John McCain was trained as a fighter pilot. In his selection of Sarah Palin, and in his convention and campaigning since, he has shown that he learned an important lesson from his fighter pilot days: He has gotten inside Barack Obama’s OODA loop.
That term was the invention of the great fighter pilot and military strategist John Boyd. It’s an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
“The key to victory is operating at a faster tempo than the enemy,” Boyd’s biographer Robert Coram writes. “The key thing to understand about Boyd’s version is not the mechanical cycle itself, but rather the need to execute the cycle in such a fashion as to get inside the mind and decision cycle of the adversary.”
For a fighter pilot, that means honing in above and behind the adversary so you can shoot him out of the sky. For a political candidate, it means acting in such a way that the opponent’s responses again and again reinforce the points you are trying to make and undermine his own position.
The Palin selection — and her performance at the convention and on the stump — seems to be having that effect. Obama chief strategist David Axelrod admitted of the Palin pick: “I can honestly say we weren’t prepared for that. I mean, her name wasn’t on anybody’s list.” But it was known that McCain’s VP adviser had traveled to Alaska, and anyone clicking on youtube.com could see Palin’s impressive performance in political debates. The McCain campaign shrewdly kept the information that she was on the short list and that she was the choice to a half-dozen people, who didn’t tell even their spouses. The Obama team failed to Observe.
Then they failed to Orient. Palin, as her convention and subsequent appearances have shown, powerfully reinforces two McCain themes: She is a maverick who has taken on the leaders of her own party (as Obama never has in Chicago), and she has a record on energy of favoring drilling and exploiting American resources. Instead of undermining these themes, they dismissed the choice as an attempt to appeal to female Hillary Clinton supporters or to religious conservatives.