Strategy and tactics fail at the debate

I gotta say that Friday night’s debate brought out a feeling of bipartisanship in me. I was equally irritated both of them. Obama was testy and McCain was dismissive. By the end of it I had thoroughly switched my vote: Jim Lehrer for president.

One thing in particular that irritated me was the pissing match over the definition of the word “strategy” and how it differs from the definition of the word “tactics.”

MCCAIN: I’m afraid Senator Obama doesn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy.

Obama responded that he did know the difference and I’ll tell you that neither one knows the difference because there isn’t one.

Via Encarta

Tactic: a method used or a course of action followed in order to achieve an immediate or short-term goal

Strategy: a carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal, or the art of developing or carrying out such a plan

This isn’t just some semantic nitpicking thing of mine, military types from generals to historians have had long discussions on just this topic without coming to anything like an agreement on it. The debate boils down to this: How can you tell the difference between a tactic and a strategy? In some popular usage tactics are believed to apply to smaller efforts and achieving, as the definition says, short-term goals — whereas strategy means grand plans.  Right. Even if we accept those definitions the fact is that one defines and determines the other to such an extent that there’s no real line about where one ends and the other begins.

So as McCain and Obama tried to play king of the hill on this one, I just sputtered. I knew they were either posturing, lying or wrong. What else is new?

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