PR for People Monthly September 2017 - Page 9

My summer reading has focused primarily on two important books. The first, from Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy, is Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes. I recommend it highly. Using examples, the authors lay out four components of what they call “the Cassandra Coefficient” – a grid that horizontally reads as “The Warning,” then “The Decision Maker,” then “The Cassandra,” and finally “The Critics.” Factors that read vertically under, for instance, “The Warning,” include response availability, initial occurrence syndrome, erroneous consensus, magnitude overload, outlandishness and invisible obvious. There are also seven types of “The Cassandra”: a proven technical expert, an off-putting personality, a data-driven analyst, an orthogonal thinker, questioners, and a Cassandra with a sense of personal responsibility. And, of course, there are false Cassandras.

There are 16 historic events analyzed in the book. For me, the most poignant chapter was on the rise of ISIS, with emphasis on Syria. The Cassandra identified was Robert Ford, the Arabist, who was unable to persuade the cautious Obama administration over a long period of time of what he saw on the ground and through his Foreign Service experience in most Arab countries. As a result of Obama’s long view of the Mideast and his distaste for its wars, the president as decision maker did not follow the advice of his expert, and the situation in Syria has played out exactly as Ambassador Ford predicted. “The decision maker, in this case President Obama, saw the immediate situation in a larger context and believed the benefits of acting were outweighed by the risks and perhaps the opportunity costs.”

I wish that the discussion occurring inside government today was as nuanced as that on the Mideast or North Korea during the Obama administration. Instead we are living with a president who barely speaks in complete sentences, who reacts rather than thinks. Last week, I had just read Mark Bowden's piece outlining our four North Korea options in The Atlantic. I thought I would be examining what happens when confrontations between countries are treated as high stakes wrestling matches with rhetorical threats better left to reality television than to the real world. It may still be the case that North Korea will act upon its threats and send missiles toward Guam by the middle of this month, and that our military will be faced with real time testing of a system designed to bring down such missiles.

I have confidence in the military leaders that now surround the president, but no confidence in the president. His rhetoric does not align with the severity of the situation. There is a very large gap between what he says and what his chief of staff and cabinet members say. It's clear that we have been deploying cyber tools where some past tests are concerned -- software problems and faulty parts in the supply chain come to mind -- and toward that end, here is my second book recommendation: Alexander Klimberg’s The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace. Klimberg uses both historic examples and sharp argument to enumerate the threats, which range from the destruction of this country’s critical infrastructure to an Orwellian view of the loss of privacy and freedom of expression. I keep reading this

Annie Searle – Risk Update

The Stakes Have Never Been Higher