"Monday Musings” are designed to get quick, insightful thoughts based around three questions from those interested in strategy, from the most experienced and lauded, to our newest thinkers/writers.
1. Who had the greatest impact on you intellectually (whether through writing, mentorship, etc.)?
I’ll bend (break?) the rules a little here and answer with two names. Purely in intellectual terms, my graduate school advisor John Lewis Gaddis had the greatest impact on me. He embodies the ideal of a gentleman and scholar. Gaddis introduced me to the concept of grand strategy and opened my eyes to the relationships between history, strategy, and statecraft. He also taught me to take the craft of writing seriously, for ideas that are poorly articulated are ideas that are rarely adopted. In professional terms, my former boss Steve Hadley (National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush) had the greatest impact on me. He showed how it is possible to rise to the highest levels of government and still maintain a character of decency, kindness, and integrity. In all of my work for him on strategic planning, he also demonstrated the essential relationship between strategic principles and their operational and tactical implementation—which may sound like a self-evident truism, but is too often neglected in practice.
2. What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?
The book I think best explains strategy is Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic published in 1952, The Irony of American History. Writing in the early years of the Cold War, Niebuhr probed the broad themes of our nation’s past in order to illuminate a present-day strategic challenge: how we could maintain the moral fortitude and integrity necessary to defeat Soviet communism without ineluctably corroding our national soul in the process. Niebuhr’s cautions against American hubris, naiveté, and excessive idealism were balanced by a bracing exploration of communism’s iniquities and vulnerabilities. Though written over a half century ago, the book’s warnings and admonitions ring just as true for the American character today, and for the very different set of strategic challenges now facing our nation.
3. What do you want your legacy to be?
My hope is to live a life of faithfulness in my various professional callings, and leave the legacy part up to the good Lord.
William Inboden is Executive Director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for National Security at the University of Texas-Austin. He also serves as Associate Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Distinguished Scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
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