The Thinking And Doing Of National Security

The Thinking And Doing Of National Security

by Bob Polk


View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Want it by Thursday, September 27?   Order by 12:00 PM Eastern and choose Expedited Shipping at checkout.


The Thinking And Doing Of National Security by Bob Polk

In this gripping narrative, Bob Polk explores what national security is at its essence and how it can be improved to solve the problems that haunt the world today.

Looking through the eyes of a fictional president, White House staff and other key participants,
you'll discover the factors that need to be considered as decision-makers try to find the best course of action.

Building upon almost a decade of experience as a civilian government planning and systems expert, and equipped with more than twenty years of on-the-ground military experience, Polk offers a compelling plan to improve national security while explaining competing ideas.
You'll discover:

  • Key desired system attributes
  • The scope of the proposed management system
  • Essential functions that support the paradigm
  • The future system in an operational setting
  • And much more!
While acknowledging that his vision is a detailed work in progress, Polk offers the United States a plan for a better future in The "Thinking and Doing" of National Security: A Proposal for the President.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426926204
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 03/17/2010
Pages: 152
Product dimensions: 0.33(w) x 9.00(h) x 6.00(d)

About the Author

Bob Polk has served in senior-level and executive roles in and out of government. He spent twenty years in the Army and is a senior adjunct research member and consultant at the Institute for
Defense Analyses in Washington, D.C. He holds three master's degrees and is a native of south Arkansas.

Read an Excerpt


By Bob Polk

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2010 Bob Polk
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4269-2620-4

Chapter One

Part I: Introduction

I have a difficult task ahead of me. I need to expose you to a set of proposals which, if properly improved upon and adopted, would make the president's job of integrating the national methods (ways) and resources (means) to support his/her aims (ends) 'better.' To do this, I feel an obligation to follow some logic that will make this easy to understand. Additionally, I feel an obligation to make this enjoyable to help you remember what I propose. Let me start with logic, followed by enjoyable.

The logic begins as follows: The world is complex and getting more so, and the president's staff and his Cabinet are struggling to get their daily jobs done. They are both either too busy or overwhelmed and they are hopelessly arranged both structurally and skill-wise to do the very basic for us all - the thinking and doing of national security. Certainly parts of the Cabinet and parts of the president's staff are doing their jobs quite well, but they are challenged mightily to do them well together as a team. Additionally, since it is the Cabinet that actually does the doing in the U.S. government, no matter what reforms take place 'above' the department level, they will be hollow if they aren't matched with the new department capacities to keep up.

The solution is not adding new tasks to cover more area or to add more staff to cover more area. It is adding new services from what I call planning and execution management teams to the existing overwhelmed organizations of the government. I am not talking about czar teams either. (Incidentally, the proliferation of these is the best example I know of an indictment of the current system.) I believe we need to take the burdens of the existing organizations down quite a few notches while offering the correct targeted and talented services directly to the parts of the existing system of the government as it needs it. If done correctly, the existing system can get back into its more traditional lanes with more time to do its job. This translates to more time devoted to the thinking and the doing at both the National Security Council (NSC) level for the president and the department level for the rest of us. Oh yes, Congress will love this too because a less stressed executive translates to a better partner to the legislature. In my proposal, Congress will also be able to actually participate more directly in this less stressed executive system. I will explain all this as we go along.

At the time of this writing, I have to admit that there are some good folks in Washington trying to work all this out - just not enough and with almost zero real support from either the White House or Congress. Champions for process reforms are hard to come by when the headlines remain dominated by citizen issues such as health care, global warming, shutting down Guantanamo Bay, economic woes and two wars. For example, who in Peoria really cares about how the NSC is organized? Consequently, what politician cares about anything his constituents don't care about? I told you this wouldn't be easy.

Yes, this book is about stuff that folks in Kansas or Nevada or right here in Virginia don't really care about. And perhaps they shouldn't ... but someone should.

In particular, this book is about the thinking and doing, or as I like to say in Washington bureaucratic speak, the planning and execution management, of national security. It has been my long observation, with few exceptions in very narrow niche sectors of the Washington crowd, that these two ideas are usually mentioned in separate company and not as they should be, as two sides of the same coin. I will try to right this injustice with this book.

No one has ever seriously presented:

A single, fully inclusive approach to both planning and execution involving all the various actors from across the breadth of government and commercial sectors working seamlessly together in a continuing narrative of both top-down and bottom-up efforts; capable of handling any issue of national security, from the strategic to the tactical, both at home and abroad in the near, mid and long-term, and in both geographical and functional dimensions; where the end result is the integration of the national ways (methods) supported by the national means (resources) to support the many national ends (purposeful aims) in the context of its environments.

I say this coming as a once cofounding and full-time member of the most serious recent effort in many years in Washington to recommend just such a system - the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR). In my opinion, the PNSR has not yet achieved its intended reforms primarily for one reason - it still struggles to find a compelling single narrative in all its recommendations. Instead, and with no disrespect to my many talented colleagues, it continues to present a series of complex and overlapping narratives in several seminal areas of national security. In the area of planning and execution management, it is only just now beginning to see the full spectrum of connections.

To me it is simple. In complex systems there is usually a chief narrative supported by contributing narratives. I submit that for the U.S. national security system, the chief narrative is the end-to-end process of both the thinking (assessments, policy, strategy, planning, feedback, etc.) and the doing (operations/implementation/execution) as one in the context of its environments. I would only add my colleague Patti Benner's definition of what national security is at root: "Anything that affects the viability or vitality of the nation." Period.

National security and its system is, then, as widely and narrowly encompassing as one chooses (I choose widely). You can now begin to see why I propose a system approach called (for my Washington bureaucratic colleagues) a "National Security Planning and Execution Management System" - a system addressing both the thinking and the doing of national security as equals.

And now, for a bit of the enjoyable.

Dream Sequence 1 (Everything is a System):

The phone rang on a Monday evening. The proposal was simple - go to the country of Econistan, assess the situation, then put together a team to restore order to the country before things get out of hand and devolve into a greater, more complex challenge.

I had the president's personal invitation and authority. I would be an envoy - that venerable, squishy title that strikes fear in the heart of mainline bureaucrats because it is, in effect, the proverbial blank check to make mischief in Washington, but with none of the proper authority or resources to actually do more.

That said, I would leave in the morning for a five-day, whirlwind tour of the affected areas. I would be back in Washington on the sixth day and, by the seventh ... well, you know how the story goes. I had a lot to do in a short time.

The country didn't seem as stressed as the mission implied, but I found certain aspects of the situation that could use our attention. I began to see clearly what was in front of me and I put a call in to an old friend to be my Chief of Staff. The role came easily to her and she immediately went to work lining up necessary presentations for required decisions upon my return to D.C. Within days we had assembled the perfect team - twenty-two in all - and we were set to arrive in-country for our official transition into our lead role in ten days.

Upon touchdown, Econistan's presidential reception party whisked me away from my staff to the presidential palace, where I assured our host that we had a plan. The situation was well in hand. With a longer-than-usual squeeze, he shook my hand with a deep and sincere hope in his eye, and I was off.

My life experiences, both in the military and in the wider interagency world, had prepared me well for what lay ahead. The team was forming and the reports coming in seemed rather manageable. My first communiqué to the President of the United States was full of the usual ups and downs, but clearly the advances made in interagency operations since those crazy days in Iraq and Afghanistan over a decade ago were comforting.

The report on that clear day in November, however, gave me my first pause. Why hadn't we seen this coming? More importantly now, what do we do about it? The unrest in the outer parts of the rural regions was not good and getting worse. We had come in with a plan with exactly the right three priorities, and we had doggedly pursued them, as one should. These priorities were well thought through by my team of experts. Why were these folks in the rural areas now seemingly at odds with what was clearly the right and best set of decisions we could make? Never mind; time heals all things.

My drive over to the presidential palace would not be as pleasant as the last. I had been summoned in the midst of my admitted stalling for over two months. My analyses showed that the situation was coming unglued in spite of picking the correct three priorities. We just didn't see the other factors at play - we hadn't taken the time. Our forward field offices were all under rebel control and now the entire U.S. government mission was in jeopardy. By the time I reached the palace the reports were arriving at an increasing pace. The end was near. What had I forgotten from all my training as a national security professional since this system had been instituted eight years earlier, and how had all of us allowed this to happen? The car came to a stop and the door opened....

The Main Lesson: Without a systems approach, there can be no systems solution, and so many aspects of both the problems underneath the problems and the various potential solution sets can never be revealed.

In our story I had learned the following:

- Nothing is as simple as it seems. There are always hidden connections.

- There is never a correct way. There are only the ways that are best based on the situation.

- Persistence in the face of overwhelming evidence pointing to other systemic issues is a recipe for disaster.

- Finally, had I approached the problem as a system rather than a single or even two-dimensional situation, I might have seen the signs of unrest at an earlier moment, when its mitigation was possible.

Chapter Two


To get us all playing from the same sheet of music, you may wish to consider my assumptions underpinning the proposals on the following pages. If you buy in to these, then we may have a good relationship forming. If you don't ... well, I hope you do. If these assumptions aren't yours going into this discussion together, then the proposals I make will seem equally uncertain to your senses. Again, I can only ask for your indulgence at this early stage. Perhaps if you give them a chance, we can both come to a better set of assumptions and solutions by the time this discussion concludes (long after this book is published).

Here they are, my going-in assumptions that prompted me to write this book. I would be happy to hear your feedback. Remember, this proposal is a work-in-progress, primarily about process and, for now, primarily about the U.S. national level processes for national security. It may not play well in Peoria, but I trust it will be for their greater good in the end.

Assumption #1: You have actually heard this one already, but it bears repeating. No matter the form (people, structure, etc.) or function (tasks, goals, etc.) added, my assumption is that neither the NSC nor the Cabinet alone, nor in any combination together, can handle the process of bringing the greatest coherency and coordination across the United States in all the national security issues areas likely to face us throughout the 21st century. The Cabinet can't command their peers. They need someone 'above' them to do this for them. And neither the NSC nor the Cabinet can possibly embody all by themselves:

A single, fully inclusive approach to both planning and execution involving all the various actors from across the breadth of government and commercial sectors working seamlessly together in a continuing narrative of both top-down and bottom-up efforts; capable of handling any issue of national security, from the strategic to the tactical, both at home and abroad in the near, mid and long-term, and in both geographical and functional dimensions; where the end result is the integration of the national ways (methods) supported by the national means (resources) to support the many national ends (purposeful aims) in the context of its environments.

If this exists today, someone please point it out to me.

Assumption #2: You've heard this too, but they say learning comes through repetition. The Cabinet, NSC and the president all need help, and my assumption is that more staff isn't the answer. What they all need is a more effective thinking and doing management service. This service should be provided to both the Cabinet and the NSC to relieve them from trying to do it all by themselves and, therefore, doing nothing extremely well, and to allow each to stay focused on their respective primary roles of government. In the case of the NSC, that primary role might be to remain focused on helping develop the president's purposeful aims/ends and ensuring the Cabinet members have what they need to be successful in carrying out these aims/ends. In the case of the Cabinet, it might be to carry out the 'doing' of government on behalf of the president and the American people.

The NSC can't provide the services that I listed in Assumption #1 through their current Interagency Coordination Committees, Deputies Committee, Principles Committee process alone - not enough time, attention, skill sets; and did I say time ... and skill sets? The Cabinet cannot either. They all need the professional services I listed in Assumption #1, provided to them, in part, through a new organization within the Executive Office of the President.

In this sense, my Washington, D.C., colleagues will understand that a reasonable analogy is the planning and execution management service provided by the Joint Staff in the Pentagon both up to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and down to the five services (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard). Think of it as taking the heavy lifting of some thinking and coordination off the backs of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the services so they can each stay focused on their primary roles. Providing this service also provides a bridging function between these two communities when necessary, as they integrate the department's ways and means to support the ends selected by the department secretary.

To expand the analogy, the Department of Defense (DoD) organizations that manage and cut across the services to do the bulk of the military work around the globe are the ten Combatant Commanders. In this case, the Joint Staff still provides a certain part of the overall thinking and coordination function. The Combatant Commanders are not so much up or down, but this time out from the Joint Staff. So, in the end, the Joint Staff performs functions up, down and out within the DoD to keep the machinery working and to allow all to stay in their primary roles. Again, this is similar to the less successful executive branch efforts to develop organizations that manage and cut across the various departments.

Finally, to complete the analogy, the DoD's Planning, Programming, Budgeting, Execution System is a worthy example of the kind of ends, ways, means integration system that should underpin the U.S. national security system, as it currently underpins the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Combatant Commander system in the thinking and doing of military business. It is far from perfect but it is a good attempt worth studying.

What I will propose for the national security system is not a Joint Staff or Planning, Programming, Budgeting, Execution System per se, but a unique variation of sorts.

Assumption #3: As alluded to already, my assumption is that the much-vaunted czars, or other uber-organizations such as the National Counterterrorism Center, Director of National Intelligence, and so forth, can not be considered as feasible alternatives nor additions until due diligence has been taken to care for and adjust the primal or foundational NSC/Cabinet system first. Such organizations are each designed to offer the executive branch its own smallish version of a Combatant Commander. These are organizations in addition to the departments intended to manage and cut across all the other departments, usually on behalf of a single issue area, unlike the much more robust Combatant Commander model, which manages many issues from the five DoD services and Office of the Secretary of Defense at once.


Excerpted from THE "THINKING AND DOING" OF NATIONAL SECURITY by Bob Polk Copyright © 2010 by Bob Polk. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


ABOUT THE AUTHOR....................ix
PART I: INTRODUCTION....................1
Dream Sequence 1 (Everything is a System):....................4
Dream Sequence 2 (Ends):....................11
Dream Sequence 3 (Ways):....................17
Dream Sequence 4 (Means):....................39
Dream Sequence 5 (Planning and Execution are Part of the Same Whole):....................55
Dream Sequence 6 (Near, Mid, Long):....................64
Dream Sequence 7 (Global Geographical and Functional Contexts):....................76
Dream Sequence 8 (How it All Comes Together):....................81

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews