Imagine, one afternoon, by some magical coincidence you find yourself in a room where a number of ‘players’ are gathered around a world map, playing Risk. What’s unusual about this game is that the players are not ordinary people like me and you. They are in fact the heads of states of some of the most influential countries in the world and they have gathered together in the UN to ‘play it out’, over a Risk game.
Imagine the new president of USA, Barak Obama, is in charge of the US player while other corresponding heads of states are present as shown below.
|| South America
|| Middle East
(Rules: using escalating cards and connected fortifications)
You are an excited observer and can’t wait to see what happens next and how it will all play out especially since a new person is now in charge of one of the most powerful continents.
The new person, Obama, looks at the map trying to evaluate what is going on. There is more to the map than meets the eyes. There is a whole set of relationships between players. US has a treaty with Europe, called NATO, which states they should not attack each other over their borders (until they are the only two players left in the game). US has a similar treaty with Japan. Interestingly, Europe is very friendly with South America, so any US hostility there will not be tolerated.
The other side of the map seems quite chaotic. China is a classic isolationist. It is strong and can count on its steady growth for many turns to come without getting into any major conflicts. China also had cards to cash in which at this level are going to make a difference.
What makes the game slightly unstable is probably Middle East. Obama has a flashback remembering the history of the game. The US made treaties with the other players systematically. The intention was to secure the continent, so it could expand in new directions. As a result it ended up locking itself in its own continent. US realised that if it wanted to get a card every turn (so that it did not fall behind others like Europe or increasingly China), it had to have a base outside the continent, so they could attack a territory and get a card. This led to their presence in the Middle East.
Obama is still deep in thought… Middle East is indeed a very strategic position on the map. It’s the only territory with access to three continents. The presence of any large army here can be a direct threat to at least three continents if not everyone. Whether it was an accident in history, or by design, the US ended up with a large base next to Middle East. That area has become quite the centre of the action in the world.
Of course, everyone’s intention is to win the game, one way or another. Obama is now going through an analysis in his head. Obama knows that keeping a base outside his continent is critical if he wants to keep expanding. He really needs those cards because of the growing competition from the East. Naturally, there is no option to attack South America or Europe. He doesn’t want to upset any of his allies. On the other hand, he has to worry about China. China has no threat and is growing steadily.
After some thought, he starts to see the picture in his mind. The problem is that the Middle East is not happy about the presence of all those US armies. They understand fully that if they can eliminate the US’s presence around them, the US will have no choice but to attack someone else. Sounds good to them! After all, they want to win the game too.
The issue is that the Middle East ‘can’ attack anyone else and create lots of damage. The truth is that they probably won’t do this since they won’t gain much but lose a lot more. In fact, they like to appear as dangerous because that way they will survive longer in the game. In effect, they are following the ‘Turtle Strategy’; slowly grow, don’t attack, don’t get any cards and be ready to suicide on anyone. No one wants to attack them because of the huge cost and the small gain. This is why Middle East has simply grown every turn to this size.
Before Obama came to power, US had a grand plan. They thought they should just go for it and eliminate Middle East by brute force! They thought they will be lucky and maybe they can absorb the cost of the war. They went ahead and started this attack, but it went horribly wrong and they ended up losing lots of armies. It turned into a corrosive war. The rest of the world wasn’t very amused about the new US adventures either.
So when Obama came to power, he had a huge mess on his hands. Other players were racing along growing quickly while the US was falling behind with the continuous cost of attacks in the Middle East. Other players didn’t like the heavy handed approach, nor did they like the presence of US so close to their shores.
Unlike his predecessors, Obama seemed to prefer diplomacy. As we know well, diplomacy is bound to produce better results than brute force. It requires brain power, good politics, and long-term strategic thinking which seemed completely missing before Obama came to power.
After what seems to be some deep thinking on the future of US, Obama eventually decides on a whole new approach. This is how his reasoning went.
The real threat in the game is China and Europe. US didn’t want to fall behind his most important ally; Europe. After all, there could be only one winner and US wanted to be the winner very badly. On the other hand, China was becoming a stronger threat every turn and with no obvious conflicts or enemies, it was bound to grow even further.
So Obama thought that he should really pass on the threat of Middle East to someone else, effectively getting out of the conflict and out of the way. He decided to reduce the size of US army in the Middle East and instead move to Africa. Now the Middle East became a problem for the Chinese and the Europeans. This way the Chinese have to be busy defending themselves against an ever present threat, or spend a lot to expand beyond it.
Obama also thought that by going to Africa sooner than Europeans, the US will establish a stronger and a more de facto presence. They could spend all their excess resources here and boost it up. Obama correctly thought that by focusing on Africa, an undiscovered land full of opportunity and potential, he could bring back the balance the world needed and effectively return as a stronger player against the all important Europeans and Chinese.
With this new plan, Obama went ahead and made the necessary moves.
Everyone was amazed at the transformation and good fortune that this move brought to US. It was so good that the European player, many turns later when the tide turned against her, famously said “why didn’t I think of that”…