I originally posted this on March 7th, exactly two months ago, but an event I attended this weekend reminded me of it. Evelyn and I spent some time at Boulder Crescent Park at the invitation of Mike and Angelic Bully of the Near North End Association.
It was an opportunity to mix and mingle with many of the local residents of the downtown area. More important than that, we did a lot of listening to their concerns and issues, as well as discuss my platform and ideas for providing for the public safety.
There was a giant chess board and a giant checkers board for folks to play.
Many thanks to the Bullys for organizing a wonderful afternoon!
One of the things I admired most about the Cold War was the gentlemanly nature of our sparring. The espionage business was more like a chess game where each side tried outsmarting the other in a game of brinksmanship. Although the stakes were high, we rarely endangered each other.
Instead, the typical consequence of getting caught was to have some of your spies purged. We’d declare them persona non grata, ‘PNG’d,’ in diplomatic terms. In street language, we’d kick them out of a country. It was almost always done with equal reciprocity. We’d expel two KGB agents, and they’d send two CIA officers packing.
That would be the ‘checkmate’ in the game of chess we’d play. Violence and murder sometimes happened, but it was rare.
The counterterrorism business was very different. It was more like a game of checkers. Terrorist cells are less sophisticated than professional spies, a bit rogue, and there are few rules and codes of conduct. While that made it interesting to identify, exploit, and neutralize them, it also made things easier.
It became for me a game of asymmetric warfare, where two unequal sides were pitted against the other. After spending several years chasing sophisticated spies, I found the pursuit of terrorists a different game, more guttural. Instead of chess, it was checkers.
It may have been tempting to play checkers with them, to try to match terrorists on their level, but instead I decided to engage them using the rules of chess. That meant we were always several steps ahead of them and we got inside their heads more easily.
I have found that for most things in life, asymmetric warfare is ideal. If your opponent is out of his league, then a game of chess is in order even if he thinks you’re playing checkers. The long view works well, taking time to achieve your goals rather than rushing to some conclusion.
When you have an unsuspecting opponent cornered, placed in a helpless situation for which he never imagined he’d be, then you win with dignity, grace, and a big grin.