The packet said For Your Eyes Only. Inside was a brief on the current situation, with the Soviet Union positioning itself to march into Iran and capture its oil fields. The information I had indicated that western civilization would end if the Soviets were allowed to take Iran. I was the President of the United States, and it was my job to keep that from happening at all costs, even if that meant using nuclear weapons to do so.
This was a Cold War simulation in Boston, where I was paired with some of the best thinkers at Harvard, and pitted against a 40-year expert in Soviet affairs. I’d asked for the role because I wanted to experience the pressure our leaders face when making decisions that impact the world. What I learned was invaluable.
The scenario was simple on paper, but overly complex in reality, and designed intentionally to exploit the differences in governmental leadership between the two superpowers. On the US side, I had a cabinet of twelve, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (an actual officer from the Naval War College in full dress), my Chief of Staff (Professor Tom Nichols, Naval War College), and nine others from across the country. None of them had all of the information, and no one knew what I did.
There was a larger Soviet team, as well as a United Nations contingent and a Press Corps.
And the weekend proved to be one of the most exhilarating and exhausting 72 hours on the job that I’ve experienced.
I’ve led weekend-long brainstorm sessions and business workshops, but this was different. This came with the pressure I’d put on myself–a test I needed to know that I could pass. Could I be a good US President?
“Even in a simulation, the idea of going to war and using nuclear weapons is intense.”