With US Involvement in Multiple Crises, We Need Exit Strategies

When the U.S. decides to get involved in foreign crises, plans are prepared outlining what that involvement will be, what the U.S. wants to accomplish, and what resources will be needed to attain these goals. Such planning efforts are critical to the success of each mission and America’s ability to make the right moves and calculations to deal with foreign crises.
However, what we know from our history is that it’s easier to get into these entanglements than it is to get out. What ends up happening is “mission creep.” The original plans and assessments of resources needed to accomplish these missions grow and expand beyond the initial estimates. This inevitably raises the cost in the lives of our deployed military men and women and the materiel required to support our military and get the job done. And if we do incur any combat related deaths, then there will be an emotional outcry to stay engaged in such crises because we cannot allow our dead warriors to have died for nothing. With each death, it becomes harder to disengage, which can lead to an open-ended policy with no clear cut exit strategy. Once the decision is made to put American “boots on the ground,” it is easy to predict that this decision and resulting actions will definitely experience mission creep that will likely continue our involvement for months, if not years while we watch the American death toll mount and our budgets balloon.
What is too often missing when our nation readies itself to get involved in yet another foreign crisis is the exit strategy or way out of a particular crisis. We focus so much on the way into a crisis we forget that a critical aspect of good leadership is having a clear understanding of what we need to do to disengage. Our exit strategies seem to be that we will stay engaged until the national polls show Americans no longer support U.S. involvement in a particular crisis, or until a new crisis materializes, or until Congress refuses to pay for our further involvement, or until our American combat death toll rises to a number that Americans say we’ve had enough. However, these are not effective exit strategies; rather they are outcomes of an absence of exit strategies.
Paul Okum has 40 years’ experience with the Federal Government in the Departments of Transportation, Interior, Army, and Defense in leadership positions, including being a US Army officer and a director of a human resources office in the Department of Defense. Okum has written “Leadership DNA,” a guide book about identifying, selecting, and developing natural born leaders. The book also explains how to deal with poor performing leaders before they cripple an organization.
For more information about Paul Okum and “Leadership DNA,” visit

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