August 13th, 2010
09:58 AM ET

Letter to the President #571: 'Winning wars the quiet way'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cnn.net/cnn/interactive/2010/08/world/gallery.pakistan.flooding.chinook/images/PakistanFlooding06.jpg caption="I think we need to help because the quiet good of helping people in need may move us closer to the victory we want, than many of the forceful moves we have played so far." width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: President Obama has pledged to find a victory in Afghanistan. I suspect I know where one is: Hiding beneath oceans of water across the border in Pakistan.

Dear Mr. President,

An interesting difference between the way humans and computers play chess is that a human will almost always choose the move that appears the most forceful, while a computer will choose the move that leads most swiftly to checkmate, even if it appears to be minor.

How can such an important moment seem minor? (Oh, wouldn’t Beth Worshinsky like to have known when she turned down my invitation to the Spring Dance!) Let’s say that you and I are playing hide and go seek late in the day. (Which, we can do if you like. Just give me a call. And no letting the Secret Service help you hide!) If I wear a dark sweatshirt and blue jeans, you might not even notice. But if we’re having so much fun that we keep playing well after dark, my “minor” choice of clothing could become a “major” factor as you struggle to see me in the growing shadows.

Which brings us to Pakistan, where 15 million people have been affected by flooding. You have plenty of other pressing issues on your plate: Gay marriage, immigration, the economy, and of course that troubling election this fall. Pakistan, however, has loomed large on the horizon of almost all of our Homeland Security concerns. We have talked endlessly about the need for military cooperation, drone attacks on Taliban camps hidden on Pakistani land, about safeguarding Pakistani nukes, and on and on and on.

And now is the time for a quiet, but critically important, move. I think we need to help. I think we need to help in a big way, in a sustained way, and despite the fact that we are facing our own economic problems here. Not because we’re good folks, or out of any sense of altruism, although those are nice things, too. But because the quiet good of helping people in need may move us closer to the victory we want, than many of the forceful moves we have played so far.

Mind you, I’m not against forceful moves. Sometimes they are absolutely the right choice. (For example, when that bonehead in the blue Saab cut me off on the Beltway, and was just crying to be blocked from the next exit…ha ha ha!) We could hardly have stood by the flaming wreckage of Pearl Harbor and contemplated bigger aid packages to Japan. But tearing down enemies is often best when it is book-ended by building friends, or at least by giving people a reason to want to be our friends.

We can’t be patsies. We can’t fix all the worries of everyone in the world. But in times of duress, when others are facing calamity, we can show our greatness, our generosity, and the American spirit that for so very long made us admired and respected around the globe. That might make the people in Pakistan a little more inclined to support our efforts and in neighboring Afghanistan; a little less inclined to harbor the Taliban.

Sure it is tough, an incremental step, and we can’t ignore our own problems in the process. But it’s worth it. Because big moves make headlines, but sometimes small moves are the ones that win wars.


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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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