Tuesday, November 29, 2016

An Assessment of the Future Security Environment

I received this note from a friend of 30 years who is in a sensitive international position and is one of the very best analysts I know.  This should provide some food for thought, discussion, and argument.  To me it sounds like passion, reason, and chance are woefully out of balance, among other problems.


It's rant time. 

For the first time in my life (legal voting age), I abstained.  That was my vote.  I predicted a Trump win within 5 points (I employed the living system analysis that I'm about to teach), but that wasn't an endorsement.  That was just reasoned, impartial analysis and judgment.

There is so much speculative hoopla concerning the future President Trump administration that I'm astonished that "everyone" appears to be oblivious to what has been occurring over the last 8 (arguably 16) years.  

From where I sit, I have had a unique view to the USA through an impartial lens, much like the old Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom television show.  

My findings:  I have observed a one party system of government, co-opted by a mainstream media (that became a de facto branch of the administration).  I searched our history.  What the US has experienced during these last 8 years has never happened before in total (in parts yes, but not in total).  What I mean by one party system has nothing to do with partisan posturing and rhetoric, but end results. 

Therefore, "everyone" should keep in mind that whatever President-elect Trump does after 20 January, the precedents were created in the last 8 (arguably 16) years of our elected officials (and media) failing to protect and nurture the essence of that which de Tocqueville himself discovered and wrote.  

Unfortunately, many chickens are now coming home to roost (oh, how I love a cliche). 

Now, for the main reason I abstained.  When viewed strategically (truly strategically), although their ways and means were diametrically opposed, the end result on the world stage would have been the same, whether it was Clinton or Trump.  The reality is they cancelled each other out. It's not possible to come to that conclusion, unless one approaches the analytical problem impartially and from a Wild Kingdom-esque aloofness.  Since only one would be POTUS, we'll never know for sure (as many of my acquaintances scoff). But my baselines have yet to fail me. 

I said all that to say this:  

The US and the world are headed for an unprecedented period of violent instability.  The very foundations of systems will be (are being) upended.  Expect wars and violent instability problems to materialize where you least expect them and, where you do expect them, they will likely be worse than anticipated.  In all of this, "everyone" should not place responsibility at the feet of a Donald Trump, a Barak Obama or a George W. Bush.  "Everyone" should take a sober and humble look at themselves in the mirror and accept personal responsibility.  It has been a collective effort. 

My word of caution to you, as you teach the next generation of practitioners and policy drafters, don't try to rationalize the irrational.  You will need to rethink and adjust your baselines. Otherwise, you will find yourself swimming against huge waves, whilst attempting to reach a buoy. 

Flavius Belisarius (obviously a nom de guerre) 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, (General, USMC, Retired): Can He Be A Civilian Leader?

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, (General, USMC, Retired): Can He Be A Civilian Leader?

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, (General, USMC, Retired): Can He Be A Civilian Leader?
David S. Maxwell
Because I do not have Erin Simpson’s experience with General Mattis, I am not as qualified to comment as she is on whether he should or should not be named as the next Secretary of Defense.  I only know him through reputation, recent histories of the war on terrorism, and the many stories and anecdotes from those who have served with him.  I heard him speak at a single conference where he lamented the dearth of strategic thinking in the US military and our national security apparatus.  This comment has remained on my mind ever since I have heard it and I repeat it often to students to challenge them to prove General Mattis wrong.  But that is the extent of my experience with him.
Dr. Simpson makes some excellent arguments as to why he should not be nominated and if appointed why he should decline.  Of all her excellent arguments there is one that I must take exception to and I ask this question: If a President Trump will not listen to General Mattis to whom will he listen?
Given the assessments of the President-elect, if accurate, (and the truth is we have no idea what he is really like, how he will govern, and how he will lead when he takes office) I wonder if General Mattis is not our last best hope to bring measured leadership and strategic thinking to the national security apparatus of the new administration?  If that is the case then I hope that General Mattis will do as those who are committed to supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States would:  If asked, serve.
We should also question some of the arguments against having General Mattis or any former general officer serve as Secretary of Defense.  We should cast out two myths – one is that a general is pre-disposed to the use of the military instrument of power as a first choice and the other is that a general, having seen the costs of war, is less likely to use the military instrument of power.  Generals are no more or less likely to follow either course of action as any other competent strategic thinker, either civilian or military.  They are neither warmongers nor peaceniks.  It does a disservice to “generalize” about the mindset of former general officers.  To take such an argument to absurdity, perhaps we should not allow lawyers to become judges.  We should never allow those who have served at the highest levels of the Justice Department to become Supreme Court Justices.  Should we disqualify a general officer who possesses the intellect, leadership ability, and experience to continue to serve at the highest levels of defense and national security simply because he was a general officer?
Our Congress must have had reason to enact a prohibition against any active duty commissioned officer (not just a general officer) from becoming Secretary of Defense for seven years after the officer left active service.  As we know General George Marshall was named Secretary of Defense and served in that capacity for a short time under President Truman (and at the time the prohibition was ten years).  Perhaps it was for reasons of civilian control of the military (which I will address subsequently) or that for some reason a retired general officer might be too close to current serving officers and thus there could be perceptions of conflicts of interest or favoritism.  A study as to why this prohibition was enacted would be probably be a good research paper for a graduate student in security studies or a law student studying national security law.  However, the important question is why Congress did not completely ban all former active duty officers from ever serving as Secretary of Defense and why they reduced the restriction from ten years to seven years?  Perhaps it is because there are Congressmen who recognize that former general officers can make important contributions and may have the requisite skills and experience to serve in that capacity (though of course some may not).  If they are allowed to serve after seven years, why not after five years, especially if a general is of extraordinary character and caliber?

(Continued at the link below)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: Sun Tzu, The Founding Fathers, The Art of Peace, and America’s Strategic Deficit Disorde

Book Review: Sun Tzu, The Founding Fathers, The Art of Peace, and America’s Strategic Deficit Disorder

Sun Tzu, The Founding Fathers, The Art of Peace, and America’s Strategic Deficit Disorder
David S. Maxwell
The Art of Peace: Engaging in A Complex World
Author: Dr. Juliana Geron Pilon
Transaction Publishers, 2016
If I could recommend one book to the Trump Transition Team it would be Dr. Juliana Geran Pilon’s The Art of Peace: Engaging in Complex World.
Dr. Pilon is a Senior Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization and a renowned scholar who has taught at the National Defense University, George Washington University and has held post-doctoral fellowships at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and the Institute for Humane Letters.   He is the author of a number of acclaimed books and over 200 articles.
I am partial to anyone who can write about Sun Tzu and apply the Art of War to contemporary strategy.  However most such attempts use Sun Tzu as a gimmick to gain attention.  Not so with The Art of Peace.  Dr. Pilon masterfully uses Sun Tzu to illustrate the problems we have with strategic thought and reminds us of the timeless elements of strategy that are arguably more relevant today than at any time in history.  I am even more partial to anyone who can combine Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers to discuss national security strategy and Dr. Pilon masterfully incorporates American history and political philosophy into her work. 
Dr. Pilon argues that “the basic principles of war and peace are transcendent” throughout history and around the world.  What is really unique about this book is that she shows how Sun Tzu’s concepts were applied (admittedly subconsciously) by our Founding Fathers and most importantly that together Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers still are applicable to the global geo-strategic environment of the 21st Century.
This book is a critique of American strategy and strategic culture and describes the disease from which we suffer – Strategic Deficit Disorder.  It shows us how standing true to the principles of both Sun Tzu and our Founding Fathers will make us better national security practitioners who strive to practice the “art of peace” as well as the art of war.
Why are Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers still relevant?  They have one important trait in common.  They understood human nature and they devised strategies and built our republic in such a way that took human nature into account.  Of course human nature has always been important from Thucydides’ description of realism of fear, honor, and interest, to Clausewitz’ paradoxical trinity of passion, reason, and chance to understanding conflicts in the 21st Century that have been described as a fight for legitimacy among relevant populations.  As we seek to be able to protect U.S. interests in the gray zone between war and peace it is as important to understand the art of peace as it is the art of war.   In the post- 9-11 world we have recognized the importance of the human domain but we can look to Sun Tzu and our founding fathers to understand human nature.
Her basic premise is summarized here:
“… America can no longer afford to sit on the proverbial three-legged (”military, diplomacy, development) national security stool where one leg is a lot longer than either of the other two.  We are so much becoming militarized as decivilianized (with apologies to spell-check).”
Why is this important, especially to the Trump Transition Team?  Because according to Congressman Randy Forbes: "I think that with a President Trump, you'll see him coming out literally within the first few days saying that we are going to have an international defense strategy that is driven by the Pentagon and not by the political National Security Council."  If this is the case we will have four or more years of a decivilianized foreign policy and national security strategy.
Dr. Pilon argues that we need effective statecraft and policy makers, strategists, and statesmen who can practice political warfare that George Kennan defined as using all means at a nation’s command to achieve its objectives short of war.  Our nation’s civilian leadership needs to be well versed in political warfare and the U.S. military, and in particular special operations forces, needs to conduct operations in support of political warfare.
Today’s strategic environment is no longer bi-polar but can be described in terms of the following trinity:
  • Revisionist Powers who seek to disrupt and alter the international system to suit their strategic objectives.
  • Revolutionary Powers who seek to destroy the international system and replace it with one in which they can dominate.
  • Status Quo powers who seek to maintain the strength of the international system by respecting and protecting sovereignty and enforce the rule of law.[i]
To operate in this environment the U.S. needs to be able to conduct political warfare.

(Continued at the link below)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

SSP Podcast - Episode 7 - Col. (Ret.) David Maxwell- discuss unconventional warfare (UW), the “gray zone,” and strategy

In case anyone is bored on election day or needs a sleep aid.

Thanks to SSP Alum Jeff Palmer for putting together the SSP Podcast program.  I was honored to join the members of our distinguished SSP faculty and friends of SSP (Professor Richard English) and participating in Jeff's latest podcast episode.  All the podcast episodes can be accessed through iTunes at the link below or from the Center for Security Studies Web page at this link: https://css.georgetown.edu/podcast  These include Bruce Hoffman, Richard English, Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault, Ariane Tabatabai, Elizabeth Stanley, and Dan Byman.

Security Studies Podcast - Episode 7 - Col. (Ret.) David Maxwell

ReleasedNov 08, 2016
Episode 7 of the Security Studies Podcast features Col. David Maxwell (Ret.), Associate Director of Georgetown’s Security Studies Program, to discuss unconventional warfare (UW), the “gray zone,” and strategy. We define and conceptualize these terms, cover current examples of the use of UW, discuss the need for the U.S. to develop counter-UW capabilities, and talk about his inspiration to do strategy. Col. Maxwell also shares stories of how his blog came to be (www.maxoki161.blogspot.com) and of a special memento in his office. The Security Studies Podcast is produced by Jeffrey Palmer. Music: www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music


The Security Studies Podcast
The Security Studies Podcast invites SSP faculty to discuss the most pressing and complex global security issues of today.
Subscribe to The Security Studies Podcast on iTunes here.
Produced by Jeffrey Palmer

Thursday, November 3, 2016

On Campaign Plan Phasing: Six-Phase or Unconstrained?

On Campaign Plan Phasing: Six-Phase or Unconstrained?

warontherocks.com · by David Maxwell · November 3, 2016
In any problem where an opposing force exists and cannot be regulated, one must foresee and provide for alternative courses. Adaptability is the law which governs survival in war as in life … To be practical, any plan must take account of the enemy’s power to frustrate it; the best chance of overcoming such obstruction is to have a plan that can be easily varied to fit the circumstances met.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954 )
Lauren Fish’s excellent article on the joint phasing construct illustrates the two challenges we have with planning.
On the one hand, we have the science of war that is mainly the concern of “force providers,” the services and joint staff responsible for allocating forces, getting those forces to the theater of operations, and then resupplying them (the major functions of Transportation Command). This is why planners used to say that “the TPFDD [Time Phased Force Deployment Data] is the plan.” The TPFDD drove operations. How and in what order forces arrived in theater drove the plan, though the order of arrival of forces is theoretically based on the theater commander’s requirements. This was the essence of numbered war plans prior to 9/11.
On the other hand, we have actual warfighting. While science plays an enormous role in warfighting because firepower, mass, correlation of forces are so important, the plan must incorporate the art of war to ultimately succeed. In the 1990’s, theater commanders designed the war plans for warfighting and gave requirements for forces to the force provider for resourcing without regard to the four phase construct that Fish shows. That construct was merely illustrative. Some plans had five phases, some had seven, and some even had sub-phases (e.g., phase IIA, phase IIB). Theater commanders and planners enjoyed the latitude to develop a phasing construct that suited the conditions and threats the theater faced. Yes, Fish is correct in that that a common assumption was that an enemy would attack or invade the territory of a friend, partner, or ally and the United States would have to intervene. Still, the plans were not necessarily the “paint by numbers” construct that became the norm with the six-phase template of the post-9/11 world.
Why did we move from a varied phasing construct to the six-phase template? After 9/11, the war on terrorism competed for the many of the same resources as the major theater war plans. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld demanded a way to compare all war plans to ensure that they could be suitably resourced. If they could not be, planners were tasked with identifying risks as the war on terrorism was prosecuted. The simplest way to compare plans was to ensure they all had a standard phasing construct. While the four-phase construct that Fish described was clearly illustrative, it did not tie planners to those four phases. After 9/11, the new joint doctrine forced all planners to follow the same template regardless of the conditions, threats, and political objectives. This makes eminent sense from a resource allocation perspective, but actually hinders campaign planning and the stifles the intellectual rigor required for operational art and support to national strategy. Given the newly termed threats of the “gray zone” and other irregular threats, T.E. Lawrence’s admonition is apt: “Irregular warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge.” How can we best apply creative thinking and the art of war in a 21st century environment characterized by ambiguous and irregular threats?
(Continued at the link below)

Is the OSS Contribution to Special Forces a Result of Disinformation?

Is the OSS Contribution to Special Forces a Result of Disinformation? David Maxwell http://smallwarsjournal.com/ jrnl/art/oss-contrib...