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Entries in grand strategy (20)

12:19PM

Final column at World Politics Review

The New Rules: Globalization's Future Depends on Stable U.S.-China-India Order

BY THOMAS P.M. BARNETT | 30 APR 2012
COLUMN

Editor's note: This will be the final appearance of Thomas P.M. Barnett's "The New Rules" column at World Politics Review. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank Tom for the insightful, compelling analysis he has offered WPR readers each week for the past three years, as well as for the support he has shown for WPR over that time. We wish him continued success.  

Amid all our current fears regarding the global economy’s potential “double dip” back into deep recession, a longer-term question stands out: How can a supposedly declining America protect the golden goose that is globalization while managing the rise of twin economic superpowers in the East -- namely, China and India? History says that three is a crowd when it comes to system stability. Invariably, some conflict will arise to trigger a two-against-one dynamic that must yield to either the stable stand-off of bipolarity, as during the Cold War, or the emergence through decisive conflict of an acknowledged unipolar hegemon, as in the early post-Cold War period.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

7:45AM

Claremont Grad U deconstructs their Wikistrat "International Grand Strategy Competition" win

 

Tuesday Lunch Talk 9-6-11 from CGU SPE on Vimeo.

 

Interesting.

9:09AM

Time's Battleland: Arab Spring with same impact as "big bang strategy": Islam at war with self - not West

 

Nice piece in the NYT at the end of September pointing out that the primary impact of the Arab Spring is that, in giving people chances to rule themselves and not be subject to dictators, Islamic activists find themselves splintering from within . . .

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

8:00AM

My best explanation of Wikistrat yet

(Fb x Wp = MMOC) = CIE

Start-ups are curious things. They tend to morph right before your eyes, especially in the first stage in which family and friends tend to dominate the proceedings, with the occasional visionaries sucked in (as visionaries are wont to be).  It’s figuratively, “You supply the barn and I’ll bring some old sheets for the curtains and once we figure out who plays all the parts, we can put on a show!” In short, it’s all one grand experiment that attempts to answer the question, “Can we see our way to a product with a market and, if so, can we build a viable company around that product?”

The first stage is a heady mess, but incredibly exciting. It usually starts with a fabulous idea that requires downstream definition (“Okay, but where will this take us?”), which is typically achieved through real-world trial and error (“First we tried this, then that, and finally we locked onto the path.”) The key is the flexibility to say, “This isn’t working, but here’s the next logical attempt at something that might.”  How many times do you turn that crank?  My experience across ten such entities going back to 1987 is that 5-6 is the mean, with – naturally – foundational clients driving the process. 

Getting to those initial clients marks your departure from early-stage to mid-stage: you’ve had your proof-of-concept experience and figured out your basic product development and you’re heading into initial engagements.  Trick is, by then, your company needs to have some identity, to include enough of the right people in the right spots to execute those initial engagements with real confidence, meaning no wasted opportunities.

I was fortunate enough to be sucked into the Wikistrat world just after CEO Joel Zamel and DTO Daniel Green had decided to move off their first iteration (simply selling the wiki platform), and with them I participated in three more turns of the crank: the initial subscription period (CoreGap Report) that followed my laborious creation of the wiki/scenario-based GLOMOD (globalization model), the first efforts at mustering distributed simulations with a proto-community of early-joining analysts/interns, and then the – arguably audacious – decision to conduct the international grand strategy competition to jumpstart the community ethos, create some buzz on the whole crowdsourcing analytic dynamic, and conduct junior-to-mid-level recruitment that would fuel both.

The success of the competition really marked the beginning of the end of the early-stage development and the start of the mid-stage effort. After regaling each other with various attempted descriptions and analogies and heroic tales of what Wikistrat was and would eventually become, our dialogue – both internal and external – began to coalesce around three primary components.

Now, understand that what I’m about to say is my best description but not necessarily Joel’s or Daniel’s, and that, by presenting my version here, I’m not pretending that the dialogue is consummated, because start-ups simply don’t unfold like that.  More turns of the crank invariably happen.  It’s just that they’ll get smaller in the months ahead – more course corrections than setting out on new vectors.  And given that Joel and Daniel were only at it for yeah many months before they pulled me aboard and that was roughly a year ago, that’s a pretty sweet record – getting through the first stage in two years or less.  Not warp speed, mind you.  More like getting your Master’s degree on schedule and hitting your PhD program with advanced standing, understanding that I purposefully reach for an analytic analogy here.

So how would I describe Wikistrat as we embark on our midstage effort?

First, let me explain how I accumulated my “high concept” definitions along the way. By “high concept” I mean, a buzz phrase or mash-up of buzz phrases that captures the gist, like when Emily and I were watching James Cameron’s “Avatar” and I turned to her in the Imax and offered “The Matrix meets . . .” and she blurted out “Ferngully!”

Early on in conversations with Joel, I started with this bit, “Facebook meets Wikipedia.”  By that I meant two distinct things mashed up: Facebook referred to a global community of strategic thinkers, while Wikipedia referred to both the wiki-based strategic planning process and the under-construction GLOMOD, otherwise known the ultimate wiki on globalization itself or, in my initial upload, my professional body of thought transferred to the web to serve as original source code for what we know will eventually evolve far past my thinking to something a whole lot larger and more valuable – the rich and deep canvas against which we conduct simulations.

Now, the minute I blurted this out, I was pretty proud of myself, even if it presented the usual characteristics of my shorthand lexicon in that it was a bit superficial but highly accurate (my particular skill).  Then again, that’s the whole point of the high concept definition: namely, it cuts to the chase and its highly evocative.  You get it the minute you hear it.

The problem with this initial bit is that I would immediately follow it up with the refrain of, “But how to we make either of those items pay for themselves?”  Of course, Joel and Dan were thinking all along about the simulationss as products, but how to triangulate between community (Facebook) and environment (Wikipedia) into executing agent?

Joel and Dan had been mulling from the start about how the wiki-based approach would revolutionize the consulting business, taking the black-box methodology (you tell the consultancy your problem, they mull your world and future, and then out pops their answer, the creation of which made them smarter but doesn’t exactly empower you beyond their advice and revealed rationale). Their first iteration was selling the platform itself, but traditional consultancies weren’t interested in re-engineering what they felt wasn’t broken, even as they would readily admit the model represented the future of their industry, which, by all accounts - and my personal experience - is experiencing a serious shake-out since the global financial crisis began in 2008 (a true killing-of-the-dinosaurs-effect by that “meteor,” with no clear definition yet of who the “mammals” are, even as SaaS* providers look the most vibrant).  [*service as a solution]

Once it became clear that selling the platform wasn’t the way, the next iteration explored the notion of replicating the basic outlines of a traditional consultancy and then using the platform as a competitive advantage. But here was the problem with that: it didn’t sufficiently leverage the crowdsourcing dynamic.  It was your experienced and well-leveraged traditional consulting team versus our lean but wiki-enabled team – too close to a fair fight to be compelling.

Enter the grand strategy competition, where our subtext was, “Can we show how smart-but-relatively-inexperienced newcomers to the field can, en masse, tackle a complex future projection and really run that beast to ground in impressive fashion?”

For those of you who followed the competition, you know the answer. No, it wasn’t all “wheat,” but the “chaff” quotient dropped radically with each week, and the overall product was incredibly rich, especially considering the variety of simulations we crammed into the effort.  By my count, all sorts of legit professional products are easily generated from the competition, and we weren’t really even customizing with a customer in mind.

It thus proved, to a pleasantly surprising degree (for me, at least) the viability of a phrase I had started using last spring after Joel and Daniel confronted me with their idea of the competition: we are building the world’s first MMOC, as in, a massively multiplayer online consultancy.  So, it’s not just the community (Facebook of strategists) and it’s not just the environment (Wikipedia/GLOMOD), it’s the MMOC that combines the two into a product-offering machine.

I had written about this back in “Blueprint for Action” (2005) in my concluding bit called, “Headlines from the Future” (last entry for the 2020 timeframe):

“Online Game Triggers Dictator’s Departure; Stunning Victory of ‘People’s Diplomacy’”

The complexity of planning postconflict stabilization operations in advance is daunting, simply because of the huge number of variables involved. It’s not a matter of simply crunching numbers, but rather anticipating the free play of so many actors—your own military, allied civilians, enemy soldiers and insurgents, the local population, and so on. In many ways, this kind of complex simulation is well given over to massive multiplayer online games (MMOG), something I see both the military and the U.S. Government turning toward as a tool for predictive planning. Imagine if, months prior to the invasion, the Pentagon had started a MMOG that modeled Iraq immediately following the regime’s collapse, allowing hundreds or even thousands of chosen experts (or even just enthusiastic gamers!) from the world over to fill out the multitude of possible characters involved on both sides. Imagine what insights could have been learned beforehand. Now jump ahead fifteen years and think about how sophisticated such MMOGs might be, and how they could be used to preplay—for obvious consumption by both the global community and the targeted state in question—a rogue-regime takedown and subsequent occupation, perhaps even to the effect of convincing the regime to abandon its untenable situation in advance of actual war being waged. Far-fetched? Not in a world where uncredentialed Internet bloggers can force Senate majority leaders and major network news anchors to resign in disgrace at lightning speed.

And yes, I had thought of this the first time Joel and Daniel laid out their vision at the airport in NYC last fall. It just took a while for the three of us “blind men” – along with Wikistrategist Elad Schaffer – to feel up that “elephant” enough times to realize what we had here.

Back to the competition: it wasn’t just the executing-the-simulation-through-crowdsourcing dynamic that was proven there. What impressed me even more was the immediate sense of community that was created: participants really got into the process, regardless of their level of success in scoring.  It energized them and produced its own individual benefits of the blade-sharpening and unfolding-your-wings varieties.  I felt the same way about the judging: it was simply fun, in addition to being hard work and engrossing and enriching.  At the end of it, it didn’t just tickle my fancy.  My gut professional reaction was, “I could bundle this whole beast into an impressive book.”

Of course, so could anyone else who worked the competition – once they approximate my writing skill-set (not a simple matter, I would maintain). And there is beauty in that too: the Wikistrat universe is far more than a blade-sharpening and marketing-of-skills universe, it’s an elevating-your-thinking environment – no matter your level of experience.

Moreover, the sum product of the competition fed the GLOMOD beautifully.  It was like adding an entire new floor to the building in one fell swoop.

Win-win-win, but likewise a delineator of what we had here in this three-legged stool:  Facebook + Wikipedia = MMOC, or global community of strategists + global model of globalization = powerfully crowdsourcing simulations for a wide variety of clients.

In later conversations with one of the competition participants, who’s now in the process of stepping into an advisory role for Wikistrat (based on past-life experiences) even as she joins our global lineup of analysts (she’s a grad student in international relations), I let out the final high-concept definition: that Facebook + Wikipedia = MMOC constellation equates to a private-sector equivalent of what the CIA always should have been for the US Government – an intelligence exchange.  Wikistrat, in its full flowering, is a Central Intelligence Exchange on globalization across all of its major domains, meaning it connects clients with the best crowdsourced advice out there.  It is the “beast” (GLOMOD) that’s feed by the smart mob (community of strategists) and put to specific use (“the drill”) for interested clients. It beats traditional black-box consulting by being interactive, real-time, fully transparent, archivable, and red-teamed to a point of analytical robustness that cannot be achieved BOGGSAT-style (bunch of guys/gals sitting around a table).  It gives the client a world-class, throw-everyone-at-the-problem capability at an incredibly affordable price, making Wikistrat a desirable add-on capability for existing consultancies (dubbed, “channel partners”) looking to bring new-but-lean capabilities to clients struggling with globalization’s mounting complexity. Likewise, if you’re an analytic shop in the public sector facing budget cuts, Wikistrat has just given you the “more” capability to go along with your “less” budget (as in, “do more with less!”).

Why it matters for us to have this self-awareness.  The Facebook dynamic requires its own dynamics, skilled leadership, etc.  As does the Wikipedia/GLOMOD bit (my proximate role) and the MMOC (my ultimate role).  Making the whole CIE dynamic happen is a meta-level responsibility not to be underestimated either.  Knowing all this guides who we bring on in the future, because if you don’t know what your start-up is all about, you will flounder around when it comes to ramping up personnel and capability.  The good news is, of course, that ramping up the global community of strategists itself is a fairly simple – and cheap – affair. They go into your pool and they’re activated as jobs arise – a virtual labor force that can be activated discretely and at will.  But yes, some management and operational structure will need to be built around them, so – again – having a good sense of what that “elephant” is now is crucial. 

That’s it.  That’s my – for now – best riff on what Wikistrat is and is becoming. I didn’t put the whole package together in one conversation until I was chatting with one of our mentors while driving up to Green Bay Sunday morning to hit the Packer Hall of Fame prior to Aaron Rodger’s historic performance (4 passing TDs, 400-plus passing yards, and two rushing TDs – first time ever for an NFL QB in 90 years of league play), which just goes to show you two things: 1) it takes a while to construct complex explanations, and 2) I think best when I’m talking – even better than writing (which is why I have to explain something several times before I typically author it).

8:34AM

WPR's The New Rules: The Rise of the Rest Spells U.S. Strategic Victory

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has garnered America almost as much schadenfreude from the world as the original events did. Back in 2001, the line was that we had it coming to us for lording it over the world since the Cold War's end. Today, it takes the form of writing off our alleged "hegemony" in light of the shifts in global power over the intervening decade, a claim that is as absurd the previous one was insulting. Naturally, the Chinese are celebrated as our presumed replacement. So, as always throughout our history as a superpower, we're being treated to "sophisticated" analysis that says America fought the war, but they -- our next security obsession -- won the peace.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

8:38AM

US-China grand strategy agreement advertised in Foreign Affairs, new US-China Relations.net website launched

The following ad appeared in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, touting the work I performed with John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min at the Center for America-China Partnership.

Go to the just launched US-China Relations.net website for more coverage (note that not all the videos are up and working yet).  Go there for printable versions of the PDFs.

11:21AM

Time's Battleland: Defining the floor and ceiling of US interventions post-Bush

Qaddafi's handiwork

NOTE: No World Politics Review column this week as journal shuts down for its summer break.

Nice NYT analytic piece (already cited by Mark Thompson) by Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Myers regarding the downstream legacy of the US involvement in Libya to date. Starts off by saying the Obama White House seeks no doctrine definition because it fears being pulled into inappropriate situations, but, of course, that's what a doctrine is supposed to do - delineate those cases. Bad doctrines tend to be too vague and open-ended (George W. Bush's WRT terror), while better ones tend to be fairly specific (Jimmy Carter's WRT the Persian Gulf).

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

8:59AM

Some serious heavyweights join Wikistrat's global lineup of strategists

I've spent much of August now making pitches to analysts/thinkers/strategists I deeply respect, asking them to join Wikistrat's community of strategists.

And I've got to tell you, we've got some real stars coming our way:  Dmitri Trenin from Carnegie Moscow, Daniel Pipes from the Middle East Forum, Robert Kaplan from the Center for a New American Security, and Michael Scheuer of "Imperial Hubris" fame. From the blogging world we've attracted Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz, Mr. "Anglosphere" James Bennett, James Joyner from Outside the Beltway and this blog's "neighbor" ZenPundit. We're also signing up a number of World Politics Review writers like Frida Ghitis and editor-in-chief Judah Grunstein.

The invites keep going out and the acceptances keep rolling in. If you think joining up is for you, please contact me and let's discuss.

Wikistrat is offering various levels of belonging. Most of the heavyweights will be employed primarily on simulations for clients - the crowdsouring effect. The more junior ones will spend much of their time building up the GLOMOD, or Global Model that undergirds the simulations, but also getting in on those when it makes sense.

Exciting stuff!

As I tell these people, we know we're carving out some new territory here, but anybody who looks ahead realizes that analysis in the 21st century won't be done solely in a BOGGSAT (bunch of guys and gals sitting around a table) manner. With a world increasingly tackling its entertainment in a distributed, massively multiplayer online way, some portion of analysis naturally gravitates in the same direction - already embodied in the blogosphere itself. 

So our point is, why not harness all that effort into something larger and more coherent. Instead of you, the client, visiting 40 blogs of China experts, why not have those 40 come together in TEAP mode (throw everyone at the problem) and work your China issue for you. And don't just have them discuss and then mush together their competing perspectives in the summary report. Instead, have those ideas compete on the Wiki in the form of scenarios - ones that illuminate the "black swans" you've never considered, etc.

I really think this is going to be an historic capability here, and I can't tell you how excited we are to attract such serious talent.

10:56AM

WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Must Get Back in Touch With Its True Exceptionalism

This month's debt-ceiling deal in Washington did little to quell the growing chorus of complaints around the world concerning America's continued inability to live within its means. As those complaints invariably translate into corporate hedging, government self-defense strategies, credit rating drops -- Standard and Poor's is already in the bag -- and market short-selling, the U.S. will most assuredly be made to feel the world's mounting angst. This is both right and good, even as it is unlikely to change our path anytime soon: Until some internal political rebalancing occurs, America will invariably stick to its current cluster of painfully outdated strategic assumptions.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:01AM

Media & web mentions/coverage of recent Wikistrat International Grand Strategy Competition

Rounding up for the record the various sorts of coverage Wikistrat enjoyed over the course of the competition, I wanted to highlight the following:

Brian Hasbrouck over at Political Risk Explored wrote up his impressions of the first week, when - unsurprising to me as Head Judge - he cited the eventual winner Claremont Graduate University's entries as being the most impressive and eye-popping.  CGU played Pakistan 1.

One participant, Timothy Nunan, wrote a nice bit about how the game play allowed a bigger input role for those players with a more historical bent: 

While I’m normally not so big of a fan of “strategic studies” and much of the direction of the discipline of international relations, I find the collaborative aspect of the Wiki tremendously useful, and it’s certainly more interactive and a richer learning experience to have content up online instantly, rather than the turnaround time associated with sending out drafts of papers. Moreover, I feel that policy planning exercises tend to demand a deeper knowledge of history and national trajectories than what you’ll usually find in political science departments, with their quant-heavy focus, today. Certainly, your overall level of analysis can be more superficial than you might like it, but I find it a fun exercise to collaborate with others (something that takes place less frequently than it should in the academy), to try to show that historians, or more precisely people with a historical training, can have really intelligent stuff to add to foreign policy conversations . . .

Denise Magill at the Virtual Roundtable (a site that devotes a lot of attention to wikis), asked a question right out of my wrap-up analysis: "Would you pay $10,000 for your company's next big idea?" In effect, the grand strategy competition was an advertisement to governments about the validity of crowdsourcing new thinking on national policies, but the same holds true for corporations, and I'm not just talking about fishing for big new ideas.  Say you've got this initiative you're considering for emerging market X or developing region Y, but you need somebody to spin out all the possible permutations so you can iron out as many uncertainties in your approach as possible before committing resources.  Why not take $10k of what you're spending on traditional consulting and tap a truly wide network of experts with varying degrees of geographic and intellectual connectivity to the subject matter? Yes, you go to the deep subject matter experts for the guts of your thinking, but how to game out the surprises and the "inconceivables" that invariably pop up? On that score, you gain real safety in numbers - the wiki way.

Dave Algoso, a veteran international developmental aid professional, wrote a nice post that explored the whole vertical-versus-horizontal scenarios distinction. As a rule, professionals tend to obsess over the vertical "shocks," because such black swan events are so analytically sexy, but most of the resulting change actually comes in the low-and-slow horizontal ripples that emanate from such system perturbations.  Algoso sees Wikistrat's approach ably tapping into that more integrated perspective:

Wikistrat is attempting to operationalize this analytical framework. The knowledge and skills necessary to explore the effects are spread across disciplines throughout an organization. Attempts to bring interdisciplincary teams together can be effective, but are susceptible to inefficiencies. We also know that contextual knowledge is vitally important in development. A platform like Wikistrat may enable strategic planners to bring all this knowledge together in an effective way. If it does that, we may see much more effective interventions and better strategy coordination in the future.

Frankly, as Head Judge I saw that this was the hardest thing to get across to most participants: encouraging them to think about downstream consequences that arise from some catalytic event. Often it's not the direct linkage that is fruitfully explored, but rather the seemingly disconnected bit that suddenly looms with new strength as a result of the shock's impact on competing issues.  

Great example from the competition: when the "big one" (however defined) hits China and reorders a lot of the world's assumptions about that growth trajectory, arguably the most compelling shift will be the default rise of India to the top of the global ascendancy narrative. In that dynamic, the more disconnected India is from the triggering problem, the better.

Another eye-opener I cited from the competition: when big shocks to traditional oil-producing regions suddenly catapult the Arctic into the world's consciousness as the next great frontier on energy. Yes, it's been there in the background for years now, but eventually something comes along that gives it global urgency. That's an "inconceivable" (Arctic top Persian Gulf in focus?) that you can count on, the question being, What event triggers that shift in perception and who's best positioned to take advantage?

Institute of World Politics' competition participants

The Institute of World Politics issued a nice press release highlighting their two teams' efforts (as Turkey and Brazil). What was really great to hear was that the competition mirrored simulations run in several of the Institute's courses (Public Diplomacy and Political Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and National Security Policy Process). Participating students felt they were well prepared - and they were. Both teams finished in the Top 12 overall. Some nifty quotes:

The IWP teams are working hard, and gaining valuable experience through their extracurricular efforts.  Vilen Khlgatyan, an IWP student who has been working on articles about Turkey's regional future, has found that, "This competition has helped me further ingrain the idea that all facets of statecraft should be considered, as well as the many possible outcomes" . . . 

And recent graduate Gabriella Gervasio observes, "The Wikistrat exercise is truly the perfect ending to my education here at IWP.  It requires knowledge, expertise, and proper use of the elements of statecraft." 

This is exactly the sort of experience we sought to create: a leveraging of the most exciting and collaborative stuff going on in universities - just blown up to a far larger scale.  I mean, why shouldn't these institutions compete in the strategic realm just like they do in sports?

An Israeli newswire account on the competition had a similarly gratifying pair of participant quotes:

"The entire competition has been one of the most exciting intellectual exercises for me in a long time," said Roman Muzalevsky, the leader of the team from Yale, when reflecting on his experience over the course of the Competition. "I am certain I have learned more from this experience than the vast majority of classrooms I have ever been in," added Andrew Eccleston, a member of the team from the American Military University. While the prize was a strong incentive, most participants felt the experience of applying their theoretical knowledge and using Wikistrat’s innovative model was the real reward. 

I think the real excitement came in the act of competing. It's one thing to crank a paper and get a good grade, and I made that effort by giving each team's sixteen entries an initial grade where, quite frankly, I judged them strictly on how many boxes they checked and how well they checked them - relative to other teams from that country (when applicable). At first, like in any course, the grades were lower because the content was weaker, and I struggled a bit not to grade too harshly. But the longer the competition went and the vast majority figured out "the ropes," it got a lot harder for me not to give everybody solid initial grades. Near the end, I was searching for ways to nick points here and there: that's how consistently solid everyone was becoming.

But if all we had done was that, we wouldn't have elevated the play - or excitement.  It would have been collaborative, yes, but not truly competitive. So the first straight-up grade was like your initial pool grade: it determined which tier of competition you'd ultimately be ranked within. All the super top grades went into the same bin, for example, and then it became the top China entry versus the top Pakistan entry versus . . .. So yeah, you might get an initial grade of 95, but then the question became, could that grade hold up when rank-ordered against the other 95s?  In the end, then, your overall grade reflected your team's consistent effort to outwork, out-think and out-strategize everybody else - just like in the real world. And I think it was that definitive outcome that really fired the competitive juices.

Find a nice bit here from the University of Sussex celebrating how well their fielded team played North Korea - which they did.  I was surprised by how imaginative the team was with a country that seemingly has so little wiggle room.  But that is one of the joys of a strategic planning exercise like this.  As one Sussex player put it: 

North Korea is a Cold War legacy in the 21st century, and it was stimulating imagining the future of this isolated country in a globalising world.

Naturally, top bragging rights went to the overall winner, Claremont Graduate University, and the university was justifiably proud about its winning team:

Comprising CGU's team were: Benjamin Acosta, PhD student in comparative politics and cultural studies; Steven Childs, PhD candidate in world and comparative politics; Sean Gera, PhD student in world politics; Byron Ramirez, PhD student in political science and economics; and Piotr Zagorowski, PhD student in world politics.

The team bested rivals from the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Georgetown University, Ohio State University, Yale University, New York University and other top schools.

Childs said the CGU team's victory is a testament to the university's emphasis on transdisciplinary education and the political methods courses found in SPE’s [School of Politics and Economics] curriculum.  Rather than examine the issues in isolation, the CGU team tackled the challenges of the contest with a broad range of thought and academic expertise.

"This emphasizes the strength in CGU's approach to education," Childs said. "I'm really proud of our team."

Here's another nice press piece on Ramirez alone.

It was a joy to grade CGU's work, but what really won it for them was their innate ability to follow the directions to the letter. They really plumbed the depths of each assignment, whether it was figuring out Pakistan's national interests, or casting a regional trajectory, or running down the horizontal scenarios from a series of vertical shocks. They really explored each analytic assignment to the fullest and stayed on topic throughout - an extraordinary display of discipline that was reflected in their high-content/low-fat output.

And that's a great take-away from the competition: it's easy to assume that the interdisciplinary approach necessarily results in tons of excess and unhelpful verbiage, because it so often does - when not properly channeled. But what the CGU did was simply wonderful: clear and concise cross-linking of subject areas that won the team the top ranking in "use of the wiki," which I thought was highly emblematic of their overall win.

On a side note, I thought it was cool of U. Kentucky's Robert Farley (fellow - and well respected - World Politics Review columnist) to note how well Wikistrat's platform played on Apple's iPad, which the U.of K. team used in its performance as Japan 1 team.  Being so on-top-of-things ("research, remaining connected with the rest of the team, and monitoring the competition") was crucial for the Patterson School of Diplomacy crew, because the other Japan team (played by actual Japanese) had to drop out due to a real-world political crisis back home. That left the Patterson team somewhat "orphaned," meaning they needed to compare themselves more vigorously with other country teams to make sure they were pushing the envelope sufficiently. Based on that sort of extra effort, I awarded the Kentucky team the prize for being the best "single."

Like I've noted previously, the competition was a great source of new ideas. Nick Ottens over at Atlantic Sentinel generated a trio of posts concerning three of the best:

And, of course, I myself pillaged what I could for two Time Battleland posts ("Why US Withdrawal from Afghanistan Would Stabilize Pakistan" and "Russia Will Someday Be Forced to Outsource its Security"). I also bagged a World Politics Review column out of the highly innovative (and #2 finisher overall) Oxford team that played European Union 2 ("A Post-NATO Europe Should Look East").  History Guy Tom Wade did similarly with his post on Global Cities, and this site's original webmaster Critt Jarvis posited an even bolder extrapolation to planning "model cities" in Honduras using the Wikistrat many-brains-tackling-the-problem approach.

All good stuff that I thought was worth recompiling here, but what really sticks in my mind coming out of the competition was how so many of the student-participants - even the ones that didn't necessarily win anything - walked away with such a nice impression of Wikistrat as a place to ply their craft.  As one relatively experienced participant put it in a follow-up debrief: 

Wikistrat, its strengths and flaws notwithstanding, is the most realistic depiction of strategic analysis in the intelligence community.

As someone who has evaluated big command post exercises in various military commands (PACOM, SOUTHCOM, etc.), that's a great compliment to receive, so I take my hat off to everyone who participated and especially to the Wikistrat team that managed the competition throughout.  As proof-of-concept experiments go, this was fantastically gratifying.

12:01AM

My thoughts on the new Wikistrat model

First off, one thing you have to understand with start-ups is that they morph.  Counting two other firms I'm currently involved in, Wikistrat is the eighth start-up that I either worked for or started myself.  And I'm proud to say that all of them are still running - save for the NewRuleSets.Project that was bought up by Enterra Solutions.  So change is inevitable.

When I first linked up with Joel Zamel, he and his compadres were mostly about selling the technology platform, which was cool enough, but the work didn't meet their personal ambitions. So we link up and I'm brought in primarily to start populating the global model (I pen almost a book's worth of material and, on that basis, radically revamp my current speech/brief) and write a biweekly globalization review (CoreGap Bulletin) designed to pull readers into becoming subscribers/authors in the Wikistrat universe.  I liked doing both, but I liked working the global model a whole lot better, because I learned big stuff - big time, and I greatly enjoyed the discipline the system forced upon me (evidenced in the all the new material for the brief).  So, on that score, I was sold and said so many times here in the blog.

Regarding the CoreGap Bulletin, it was fun to write and I enjoyed getting up to speed on the production of digital video shorts, but it seemed like a lot of effort compared to the payoff I/we got from my working on the model, and it wasn't generating the draw for analysts that we wanted.  The first small simulations did better, but we still weren't getting a critical mass participation we were looking for - nor the proof-of-concept on large-scale play.  Looming over all this frustration was the sense that we weren't sufficiently exploiting our best stuff: the analysis that came from expanding the global model and the simulations themselves. So why go on processing global news when we had the means to generate truly differentiated analysis within the Wikistrat universe itself?

So I went back and forth with Joel and the guys and eventually they hatched the idea of the grand strategy competition. The notion was simple: the global model was mature enough to constitute a serious backdrop for a massive play stretched over weeks.  Instead of small numbers of hand-selected types, we'd go for creating a critical mass number whose very size would generate the group dynamics we kept aiming for.  Plus, the game itself would become its own recruitment tool, so we get the double-whammy of proving out the "massively multiplayer consultancy" model while stocking up (in effect, interviewing-by-play) on solid young bloods.

So here we are now with the new package:  rather than the smaller network that expertly works the wiki environment, we go for a much larger network that learns with and grows the global model as we pursue simulations on behalf of interested clients.  Instead of staying lean and mean and trying to grow in that tightly organic sense, we stock up on bodies, ideas, material and price everything out - in all directions - on a discrete basis, thereby avoiding the classic start-up conundrum of "do I get the work first and scramble for bodies or stockpile bodies and then scramble for work?"

So here's my personal thumbnail versions of the rationales that we've settled on in this next iteration of the company:

We run the show like one of those big aggregating sites that pool all the photos shot by professionals (Getty, Reuters, etc.) and then spool them out to buyers: the more you put in, and the more that stuff gets picked up, the more you earn.  You don't try to go for paying people by the "job" so much as by the ideas, which get competitively marketed to buyers.  This way you don't build up unsustainable labor costs but if anybody strikes gold (brings in the right client, produces the right material that attracts the same, etc.), they're immediately tied into direct compensation.  Everybody is directly incentivized. Nobody is ripping off anybody else, and worst case in the meantime, we're still building a great global community of strategists who - at the very least - educate each other and network.

From the perspective of the analyst, we say: you like to do this sort of thing anyway, and many of you already give it away on blogs, so why not pool all the nuggets and market them collectively, and let your bits and pieces earn you bucks here and there.  It's the same effort you're already making; just make some money and network more explicity in the process.  Plus, we've given you - the independent operator working for yourself - a place to bring this or that piece of work you might not be able to handle on your own (so you can't take advantage of the opportunity or connection).

Thinking back over my career, I've always welcomed that sort of stuff when it has - from time to time - popped up.  I consider it sharpening-the-blade activity and I love to share just about everything I generate.  Frankly, this is the same logic I'm applying to "The Emily Updates":  why bother with the big book route when I can sell discretely and directly myself over the web?

Beyond the earning potential, there's the simple reality of more formally and fruitfully connecting up with those of your own kind.  Most of us strategic planners and thinkers live in a professional world of "others," where, quite frankly, we're the odd lot. This model allows us to connect to one another and interact however much we see fit to pursue.  Again, blade-sharpening and useful and . . . fun, when it comes down to it.  Dogs like to play with other dogs - plain and simple.

Exercises fit into the blade-sharpening notion as well. Hell, that's why the military does them. Most professionals don't get that much chance to pursue this sort of thing, buried as they constantly are in producing the plan/report/review/etc.  The simulations simply organize the building up of the global model (GloMod, as I call it), which is the intellectual backdrop for the overall interaction - the Wikipedia-meets-Facebook dynamic.

When all the previous aspects come together in an actual opportunity to advise, via the massively multiplayer consultancy, then so much the better, because the more gigs means the more eyes, and the more eyes means more money for the analysts' whose material attracts those eyes.  

All in all, it strikes me as a wonderfully virtuous circle: stuff I want to do anyway, in a cool environment, with people I want to interact with professionally.  We organize our activities in exciting ways (simulations) that are either bespoke efforts done directly for clients or are used to generate material that clients can explore and exploit on their own.  Worst case: the effort builds up the model that much more, and the blade-sharpening aspects are only that much more heightened as a result.

Again, at the end of the day, it's all stuff I want to do anyway for professional standing. I can do it all by my lonesome in a blog, or even group blog and compete on that level, or I can replace those efforts (or even just compliment them) with something that's more collectively focused so as to generate side income-generating opportunities.  As an analyst, my risk is minimal - as in, you only get what you give, while the upsides are solid and potentially quite empowering.

Most of us analysts fall into this category: we've got all sorts of things going at any one time.  We don't need any single one of them to be THE thing, but we like having several be money-making, career-enhancing in that ramping-up manner (starting small and building).  I think the new Wikistrat model falls into that category: cool association, good skills build-up/maintenance, great networking, solid learning, fun environment, and - through the power of the collective - great opportunities to do big things for big customers, operating at a large scale level of interaction that we typically only get in short bursts in our careers but individually crave on an ongoing basis.

Wikistrat becomes that ongoing basis - the professional association that pays it backward to the members themselves.

5:05AM

Wikistrat Competition Featured in Reuters

As our wiki grows, with the competitors reading and debating grand strategy, Wikistrat was featured in Reuters's piece by Peter Apps titled: "As China Rises, 'Grand Strategy' talk back in style".

Some relevant excerpts:

When Israeli-based political risk consultancy Wikistrat launched a month-long online grand strategy competition between universities, military colleges and similar institutions around the world, it was taken aback by the level of interest.

The contest, which begins this month, will cover the next two decades of global history with teams representing roughly a dozen countries needing to form alliances and adapt to shocks such as revolutions and conflicts.

"I really think it's caught the spirit of the moment," says Wikistrat CEO Joel Zamel. "There is much more interest in a kind of 'grand strategy' approach.

"We've had much more interest from around the world than we expected -- Indian universities will be representing India, Israeli universities Israel, Singaporean Singapore, Japanese Japan, U.S. schools the U.S.. We've had to keep adding countries."

...

"The war on terror really pushed grand strategy to one side, but as that seems to be winding down there is much more focus on it," said Robert Farley, professor of international relations at the University of Kentucky.

"Students know they will need it in their careers, whether in public service or the private sector. We've recently failed students for failing to be able to answer questions on the rise of China, for example."

 

Read the full piece here

5:20AM

Mapping the Future

Students From Top Ranked Universities Will Use Wikistrat's Platform to Map the Future

 

35 Teams Will Compete in First Wiki-Based Grand Strategy Competition

Wikistrat is excited to announce the complete list of competitors participating in the upcoming International Grand Strategy Competition. Teams comprising of PHD and masters students from elite international schools, as well as emerging experts from internationally renowned think tanks, will compete this June in the online wiki-based International Grand Strategy Competition, managed by former Pentagon strategist, and Wikistrat Chief Analyst, Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett.

Students from elite institutions including: 

  • Oxford University
  • University of Cambridge
  • King’s College of London
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Yale University
  • Columbia University
  • Georgetown University
  • NATO’s Atlantic Treaty Association
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • US Air Force
  • New York University and 
  • Tel Aviv University.

These international universities, which educate tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, politicians, military leaders and innovators, will all compete for the $10,000 grand prize. 

They’ll be joined by teams from:

  • UK Defense Forum
  • Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Institute for World Politics
  • University College of London
  • Aberystwyth University
  • Indian Institute of Technology
  • Ohio State University
  • Ohio University
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • American Military University
  • Mercyhurst University
  • Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at Kentucky University
  • Claremont Graduate University
  • Finance University of Russia
  • School of Oriental and African Studies
  • Osaka University and 
  • Nanyang Technological University. 

“As the world finds itself in a time of unprecedented change, from the geopolitical turbulence shaking the Middle East with the Arab 2.0 revolutions and the death of Bin-Laden, to the continued growth of emerging economic pillars in the East despite global economic challenges, 2011 presents a fitting time for a revolution in global strategic thinking,” said CEO Joel Zamel. “Utilizing a uniquely interactive Web 2.0 approach that allows for collaboration among experts, Wikistrat is leading the way in revolutionizing the way we conduct geopolitical analysis. We are very excited about the opportunity to expose hundreds of strategic analysts from around the world to Wikistrat’s unique methodology.”

Using Wikistrat’s innovative and interactive model, the teams- each representing a country- will formulate strategies on five issues: global energy security; global economic rebalancing; international terrorism; the Sino-American relationship; and nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Teams will create pages of content on the wiki and scores will be tallied each week based on each team’s depth of analysis.

The high caliber of the participants has attracted the attention of corporate sponsors and Wikistrat is currently finalizing sponsorships agreements with firms who realize the recruiting potential of the Competition. Corporations looking to identify the brightest emerging analytic talent will observe the Competition as it unfolds, watching the next generation of geopolitical strategists in action.

Zamel is eager to see how the participants will adapt to Wikistrat’s model and use it to their advantage: “Wikistrat is giving tomorrow's leaders a unique opportunity and I’m excited to see how these elite competitors will utilize our innovative model to map the future and provide fresh perspectives on the world's biggest challenges.”

Complete details of the competition are available at http://about.wikistrat.com/competition-media/.
3:07AM

"Wikipedia meets Facebook" - Wikistrat's Competition on Jpost

Article on the Jerusalem Post Business News featuring Wikistrat's upcoming Grand Strategy Competition

As instability in the Middle East continues to confuse even the world’s most important decision makers, a small Israeli start-up has launched a new wiki-based competition that it hopes will revolutionize grand strategic planning.

Thirty-five teams of students and analysts from leading academic and military institutions including Columbia, Georgetown, Oxford and the
United States Air Force have already registered for Wikistrat’s Grand Strategy Competition. It will take place throughout June and will be judged by Dr. Thomas Barnett, former senior adviser to the US secretary of defense, and Michael Barrett, former director of strategy at the White House Homeland Security Council.

Wikistrat CEO
Joel Zamel, who together with fellow Australian expat Daniel Green founded the company in Israel last year, said the competition, which they have dubbed “Grand Strategy 2.0,” would provide participants with a “Wikipedia meets Facebook collaborative space for generating content.”

“Generically this kind of work [strategic planning] is done in the form of static reports: that’s the industry standard,” Zamel told The Jerusalem Post. “This is different because it’s wiki-based, allowing strategists and analysts from around the world to collaboratively generate content.”

Read the full article here.

More on the competition at Wikistrat's website

5:01PM

International Grand Strategy Competition - Last Week to Sign Up

As Wikistrat International Grand Strategy Competition is getting closer, more analysts representing leading universities and research institutes are coming on board. For all of you who still don't know what it's all about - have a look here. The first ever collaborative Grand Strategy Competition will take place online throughout June with select teams competing for the $10,000 prize.

This week is the last opportunity to sign up. The best teams will join an exclusive group of teams representing top institutes such as Georgetown University, CSIS, New York University, Columbia University CSIS, the Institute for World Politics, NATO's Atlantic Treaty Association and many more...

If you wish to join - Apply now.

12:01PM

Calling on Top Military Academies, Graduate Schools and Think Tanks 

Please read below PR calling on members at Military Academies and Think Tanks as well as Graduate Students in top schools to participate at 2011 Grand Strategy Competition

 

---

For Immediate Release

Media Contact:                                                                               

Milena Rodban    Phone: 410-929-5262   Email: milena@wikistrat.com           

 

WIKISTRAT ISSUES A CHALLENGE: “MAP A FUTURE WORTH CREATING”

--INTERNATIONAL GRAND STRATEGY COMPETITION DRAWS TEAMS FROM LEADING UNIVERSITIES--

 

(Washington, D.C. - March 21, 2011) Against the backdrop of dramatic political developments around the world, Wikistrat’s International Grand Strategy Competition, the first wiki based competition of its kind, is drawing intense interest from teams at leading universities and think tanks eager to demonstrate their analytical prowess by mapping the future.   

Wikistrat, which is already leading a revolution in geopolitical analysis and forecasting, is now applying its interactive model toward a revolution in grand strategic planning. Wikistrat currently provides businesses with the ability to interact with its innovative system to create scenarios, pathways and shocks-to-the-system, and explore them alongside the world's leading strategic thinkers. Now the firm is issuing a challenge to graduate students and emerging experts in the foreign affairs field who are anxious to put their skills and knowledge to the test to analyze and forecast highly relevant issues including the 2.0 revolutions, global economic rebalancing, oil interdependency, nuclear proliferation, and the implications of China's rise.

Managed by former Pentagon strategist and Wikistrat Chief Analyst Dr. Thomas Barnett, the month long competition, starting June 1st, will provide participants with the opportunity to test their skills with global counterparts and network within the community of experts while competing for a $10,000 prize.  According to Dr. Barnett, however, the benefits of participation far outweigh the prize: Wikistrat and I are very excited to pool this much young talent in the same cyberspace. You are going to experience what the educational system won’t provide you and what your career will do its best to deny you – the consistent opportunity to think systematically about the future by thinking synergistically across a wide number of domains.  Given globalization’s fast pace of expansion and exponential complexity, these skills will be in higher demand than ever in the years and decades ahead.”

Participants will test their skills, network with other emerging experts in a collaborative environment and showcase their analytical talents before an audience of corporate observers seeking to recruit up and coming talent. These unique opportunities are attracting accomplished students like Zach Miller and Elizabeth Betterbed, who previously graduated first in their class at Williams College and West Point, respectively. Both are excited to represent Oxford University during the competition.  “Given the complex strategic challenges that exist in the world today, the Wikistrat Grand Strategy Competition represents a unique opportunity to apply our academic work to practical situations with potentially important, real-world implications,” says Miller, who will lead the Oxford team.

“As self-aggrandizing as it sounds, we are coming together to map a future worth creating by developing our own myths about its best and worst unfolding pathways.  Like most things in life, you only get what you give. So bring it all,” advises Dr. Barnett.

The challenge has been issued and dozens of teams from leading universities and think tanks are ready to show the world what they can do. Will you join them? Register your team and find out more at http://www.wikistrat.com/competition.

 

ABOUT WIKISTRAT

Wikistrat stands at the interface between business and geopolitics. Wikistrat’s geopolitical analysis subscription service tracks the advance of globalization and enables clients to access a unique strategic model, analytical methodology and interactive client delivery services. Interacting with the Wikistrat system allows subscribers to create own scenarios, pathways and shocks-to-the-system, and explore them alongside the world’s leading strategic thinkers.

Media Contact:                                                                                

Milena Rodban                                                                                                                    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Phone: 410-929-5262

Email: milena@wikistrat.com                      

 

WIKISTRAT ISSUES A CHALLENGE: “MAP A FUTURE WORTH CREATING”

--INTERNATIONAL GRAND STRATEGY COMPETITION DRAWS TEAMS FROM LEADING UNIVERSITIES--

 

(Washington, D.C. - March 21, 2011) Against the backdrop of dramatic political developments around the world, Wikistrat’s International Grand Strategy Competition, the first wiki based competition of its kind, is drawing intense interest from teams at leading universities and think tanks eager to demonstrate their analytical prowess by mapping the future.   

 

                Wikistrat, which is already leading a revolution in geopolitical analysis and forecasting, is now applying its interactive model toward a revolution in grand strategic planning. Wikistrat currently provides businesses with the ability to interact with its innovative system to create scenarios, pathways and shocks-to-the-system, and explore them alongside the world's leading strategic thinkers. Now the firm is issuing a challenge to graduate students and emerging experts in the foreign affairs field who are anxious to put their skills and knowledge to the test to analyze and forecast highly relevant issues including the 2.0 revolutions, global economic rebalancing, oil interdependency, nuclear proliferation, and the implications of China's rise.  

 

Managed by former Pentagon strategist and Wikistrat Chief Analyst Dr. Thomas Barnett, the month long competition, starting June 1st, will provide participants with the opportunity to test their skills with global counterparts and network within the community of experts while competing for a $10,000 prize.  According to Dr. Barnett, however, the benefits of participation far outweigh the prize: Wikistrat and I are very excited to pool this much young talent in the same cyberspace. You are going to experience what the educational system won’t provide you and what your career will do its best to deny you – the consistent opportunity to think systematically about the future by thinking synergistically across a wide number of domains.  Given globalization’s fast pace of expansion and exponential complexity, these skills will be in higher demand than ever in the years and decades ahead.”

 

Participants will test their skills, network with other emerging experts in a collaborative environment and showcase their analytical talents before an audience of corporate observers seeking to recruit up and coming talent. These unique opportunities are attracting accomplished students like Zach Miller and Elizabeth Betterbed, who previously graduated first in their class at Williams College and West Point, respectively. Both are excited to represent Oxford University during the competition.  “Given the complex strategic challenges that exist in the world today, the Wikistrat Grand Strategy Competition represents a unique opportunity to apply our academic work to practical situations with potentially important, real-world implications,” says Miller, who will lead the Oxford team.

 

 “As self-aggrandizing as it sounds, we are coming together to map a future worth creating by developing our own myths about its best and worst unfolding pathways.  Like most things in life, you only get what you give.  So bring it all,” advises Dr. Barnett.

 

The challenge has been issued and dozens of teams from leading universities and think tanks are ready to show the world what they can do. Will you join them? Register your team and find out more at http://www.wikistrat.com/competition.

 

ABOUT WIKISTRAT

Wikistrat stands at the interface between business and geopolitics. Wikistrat’s geopolitical analysis subscription service tracks the advance of globalization and enables clients to access a unique strategic model, analytical methodology and interactive client delivery services. Interacting with the Wikistrat system allows subscribers to create own scenarios, pathways and shocks-to-the-system, and explore them alongside the world’s leading strategic thinkers.

 

###

10:49AM

Grand Strategy Competition - Wikistrat

Wikistrat is gearing up for an exciting International Grand Strategy Competition.

Select teams representing leading academic institutions from around the world are invited to participate in the first ever wiki-based grand strategy competition. Managed by Dr. Thomas PM Barnett, this competition will provide participants with the opportunity to test their skills with global counterparts and network within that community. Participants can demonstrate their capacity for strategic thought to agencies, institutions and firms seeking to recruit up-and-coming analytic talent.

We are currently reviewing applications by groups representing top Universities and Think Tanks worldwide. There are still open spots available for this exciting event.

To nominate a team, or to see if you institute has been invited, contact us HERE.

Participation is free, and winner team will get a $10,000 prize.

Some of the issues we will cover in the Competition include (Download the full PDF OUTLINE:

1. Global Energy Security

2. Global Economic “Rebalancing” Process

3. Salafi Jihadist Terrorism 

4. Inevitable Sino-American Special Relationship

5. Southwest Asia Nuclear Proliferation

Some of the Scenarios explored will include:

1. Major Biological Terror Attack

2. “2.0 Revolutions” in Arab World

3. + Additional Surprise Shocks

10:43AM

WPR's The New Rules: Leadership Fatigue Puts U.S., and Globalization, at Crossroads

Events in Libya are a further reminder for Americans that we stand at a crossroads in our continuing evolution as the world's sole full-service superpower. Unfortunately, we are increasingly seeking change without cost, and shirking from risk because we are tired of the responsibility. We don't know who we are anymore, and our president is a big part of that problem. Instead of leading us, he explains to us. Barack Obama would have us believe that he is practicing strategic patience. But many experts and ordinary citizens alike have concluded that he is actually beset by strategic incoherence -- in effect, a man overmatched by the job. 

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:48AM

WPR's The New Rules: Globalization's Staying Power a Triumph of American 'Hubris'

There’s no question that globalization, in its modern American form of expanding free trade, just went through its worst crisis to date.  But while economists debate whether or not we in the West are collectively heading toward a 1938-like “second dip,” it’s important to realize just how myopic our fears are about the future of a world economy that America went out of its way to create, defend, and grow these past seven decades.
Read the entire column, which you can consider my oblique response to Peter Beinart's "Icarus Syndrome" book, at World Politics Review.
See the references for my inspiration on this piece.
12:10AM

Obama: Frustrating the grand strategist in me

Warren Christopher LAT op-ed by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

Christopher makes his usual bland appeal for small steps leading to a legacy of modest, move-the-pile accomplishments.

Example:  

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised he would end our diplomatic isolation and pursue "engagement" in foreign affairs. His opponent tried to turn his proposal against him by saying it would be reckless and naive. Obama regarded his election as a mandate for engagement, and no campaign promise has been more faithfully carried out by his administration . . .

Beyond Mitchell's efforts, Obama has been using engagement in pursuit of his foreign policy goals. One of the president's chief goals, as he said on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, is "to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them." His personal intervention in talks with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia was instrumental in finalizing a replacement agreement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December. The signing in Prague last month was a tribute to their mutual engagement, producing major reductions in both nation's nuclear arsenals as well as advancing U.S.-Russian ties in general.

The priority that Obama is giving to engagement has also been apparent in recent exchanges with China. The president, unhappy when the Chinese sent lower-level diplomats to meet with him at the climate change summit in Copenhagen, announced an arms sale package for Taiwan. The Chinese objected stridently.

To prevent the exchanges from spinning out of control, the president sent Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg to Beijing to reassure the Chinese ... The Chinese responded by announcing that President Hu Jintao would come to Washington for a nuclear summit ...

Improvement in human rights has been the policy goal of recent engagement with the repressive nation of Myanmar . . .

Policy goals, of course, sometimes remain elusive despite efforts at engagement. Iran, while initially intrigued by the idea of shipping uranium abroad for enrichment under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision, has now descended into a sea of political invective in the wake of controversial election results and an emerging internal opposition. Nevertheless, the president is working to build a coalition to impose a stricter set of sanctions . . .

Obama has judiciously used engagement in pursuit of our foreign policy goals. The measure of his success in using this tool will be judged by the effectiveness of our foreign policy in the hardest cases, like Iran and North Korea.

It's a decent capture and a decent defense, and it expresses the root of my frustration with the seeming lack of any big think in this administration:  SECSTATE has her lists and checks them off dutifully, Jones keeps the trains running at NSC, Gates runs his own kingdom--and well--but keeps his nose out of foreign policy, our special envoys are quite special and almost completely devoid of any accomplishments, the drawdowns proceed in Iraq and will proceed soon enough in Afghanistan and all balls are kept juggled.

What is the Obama vision?  Oh yeah, the world without nukes--the Nobel made good.  Like a Miss America contest focusing her answer down to world peace, there is an earnestness there, but likewise a distinct lack of imagination.  Obama gets to run the US at this point in history, and all we get is a world without nukes?

Moses, my man, don't go promising the land of milk and honey at year one of the 40-year wandering.

I will admit it:  I feel stale on the man.  I wrote the 12-step recovery program for a superpower in Great Powers and Obama checked them all off in the first year--just like I hoped he would because it all seemed so obvious and logical to me (go overboard, well . . . then you apologize and make it better--not exactly rocket science).  And the world (or just Norway--which is a decent approximation of the world's conscience) was just so happy in return ("A superpower that apologizes!") that it gave him the Nobel for Peace, even though he hadn't done anything concrete--just indicated that he would be far more polite and reasonable and consensual than his abrasive predecessor.

And then I waited for something to emerge after the first, realigning year.  

And I'm still waiting.  The nukes thing, I will admit, doesn't do anything for me.  I think it's goofy and meaningless and naive and a colossal waste of time. I know the man is busy with the economy and a rancorous Congress and he wants primarily to focus on domestic issues, but I think that window is going to close fast--as in, November.  

Eventually, this administration will have to show more vision than simply treading water and keeping its head up at all times. Eventually, when there's not much else that can be done in the domestic sphere, Obama will turn, as all presidents do, to foreign policy.

And he's going to need something beyond a world without nukes and everybody getting along.  Nothing that wrong with either notion, in the abstract, but in aggregate they do not constitute leadership. I see a world where China, India, Turkey, Brazil and others are all moving faster than the current, but we are not.

And the Obama administration does not seem to realize this. They seem very proud and happy just to keep the balls all moving and in the air.  

And that makes me very ambivalent, in a professional sense, about whether this guy is one-&-done or gets to stroke the back nine.