Operational and strategic level leaders cannot get caught in the rapid pace of tactics, but neither can they ignore the fact that decisions at the tactical level must proceed at the pace demanded by the situation. When operational and strategic leaders increase the pace of decision-making, it can lead to a chasing of the bright and shiny object mentality. Decisions in these orbits include a set of dialogues and tend to be iterative. Further, leaders at all levels must consider the complexity of decision making at each level above and below them.
As Congress marches toward major defense reforms in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, one area receiving increasing attention is the National Security Council (NSC). The narrative surrounding President Obama’s NSC has been shaped by biting criticisms of micromanagement in the operations of the Departments of Defense and State and indecision on major national security issues. As some have noted, the NSC has long been the preferred punching bag for foreign policy spectators over the last half century. However, the chorus of criticism has seemed to peak more recently, manifesting in proposed legislation.
Understanding presidential decisions for and against increased force in ongoing conflicts is a significant and important endeavor. The implications include the impact on future decisions to commit troops in the first place—such as in Syria. National security decision making also affects civil-military relations, as well as the balance between executive and congressional powers. Finally, as escalation and de-escalation involves either mission creep or the need to adjust policy aims by taking an appetite suppressant, understanding its dynamics will illuminate leader perceptions, the difference between wartime realities and prewar expectations, and the impact on the U.S. debt and the American public.