Tactics And Strategy, What’s The Difference?

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

This post may fall in the “teaching your grandmother to suck eggs” category, but today the Dog would like to talk about strategy vs. tactics. It is really important to know the difference, not just for your quest to take over the world (h/t Pinky and the Brain) but so that you don’t make yourself crazed in our expanding and information dense political discourse. One problem is that no one (with the exception of some of the Republicans that don’t understand that Twitter is really public) is going to tell you when they are acting tactically or strategically. Hopefully by the time the Dog is done pounding 1,000 words or so, you will be able to spot the difference.  

Let’s start with the actual difference between strategy and tactics. It is a blurry line sometimes as a strategy is accomplished by the use of tactics. In the most basic sense it is a question of scale. When you have a goal (it does not matter if it is win a war, win an election or sticking it to that asshole two cubes over that took credit for your ideas) you must have an overall approach in which to get there. That is your strategy. The strategy should have several segments to it, each of these can be successfully achieved by a tactic.

If you find that your grand strategy only has one way of doing everything, then it is not a strategy, it is a tactic that you have stretched with perceived benefits to look like a strategy. A great example of this is the Republicans mantra of tax cuts. That is not the way to achieve a strategic goal. Now the Dog can hear some of you saying “What about Grover Norquist? He says that if you cut taxes enough you can kill off the Federal Government? Huh? What about that smart guy?” That is exactly the point the Dog is making; Mr. Norquist (Asshole, Earth) knows there is never going to be a time when we will dismantle the Federal Government, we will never end entitlements nor will we ever stop aid to the States or our Defense spending, but by making that huge claim, he elevates his tactic to seem like a strategy.

Now that we know what strategy looks like, what about tactics. Tactics are (or should be) narrow bore goal oriented. You should never have only one tactic to achieve your short term goal, there should be a grab bag of similar but distinct tactics that you can use to adjust to changing conditions. In the time scale that you are applying tactics, things will change, but not outside the general outline. Having multiple tactics and keeping up with the conditions allows you to apply the tactic that is optimal for the situation. The fact of the matter is that no matter what you do you are going to run into some opposition to it, so you have to be ready to flex with the situation. There is also the danger of going to the same well too often, then your opponents figure out what you are doing, and then, knowing what you are going to do, they have time to devise a devastating counter to your tactic. At that point you are up a creek without a paddle. The prime example of this is the Republicans reliance on 9/11 and fear to drive the electorate to their candidates. After three cycles of that not only did the Dems know what to do, the public saw through it as well.

Let the Old Dog put this all together in an example that might make it more clear; say your are going to run some errands, and you want to do it in the least time possible. Your strategy would be to arrange the errands in a circle so that the one furthest from your house is in the middle of the circle so on the way there you are hitting outbound stops and on the way from there all the stops get closer to your house. Now, tactically you would try do everything you can to make the drive to each stop as efficient as possible, by taking the roads with less traffic, or by taking the free way where it will help (see two tactics to be used depending on the situation). At the stop tactics can vary from parking where you can get to the street faster or planning what you are going to buy, or even being willing to skip a stop if it shows signs of slowing down the whole process. As you can see in the overall strategic framework of hitting the stores in a certain order there are also a lot of tactical moves that make the strategy effective.

There is a joke that illustrates the difference between strategy and tactics:

A young bull and an old bull are standing on a hill overlooking their herd.

The young bull says “Let’s run down this hill and fuck us a couple of cows!!”

The old bull turns to him and says “No. Let’s walk down and fuck them all.”

The point of that crude joke is that a tactic will get you a narrow win, but a strategy gets you the complete win.

So, how does this apply to our central preoccupations, namely politics? Well, we could be five years and a few master level classes in describing that, but the Dog will give you a Dem example. President Obama has taken some heat for his outreach to the Republicans over the stimulus. From a purely tactical point of view (e.g. getting Renewal and Reinvestment Act passed) this heat is well deserved. There has been some mocking of the Wednesday night cocktail parties at the White House as well. But these are part of a larger and longer term strategy.

By saying the campaign that he was going to reach out across the aisle to the Republicans he gained some votes from Republican voters that desperately wanted change. After being elected, President Obama kept that promise, showing that he was a man of his word. He not only met with them on the Hill he had them over to his house. This shows that he is really sincere about this. Then the Republicans act churlishly in all the rest of the negotiations. This plays into President Obama’s hands as it makes them the unreasonable ones. If they continue to do so while he continues to reach out, then in 20 months they will be punished at the ballot box and he can move his agenda forward with more ease. If they wise up, well then he gets to move his agenda forward with more ease, just sooner. So, by being willing to take some heat and have some of what he wants watered down now, President Obama sets himself up to be able to be more effective in the long run.

That is strategy, but it is accomplished by tactics. President Obama is not going to run down the hill for a short term win, he is going to walk down and get the whole win.

The Floor is yours.  


Skip to comment form

  1. difference? That’s good, because I don’t anymore!  

  2. but would see the tactics Obama used over the last couple of weeks a bit more compactly.

    He reached out to Republicans and when they hung themselves on their obstructionism and love of tax cuts, he reached out to the people to support him.

    In the end, he got almost exactly what he wanted in the stimulus bill with his amazing approval ratings intact for the next battle and the Republicans sinking farther in the tank. I don’t see that he gave up much of his agenda in the process.

    For me, I think its time to quit challenging his tactics (the guy knows what he’s doing!!) and focus on the content of what he wants to do.  

  3. …you made it all the way through without quoting Sun Tzu!  

  4. That damn bull story again. You left out and important part of the bull story: what if the cows yawn look at the bulls and say :walk or run you aren’t getting no fun….

    My point being I see tactics as an outgrowth of strategy, you can adjust your tactics and if it still doesn’t work after many attempts one must question the strategy itself.

    It is too early to tell whether Obama will be a success. He has had plenty of opportunities to study failure.

  5. It’s his agenda and policies that worry me. I think he works it so that any outcome is usable to get him where he wants. He uses his adversaries in stead of a head on assualt. He used both tactics and strategy during the election. As a canvasser they told us not to discuss policy, I always wondered why?  

    My worries lessen when I realize that he not only has to sway public opinion, which has been really tweaked, but he has assumed the mantle of Empire and the entities that have a stronghold on our government. I hope that he is able to keep the dogs at bay and move the country to a place which at the least has backed off the evil Empire route. A tricky straddling of a lot of elements. I think his administration will have transition period which takes us back to a position where the so called center no longer supports the fascistic extremists who claim to represent and protect us.

    When I get alarmed as with the decision of DOJ regarding the renditions and ‘state secrets’ I try and remember the reality that we have lived under was cooked up by both parties. To deny it would mean that the whole of the government would be guilty and who would be left? Actually that might not be a bad outcome.        


Comments have been disabled.