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For the Courage of the Founders
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Short-term goals: Fundamental to our challenge is a demonstrated inability to think beyond the present and mitigate risk over time while sustaining a long-term strategic goal. Simply put, we are short sighted. We have institutionalized "approval" ratings that are necessarily short-term sensitive, which, combined with bi-partisan political agendas, makes it nationally impossible to develop a long-term strategic plan because all of the decisions are being made within a two year election cycle. The original signers of the United States Constitution were a very diverse group of people, certainly not all sharing the same politics, yet they were able to develop strategic parameters that stood fairly unmolested for 175 years and are still a solid foundation. The lack of a similar effort to set parameters in the "global war on terror" could have devastating impact on the viability of the United States as a world power. Due to a lack of fortitude and scrutiny in determining real cumulative risk we have a clearly demonstrated propensity to aggressively protect the present with little apparent regard for how that affects the future. We have not established a strategic horizon; a meaningful time frame in which to set parameters that considers all the risk that the country is facing. Failure to do so will compel us to make only short-term decisions that will necessarily be inefficient and potentially lead to our demise. One needs only look at the Soviet Union to see the hazard of short-term decision-making.
Mitigate risk over time: Consider our focus on making the present safe instead focusing on mitigating risk over time. Mitigating risk over time is a different concept than making people safe at a particular or each particular moment. Mitigating risk over time requires a careful projection of the effect of actions taken now throughout the strategic planning horizon as juxtaposed against the desired future. Projecting into the future is a complicated affair, and at best results in an educated guess, but clearly prudent action today charts the course for the future. Someone who takes the time and effort to apply her or himself in school and complete college is not guaranteed success, but they are certainly better positioned to achieve it at some level. Contemplating and attempting to plan to mitigate risk over time with regard to terror requires that two fundamental challenges must be addressed. The first is what level of risk exposure to terrorist threats can the country bear and remain viable over the strategic planning time frame. The second is what level of risk exposure can the country bear with regard to economic failure, education weakness, civil liberty erosion, trade restrictions, constitutional guarantees and all other non-terror related risks and still remain viable. There is not a linear trade off between terror and "other" risk, which complicates the effort.
An interesting dynamic becomes apparent when considering risk over time. The risk currently being faced is fixed. What the threat is that is putting you at risk, or the omissions in your policy that led to the fixed risk may not be apparent and you may not be aware of what the real risk is. In the next instant you could be consumed by an explosion although right now you are fairly comfortable, or perhaps you are terrified and trying to read this book to calm your nerves, yet in fact you are subject to no actual threat; regardless, you are at risk based on actions taken in history. The risk borne through history—where the risk paid off and where it did not, is all a matter of record. Anecdotally, it would appear that on the whole, bearing risk paid off fairly well and rather consistently: the United States has progressed from thirteen disparate colonies to the world’s greatest superpower. Through extensive analysis the risk could be known and is causal through history. Historians know why great powers fell in the past. The Ming Dynasty fell because it self protectedly turned inward, destroying its fleet in the process. Napoleon outstripped his financial systems ability to fund his armies.
The precise point being that the risk born at the current moment, although largely ignored rather than accepted12, is fixed, if not known. The farther from the current into the future the less the risk is fixed and the more that it can be addressed. The mitigation of risk in the future provides the greatest potential for decreasing the total risk borne by civilization over time—only the future can be determined—the past is set. The Bill of Rights, for example, sought to remove certain risks from society in perpetuity, or until a Constitutional change removed the right. The further into the future that risk mitigation extends, the greater the overall benefit to the population.
However, the risk mitigation cannot focus solely upon terrorism, especially since of the many risks (both internal and external) faced by the nation, terrorism is shown to be inconsequential. There are a few different ways to look at this dilemma, but they all come to a similar conclusion. In an already extremely safe world, expenditure for the sole purpose of making a citizen of America "safer" has an extremely steep cost/benefit curve. Extremely large expenditures don't make you appreciably safer and lack of that expenditure doesn't make you appreciably less safe. This is primarily a function of how safe you already were.
More important than the first order analysis—cost/benefit with regard to a specific risk are i.e. security/education/civil liberties etc—is the analysis of the effect of expenditure in a specific area on the overall risk over time. Simply put, within a zero sum resources gain scenario, expenditure in a specific area represents opportunity cost in other areas. When the government spends cash, billions of dollars of cash, on a security scheme, that cash comes from somewhere; either other programs or deficit spending. Some risk mitigation expenditures are harmonic with each other, while others are disruptive. The critical problem that the United States faces is that by not setting a strategic horizon and focusing on making each current moment safe, we are ignoring the detriment that this has on the other risk factors we are facing. By way of extreme example, if the United States applied all of its resources to achieve a steeply negative risk curve with regard to terrorism exposure, the resulting overall risk curve would be positive. Overall risk would rise because the risk exposure in all other areas—economic dominance, free-trade, public education, civil liberties, etc, would be increasing due to lack of assets and attention. This is happening, to a lesser extent, with the current focus on "securing the homeland". The money spent against an already miniscule risk is huge, it is coming from other programs or adding to deficits, and it is unnecessary. Failure to consider this detriment will result in higher risk in the future as education and social programs suffer.12Risk can be addressed in five ways. It can be avoiding by not participating in the risk activity, it can be insured against, it can be migrated/eliminated by taking protective action, it can be accepted or it can be ignored. The United States cannot avoid the terrorist. After insurance and mitigation, the remaining risk can either be accepted or ignored. Accepting is a conscious act of saying, "I know that I can be killed by a terrorist while doing this activity and that is acceptable to me". Ignoring is doing what you can and then carrying on without that conscious acceptance.
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Copyright ©2003-2007 by Thomas Rancich. Printing, copying, creating or transmitting of electronic copies of this transcript in whole or in part without the written consent of Mr. Rancich is expressly forbidden and will be construed as constituting copyright infringement.