“No Choice” is for Losers

by Phil Anderson

“I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.”  Mark Twain

Life is full of choices. There are always alternatives to any course of action. We should be very skeptical of any politician who says we have “no choice.” Politicians who says this are only admitting their own incompetence. They do not have the wisdom, knowledge, creativity, or intelligence to see other options. They do not have the managerial or problem solving skills to “think outside of the box.” 

Not all the alternatives will have the best results or chances of success. Some are not good options at all. But they still are options. So we always have choices. Developing options and choosing between alternative actions is basic problem solving. If you have ever had a business management course, military leadership training, or company employee empowerment training you have probably encountered these concepts. Identifying a problem, thinking about possible solutions, and choosing what seems the best alternative is simple common sense. People do it all the time in everyday life. This trial and error process works pretty well IF you are willing to adapt to feedback and change direction if needed. 

But when people get stuck in mental ruts things can go badly. Problems occur when the “way we’ve always done it” or some dogmatic blindness prevents creative thinking. When every option has to pass a litmus test of political correctness, anti-communism, narrow religious belief, or “free market” dogma the best solutions can be easily missed. 

Too frequently the claim that we have “no choice” is just a cover for a decision that has already been made for dogmatic reasons. It is the PR spin to get the public on board. George W. Bush claimed that all the diplomatic options had been pursued and we had “no choice” but to invade Iraq in 2003. Later we learned his administration was planning for war from day one. We all know the results of his failure to seek other options. His disaster grinds on 16 years later. 

The “no choice “ myopic thinking is often seen in the run up to wars. There are many options to military confrontation but frequently the alternatives are ignored or pursued halfheartedly. Obviously diplomacy is the primary option. No one has ever been killed, or countries destroyed, by talking with alleged enemies. But there are many other options to war and many behaviors that avoid international conflict. For example:

• Minding your own business and not trying to “police” the world 

• Not engaging in aggressive, threatening behavior toward other nations

• Working to limit weapons of war (instead of being the largest supplier of weapons)

• Building and supporting international organizations like the UN or the World Court to create alternative conflict resolution options

• Building coalitions to resolve conflicts (like was done with the Iran nuclear deal)

• Practicing what we preach and leading by example

• Behaving in accordance with our ideals of democracy and self determination

• Practicing tolerance of other cultures, religions, political and economic structures

• Economic or political sanctions (although these can be tantamount war in their effects)

• Building trade and positive economic relationships that bring people together rather than dividing nations

• Promoting cultural exchanges that build international friendships and break down mistrust   

• Even doing nothing is an option. Sometimes it is best not to “fix” what isn’t broken or to interfere in other people’s countries.

Of course preventing problems is much better than fixing them. We too often ignore problems until they become a crisis. Many of our past wars and diplomatic failures could have been  avoided with wiser leadership. WWII might not have happened if we had actively supported the League of Nations following WWI. The Vietnam War could have been avoided had we mediated the conflict instead of supporting the French. Too often in the past we put obstacles in the way of progress. Too often we have been part of the problem rather part of the solution.  

The current conflict with Korea is an example, The problems have been festering for 65 years. We still do not have a peace treaty ending the Korean War. We reached accommodations with communist Vietnam, China, and Russia until recent reverses. Why is Korea so different? Perhaps our belligerent practice of staging war games every year with South Korea is poisoning diplomatic solutions. Perhaps our economic sanctions are not working and only exacerbating the problems. Perhaps our attitude that it is fine for us to test missiles but “not acceptable” for them to do the same is a problem. Perhaps our reliance on threats and military power prevents us from finding peaceful solutions. 

Trump certainly believes in threats and claims we have “no choice” but military action in Korea. He has said, “...we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”  At the United Nations he myopically asserted, “Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens, to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights and to defend their values...I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first.” 

Although this rhetoric may appeal well to his ignorant base, this selfish, us-vs-them attitude is a recipe for conflict. In a highly dependent, inter-connected world zero sum games are not realistic or beneficial to anyone. If someone has to be “first” and the only way you can win is for someone else to lose, then we will have many problems in the future. In the 21st century we need win-win solutions, not 19th century thinking about national sovereignty. 

We need leadership with the ability to see alternatives and find new solutions. We don’t need “losers” who tell us there is “no choice.”