which the Biden Administration can attach its name?

Over time we’ve had the Monroe Doctrine, the Bush Doctrine, and the clearly defined Reagan foreign policy of “peace through strength.” There was the Trump philosophy of “America First.” Does anyone know if there is a “Biden Plan”? Is there a Biden philosophy? If so, what is it?

Not since the Marshall Plan in the wake of WWII have we poured as much into Europe as we are now. But, unlike the current state of Biden-led aid to Ukraine, the Marshall Plan had a name, a defined set of terms, and announced goals for all the world to see and believe in.

The Marshall Plan was a U.S. initiative beginning in 1948 to provide foreign aid to Europe in the wake of WWII. Billions in U.S. dollars were committed with a stated intent to rebuild Europe over a four-year period. The goals were clearly defined, and the Marshall Plan aid was divided among the various recipients on a per capita basis. The plan had bipartisan support in Washington. It was well defined. It was a forward-thinking plan with an end state. The plan had a price tag, milestones and goals, and the whole world could see it. Better yet, the American people knew why they were being called upon to support it.

The Marshall Plan was unique in that the leaders of the American people trusted their constituencies enough to lay out the cause, the concern, the plan, and the price, and the American people rallied behind it. There was no loosey-goosey speech filled with platitudes about staying “for as long as it takes.”

The Marshall Plan was defined by a speech given by the former general and Secretary Of State George C. Marshall, for whom it was named when he said, “It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace… Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.”

The war in Ukraine is one of the defining stories of this decade. But the American people deserve a plan. Stop telling us that we need to write more checks and clearly tell us what we will achieve! Tell us how it impacts us if we do, and if we don’t!

Is there a Biden doctrine? Is there a Biden plan? The fact that I’m having to ask those questions speaks volumes.

By: Phil Williams