The Campaign Spot

Instead of Endless Debates, Why Not Try Some Wargames?

Over in the Philadelphia Inquirer this weekend, I made a bizarre and unlikely, but hopefully appealing, or at least intriguing, proposal: When we tire of presidential-candidate debates, why not have an aspiring president run through a war-gaming scenario?

Brace yourself: Seven Republican presidential debates are scheduled in the next four months, and even more may be added.

After two or three, the questions and answers are going to sound depressingly similar and predictable. Ah, yes, you’ll cut taxes and spending. You’ll respond decisively to foreign threats. Yawn.`

With primary debates including so little debate and so much rehearsed recitation of stale sound bites, it’s time to shake things up. What could give primary voters a clearer perspective of a candidate’s thinking and decision-making? What would best give a sense of how each would perform as president?

How about war-gaming?

For the last decade, quite a few government agencies have honed their crisis-management abilities by running fictional scenarios, trying to respond as they would in real life, and evaluating their responses afterward.

Nonprofit research organizations such as the Institute for Homeland Security and Bipartisan Policy Center already run these sorts of exercises, often with the participation of influential leaders such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Sen. Sam Nunn, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and former presidential adviser David Gergen. Last week’s National Summit on Energy Security in Washington featured “Oil ShockWave,” described as “a fast-paced war-game simulation” in which participants “grapple with spiraling oil prices and geopolitical turmoil delivered in a lifelike environment.”

In fact, news networks have sponsored such events. In February 2010, CNN was host to “Cyber-Shockwave,” a simulation of how the government would handle cyber-warfare, featuring former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, former White House adviser Frances Townsend, and former Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.

Or, you know, we could go through another six or seven rounds of “Coke or Pepsi?”


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