Leadership: New Ideas You Won't Choke On

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June 16, 2009: As foreign military leaders (especially those in China) scrutinize American military performance in the last decade, there is a debate over how to replicate it for themselves. The American achievement has been striking. They defeated a seemingly intractable Islamic terrorist campaign in Iraq, and are inflicting the same kind of damage on the Taliban in Afghanistan. In doing this, the U.S. troops are suffering casualties at a third of the rate of previous wars, and with fewer troops in combat (to accomplish similar tasks from past wars.)

It's not just the fighting prowess that is envied, but the ability to quickly solve tactical and technical problems, and rapidly adapt new technology and tactics to battlefield needs. And then there's the fact that the United States is still, after over a century,  the largest economy on the planet. Yet Chinese students score higher on math and science tests than do their American counterparts. A disproportionate number of graduate science students in the United States are from China, because these schools are seen as the best in the world. Many Chinese believe that this shows how China will surpass America. But Chinese military analysts looking at Iraq and Afghanistan, are not so sure. The Americans are not the best at math or physics, but they do have a knack for coming out on top. There's something else the Americans have going for them that doesn't seem to be widely recognized, or even have a name.

Some Chinese, who have been educated in the United States, and come back home to work, talk about the spirit of entrepreneurship and individual accomplishment. This is quite different from the collectivist and statist (state control) attitudes that dominate in the rest of the world. America has, for over a century, been the source of the most new jobs, and new businesses, on the planet. Those attitudes of innovation and accomplishment seem to have carried over to their armed forces as well.

The Chinese leadership does not want to encourage entrepreneurs and individualists. In Chinese history, this has led to change and unrest. Chinese leaders see this sort of thing as disruptive to the natural order of things. So the generals and admirals are told to take what they can from the American experience, and leave behind what China cannot digest.

 


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