09/12/2013 01:17 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2013

We Know the Questions

Clarity of vision is the key to achieving your objectives. Right now, Syria has taken over our political discussions. Each of the formerly "pressing" issues -- like immigration -- have been postponed so that the federal government can focus on this one issue.

Of course, Syria didn't just happen. The civil war there has been going on for 2.5 years, while Al Jazeera reported the first use of chemicals weapons there in December of 2012. And the Arab Spring, of course, has been underway for more time than that; it started in December 2010 when a small businessman in Tunisia lit himself on fire and burned himself to death.

So Syria is not new. We've had years to figure out our strategic issues and the framework for making decisions, and the problem we face is that we've taken action without first adequately answering fundamental questions. Even if the president is clear on these matters, are we as a nation? Do we know what we want? Have we identified an ideal outcome? It isn't clear to me that we, as a citizenry, have agreed upon a concrete mission.

In this sense, the problem here is similar to the one we face on energy policy: We know the questions, but we have not answered them. We have had years to figure out "The Mission": what our goals are and what we should try to accomplish. That's the hard part. After that, strategic decisions fall out of the agreed-upon goals. They're much easier to make, especially if they must be made under pressure. If you know your destination, choosing a route -- while not trivial -- is manageable.

As we think about energy or Syria, we need that kind of clarity. We need to distinguish between the "nice-to-haves" and the "must-haves." I don't want to opine any further on Syria, but I'm convinced we have two "must-haves" in energy: a strong economy and a system that doesn't unduly degrade our physical world. With our technology, our financial capability, and our system of government, we can have both of these. However, the longer we wait to set that framework openly and work hard for it, the more likely we will have to choose between the two. At some point, this reckoning could prove disastrous.