The View From Olympus: The Commandant’s Planning Guidance, Part II

The new Marine Corps Commandant, General David H. Berger, has issued his Planning Guidance, which gives his commander’s intent for the next four years.  As I wrote in my last column, it is a positive, even exciting, document that offers hope the Marine Corps can reshape itself to do what its doctrine of maneuver warfare requires.  That said, it also raises questions in several important respects.

It is most questionable in its grand strategic assumptions.  Here, the Commandant has no choice because his Guidance must be in harmony with the National Defense Strategy.  Unfortunately, the NDS is shaped by the need to justify our enormous defense budget, not by real grand strategic considerations.  As a result, it reflects an obsolete paradigm in which our threats are other nations, principally China and Russia. In reality, our greatest threat is spreading state disintegration and the Fourth Generation war it breeds.  The Commandant’s acceptance of the obsolete paradigm of the NDS is clear. He writes:

I will continue to advocate for the continued forward deployment of our forces globally to compete against the malign activities of China, Russia, Iran, and their proxies–with a prioritized focus on China’s One Belt One Road initiative and Chinese malign activities in the East and South China Seas.

In fact, one of the advantages of naval forces is their rapid strategic mobility, which means you do not have to keep them forward in what may be provocative positions.  Nor do nuclear powers fight each other conventionally, because the chance of escalation is too great. The whole Russia/China “threat” is a sham.

The damage a false grand strategic orientation can do is evident in the Commandant’s discussion of Power Projection and Force Development.  He writes,

Although our future force will be applied to problems and conflicts globally, we cannot afford to build multiple forces optimized for a specific competency. . . We will build one force–optimized for naval expeditionary warfare in contested spaces, purpose-built to facilitate sea denial and assured access in support of the fleets.

What this means is that the entire Marine Corps will be designed for a highly unlikely form of conflict, which in turn means it will have little capability against Fourth Generation opponents, who are the future of war.  It is somewhat like a state military in 1600 deciding that the future of war lies with armored knights on horseback.

This is compounded when the Commandant states that “Force design is my number one priority.”  Earlier, he gives five “Priority Focus Areas”: Force Design, Warfighting, Education and Training, Core Values, and Command and Leadership.  Having five foci means there is no clear Schwerpunkt.  From what I have observed of Marine Corps Commandants over almost 50 years, a Commandant can only achieve one big thing.  If the Marine Corps is to do maneuver warfare, General Berger’s Shwerpunkt needs to be fixing the personnel system.  What he says on that subject in his Guidance is right on target, but will anything happen if his Shwerpunkt is Force Design, and that within an invalid strategic framework?  Again, the origin of all this is beyond the Commandant’s control in that it delivers from a defective National Defense Strategy.  But he, and the Marine Corps, may be left holding the bag.

There is another problem in the Guidance that is not the Commandant’s fault but faces him and the Marine Corps with a difficult bureaucratic/political problem.  Correctly, he argues that “enemy long-range precision fires threaten maneuver by traditional large-signature naval platforms.” He writes,

The ability to project and maneuver from strategic distances will likely be detected and contested from the point of embarkation during a major contingency.  Our naval expeditionary forces must possess a variety of deployment options, including L-class and E-class ships, but also increasingly look to other available options such as unmanned platforms, stern landing vessels, other ocean-going connectors, and smaller more lethal and more risk-worthy platforms.  We must continue to seek the affordable and plentiful at the expense of the exquisite and few when conceiving the future amphibious portion of the fleet.

The Commandant is right in all of this.  From the time I arrived in Washington in 1973 as U.S. Senate staff I worked to move the U.S. Navy away from a handful of large, vulnerable platforms, especially the carriers, to smaller ships in larger numbers.  (In formal testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, when asked how long he thought our carriers would last in a war with the Soviet Union, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover said, “About two days.”) Unfortunately, as General Berger will soon find if he has not already, that is anathema to the Navy.  It has fought and blocked every effort to move in that direction, with every type of ship in the fleet. I also recall from my days on Capitol Hill the then-CNO, Admiral Holloway, telling the House Armed Services Committee “The U.S. Navy has no place for little ships.” I have seen no evidence the Navy’s position has changed.

This brings us back to the central question about the Commandant’s Planning Guidance: will any of this happen?  As a whole, general Berger’s Guidance is a major step forward, exciting in its promises to fix long-neglected problems, motivating to Marines and others who want to see the Corps move beyond the Second Generation of war, holding great hope for the Marine Corps’ future.  But as von Seekt said, “Das Wesentliches is die Tat”–the important thing is action. General Berger’s call for widespread reforms will meet massive bureaucratic resistance within the Marine Corps and more beyond. What is his strategy for overcoming that resistance? On his answer to that question hangs everything else.

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

The View From Olympus: The New Commandant’s Planning Guidance

The new Marine Corps Commandant, General David H. Berger, recently issued his Planning Guidance, a document which states his commander’s intent and sets the direction the Marine Corps will take over the next four years.  In this case, it is a remarkable statement which, if turned into effective action, could finally transform the Marine Corps into a military that can do maneuver warfare instead of just talk about it.

The Planning Guidance’s most important statements relate to personnel policy and to education and training.  They reflect Colonel John Boyd’s oft-stated belief that for winning wars, people are most important, ideas come second, and hardware is only third.  Not only does the Planning Guide call for major reforms, it does something highly unusual in the U.S. military: it includes some trenchant criticism of current practices.

Personnel Policies:

When General Al Gray was Commandant, he adopted maneuver warfare as Marine Corps doctrine.  Those of us who were involved in that effort knew that the next Commandant would have to make major changes in the personnel system if the Marine Corps were to actually do maneuver warfare.  But those changes never happened. Now, they may.  General Berger writes,

Our manpower system was designed in the industrial era to produce mass, not quality.  We assumed that the quantity of personnel was the most important element of the system, and that workers (Marines) are all essentially interchangeable. . . However, we have not adapted to the needs of the current battlefield. . .

The essence of all manpower systems is to encourage those you need and want to stay, and separate (those) who are not performing to standards.  Our current system lacks the authority and tools to accomplish that simple outcome in anything but a blunt way. . .

Additionally, the lack of incentives for self-improvement through education and personnel development discourages those inclined to learn, think, and innovate–as these tend to disrupt the current model, and may in fact make the individual less competitive for promotion. . .

While we hope (the current model) results in the retention of the most talented, our antiquated models may also retain poor performers. . .

Upward growth (i.e., promotion) and mobility must favor the most talented in our ranks while facilitating the identification of those with a special aptitude as instructors, educators, commanders, staff officers, mentors, or with special technical skills.

All this is a long overdue breath of fresh air.  But to make the Marine Corps personnel system compatible with the Corps’ maneuver warfare doctrine, in addition to looking at people as individuals rather than cogs in a machine, it must end the rule of up-or-out, eliminate the all-or-nothing retirement at twenty years, and greatly lengthen tours so units become and remain cohesive.  Instead of forcing officers to follow a cookie-cutter career progression if they want to be promoted, it must develop promotion and assignment authority to levels where Marines can be known as individuals. These are big changes, and the new Commandant appears to know that. He writes,

Modest improvement can be achieved with the tools already in hand, while dramatic improvement will likely take changes in budgets, law (DOPMA), policy, traditions, and mindset.

Education and Training:

General Berger’s intent includes equally dramatic, and needed, reforms in education and training.  He writes,

As noted by every Commandant since the 29th (General Gray). . . our Marines must be comfortable with chaos, comfortable with mission tactics. . . I am convinced that attempts to regiment every minute of every day to remove as much friction and potential chaos from the individual Marine while in home-station is counterproductive. . .

Many of our schools and training venues are firmly based in the “lecture, memorize facts, regurgitate facts on command” model of industrial age training and education.  For our schools, it is more about the process of presenting information, and for our students/trainees, it is about what to think and what to do instead of how to think, decide, and act. . . We have to enable them to think critically, recognize when change is needed and inculcate a bias for action without waiting to be told what to do. . .

In the context of training, wargaming needs to be used more broadly to fill what is arguably our greatest deficiency in the training and education of leaders: practice in decision-making against a thinking enemy.

All of this is music to the ears of anyone who has, for decades, watched Marine Corps education and training focus on rote teaching of staff processes and techniques in highly predictable situations where, if there is an enemy, he is a tethered goat.  Just one single reform, which is at least suggested here–free-play training as the norm, not the exception–would make worlds of difference in how well Marines are prepared for war.

In all of what the Commandant is calling for, the question is, can he actually make it happen?  The personnel and Training & Education bureaucracies will fight him tooth and nail, delaying until his Commandancy ends.  If he wants results, General Berger will need to reduce the size of those bureaucracies, until he can see who is doing (or not doing) what.  A useful technique I would recommend he employ is the “vertical stroke”. When something he has directed does not happen in a timely manner (this should only be used for inaction, not wrong action), he should identify everyone from the highest to the lowest in the relevant chain of command and relieve them all simultaneously.  A few of those would quickly get the bureaucracy’s attention.

In my next column, I will look at some of the more questionable elements in the new Commandant’s Guidance.

The View From Olympus: Mass Shooters and Fourth Generation War

In the wake of mass shootings such as those in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton, I am often asked, “Are shootings part of Fourth Generation war?”  When the shooter’s motivation is racial, religious, or ideological, the clear answer is yes. The shooter has transferred his primary loyalty away from the state to something else, and he wants to fight for whatever his new primary loyalty is.  But what about cases where the shooter’s motive is unclear or he is simply insane?

These mass shootings too are objectively part of 4GW, in that they undermine the legitimacy of the state.  The state arose to bring order, safety of persons and property, and when a state cannot provide order it no longer fulfills its function.  At that point it becomes just a big money grab and people start looking around for something else worthy of their loyalty. Fourth Generation war is above all else a contest for legitimacy, and mass shootings strike directly and powerfully at the legitimacy of any state that cannot prevent them.  Rapid “first response” is not enough; public safety demands prevention.

I think there is another way in which many mass shootings whose motive is unclear are an element of Fourth Generation war.  They are responding to the war on men.

In a front-page article, the August 11 New York Times wrote,

The fact that mass shootings are almost exclusively perpetrated by men is “missing from the national conversation,” Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said on Monday.  “Why does it have to be, why is it men, dominantly, always?”

As a Democrat, Governor Newson does not dare answer his own question because doing so recognizes that men and women are different.  This difference is fundamental to the nature of both. When women get angry, they talk. When men get angry, they kill.

What is making more and more men, especially young men, very angry indeed is the ongoing war on men, especially white, heterosexual men.  Cultural Marxism, the dominant ideology among American’s elites, condemns white, straight men as inherently evil. They are to be criticized, mocked, derided, and assailed in every possible way, all the time (this is known as “critical theory”–the theory is to criticize).  The only response they are supposed to make is to grovel and apologize to their moral superiors, i.e., blacks, women, and gays.

More, feminism, which has been almost entirely subsumed by cultural Marxism, demands women be allowed–indeed, forced–into every institution that used to be all-male.  The military, fire departments, police departments, construction work, all-male clubs, schools, and colleges must all now admit women, sometimes with a quota system that requires large numbers of them.  Men must work cheek-by-jowl with women. But God help the man who does what men naturally do and makes an advance to one of them. He risks being accused (often falsely) of “sexual harassment” and his job and career are on the line.  In effect, men must become eunuchs.

This puts men, especially young men with raging hormones, in an impossible position.  They cannot escape women, they cannot object to the presence of women, they must take orders from women, and above all they must fear women, because if a woman yells “Sexual harassment!”, the man is considered guilty until proven innocent.  And the feminists decree the woman must always be believed.

So men’s anger is rising, especially among young men.  More and more of them are growing angry enough to at least think about killing.  Some will act on their anger, which means so long as the war on men continues, the number of mass shootings will grow.  And the state’s legitimacy will continue to crumble. Welcome to Fourth Generation war.

In my previous column, I laid out a way to speed up the response to mass shooters to keep the casualties down.  But the only way to prevent such shootings is to end the war on men. If you want to keep men from hitting women, you have to separate them.  Every past generation knew this. It is likely to be an expensive lesson to re-learn.

Gun Control Won’t Stop Mass Shootings

In the wake of the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, even leading Republicans are endorsing some forms of gun control.  The public’s demand for action is understandable. But the action must be effective, and gun control won’t be. The country is awash in guns, and if someone wants one, he will get it regardless of what controls are in place.

There is something else we can do to stop mass shootings that I think would work, in many if not all cases.  I have proposed it before. It is something President Trump could launch on his own initiative, without having to get it through Congress.  What is it? A universal militia made up of men who take a pledge to attack any shooter they encounter.

This militia would have no organization, uniforms, or government supplied weapons.  It would simply be a roster of men who signed a formal pledge to attack rather than run away if someone opens fire in a public place.  They would do so whether they were armed or not. If enough men rush a shooter, they will be able to take him down. Some of those men will die, but in the process they will save many other lives, especially those of women and children.

We know this can work.  In two recent cases, one in North Carolina and the other in Colorado, shooters who tried to commit massacres in two schools were stopped because the man nearest them attacked them and took them down.  Both of those men died. But no one else did. In both cases, the police said the men who tackled the gunman saved many other lives. They prevented mass shootings.

The problem cannot be left to law enforcement.  Unless we are lucky enough to have a cop immediately on the scene, by the time the police arrive we will have mass casualties.  Fast police response is of course important. But in most cases even the fastest response will be too late. The state’s duty is to prevent killing, not respond to it.  Only if the men on the scene act immediately can a massacre be prevented.

A militia of men who have taken a pledge to act also shifts the moral calculus.  Mass shooters usually want attention, either to themselves or to whatever cause they represent.  If the nearest man or men take the gunman out, the attention shifts to them. Again, that happened both in the Carolina and the Colorado cases.  If shooters know they will not become the center of attention it may decrease their motivation. It also shows other Americans that we are not helpless.  Americans can still take care of themselves rather than wait like sheep to be slaughtered.

I have intentionally said “men” should be offered a chance to take the pledge and join the militia.  The feminists will howl at that. But human nature is such that men will act to protect the woman at the expense of the mission (the same thing happens on a battlefield if women are present).  Women’s duty in the case of a mass shooter is to run or hide, call the cops, and encourage the men on the scene to fight. Those have been women’s role in danger and always will be. Men and women are not interchangeable.

Even nut-case mass shooters without agenda are an element of Fourth Generation war because they undermine the legitimacy of the state.  The state arose to guarantee order: safety of persons and property. If the state cannot do that, it loses its legitimacy. We don’t just need a response by the state to the mass shooter problem, we need an effective response.  Gun control isn’t one. The militia I have proposed can be, if not in every case, certainly in many. A state that leaves its citizens at the mercy of random massacres is a state whose days are numbered.

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

How President Trump Can Win Every American’s Support

Americans on the Left and on the Right no longer have much in common.  But there is one thing we all share: a passionate loathing for the robocalls that deluge us day and night.  They interrupt our work and our sleep, they tie up our phone lines and they seek to steal our money through fraud.  If President Trump could put an end to them, Left, Right, and center would cheer him. We might even join in dancing in the streets.

I think there is a way he can do this.  Congress is attempting a fix, but the fix relies on technology, which is not likely to work.  The robocallers will probably have found a way around the technology intended to block them before it can even be deployed.

Instead of a new gizmo, President Trump could propose a new tax, one I expect even Grover Norquist would support.  The proposal would be for a tax of one dollar on every robocall, to be paid by the telephone company that delivers the call.  We cannot tax the robocall companies themselves because many are located overseas and they change their identities constantly.  But we can tax the well known American phone companies that send the unwanted calls into our home. I suspect all robocalls would cease the day after President Trump signed the legislation.

The phone companies would probably send their lobbyists to Capitol Hill, checkbooks in hand, to try to stop such a proposal.  But any legislator of either party who voted to let the robocallers keep interrupting our lives would commit political suicide, and they all will know it.  If President Trump could ever get a proposal through Congress by unanimous consent, it would be this one.

The phone companies and the robocallers themselves will argue that blocking all robocalls would also block a few we might want, like notices from our local government about a change in trash collection day.  They will probably suggest some technology intended to block only fraudulent calls. But, again, the robocallers will quickly find a way to spoof that technology and reach us with their frauds. In the real world, it is all or nothing, and I’m willing to bet 90% of us would vote for no robocalls at all.

Fraudulent calls from call centers, where there is a person on the line, should also fall under the new tax if those calls can be identified.  It may be enough to tax them if they come from overseas. American companies still wishing to place legitimate calls to American phones can set up their call centers in this country, thus creating more jobs here.

President Trump has good instincts for doing things that bring real benefits to American citizens.  Few gifts he could give the American people would be more welcome than an end to robocalls and fraudulent calls from call centers.  Can someone get him this proposal?

The View From Olympus: How to Avoid War with Iran

When President Trump called off an airstrike on Iran with the planes already in the air, he justified the hopes many of us had placed in him in 2016.  No other president would have had the guts to do that.

Unfortunately, while that action avoided war with Iran last week, the danger of war remains high.  The confrontation between the U.S. and Iran is almost certain to continue.  It is strategically disadvantageous for both parties.  But powerful domestic political factions will continue to drive it nonetheless.  In Iran, the Revolutionary Guard Corps needs the American threat to justify its own domestic power and the benefits of corruption that flow from it.  In Washington, the Likud lobby, which includes people highly placed in the White House, desperately wants a war between the U.S. and Iran so Israel’s Likud-led government can seize the West Bank (see my column, “Bait and Switch”, in the latest issue of The American Conservative).  So, the question becomes, how do we continue to confront Iran without war breaking out?  That seems to be the best realistic objective.

Both sides may have offered up the beginnings of an answer.  President Trump called off the airstrike when he was told it would kill around 150 Iranians.  Iran had only shot down an American drone.  No American lives were endangered, and the Pentagon has no shortage of drones.  Similarly, the Iranians said they did not shoot down an American P-8 naval patrol aircraft they claimed had also invaded their airspace because doing so would have killed Americans.  In other words, both sides called a halt at the point where their actions would have caused casualties.

The same has been true of Iranian attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf–if the attacks were in fact actions of the state of Iran, which is by no means clear.  They could have been done by elements of the Revolutionary Guard Corps that do want a war, without authorization.  Those Revolutionary Guards could have been in the pay of another power that wants a war, such as Saudi Arabia or Israel.  The “Iranian sailors” could have been German soldiers dressed up in Polish uniforms.  History has witnessed such things.

The restraint both sides have shown so far could be the basis for a shared rule: no human casualties.  That still leaves both Iran and the U.S. plenty of options for annoying each other.  Embargoes, cyberwar, driving up marine insurance rates, isolating the other’s proxy forces in various theaters, attacking facilities and equipment where there is no risk to people, the list is endless.  But so long as no people are killed, there is no war.

This kind of ritualization of war is historically common.  Ritualized war is in fact far more frequent than total war.  The reason is obvious: the cost is lower.  Each side gets to preen, pump, do its victory dances and so on while their respective societies carry on normal life.  Think of it as the NFL without the big salaries.

After a campaign of mutual annoyance but not war has gone on long enough, both Iran and the U.S. may come to realize a negotiated solution would benefit both.  President Trump has made it clear he is open to that outcome.  So far, Iran’s leadership is not.  But I suspect the Iranian people are, and the Ayatollah cannot ignore them forever.

What everyone needs now, except Likud and its American agents, is no war, i.e., no casualties.  If President Trump continues to insist on that rule and the Iranians do the same, the war fever will eventually break.

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

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.