The View From Olympus: Making Maneuver Warfare Real in the Marine Corps

The indications that the new Marine Corps Commandant intends to get serious about maneuver warfare are proliferating.  Serious plans for genuinely free play training are being made.  The latest issue of the Marine Corps Gazette is mostly devoted to the history of the maneuver warfare movement that culminated with the Corps formally adopting the concept as doctrine under Commandant General Al Gray. Training and Education Command at Quantico is talking about maneuver warfare, although I will not believe it is serious until it decrees the T&R manual is optional at the discretion of the battalion commander.

But making maneuver warfare what the Marine Corps does as opposed to just what it says in its field manuals is a major challenge. It means fundamental change in institutional culture, from the Second Generation’s inward focus, centralization, preference for obedience over initiative, and dependence on imposed discipline to the Third Generation’s outward focus, de-centralization of decision making, preference for initiative over obedience, and reliance on self-discipline. Overall, the culture of order must be replaced by a culture of results: at every rank, every Marine must become responsible for getting the result the situation requires. But no Marine should ever be held responsible for method: not for technique, not for process, not even for following orders.  In the old Prussian/German Army, which developed maneuver warfare as we know it, it was routine to give junior officers problems in war games that could only be solved by disobeying orders.

So we face the hard question: how is this transformation to be brought about?  The key is to make certain that institutional rewards and punishments are aligned with the behavior the Corps wants from its Marines.

That means, above all, fundamental changes in the personnel system. At present, the personnel system’s incentives all work against creating the kind of leaders maneuver warfare requires. That means leaders from corporal through Commandant who show strong character. What is strong character? Verantwortungsfreudigkeit: joy in taking responsibility.  Maneuver warfare demands leaders who, whenever they see a situation that is not going right, immediately act to get the necessary result. They do so whether the mess is “in their lane” or not. They do not hesitate to use unorthodox methods. If they have to break the rules, they do so and take responsibility for it. In turn, so long as what they do works, their superiors back them up. In the case of junior leaders, they back them up even if it doesn’t work so long as the mistake arose from initiative rather than passivity. Years ago, a Marine lieutenant told me that the motto of his platoon at The Basic School had been “Death before initiative”, because they knew that if they just did what they were told they would not get in trouble, but if they took initiative they might. In a maneuver warfare military, exactly the opposite is the case.

The Marine Corps can fix some of the problems in the personnel system itself; others will require exemptions from DOPMA, which I suspect Congress would willingly grant.  The basic changes are :

  • End up-or-out, which undermines character, promotes conformism, and rewards careerism, which is a sign of weak character.
  • Vest Marines’ retirement at twelve years of service and drop all-or-nothing at twenty years.
  • Eliminate the informal requirement to follow a cookie-cutter career pattern to obtain promotion.
  • De-centralize promotion and assignment to a low enough level that those making the decisions know the individual they are assigning or considering for promotion.
  • Reduce the vast surplus of officers above the company grades.  Nothing more powerfully drives centralization than an officer surplus, because the surplus officers constantly interfere in their subordinate’s business in search of something to do.
  • Greatly reduce the churn of personnel so units have time to become coherent. A company or battalion command should last three to five years, not eighteen months.

For any institution, pitting rhetoric calling for the behavior maneuver warfare requires against concrete incentives to behave otherwise is hopeless. People behave not as they are told but as they are rewarded or punished for doing. We will know the Marine Corps’ push for maneuver warfare is real when institutional incentives begin to change.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

The View From Olympus: The Costs of Threat Inflation

In the 1980s I used to give the slide-show briefing of the Congressional Military Reform Caucus to each class at the Air Force’s Squadron Officers’ School. After one of the briefs, an Air Force captain, an intelligence officer, came up to me and asked, “Does military reform mean I can stop inflating the threat?”

Threat inflation has been one of Washington’s most successful growth industries for a long time.  The purpose of inflating the threat is to inflate the military budget.  The obvious cost is wasting the taxpayers’ money on capabilities we do not need.  But that is not the only cost. As the current tensions with Iran illustrate, threat inflation can lead to counter-productive military planning and, sometimes, to war.

For weeks, the Defense Department has been warning that Iran is planning to use allied Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria to attack U.S. forces in those countries.  It has cited intelligence intercepts of communications between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the militias as evidence.  I’m sure the intercepts are real.  But the interpretation suggests classic threat inflation.

If the U.S. attacks Iran, the obvious Iranian response will be to seize as many U.S. troops in the region as it can to serve as hostages. The Iranians have stated this response openly, saying, “Last time (in 1979), we had hundreds of American hostages.  This time, we’ll have thousands.”  It is a promising response for the obvious reason that we have no ready countermove. In 1979, we were largely left helpless, especially after we botched a rescue attempt.  One would hope President Trump would ask the Pentagon, “Okay, if they do that, what’s our next move?”  I doubt he will get a reassuring answer.

So what are the communications we have intercepted about?  Preparing that response. We have interpreted them as preparing an attack instead. Why? Because DOD always inflates the threat.

We have also accused Iran of launching small attacks against four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, attacks that damaged the ships but did not sink them. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a carefully weasel-worded statement said, “It seems like it’s quite possible that Iran was behind them.” That is true. It’s also quite possible other countries in the region that want a war between the U.S. and Iran, including Israel, were behind them.  Pointing only to Iran inflates the threat.

Threat inflation in a crisis can easily transmute itself into an escalatory ladder. That may be happening here.  Iran signaled de-escalation by removing some “missiles” (probably just rockets) from some small fast boats used by the Revolutionary Guard. The Pentagon did not reciprocate by dialing back our actions. On the contrary, it asked President Trump to send 20,000 more U.S. troops to the region. Wisely, the president chopped that number back to 900.

Here we see how threat inflation can lead to actions that are militarily just plain dumb.  Iran threatens to take U.S. troops in the region hostage. How do we counter that? By sending more U.S. troops to the region, giving Iran more chances to take hostages. Who in the Pentagon is coming up with this, General Braxton Bragg or General Ben Butler?

Most of the Washington threat inflation industry is focused on inflating the Russian and Chinese “threats”–puffing the dragon is especially fashionable these days–which in turn feeds the bad strategy of turning two countries that should be allies into opponents. That is a failure on the grand strategic level, which is a high price indeed for threat inflation. But threat inflation is so deeply built into our whole system that it warps everything we do. Does military reform mean we can stop inflating the threat? Yes. But until the money runs out, the chance of reform is small.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

The View From Olympus: War With Iran?

On the surface, war with Iran appears unlikely.  President Trump has made it clear, including to the warhawks in his administration, that he does not want war.  He was elected as the anti-war candidate.  Hillary was a wild-eyed interventionist, who under President Obama launched the war on Libya that destroyed that state and created another stateless region.  Pat Buchanan has warned President Trump that the war may be John Bolton’s, but it will be the Trump Presidency that is destroyed by it.

The same desire not to go to war is apparent on the other side.  The May 15 New York Times reported that:

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in comments carried on state television, that “no war is going to happen,” The Associated Press reported.

“Neither we, nor they, are seeking war,” he said.  “They know that is not to their benefit.”

And in a visit to Russia on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “We fundamentally do not seek war with Iran.”

Of course, there are other players.  The neo-cons, led by the court fool John Bolton, are doing their utmost to sabotage President Trump’s peace policy and bring about the war they want, which seems to be any war, everywhere.  Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps may well want a fight, although it is unlikely to defy Ayatollah Khamenei.  There is a certain irony in the fact that peace appears to depend on Donald Trump and a crazy Ayatollah, but God does have a sense of humor.

However, the U.S. and Iran are not the only players.  Two other countries in the region do want war and are doing their utmost to bring it about.  Both are highly influential in Washington, including in the Trump White House.  Those two countries are Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party have wanted a war with Iran for at least a decade.  They see Iran as the greatest threat facing Israel.  They are wrong about that–the greatest threat is spreading state failure in the region and the rise of more and more non-state entities that fight Fourth Generation war–but Tel Aviv, like Washington and almost every other capital, does not grasp the 4GW challenge.  In fact, given Israel’s nuclear arsenal, the only threat Israel faces from Iran comes by way of Iranian support for Shiite 4GW entities.  But those entities, and Iran itself, are focused more on fighting Sunnis in Islam’s Sunni-Shiite civil war than they are on attacking Israel.

That is why Sunni Saudi Arabia wants a war with Iran.  Iranian support for non-Sunnis who are fighting Sunnis, such as the Houthis in Yemen, is a major block to Saudi ambitions to spread its violent, harsh Wahhabi version of Islam throughout the Muslim world.  But unlike Israel, Saudi Arabia dare not face Iran in a conventional war.  While the Saudi’s spend incredible sums of on their military, that military exists primarily to maintain the throne at home.  Its competence at real war, as we have seen in Yemen, is small. I suspect the Iranians would kick the Saudi’s butts easily and quickly, and I also suspect the Saudis know that.

So what’s the answer for both countries?  Get the U.S. to fight a war with Iran on their behalf.  Both are working frantically behind the scenes in Washington to bring such war about.  Both influence or control a great deal of money that can be channeled to politicians who do their bidding.  Both have massive Washington lobbies.  It’s as they say of a swan:  above the waterline all is serene, but down below some furious paddling is going on.

So we are back to our ironic fact: peace appears to depend on President Trump and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.  Both are under severe pressure, President Trump from the Likudniks who surround him in the White House and the Ayatollah from the Shiite 4GW forces that find their funding dropping fast.  We must all hope that both dams hold.

The View From Olympus: It Works!

Some time ago, I wrote a column proposing a solution to the mass shooter problem.  I suggested we form a national militia made up of men who pledged that, if they encountered an active shooter, they would attack him.  I noted that some of the attackers would probably die.  But they would almost certainly reduce the overall death toll, and they would reverse the moral calculus.  The focus, instead of being on the shooter, would be on those who acted to stop him.  That, in turn, over time might well reduce the appeal of becoming a shooter and begin to put an end to the mass shooter epidemic.

Well, it works.  We’ve seen it work in two recent situations.  A shooter opened fire in a classroom of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on April 30.  The May 7 New York Times reported that:

He kept charging.  A bullet to the torso did not stop Riley Howell.  A second bullet to the body did not prevent him from reaching his goal and hurling himself into the gunman, who fired at point blank range into his head. . . 

He tackled the gunman so forcefully that the suspect complained to first responders of internal injuries. . . 

That final shot marked the end of what could have been a far worse massacre, the police told his parents.

 “The chief said no one was shot after Riley body slammed him,” said his mother, Natalie Henry-Howell.

On Tuesday, May 7, at the STEM High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, a similar story played out.  When a shooter walked into a classroom, three male students went for him.  The May 10 New York Times wrote that:

(Brendan) Bialy, the STEM School student, described the takedown of the gunman as an effort among (Kendrick) Castillo, himself and a third boy he declined to name, citing the boy’s wishes.  Mr. Castillo was closest to the shooter suspect, about a foot away, when the suspect walked into their English class.

Once Mr. Castillo got up, so did Mr. Bialy and the other boy.  They slammed the gunman against the wall.  He fired his pistol once or twice in the skirmish, hitting Mr. Castillo.  Students tried to tend to him, but he was unresponsive, Mr. Bialy said.

“Kendrick refused to be a victim,” Mr. Bialy said.

Again, the death toll was kept down because unarmed men attacked the shooter.  Interestingly, the Times added:

Even younger children were prepared to take action.  Nate Holley, a sixth-grader at the school, recounted to CNN how his teacher moved the class into a closet during the shooting.  Standing in the corner, Nate got ready.

“I had my hand on a metal baseball bat, just in case,” said Nate, 12. “Cause I was going to go down fighting if I was going to go down.”

In both incidents, the shooters have received virtually no publicity.  The focus of attention has been entirely on the guys who stopped them, especially the two who died doing so.  Again, at the mental and moral levels, this is of central importance to de-motivating potential shooters.

As I said in my earlier column, the attempts to professionalize response to active shooters by leaving the problem to the police have usually failed, for a reason the police can do nothing about.  By the time they get there, even responding as fast as they can, it’s too late.  We have another mass casualty event.  Only men immediately present can act in time to limit the casualties.  In both of these cases, the fact that they were not armed did not prevent them from stopping the shooter.

It would fit President Trump’s approach to problems well if he took the lead to do what needs to be done.  The militia we require has no uniforms or weapons and costs no money.  It is simply a register of men and boys who have taken a pledge to attack any active shooter they encounter.  We need women and girls to do the opposite, to run and hide.  Why?  Because otherwise the men will drop the mission to protect the women.  It’s simply human nature.

The President could also direct the armed forces to provide military funerals for anyone who dies stopping a shooter–deservedly, Riley Howell was given one–and awarding a military medal would also be appropriate.  Casualties in 4GW here at home deserve no less honor than casualties in overseas wars.

A republic requires courageous citizens, not an administered people.  The two young men who died in these incidents were exactly that.  They set an example of how to stop a phenomenon that, by undermining the public’s sense of safety, undermines the legitimacy of the state.  The rest of us now need to build on the foundation they have laid.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

A Key to the Border Crisis?

Even the Left now admits that we have a crisis on our southern border.  President Trump did not invent an emergency, it’s real.  Illegal immigrants are pouring across in numbers greatly in excess of what we have seen in the past.

President Trump wants to halt the inflow, but he appears to be stymied as to how to do so.  The problem is that if these immigrants claim asylum, as they do, courts have interpreted U.S. law so as to give them a “right” to remain here while their application for asylum is processed.  The number of asylum claims is so great that hearings are backlogged for years.  We do not have enough room to hold them while they await their hearings, so they are released–to disappear into the millions of illegal immigrants already here.  As the word spreads southwards that you can stay in the U.S. if you just say the magic word “asylum”, the caravans grow in number and size.  We are left helpless in the face of an invasion.

As I have written previously, every country in the northern hemisphere will eventually have to use deadly force to defend its borders or be submerged in a sea of barbarians from the south.  But we are not yet at the point where we have the moral courage to do that.  So, in the meantime, what is the Trump administration to do, keeping in mind Bismarck’s dictum that politics is the art of the possible?

The starting point, I think, is the realization that what we are witnessing is gross abuse of the request for asylum.  If we look at precedent, asylum is something that has sometimes been granted–it is not a right–to individuals who are being persecuted by their own government.  That is not the case here.  These are economic migrants, or people simply fleeing crime and disorder.  They are not victims of government persecution.  Nor are we dealing with individuals, for the most part.  Whole families, large ones, request asylum.  Indeed, small children are being sent alone.  Are we to assume their government is persecuting them for political reasons?  If not, then precedent says they have no grounds for claiming asylum.

Similarly, because people seeking asylum were fleeing their governments, they claimed asylum as soon as they got over the border into a different country.  The fact that they are not doing so here by requesting asylum in Mexico is also evidence that their claim is fraudulent.

My proposal, then, is that the Trump administration declare that all claims of asylum by immigrants who come in groups, including families; who are minors; who come from countries where the likelihood of political persecution is small; and who have not requested asylum in the first foreign country they enter are ipso facto fraudulent.  Such immigrants have no right to a hearing, hence no right to remain in this country.  When apprehended, they will immediately be sent home.

The Left, of course, go to court and get some liberal federal judge to rule that such action by the administration is unlawful.  The key here is for the administration to appeal the case as directly and quickly as possible to the Supreme Court, in the meantime continuing to enforce its ruling that such claims are ipso facto fraudulent.  The authors of our Constitution did, you may recall, anticipate strife among the three branches of the federal government.

So long as the Trump administration continues to enforce the new policy, with mass expulsions of people attempting to commit fraud, the Left as well as the Right will want the Supreme Court to rule quickly.  The abuse of the request for asylum is, in these cases, so blatant I am confident a majority of Justices would rule in the administration’s favor.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

The View From Olympus: A Maneuver Warfare Revival?

One of the principal themes of the military reform movement of the 1980s was the need for America’s armed services to move from firepower/attrition warfare to maneuver warfare.  Historically, these are, respectively, the French way of war and the German.  The former reduces war to merely putting firepower on targets in a mutual attrition contest.  The latter uses surprise, speed, and the indirect approach to shatter the enemy’s ability to respond cohesively, on both the physical and mental levels.  When the two doctrines met on the battlefield in 1940, the French, who had more tanks and better tanks than the Germans, went down to defeat in six weeks.

In this country, the push for maneuver warfare peaked in the early 1990s when the U.S. Marine Corps, under Commandant General Al Gray, formally adopted maneuver doctrine and wrote some first-rate field manuals to explain it.  The U.S. Army dabbled around with it a bit, and under General Wayne A. Downing U.S. Special Operations Command issued a maneuverist field manual of its own, USSOCOM Pub 1, Special Operations in Peace and War.

But that was as far as maneuver warfare went.  No service institutionalized maneuver warfare, which means the Marine Corps could talk about it, but no one could actually do it.  Our way of war, as we see in Afghanistan, remains a matter of putting firepower on targets.

The fact that putting lots of firepower on lots of Afghan targets has not moved us any closer to winning that war may be one reason my sources are now reporting a revived interest in maneuver warfare.  U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley recently testified to the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee that the Army must have a new helicopter in order to do maneuver warfare against the Russians or the Chinese.  The fact that he tied maneuver doctrine to a piece of equipment suggests his grasp of it is not deep.

Of more importance are reports that the new Marine Corps Commandant, who should take over this summer, is a maneuverist, as is the current 2nd Marine Division Commander.  The Marine Corps’ formal adoption of maneuver warfare began in 2nd MAR DIV in the 1980s when General Gray became the division commander.  It would be a logical place for a new Commandant to begin the task of making maneuver warfare something Marines actually do, not just talk about.

How might a Commandant and Marine division commander go about making maneuver warfare real?  The single most powerful tool is free-play training.  In free-play training, the unit being trained has to go up against an opponent in a field exercise who can do whatever he wants to defeat them, and is not so small as to be a tethered goat.  Currently, some Marine units do what they call force-on-force training, but it is not the same.  Current force-on-force training is almost always scripted, so that the opposing force (OPFOR) is predictable and has to lose.  This is training for an opera company, not a military.  What defines war is the independent, hostile will of the enemy, which means he keeps doing things you never expected.  Only free play training allows the OPFOR to exercise an independent, hostile will.

Free play training quickly creates a maneuver warfare mindset because the side that comes up with the most creative, imaginative tactics usually wins, and Marines don’t like to lose.  Inward focus, which is the essence of firepower/attrition warfare, makes you slow and predictable; outward focus, where Marines of every rank take the initiative to get the result the situation requires, usually brings victory.  In other words, free-play training connects Marines’ desires to win to the behavior maneuver warfare requires.  That is exactly what the Marine Corps needs to do to make maneuver warfare its real, not just its formal, doctrine.

For even free-play training to give maximum value, Marines will also need to learn how to critique.  Most Marine “critiques” are just narratives of events, with the universal conclusion of “The comm sucked but we all did great.”  A real critique focuses on critical junctures, points where action or inaction, right action or wrong action pushed the result one way or the other, and then draws out why events at that point went the way they did.  This in turn requires that the leaders of a critique have military judgement, that they be able to think militarily.  Because no American DOD schools teach how to think militarily, such people are rare in the Marine Corps and our other services.  They will most likely be found among servicemen who, on their own time, are serious war gamers.

Will this all be just another flash in the pan?  Probably.  But I’m glad the Marines are at least making an attempt.  Second Generation, firepower/attrition warfare is hopeless in Fourth Generation war, where the more firepower you put on targets, the more quickly you ensure your own strategic defeat.  Unless the U.S. armed forces can learn to do maneuver warfare–maneuver in all three dimensions, physical, mental, and moral–we would be better off replacing them with an 800 number that says “We surrender” in a variety of languages.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

Getting It

The Left has adopted the word “woke” to describe people who have accepted the ideology of cultural Marxism and are willing to act on it.  The equivalent I hear most often for the Right is “getting it”.  What does it mean to “get it”?

First, it means understanding that the Left is no longer made up of liberals.  It is now dominated by cultural Marxists, believers in the ideology concocted largely by the Frankfurt School that translates Marxism from economic into cultural terms.  Like all Marxists, cultural Marxists are totalitarians.  There is nothing “liberal” about them, in any sense of the word.  Their goal, as we see from what they do on college campuses they control, is to punish any thought or expression that deviates from their views.  The usual terms for such a deviation are “racism”, “sexism”, and “homophobia”. (Denunciation for these imagined sins is itself “ism-ism”, the magical belief that realities such as differences among races or between the sexes can be nullified by calling them names ending in “ism”.)  Cultural Marxism’s call for “equality” is a lie; it seeks to put Blacks over White (and Asians), women over men, and gays over straights.  Everything noble, beautiful, or grand is to be pulled down while whatever floats down humanity’s sewer is to be plopped on the civic altar with a demand we bow down and worship it.

Second, America is not a democracy.  It is an oligarchy, run by a “new class” that rules both in Washington and on Wall Street.  The new class has three main characteristics: it can’t make things work, it uses its wealth and power to exempt itself from the consequences of things not working, and it cares about only one thing, namely remaining the new class.  It is made up overwhelmingly of people who want to be something, not people who want to do something.  It knuckles under to cultural Marxism not because it believes in it–t believes in nothing but its own right to money and power–but because it is made up of moral cowards.  Principles have a nasty habit of getting in the way of career progression.

The Wall Street wing of the new class–each wing supports the other–has become the top 1% financially in part by exporting the jobs of middle-class Americans.  By moving a great deal of our manufacturing abroad, with white-collar jobs now following fast, the 1% has obliterated the blue-collar middle class that was the pride of 1950’s America.  Middle class Americans now find themselves falling further and further behind until they can no longer afford a middle-class way of life.

Third, this whole rotten structure is about to fall.  Heartland Americans are fed up with cultural Marxism, also known as “political correctness”, that’s one of the main reasons they voted for President Trump.  The 2016 electoral map, seen by county, shows a vast red America with a few tiny blue enclaves.  Red America will not let itself be ruled by those enclaves any longer.

Economically, the whole world is headed for a massive debt crisis, which means not a recession but a depression.  When that hits, everyone but the 1% will become poor.  Already, young people entering the labor force find it almost impossible to get a job with a living wage.  In a depression, no one can find work, and moving home with mom and dad isn’t an option because they don’t have any money themselves.

Does this mean revolution?  Over roughly the past five centuries, it might have.  Now, in an era when the state is in decline, it is more likely to mean devolution.  People will seek, and find, ways to disconnect themselves from the new class, a.k.a. the Establishment, and Washington; from cultural Marxism and its clients; and from a dead globalist economy.  To the degree this happens peacefully, it will not be a bad thing.  A return to local economies, local government, and local solutions to problems would be beneficial and welcome.  This shift is in fact already underway, drawing on ideas from both the Left and Right.

Unfortunately, neither Washington, nor Wall Street, nor the cultural Marxists are likely to step aside voluntarily or peacefully.  The collapse of the current order will probably get messy.  Disorder is not something any conservative can ever welcome.  But “getting it” includes being ready if disorder comes.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.