There is a reason Napoleon preferred “lucky” generals to merely smart ones. Because he knew the big role luck plays in the success of leaders & their nations.Actually luck is really not the real determining factor. It is the ability of leaders to see the tide Lady Luck has rolled for them and ride it with speed, force & intelligence. And that, to borrow another cliche, requires a “prepared mind”.
You can’t buy such a “prepared mind” in a store, you can’t learn it in academia and a leader can’t merely rely on the prepared minds of others. Some people may be born with it but that is seldom enough. A mind gets “prepared” in & by a series of actual doings where the mind experiences the fruits of swiftly seizing opportunities that Lady Luck has provided as well as the consequences of missing them.
This Thursday we saw a prepared mind seize an opportunity with lightening speed and stun the world. This has been the hallmark of Donald Trump through out his career in real estate and in Television. This was the signature quality of Candidate Donald Trump. Now the entire world sees that in President Donald Trump.
In this case, the opportunity was not pure luck. It arose, in our opinion, from a mistake by Secretary Tillerson & his UN ambassador Nikki Haley. They both forgot the cardinal rule – it is not what you say, it is what others hear. Secretary Tillerson said last week that the it is up to the Syrian people to decide whether Assad stays or goes. Ambassador Haley dutifully repeated this line. They had their own reasons to remove the ambiguity about Syria in US policy; their own reasons to make this statement.
Clearly they didn’t understand or factor in what Assad would hear in their statement. Assad must have heard this statement and said “I won”. He knew how demoralizing that statement was for the rebels fighting him. So, in the tradition of middle east, he wanted to totally crush the spirit of the rebels. So he or his staff decided to inflict the ultimate of non-nuclear horrors on the rebels – a chemical attack on their children. But in doing so he forgot the other cardinal rule – it is not what you do, it is how other perceive it, especially others on whose mercies you survive.
Really successful people can pivot on a dime when they realize their positioning is wrong. We saw that in the speed in which great investors reversed their entire investing posture during the night of Tuesday, November 8. Great minds like Stanley Druckenmiller sold their gold positions, removed their hedges and went long stocks while every body else was sleeping.
Look at the blazing speed with which President Trump pivoted on Assad. It took Secretary of Defense Mattis less than a day to present military options to President Trump and it took President Trump less than that to select & approve the strike. They informed the Russians with the same speed to minimize any inadvertent fallout. And before the world could figure out what might happen, the US military fired 59 Tomahawk missiles into the Syrian air base from which the chemical attack had taken place.
And the actual strike took place while President Trump was hosting a state dinner with President Xi Jinping of China. Imagine the consternation of the Chinese President when he found out later what President Trump had done. To use another cliche, it firmly entrenched in Chinese minds that Mr. Trump was a man of respect. He had just treated China the way Chinese leaders had treated previous Indian Prime ministers during China-India summits.
Equally stunning was the perfect level of President Trump’s response and the perfection of his message to many Foreign & American players.
First & foremost, President Trump fulfilled a promise he had made during his campaign. He had bemoaned the fact that our competitors don’t respect our leaders and promised to change that. He did that on Thursday. No one in the world will now disrespect America’s will, power and ability to act without notice. Whether they like him or not, America’s adversaries & competitors will respect this American President. The entire country understands this and feel proud about it.
Secondly, the traditional allies of America in the Middle East are ecstatic. This is what they have waited for a very long time.
A very big message was sent to Iran and to Iranian Republican Guards who have been vociferous in their eagerness to fight American Navy. Gone are the day of Strategic Patience, the days when America would passively tolerate Iranians seizing Americans in open seas, the days when America would tolerate development of ballistic missiles by Iran.
President Trump could have easily postponed his strike against Assad by two days and allowed his summit with China to conclude without any interruption. Remember how angry Candidate Trump was when China made President Obama come down from the back entrance of Air Force One in Beijing. This was partly payback. More importantly, it was a polite lesson to China on who is the lone superpower in the world. It was a lesson to China that they remain a regional power while America is the global power and American interests around the rest of the world don’t get sidetracked just because of an America-China summit. And above all, it was a message to the Chinese that Trump does what he says. He was telling China not to force him to be unilateral in Korea, that they wouldn’t like it if USA had to handle North Korea alone.
Notice that the strike against Assad does not change any facts on the ground. It simply regains the ambiguity of US policy in Syria. Secretary Tillerson was clear that the fight against ISIS in Syria comes first and then the future of Assad. They know that the presence of a titular Assad is necessary to keep the lid on Syria and a rash removal of Assad would be worse than the removal of Gaddaffi. Once ISIS is defeated in Syria, the next step would be to remove Hezbollah & Iranian forces from Syria. Assad could prove useful if he were to pivot from Iran-Hezbollah to America at the right time.
Kudos to President Trump for decisively & brilliantly taking advantage of the opportunity Assad gave him. The lightening speed with which he acted effectively & openly brings down the curtain of the Obama era. We are back to a strong, confident & decisive America that is fully prepared to act and will act with speed & effectiveness.
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