The Strategy

Luis Rubio

“A strategy”, writes Lawrence Freedman*, “is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power”. The government has wagered everything on concluding its reforms in its first year in office so as to afterward begin to harvest. The truth is that the battles have just begun. And that’s why the strategy is crucial.

A plan is no more than a set of objectives and an idea of how to achieve them. In contrast with this, a strategy deals with the natural process of running a government: what it is necessary to do to be able to maintain the initiative, consider its options and be sufficiently flexible for adapting to the contingencies that inevitably appear along the way. As illustrated by last year, “No plan survives contact with the enemy” (von Moltke).

Freedman emphasized that initial success is never decisive. The example that he utilizes is particularly relevant for the country’s present moment: a government wins the power but is immediately responsible for all the problems inherent in having to govern and that’s where it really has to demonstrate its competency. Thus, a strategy never ends: it is, rather, a process that begins with drafting a course of action (not an objective) that little by little adapts itself to changing circumstances where nothing is permanent. What’s crucial is to have a strategy that permits dealing with the contingencies because any initial plan dies with enormous celerity.

The matter is neither conceptual nor esoteric. Beyond the specific disputes or the aggrieved in each of the legislative actions, now begins the implementation of the legislative reforms and, with this, surely, more problems. Some of these, as illustrated by the interminable staging of the CNTE Teachers Union’s drama, brought the government to render the respective reform irrelevant. Other opposition sources and problems will start to put in an appearance as the process advances.  Some actors will accept the legislative “verdict”, but others will adopt tactics more akin to those of the CNTE –or worse- than to those of the soft-drink manufacturers (who obeyed what the Congress produced) and the existence or absence will be made evident of a governmental strategy for the implementation of its reforms as well as, in its case, its capacity to pilot these successfully.

In reality, at the beginning of the second year, the government finds itself before a fundamental dilemma. On the one hand, after churning up the waters, all of the incentives clamor for maintaining the calm, pacifying the losers and aggrieved and building on what’s already there. That side of the dilemma calls for a ceasefire, tranquility and the reestablishment of the “friendships” affected in the legislative reform process. On the other hand, the reforms don’t end when the law has been put into effect, but instead when the reality changes. The true reform process is not conceptual, abstract and political but street-smart, coarse and often violent. In other words, the legislative reforms were only the first round: still to come are another fourteen to procure compliance with them, or to annul them, the reforms’ much anticipated benefit. At the end of the day, everything will depend, to a goodly degree, to how much the government wants to implement the reforms: the modest ones as well the more ambitious, this in a year that is likely to be economically more benign (thus more difficult to convince opponents). Implementation will be expensive: last year was for cutting baby teeth: now the real interests will start to take action, the majority of which not acting in the public eye, thus this can be lethal.

In its first stage, the legislative, each of the reforms underwent attacks and deviations with respect to the initial governmental proposal. Some of those attacks were fatal; others will depend on the way the process is conducted from now on. Every vested interest has its own modus operandi: the CNTE didn’t wait a single nanosecond to make its power felt and it annihilated the educative reform. Other interests, notoriously the Pemex bureaucracy, will doubtlessly throw themselves into undermining anything that affects its privileges (commissions, bribes, cuts, contracts) in hushed but certainly equally effective tones. The telecommunications factotums are experts at getting what they want. The true interrogatory is whether the government has developed a strategy to deal with this, the second derivative, of the reform process.

Mike Tyson says that “a well-aimed blow can thwart the cleverest plan”. The question is whether the government can advance despite the real opposition, extortion and violence. Perhaps a more pertinent question would be whether it is truly willing to place its future at play in these fourteen rounds to achieve the transformation that it promised and that will be infinitely more complex, costly and risky than what’s been advanced to date.

What is clear is that no reform is successful if it does not modify the reality and that implies, indeed, affecting interests. Senators and representatives can be convinced, wrangled into the corral, or bought, but the vested interests must be dominated. These are stratospheres of difference.

The government finds itself in the face of a dilemma of enormous complexity and it is not obvious that it has the resources –above all in the team- capable of being successful. The reforms to date have been unconnected and there doesn’t appear to be a strategy for the remaining five years. The key now is to bring compliance with the reforms to bear because that is what an effective government implies, one capable of presiding over a process of development.