Saturday, April 4, 2015

Weekend Reading April 4-5 2015

The Strategist's Mission Statement

I would say that the answer to Maj Cavanaugh's good question on what makes a good strategist lies in the 39 words at the end of his piece. (e.g., secure ... desired policy outcomes)   He or she is someone who can not only devise a strategy of balanced and coherent ends, ways, and means but is someone who can "do" strategy which is an iterative process (requiring agility to adapt and adjust)  based on continuously assessing the conditions and situation and challenging assumptions in order to achieve the policy objectives established by our political leadership.  The why is the policy objective and the definition of success is meeting the policy objective(s) (while knowing full well that political leaders can change the policy objectives at any time, or multiple times).    Another way to describe success is to achieve the "desired state".  I was at a conference this week and some very smart people discussed the idea (that I embrace) that we can never really achieve an end state but we can seek to achieve a desired state because the "willed enemy," other participants,  and the political and security situation are all constantly evolving.  This also necessitates the need to be able to do strategy (as the National War College teaches) vice just writing a single strategy and trying to execute that strategy while hoping that the conditions remain the same throughout the execution of the strategy.

These are fine statements and descriptions for bureaucratic documents.  But here's my problem with them. They miss one essential cornerstone of strategy - the existence of a living, willed opponent.  There is no strategy with no "other."  And without this point of reference, how do I know how well I've done?  There is no such thing as a "good" strategist, precisely because "good" is an objective condition.  The only thing that matters in strategy is whether I'm relatively better than my opponent.  Thus, the one-eyed strategist succeeds in the caliphate of the blind. 
There is also no mention of an ultimate objective.  Some (particularly BHL Hart) say we fight to achieve "a better peace." In the documentation, I can't seem to find any mention of why the strategist plies their trade - a series of important tasks without an ultimate purpose.   

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

White House officials  defend Somalia strategy  as counterterrorism model

They doth protest too much.  We should not be defending models.  We should be understanding how the enemy adapts and the conditions change and then adapting our strategy instead of defending it as a model.  Yes models have value but I think the way they are applied in the national security space can be counterproductive and most important they can stifle creativity and critical thinking when our political leadership is more intent on defending its model than on "doing" effective strategy.  As an example our prevailing national security "model" is based on the concept of the "small footprint." Perhaps instead of being so self-limiting we should be seeking the "right" footprint (assuming we need a footprint at all).  If the right footprint is not feasible then perhaps we should reconsider the strategy altogether because if the small footprint is not feasible, suitable, or acceptable then perhaps we should not employ it.


By some measures, it has paid dividends. U.S. drones have killed several of the Islamist group’s leaders, including two top planners in just the past month, a senior administration official said Friday. African Union troops backed by the United States have forced al-Shabab fighters to flee huge swaths of territory.
But this week’s massacre of 148 people at Garissa University College, the deadliest terrorist attack on Kenyan soil in two decades, demonstrates the limits of the administration’s approach and the difficulty of producing lasting victories over resilient enemies.
But we also have to realize that in doing strategy sometimes that ugly strategic concept comes into play:  "Sh*t happens" and that is why we need to be able to "do"strategy. (apologies to the horse for continuing to beat him).

Time For US Strategy Review; Then Tackle Goldwater-Nichols

This will need to be done in the summer of 2017 and should be held at the National War Collage just as was done in 1953.  There are useful lessons fro history.  Excerpt:

The best model for such a review, Krepinevich says, would be President Eisenhower’s Project Solarium, a complex, focused and far-ranging strategic review performed in 1953. It included three different teams working from differing assumptions about US goals. They worked non-stop over six weeks, forcing participants to keep their eyes on the ball and lending impetus to the effort.

A useful overview of Solarium is at this link:  

But such a project requires real leadership including leadership who will value the process and consider the recommendations.

FBI confirms death of suspect Marwan in ill-fated Philippines raid

China shutters golf courses, probes officials who play

Not all golf courses of course but an interesting perspective on China, the communist party and leadership views on corruption.

Life inside Islamic State’s Caliphate not all that it seems


But peer through the spin and it is clear Islamic State is neither as powerful nor as omnipresent as it pretends. All the signs are the group has passed the high-water mark of its power. Airstrikes as well as resistance on the ground this week routed Islamic State ­forces in Tikrit, handing the anti-Islamic State coalition its first major victory over Baghdadi’s ­forces in Iraq. Islamic State’s army is overextended. Its supply lines are under threat. In January, it was defeated in the battle for Kobane, a Syrian town of no strategic importance but one whose capture had become a trophy for the group’s propaganda-obsessed leaders. It was the first time Islamic State squared off against a well-organised opposition backed by coalition air power. It lost badly.
“They’re very good at fighting and dying in a position, particularly in an urban environment,’’ says Jim Molan, a retired Australian army officer who from 2004 to 2005 was chief of operations for the coalition in Iraq. “But apart from that, you have to ask yourself, have they ever defeated a half-competent army? They stood and fought in Kobane and they were defeated at great cost to themselves.’’

Errant shell puts US military's lessons learned in Korea to the test

The 2002 history shaped the situation on the Korean peninsula in many ways.  It actually was the spark  for the OPCON transfer debacle (a waste of a decade plus of time and resources that could have been focused on effective alliance transformation and readiness), the Yongsan and 2d Infantry Division relocations plans, and a strain in the alliance that north Korea was able to exploit (and of course what really ignited the spark was Rumsfeld's desire to get US forces off the peninsula as those US forces were "wasted" because he could not use them in the war on terrorism).

The other mistake (and lesson to learn) is that the command did not listen to its experts who advised the command to take immediate action but instead approached the situation from a purely American perspective (to include a general officer saying that we would show then how a justice system works when the two soldiers were court martialed and then acquitted thus no one was held responsible for the death of the two school girls and that statement may have had as much influence on the outcome of the 2002 presidential election as any statement by a foreigner could have had).

It is good to see that the current US command knows how to respect Koreans and maintain the Alliance.  


Although none of the more recent incidents has caused any deaths, the question remains: If another Yangju-type tragedy occurred, would the U.S. face the same severe backlash?
“There is such explosive power if the U.S. attitude ignores South Korean [opinion],” said Kim Joon-hyung, an international politics professor at Handong Global University in Pohang.
However, Kim and others don’t think the U.S. would make that mistake again.
“I really don’t think there would be a repeat of a 2002-type event,” said Moon Chung-in, a Yonsei University political science professor. “It was a total lack of sensitivity on the part of the U.S. command that fueled the discontent with American forces. American commanders in South Korea have been very attentive afterward.”

Russia outguns US in information war with record propaganda spending

Of course a dollar for dollar comparison is not really useful but it is an indicator of how important propaganda is to Russia and Putin.  They take it seriously and they achieve effects with specific target audiences.  We should not try to match them dollar for dollar but we should strive to make our psychological operations and strategic communications more effective with the target audiences we can affect.

APRIL 03, 2015 4:48 PM ET

The Iran Nuclear Deal, in 3 Charts

By eliminating 12,000 centrifuges and five bombs’ worth of low-enriched uranium, the accord extends the breakout timeline for Iran to produce the highly enriched uranium core of a bomb to one year. By requiring the reconfiguration of Iran’s planned plutonium-producing reactor at Arak, the accord essentially closes this door to a bomb. And by agreeing to establish a new mechanism that will allow unprecedented access for the International Atomic Energy Agency (
IAEA) to suspicious nuclear sites anywhere in Iran, the accord makes it much more difficult for Iran to cheat.

Thursday's framework agreement was a start, but there are hundreds of areas where a final deal could be derailed. 

Saudi Air War Over Yemen Leaves U.S. on Sidelines


Washington shouldn’t feel left out, according to Anthony Zinni, the retired four-star Marine who headed U.S. Central Command, which oversees the region, from 1997 to 2000. “Ever since the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, we’ve been pushing to get some sort of alliance in the region,” he says. “We wanted them to come together and basically find a way where we could support them but not have to lead them all the time.”

Zinni says the Saudis have acted because they hate the Houthis, hate the Iranians, and hate the idea of an ungoverned state next door. “They will not tolerate a Houthis-led Yemen on their southern border,” he adds. “And they’re pissed that the Iranians support them.” Saudi Arabia has attacked the Houthis before, he notes, but never this extensively.

A Funny Thing Happened When These Military Officers and Academics Got Together


This exercise suggests, first, the importance of building personal relationships earlier in a career. If this is left until they are full professors, general officers or assistant secretaries of defense, it is too late; they will have less time to learn and will tend to be more certain in their views. Second, it highlighted the importance of a safe learning environment where ignorance can be disclosed, questions asked and mistakes made. This can be done intensely through an immersion process over the course of a few days, but it requires personal, professional and intellectual commitment. And third, it revealed the importance of informal conversations based on mutual respect during the inevitable down times of a tabletop exercise. Trust and reliance seemed to follow in short order.
The limitations to this approach are important to note. It is built around small groups; it is labor intensive; and it requires civilian and military participants to devote some of their valuable professional time to it. But even with these limitations the effort is worthwhile. National defense is a team endeavor; it requires the trust, devotion, and expertise of military and civilian leaders at many levels to make it work.

The Obama Doctrine: Let the Mideast Fight Its Own Wars


U.S. officials have also expressed concern about Saudi Arabia’s ability to operate with the kind of sophistication that avoids collateral damage, negative headlines and fodder for enemy recruitment. Despite nationalistic swagger, many allies who have fought with the U.S. admit that no other country can compare with its ability to perform command-and-control, to find targets and hit them precisely and to oversee battle spaces to ensure all parties are coordinated.
Inexperience with that kind of discretion is already beginning to show in Yemen, following reports Monday that an apparent airstrike killed 20 civilians at a United Nations refugee camp there. Iranian media also bragged Monday that Houthi rebels in Yemen were able to shoot down a Saudi F-15 fighter jet, forcing its crew to eject into the Gulf of Aden where American airmen rescued them in international waters. U.S. defense officials confirmed the mission, but would not say what caused the pilots to eject or why the plane went down.
A situation as complex as Yemen is rife with opportunities for misunderstanding. BBC Arabic tweetedthen later retracted reports that the elusive Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani had been photographed at a Yemeni market. The leader of Iran’s hyper-zealous Revolutionary Guard Quds Force was previously reported to have been in Tikrit overseeing Shiite militias fighting the Islamic State.
Were Saudi Arabia to attack and kill a high profile Iranian officer, even accidentally, it may provoke a some form of war of retribution.
Even if the U.S. can secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the cryptic Shiite nation’s desire to assert power in the Middle East, and its Sunni foes’ retaliation, all but guarantees conflicts in this region for many years.

The White House has pushed Arab nations to start securing their neighborhood on their own, but the U.S. might not like the result.

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