Great Strategic Blunders

[May 21, 2018]  Strategy is the commerce of leaders.  It is what separates the good from the bad and the eager from the lazy.  This is why, in the study of history, strategic blunders are worth a closer look for important lessons that make us better.

It has been said that the greatest strategic blunder during World War II was Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade Russia.  Instead of concentrating his forces on England and destroying it, he opened a two-front war that ultimately led to the defeat of Nazi Germany.  Others believe the worst blunder was Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor bringing the U.S. into the war.

“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” – Sun Tzu, ancient Chinese general

What of the 21st Century?  Are there any strategic blunders that are on the table for us to review?  For my purposes here, I will restrict my comments to strategic blunders involving Western countries; solely for the reason that I know more about them.

The biggest strategic blunder of all in the 21st Century, to date, was the attack on the United States’ homeland by Muslim extremists.  This was a massive failure by any measure.  It brought about two wars on Muslim countries they could ill afford it and led to the death of thousands, the demeaning of the religion of Islam, and worsening of the Sunni-Shia divide.

The War on Terror that followed also had its share of strategic “military” blunders.1  A greater strategic blunder occurred in concert with these wars.  Europe and much of the Western world began to allow large numbers of Muslim immigrants into their nations with welcome arms and a promise of a better life.  This did not work out as planned as immigrants began to overwhelm these nations as they failed to assimilate and abused the welfare systems.

Can we learn from these blunders?  Or, the more important question is whether our political leaders can learn from them.  The lessons are rather obvious.  One lesson is that attacking the United States is a bad idea regardless how much the U.S. fumbles its reaction.  And a second lesson is that immigration should be measured and always in the best interests of the nation receiving them.

The responsibility for good strategic planning and execution is at the senior political leadership level.  Failures will have dramatic, negative consequences. 

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  1. Initially, Paul Bremer, American diplomat, was responsible for Iraq’s descent into chaos that resulted mainly from his decision to prohibit members of the Ba’ath Party from holding public office and disbanding of the Iraqi army. The second major blunder was President Barack Obama’s decision to pull troops out of Iraq on a public timetable that was not tied to any progress or goal. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/paul-bremer-on-iraq-ten-years-on-we-made-major-strategic-mistakes-but-i-still-think-iraqis-are-far-8539767.html

 

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

34 thoughts on “Great Strategic Blunders

  1. Jung Hoon Kim

    Strategy is to victory as flowers are to a bouquet.

  2. Darryl Sitterly

    Great topic and one of serious relevance to any up and coming leader. I also like the Sun Tzu quote. keep up the good works Gen Satterfield.

  3. Roger Yellowmule

    Good article today. Thank you Gen Satterfield.

  4. Jerome Smith

    You should make this one of your cornerstone articles where everyone can easily find it on the Internet.

  5. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Here are some more WW2 strategic mistakes.
    1. Italy invades Greece
    2. Germany invades Russia
    3. Japan attacks Pearl Harbor
    4. Hitler declares war on the U.S.
    5. Hitler was fixated on “wonder weapons”
    6. Hitler underestimated sea power
    7. Germany suppressed its occupied territories
    8. The Axis Powers couldn’t get Spain and Turkey to fight

  6. Dale Paul Fox

    I read the links all of you included and they are enlightening to see other blunders; especially those that could have been avoided. That is why we put them up here and insist our senior leaders understand.

  7. Wilson Cox

    During WW2 at the Dunkirk evacuation, Hitler made a strategic blunder when he allowed the British army to evacuate. First, he halted his 36th Panzer Division. Second, he didn’t use his air force to attack the stragglers near the beaches. And third, he didn’t coordinate an attack on the boats and ships coming in to rescue. By allowing the British and allied troops to evacuate, they would later help defeat him.

    1. Army Captain

      The whole evacuation operation from Dunkirk was a miracle. The movie was excellent as a story and with special effects. I recommend the book and watching the movie.

  8. Eric Coda

    Based on my experience, here are the top three strategic blunders a retailer can make:
    1. Trying to get bigger, faster.
    2. Confusing marketing with strategy.
    3. Thinking that growth is a strategy.
    There are more, of course, but this gives you an idea of the common things you should NOT do as a retailer in the U.S.

  9. Drew Dill

    I once knew a young lady who was a fashion purchaser for JC Penny. She was let go back in the early 2000s when the store changed their strategy to have cheaper prices. Since then the CEO of JC Penny has made additional blunders. Read about them anywhere on the Internet. It’s an interesting view of what can happen when senior leaders make mistakes and then keep pushing the same idea over and over.

  10. Kenny Foster

    Good comments today and some excellent examples of how to make BIG MISTAKES when using strategy. This is why I like reading Gen Satterfield’s blog and our fan club.

    1. Martin Shiell

      I agree completely that the GM bailout was a huge mistake by our dumb politicains.

  11. Ronny Fisher

    My personal favorite military blunder in the 20th century (outside WWI and WWII) is the Soviet invasion of the country of Afghanistan.

  12. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Failure to adapt to your competition and changing technology (ie, doing nothing) can also be a strategic blunder. Just look at what happened to the biggest photographic film maker Kodak. They eventually filed for bankruptcy.

  13. Tracey Brockman

    My favorite quote from Sun Tzu, “Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.”

    1. Tracey Brockman

      Another one of my favorites: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” by unknown.

  14. Lynn Pitts

    People tend to overlook strategy and focus their energy on tactics. That is unfortunate because they will miss so much because of it.

  15. Doug Smith

    Great senior leader topic for a Monday morning. Thank you for setting up this topic for me (and others) to ponder as we drink our coffee and get ready for the day. I read these religiously for a quick dose of leadership thinking everyday.

  16. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    THere are many blunders in the 20th century of which WW2 has its share. Also WW1 has even more blunders at various levels (grand, military) and the results were horrific. I guess that is the best lesson of all; when senior leaders fail terribly, everyone suffers the consequences.

  17. Army Captain

    Glad to see you back to talking strategy and developing the idea that everyone can learn from the failures of our leaders. But most important is that senior leaders learn from the blunders of others who went before them.

  18. Wilson Cox

    Interesting take on 21st Century blunders. I would like to distinguish between “military strategy” and “grand strategy” and ensure we do not mix them up with one another. A good military strategy is a part of grand strategy. I think you have one of each. Good article.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Good point and well taken. Thank you, Wilson.

    2. Joey Holmes

      Not sure what you mean but my dad said he would explain. I like reading the comments section too. Cheers!

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