"America loves a winner, and will not tolerate a loser. This is why America has never, and will never, lose a war."
—General George S. Patton, Jr.
The braggadocio of General Patton’s statement defined him as a brilliant World War II general, and it still defines the soul of foreign policy in the United States. America loves to win. The problem is that our definition of winning seems to be stuck in the 1940’s. Ground wars and direct military confrontations seem to feed our nation’s ego rather than attack the enemy at its core. And we have yet to fully adjust.
We should have learned a lesson from Vietnam. That war remains, arguably, America’s biggest military failure. All the napalm in the world couldn’t eradicate the Vietcong, whether they were camouflaged in the jungle, or hiding in plain sight as a suicide bomber in a village. We were executing tactical warfare, Western-style, against a country playing by different rules.
Flash forward 50 years. With today’s War on Terror, the enemy could be anywhere. And it seems that the approach to finding something that could be anywhere, is to monitor everything, all of the time. Our government has virtual carte-blanche to violate our civil liberties, all for the purpose of fighting terrorism. From a root-cause analysis perspective, doing this comprehensive level of data mining to ferret out potential threats is an inefficient use of resources. Given our national debt situation, we should be looking for more effective means to keep America safe.
Our systematic approach to warfare is in direct conflict with many of the attributes that Americans may use to describe our national spirit. We consider ourselves to be innovative, entrepreneurial, self-starters. Unfortunately, these attributes better describe the enemy, as manifest in a terror cell. These cells are loosely connected to a chain of command, implementing a directive with relative autonomy. So, our enemy behaves how we think we act, but not how we actually behave. Maybe we need some national psycho-therapy.
Or maybe we just need Lance Armstrong.
“Two things scare me. The first is getting hurt. But that's not nearly as scary as the second, which is losing.”
Once considered one of the greatest athletes to have competed in sport, Lance Armstrong’s image and legacy are under attack. His fall from grace has been the fuel for fiery debate about the ruthless competitive culture of cycling, the inability of the agencies to properly regulate it, the expectations of spectators, the greed of the sponsors and the narcissism of the competitors. One thing is irrefutable: Lance Armstrong’s decade-plus snow-job must be acknowledged as an achievement all its own. But rather than spend energy vilifying him for it, one might consider how to learn from it.
This is a man who committed fraud on a global scale not once, not twice, but over 500 times. Mr. Armstrong never failed a drug test (barring that one incident for the cortisone, which was quickly cleared up with an insta-prescription). Now that he has admitted to doping, the real source of interest just may be less about his ethics as a competitor, and more about the impressive web of iniquity that he oversaw.
The circumstantial evidence of Mr. Armstrong’s drug use is comprised of angry, disgruntled team-mates, competitors and associates who claim to have been bullied and manipulated. An intricate network of product (read: drug) delivery and utilization, all meticulously planned and executed, just a breath away from the international media. Changing strategies (injections versus transfusions) to stay ahead of the law. Mr. Armstrong and his team of faithful followers dominated the sporting world with a masterfully implemented global scheme that is worthy of a chapter in The Annals of Terrorist Strategy (assuming that book exists). In short, if Lance Armstrong had wanted to set off a bomb in Times Square, he probably could have done it.
The key to Mr. Armstrong’s success was his ability to seduce everyone into wholly, fanatically, supporting his image as not just an athlete, but also as a cancer survivor. He competed for a purpose greater than himself, a populist super-athlete who commanded allegiance. He was the "face" - and every successful movement needs one.
Our approach to fighting the War on Terror needs improvement and adaptation. The use of military force and strategic data analysis are important, but real change will happen when we start to think and behave like the enemy. An application of Team Armstrong's approach to "winning" may help the United States beat the enemy at their game, rather than continue to lose our own.
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