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The Long Game


The Long Game

By Aesop



First, congratulations to all Tigreans who made this election possible. Big gratitude also goes to other people who supported Tigrai’s election. It is a mystery why Tigrai’s detractors hoped people who took bullets to secure ballots yesterday, would back down over infantile ridicule and threats today. It is also a hard to fathom why they thought defamation campaigns might distract battle-hardened leaders from single-mindedly pursuing their goals. The latest interview given by Derg 2.0’s patriarch seems to indicate that he has chosen to indulge himself in self-serving bias.The fox tells itself the grape hanging too high to reach must be sour. Freud calls this self-serving bias: rationalization. Derg 2.0’s patriarch also realized that he could not stop Tigrai’s election. So, he labelled it illegal.

It “appears” Derg 2.0’s patriarch is currently betting on playing a long game strategy against Tigrai. In his latest interview, he “seemed” certain that his clique will live to see the TPLF wither away. This person “reasoned” TPLF’s “archaic” ideology will run out of vitality before igniting Tigrai’s economy. Surely, one cannot take this person’s word as much as one cannot expect a chameleon to keep the same color. For all we know, he might as well be preparing to take his chance at the battlefield. But let us take a “leap of faith” and briefly indulge in a thought experiment by asking whether Derg 2.0 could survive the long game or not.

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The long game strategy is an old craft that politicians employed with varying success throughout history. Athenians, under Pericles, used it against the Spartans. Pericles knew Athens was no match to Spartaon the battlefield. Yet, he was confident that the Athenian Navy, resting on a superior economy could stave off Sparta’s land-based offensives. Unfortunately, Pericles’s strategy faltered because an epidemic devastated the Athenian population, ultimately killing Pericles himself.

The American Civil War was another instant where the long game strategy worked at the military front but failed in the political arena.Lincoln’s Unionists suffered major defeats during the initial battles at the hand of Davis’s secessionists (Confederates). But the superior economic and population base of the Unionists managed to drain the Confederacy and win the war as time went on. Although the Unionists managed to win the war, they were unable to control politics. As a result, elites of the Confederacy regained their status in the electoral arena. The sharp distinction between the Democratic north and Republican south that we witness today is an outcome of a lost long game strategy.

Most people know Clausewitz’s famous dictum that “war is a continuation of policy [i.e., political goal]”. But they donot see the application of this dictum in the competitive playing field that does not entail warfare. War, after all, is not the only instrument of achieving a political goal. In turbulent situations short of war, other elements such as geostrategic location and foreign policy (diplomacy); democracy and propaganda (public opinion); finance, goods, and services (economy); and research and development (science and technology)serve as key instruments of policy. The proper application of these factors establishes a nation in a state of equilibrium. This state of equilibrium, in turn, enables it to play the long game. Jomini tells us that a stable nation will have the wherewithal to: (1) dictate terms to its adversary or (2) make its enemyface battle under unfavorable conditions.

Kennan adopted insights of the prominent military strategists mentioned above and used them to craft America’s Cold War foreign policy dubbed containment strategy. The containment strategy rests on the assumption of one’s equilibrium relative to an adversary. Kennan knew first-hand that the Soviet political, economic, and social base was in disarray while he worked as a diplomat. So, he advised American policymakers to contain Soviet expansion and wait for their system to collapse. Meanwhile, he urged the United States to demonstrate that the American system was far superior to its Soviet alternative. He counseled the U.S government to live up to the American ideals enshrined in the Constitution. Continuous self-assessment and improvement was an integral element of Kenan’s containment strategy beyond idle patience. Kennan was certain the Soviets were not interested in challenging the capitalist camp because their dogma predicted the ultimate demise of capitalism. Eventually, the Soviet empire would collapse while they waited for their adversaries to crumble (per Lenin’s prophesy).But it was Kennan’s prediction that came true.

The above examples show us that a successful containment strategy does not hail from an adversary’s weakness. It hails from one’s strength. The relative weakness of one’s adversary is secondary. The examples also teach us that, for a long game strategy to succeed, internal strength must be comprehensive. A nation that relies on its economy without addressing health risks (e.g. Athens) could perish before facing its enemy. A nation that relies on a superior economy and population to conduct war may end up losing the political game even if it prevails in the battlefield (e.g. American Unionist Forces). By contrast, a nation that strengthens its economic, political, and social base relative to its enemies’ ends up winning the long game.

Ethiopian leaders have employed the long game against their enemies several times. The latest example is the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict. Ethiopia employed its superior demographic and economic muscle to reverse the Eritrean invasion. But the conflict continued in other fronts following the ceasefire. The Eritrean government chose to arm, train, and finance Ethiopia’s opposition forces. By contrast, the Ethiopian government focused on building its internal economic, political, and diplomatic strength. This enabled Ethiopia to play a constructive role at the world stage. It also transformed Ethiopia into a porcupine that wild beasts could not swallow. By contrast, Eritrea’s internal repression and aggressive external posture castigated it from the world community. The international community refused to award the Eritrean dictator the Nobel Peace Prize even after it reached a rapprochement with Derg 2.0. The Eritrean clique lost in the long game because it prioritized weakening its enemies to building its internal strength. Despite suffering multiple setbacks in the past, the regime continues to cry “game over!” It seems nothing fails like failure.

Now, Derg 2.0’s leader has announced that he will win the long game against the TPLF. Before we evaluate this possibility; however, it is important to note this person changed his strategy. This person indicated that his military forces are prepared to stop Tigrai’s election using force. He threatened that Tigrean mothers will cry and its youth will perish once he unleashes death and destruction. But this did not happen. Why? It is difficult to believe Derg 2.0 had a change of heart because it is persecuting Tigreans residing outside their region. This takes us back to Jomini. Derg 2.0 was unable to convince the TPLF they have either to accept its term or face war under unfavorable condition. In other words, Derg 2.0 lacks the wherewithal to play the long game. But why?

Derg 2.0 is incapable of playing the long game because it is in a state of disequilibrium.This disequilibrium manifested infiveareas of the regime’s centers of gravity:(1) The economy is in shambles (e.g. nose diving GDP, spiking inflation and price, pending recession, etc.). (2) The leading elites who used to back Derg 2.0 are either alienated or imprisoned (e.g. Lemma, Eskinder, Jawar, etc). (3) The people are angered by injustice (e.g. Hachaallu’s death in Oromia, Shimelis’s conspiracy on Amhara, the condominium theft in Addis, the massacre in Welayta, etc.) (4) conflicting narratives (e.g. Pan-Ethiopianism versus ethnic federalism, Menilek’s legacy, etc.), (5) Souring international relations (e.g. U.S, World Bank, Egypt, Sudan, IGAD member states, Human rights organization, the international press, etc.).

A regime unable to address the five elements mentioned above is incapable of playing the long game. By contrast, political sociologists who study regime changes all over the world tell us that regimes depicting the five systems face an imminent revolution. A quick overview of the domestic and external indicators listed above would show that the TPLF has a relative advantage (internal strength). TPLF is not ruining the Tigrean economy but rebuilding it. It is not persecuting Tigrai’s elites but accommodating them. It is not angering the Tigrean masses but heeding them. It is not dealing with conflicting narratives, but with a renewed solidarity. It is not losing friends in the international community but gaining trust.

In sum, the ability to play the long game is a function of internal strength. Enemies’ relative weakness is secondary. International spotlight is tertiary. Schopenhauer tells us what matters is, above all, who you are (your internal integrity). Then, it is what you have (instruments at your disposal). And, finally, it is what others think about you (your reputation). Overturning this order can only lead to disappointment. Tigreans should first focus on themselves, not on the spotlight (real or fake news). Today, TPLF is in a state of equilibrium. This state will enable it to play the long game with ease if necessity calls for it. By contrast, Derg 2.0 is in a state of disarray, rendering it ripe for a revolution. So, the question is not whether the TPLF could play the long game or not. Rather, the pressing questions are: (1) How soon will the looming revolution sweep off Derg 2.0? (2) What will the post-Derg 2.0 era look like?

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