The View From Olympus: Two Presidents, Both Wrong

The recent massacre in Mexico of nine American citizens, all women and children, by drug cartel gunmen elicited two very different reactions from the American and Mexican Presidents.  President Trump said, according to the November 9th Cleveland Plain Dealer,

The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army.  This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.

In contrast, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said,

It hurts a lot.  But are we going to want to solve the problem in the same way?  Declaring war? That, in the case of our country, has been shown not to work.  That was a failure, that caused more violence. . . 

If we understand Fourth Generation war, we know both Presidents are wrong, although both show some insight into the situation.

President Trump is correct that the Mexican drug cartels are large and powerful.  But he underestimates the degree. Some of them are now more powerful than the Mexican state.  They have more money than the state, they have a much faster OODA Loop than the state’s forces, and, in classic 4GW fashion, they have penetrated the state’s forces to the point where they control many of them, in large part by paying higher “salaries” than the states.  If Mexico declares war on the cartels, it will lose.

President Lopez Obrador is right that warring with the cartels has been shown not to work.  But he does not appear to see any alternative but his famous line, “Hugs, not gunshots,” which has also been shown not to work, as the nine dead Americans testify.  So what is to be done?

Obviously, the best answer is to stop the cartels before they grow more powerful than the states.  But it is too late for that, in Mexico, in much of Central America, and around the world where many types of 4GW entities have become more powerful than their host states, e.g., Hezbollah in Lebanon.

For states that find themselves in that situation, 4GW theory suggests another approach: establish the rules of the game.  From the state’s perspective, gunmen from one cartel killing gunmen from a rival is not a big problem. As one Russian said to me in Moscow years ago when I asked about Chechnya, “Well, now Chechens are killing Chechens, so who cares?”

The problem is that sometimes civilians are killed, or kidnapped, or robbed, which reveals the hollowness of the state and undermines its legitimacy.  A President of Mexico or another country where non-state elements have become more powerful than the state might offer them a deal: if you avoid civilian casualties, we will stay out of the way of whatever is your top priority.  For drug cartels, that is making money by selling drugs.

While the state is not strong enough to wage war on and defeat the cartels, it can still raise or lower the cost of their doing business.  Like most businessmen, I suspect the cartels’ leaders want to lower costs. They might be open to a deal on those terms. Of course it is a worse solution from the state’s standpoint than destroying the cartels.  But it may be the best deal weak states can get.

If Mexico had a “rules of the game” agreement with at least the major cartels, an incident such as the massacre of nine American women and children would see the cartel whose gunmen did it execute those gunmen itself.

As always in 4GW, the war with drug cartels is at root a contest for legitimacy.  When civilians are killed in the war among cartels, both the state and the cartels suffer a blow to their legitimacy.  The state arose to bring order: safety of persons and property. States that cannot or will not do that lose their legitimacy.  In turn, smart 4GW entities such as Hezbollah know their legitimacy depends on providing safety and other services to the civilian sea in which they swim.  When they kill civilians, they hurt themselves.

Bismarck described politics as “the art of the possible”.  To preserve public peace and civilian safety in places where the state is weak, a deal with 4GW forces laying out the rules of the game may not be the best solution, but it may be the only possible solution.

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

A Rash Prediction

An old German saying warns that prediction is extremely difficult, especially when it involves the future.  But my track record so far has been pretty good, so here goes. I predict that Donald Trump will not be the Republican nominee in 2020.

I don’t think this will happen because of impeachment.  The House will impeach the President, because the Democrats control the House.  But unless they come up with something far more serious than a few words in a telephone conversation, the Senate will not vote to convict.  Nor should they; this impeachment is partisan politics, nothing more. The Founders intended impeachment as a remedy only for the most dire cases, and this does not come close to qualifying.  Both Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton probably committed murder, and neither was removed from office by impeachment.

Could we see some other type of action by the Deep State to remove the President?  It’s possible, but they would need a legal fig leaf of some sort to cover up the coup, and it is difficult to see what that might be.

More likely is a crisis in the President’s health.  He is not a young man, his diet does not appear to be a healthy one, and the stress he faces every day as the Establishment howls for his head must be enormous.  Donald Trump is a fighter, and to some extent he relishes a fight. But when you find yourself undermined, spied on, and sabotaged by everyone around you–just how many people were listening in to that phone conversation?–it must be wearing, to say the least.  How long his frame can take it is an open question.

The most likely reason Mr. Trump will not be the Republican nominee is related to the health issue.  He will decide not to run because it just isn’t fun anymore.

The stress and strain from being under constant attack is part of that.  But there’s more. Mr. Trump is guided largely by his instincts. And for the most part, his instincts lead him in good directions.  He has avoided another war, despite the fervent desire of the neo-cons to push him into one (or two or three). He wants to get out of the wars we are in, though so far he cannot overcome the Establishment’s desire that we stay the course, presumably ‘till hell freezes over.  He has confronted China about its unfair trade practices, something previous Presidents should have done but were chicken. He recognizes that the main threat we face is excessive immigration, and is finally getting some results in his efforts to control our borders. 

But a man guided by his instincts is also impulsive.  President Trump has shown that is true of him. And I can easily see him making an impulsive decision, possibly quite late in the game, to say the hell with the whole mess that is Washington and not run.  He would need an assurance from the Republican nominee of a Presidential pardon, should he require one. That should not be difficult to obtain. In fact, it would be smart of the Democrats to offer the same, since he will most likely defeat whomever they nominate if he does run.  But they aren’t that smart. 

If my prediction proves correct, who should the Republicans nominate?  It must be someone who is anti-Establishment, because the real political division now is Establishment/anti-Establishment, much more than Democrat/Republican or even liberal/conservative.  Vice President Pence is conservative but Establishmentarian. He is also a wooden public speaker with no charisma or evident leadership potential. The Bob Dole nomination should be fresh enough in the Republican Party’s memory not to repeat that blunder.

My suggestion would be a Tucker Carlson/Tulsi Gabbard ticket.  Carlson is anti-Establishment, conservative (not neocon), and a major public figure.  Coming from outside Washington is a plus. Rep. Gabbard must know she will never get a Democratic Party nomination.  The ticket could present itself as bi-partisan, which would appeal to the millions of Americans sick of partisanship.  It would be an anti-war ticket, and also anti-Wall Street; Carlson recognizes that the concentration of wealth in the .1% is a populist issue.  It would offer everything President Trump does, without the Trumpian downsides. Most important, the voters who usually don’t vote but did come out to vote for Trump would do the same for Carlson. 

Such is my rash prediction.  If I’m wrong, it won’t be the first time.  But if I’m right, it won’t be the first time for that either, especially when everyone else predicted the opposite.

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

The View From Olympus: A Big Win for 4GW

A recent event in Culiacan, Mexico should have drawn a lot of attention but didn’t: a Fourth Generation entity, the Sinaloa Cartel, took on the Mexican state and beat it, not just strategically but tactically.  It did so by demonstrating a remarkably rapid OODA Loop, far faster than the state’s. This is a sign of things to come, not just in Mexico but in many places.

The most perceptive piece I have seen on these events was in the October 20 Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Gun battle involving El Chapo’s son highlights challenges to government” by Mary Beth Sheridan of the Washington Post.  It states,

What happened this past week was unprecedented.  When Mexican authorities tried to detain one of El Chapo’s sons, hundreds of gunmen with automatic weapons swept through the city, sealing off its exits, taking security officials hostage and battling authorities.

After several hours, the besieged government forces released Ovidio Guzman, who was wanted on U.S. federal drug-trafficking charges. . .

The offensive in Culiacan. . . exposed one of the country’s foremost problems: the government’s slipping control over parts of the territory.

There are an increasing number of areas “where you effectively have a state presence, but under negotiated terms with whoever runs the show locally,” said Falko Ernst, the senior Mexico analyst for the International Crisis Group. . .

Thursday afternoon’s attack came on the heels of several incidents highlighting the ability of organized crime groups to challenge the government.  On Monday, gunmen ambushed a convoy of state police in the western state of Michoacan, killing 14. Last month, the Northeast Cartel ordered gas stations in the border city of Nuevo Laredo to deny service to police or military vehicles, leaving them desperate for fuel.

All this is happening not in the Hindu Kush but on our immediate southern border.  That alone should have drawn greater attention from a defense establishment fixated on non-threats from Russia and China.  But there is more here than meets the eye.

Normally, when states fight non-state forces in Fourth Generation war, the state loses strategically but wins tactically.  Here, non-state forces won tactically as well, and won big. They were at least as well equipped as the Mexican state forces.  But what was really impressive was their speed in the OODA Loop. Apparently caught by surprise by the state’s seizure of one of their leaders, they were able to respond massively within a few hours.  They took complete control of a city of about a million people, isolating and surrounding the unit that had captured Ovidio Guzman. The President of Mexico was forced to order his release.

The cartel’s ability to observe, orient, decide, and act much faster than the state is not a surprise.  Years ago, when John Boyd was still alive, a friend of mine who was a Marine officer was in Bolivia on a counter-drug mission.  I asked him how the Bolivian state’s OODA Loop compared with the traffickers. He said, “They go through it six times in the time it takes for us to go through it once.”  When I told Boyd that, he said, “Then you’re not even in the game.”

4GW forces’ superior speed through the OODA Loop, in turn, has several causes.  They are fighting Second Generation militaries, where decision-making is centralized and therefore slow.  States are bureaucratic entities, and bureaucrats avoid making decisions and acting because it can endanger their careers.  The motivation of state forces is often poor because they have little loyalty to the corrupt and incompetent states they serve; mostly, to them its a job that offers a paycheck. In contrast, most 4GW forces have no bureaucracy, decentralize decision-making because they have to, and have fighters with genuine loyalty to what they represent.  Why? Money, plus what local women cited in the PD article explained:

 She acknowledged that the cartel members were part of the social fabric, sometimes more effective at resolving problems than authorities.  For example, if your car is stolen, it is more likely you would get it back by contacting cartel members through an acquaintance than by waiting for the police to crack the case, she said.

The drug cartels represent the future in many respects.  They do not seek to replace the state or openly capture it, which would make them vulnerable to other states; rather, they hide within its hollowed-out structures and are protected by its formal sovereignty.  They make lots of money while states go begging. They provide social services the state is supposed to offer but does not. Their highly-motivated forces with flat command structures have a faster OODA Loop than the state’s.  And locally, they often appear more legitimate than the state.

Again, all this is happening right next door.  Why can our national security establishment not read the words already written on the border wall we so desperately need?  Those words are, “Fourth Generation war.”

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

The View From Olympus: A 4GW Impeachment?

As I have said many times, Fourth Generation war is at root a contest for legitimacy.  On one side is the state. On the other is a vast array of alternate primary loyalties: religion, race, tribe, gang, and locality, among others.  Around the world, the contest is going poorly for the state as a growing number of people shift their primary loyalty to one of the many alternatives, for which they are willing to fight.

Washington does not perceive it, absorbed as it is in its own struggles for power and money, but the same contest is going on in this country.  So far, to our great benefit, it has remained on the peripheries. Urban police know they are confronting it in the form of ethnically-based gangs, which are illegal business enterprises that fight.  But the mass of the American people appear still loyal to the state.

The appearance is, I think, deceptive.  On both the Left and the Right, doubts about the legitimacy of the federal government are growing.  Mostly, the doubts are about the legitimacy of the current President, although polls show public perception of Congress is also strongly negative.  There is no question many on the Left regard President Trump as illegitimate. Should a hard-Left figure such as Warren win in 2020, the Right will doubt her legitimacy.  But considering the current President illegitimate is different from thinking the state itself has lost its legitimacy.

Impeachment could change that.  President Trump’s supporters regard his election as proof their voices can be heard, that their interests will be considered in Washington.  They know that to virtually all Democrats and some Republicans, they are “unpersons”. Why? Because they are White, male, or non-feminist female, straight, and mostly Christian.  They are also struggling economically, which means they are not contributors to politicians’ campaigns. The coastal elites dismiss them as rubes and hicks inhabiting “flyover land”.  The Democratic Party, which has embraced the ideology of cultural Marxism, considers them all inherently evil “oppressors” fit only to kiss the feet of blacks, immigrants, gays, feminists, etc.,  PC’s sainted “victims” groups.

Again, should a Warren win in 2020, President Trump’s supporters will not consider her (or him) a legitimate President.  But if the unholy alliance between Democrats and the Deep State succeeds in driving President Trump from office through impeachment or some other means, that will be a very different story.  At that point, the message to President Trump’s supporters will be, “Your votes don’t matter, because even if you elect a President, we will drive him from office and reduce you to a silent serfdom.  You and your views are entitled to no representation. You are and will remain ‘unpersons.’”

At that point, in the vast electoral sea that is red America, the legitimacy of the system itself, i.e., the state, will be brought into serious question.  And when that happens, the chance of Fourth Generation war here on a large scale will rise dramatically. When you tell people they cannot achieve representation through ballots, they start to think about doing it with bullets.

That electoral map, the one that shows the results of the 2016 election by county, has significant military meaning.  The blue votes are concentrated in cities, which cannot feed themselves. As Chairman Mao said, “Take the countryside and the cities will fall.”  Nor can they be supplied from the sea, because most of the people in the military are Trump supporters, which means the red side will get most of the ships and planes.  The military problem is really quite simple, and need involve virtually no shooting or destruction. You just put the cities under siege and wait for the starving people to come out.  It won’t take long.

The message to Washington is clear and direct: if President Trump is driven from office by anything other than a loss in the 2020 election (if he runs), the legitimacy of the state will be brought into question.  That is a dangerous business that politicians of both parties would be wise to avoid. After all, they will be the first people hanged from the nearest lamppost if widespread 4GW comes here. An impeachment that leads to the checkpoints going up all over rural America is a very bad idea.

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

The View From Olympus: A Comprehensive Settlement

President Trump’s decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria is wise and, in fact, long overdue.  There is no natural end-point for serving as a buffer between the Turks and the Kurds; their feud will go on forever.  We should never have gotten ourselves into it in the first place.

Similarly, the President was correct in refusing to attack Iran in response to the Houthis’ strike on Saudi oil facilities.  His refusal to pull the Saudis’ chestnuts out of the fire has led them to approach Iran about reducing mutual tensions, which is just the outcome we should desire.  As the New York Times reported on October 5, “Any reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran could have far-reaching consequences for conflicts across the region.”

President Trump understands that our involvement in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf should be minimized.  It brings us no benefits and carries the risk of high costs, i.e., more wars in which our interests are not really at stake.  What we need is a comprehensive settlement of all major disputes across the region. This is what Bismark sought and reached in the face of a number of European crises that could have brought on a general war.

So what might Bismarck do?  His approach was well illustrated by the Congress of Berlin.  His rule was, everyone gets something they want but nobody gets everything.  In the case of the Middle East, an outline of a comprehensive settlement might look something like this:

Iran gets most sanctions on the sale of oil lifted.  In return, Iran stops hostile acts aimed at Saudi Arabia, largely withdraws from Syria, where the Assad government (which Iran and Russia support) has won, and pushes the Houthis to accept a deal to end the fighting in Yemen.

The Saudis get an end to Iranian threats, an end to the war they have lost in Yemen, and the regional stability they crave.  In return, they cease exporting Salafism through their funding of extremist schools and organizations throughout the region, which is one of the main sources of upheaval.

Syria gets an end to its civil war, restoration of the Assad government and financial help in rebuilding.  Iraq receives a U.N. mission to help get the country working again, i.e., the electricity on, the water safe to drink, and jobs.  The Saudis pick up the tab for both, or most of it. The Gulf states get renewed cordial relations (including with Qatar), tranquility and a chance to make even more money.  Everyone agrees to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, which is what they are already doing.

The question is, how do we get all the parties to agree on a deal like this?  Again, what would Bismarck do? He would call a conference of the Powers. In his day, those were Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, and Britain.  Today, the Powers are the U.S., Russia, and China. They craft the terms of the deal, largely without reference to what the local parties want, beyond the rule that everybody gets something but nobody gets everything.  Then, they impose the settlement. Anyone who refuses it gets hit with massive trade and financial sanctions, enforced by all three Powers together. This is less brutal than it seems, because it allows the local politicians to blame the Powers for aspects of the deal their citizens do not like.  They can say, “Hey, don’t blame me. Who can stand up to the U.S., Russia, and China acting together?”

But, you may ask, what do the Powers themselves get out of it?  The U.S. gets to pull out of a region where, if we stay long enough, we are guaranteed to get into more wars we don’t want and can’t afford.  Russia gets de facto recognition as a major player in the region, including American acceptance of Russia resuming her 19th century role as protector of the region’s Christians (it is in that role Russia intervened in Syria).  China gets regional stability in an area she depends on for oil plus an OK from the U.S. and Russia to push her One Belt, One Road initiative there.

In the end, nobody is completely happy, but no one is so unhappy as to go to war.  Children sing, doves are released, bands play, and everyone goes home grumbling but at the same time relieved.  Chaos and Old Night have been pushed off, at least for a time. As a realist, Bismarck understood that was the most diplomacy can do.

So, Mr. President and Secretary Pompeo, it’s time to call a conference.  May I suggest it meets in Berlin?

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

The View From Olympus: President Trump, Iran, and the Indirect Approach

The neo-cons and neo-libs are jointly crying to the heavens that President Trump’s refusal to attack Iran shows weakness.  In their elementary school understanding of the world, unless we are the biggest bully on the playground, other bullies will come after us.  The fruits of their puerility include Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Fortunately, President Trump is wiser.  He understands that, as a maritime power (which our geography dictates we must be), we will accomplish our objectives better with an indirect approach.

The indirect approach is traditionally British, and the man who understood it best was the great maritime historian and theorist Sir Julian Corbett.  His book on the principles of maritime strategy, and his masterful history of Britain in the Seven Years’ War, both explain how it works. It works just the way President Trump has been applying it to Iran.

Through the economic and financial sanctions that the President has placed on Iran he has caused the ruling circles of that country to face real problems–especially since he has repeatedly offered to sit down and negotiate with them, which they have refused to do.  The combination has led the Iranians to have growing doubts about their country’s leadership. They suffer, their leaders can do nothing to relieve their sufferings, yet they won’t agree to talks that might reduce or even eliminate the sanctions. This is exactly the kind of pressure the indirect approach excels at creating–and we haven’t had to fire a shot.

In World War I, this is what finally defeated Germany.  The British distant blockade that included (illegally) food caused mass hunger in Germany.  More Germans starved to death than in World War II. The German government was unable to improve the food situation, and eventually the people revolted and overthrew that government–tragically for the world, because the fall of the German monarchy opened the door to Hitler.  At the same time, because the British departed from maritime strategy and sent a large army to fight on the Continent, the war also brought the end of the British Empire, another disaster for the world.

It is of central importance that President Trump stick to the indirect approach and not get sucked in to taking less effective but more dramatic military action.  Some pinprick attacks on Iran by cruise missiles or aircraft will lead the Iranian people to rally around their government, which is the opposite of the result we are seeking and achieving through the sanctions.  I hope someone reminds the President of one of Machiavelli’s wiser sayings: never do an enemy a small injury.

The strategy of the indirect approach applies equally to China.  Should China grow so belligerent we must respond, perhaps by attacking an American ship or aircraft and thereby killing Americans (something the Iranians have so far been careful to avoid), instead of sending in the Marines to attempt to take some Chinese islands, we should apply a distant blockade.  A distant blockade, like that in the British used in World War I, would be beyond China’s reach–say, in the Indian Ocean. It would cut off China’s oil and food supplies, which would be a very large problem indeed for the leadership in Beijing. But as is the case with the sanctions on Iran, we would probably not have to fire a shot.

When President Trump responds to his critics who cry for war, he should continue to say what he has been saying: that his refusal to attack Iran is a policy of strength, not weakness.  That is exactly correct, because the sanctions exert real pressure on Tehran while some minor military attacks would work in their favor. This should be a no-brainer. Regrettably, as they have shown over and over, the neo-cons and neo-libs have no brains.

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

A Deep State Impeachment

President Trump’s impeachment has been inevitable ever since the Democrats captured the House of Representatives.  Senior Democrats know it is a political blunder, but they have no choice: the party’s base demands it. It is politics, pure and simple, and most Americans perceive that.  President Trump’s actions have nothing to do with it.

In fact, the evidence so far should put Joe Biden in worse jeopardy than President Trump.  When Biden was Vice President under President Obama, he threatened to block a billion dollars of loan guarantees for Ukraine unless Ukraine’s president fired the country’s chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin.  Why would Vice President Biden have cared who Ukraine had as its Prosecutor General? It appears a big Ukraine gas company, Burisma, feared Mr. Shokin was about to investigate it for corruption–which he would have found, because everything in Ukraine is corrupt.  Again, what was this to Vice President Biden? Well, it seems his son was a board member of Burisma, a position for which he was paid as much as $50,000 a month, an extraordinary amount for just serving on a board. But in this case, the money seems to have been well spent, because Mr. Shokin was duly fired and Burisma was not investigated.

President Trump’s sin, for which the House will now vote to impeach him, was asking Ukraine’s current president to look into the matter.  Logic would suggest that if President Trump is to be impeached, the House should also vote to impeach Mr. Biden the day after his inauguration, should he be elected in 2020.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for that.

But something bigger is going on here.  The basis on which the Democrat-controlled House voted to begin an impeachment investigation was a whistle-blower complaint from a CIA employee, presumably a civil servant, and almost certainly a senior civil servant, given that he had worked in the White House.  But should a President of the United States, when speaking by phone with another country’s leader, have to worry about who is listening in–not from China or Russia, but people who are supposedly working for him who then run to Congress with information intended to destroy that President? 

What we are witnessing is a Deep State impeachment.  The Washington arm of the Deep State is made up largely of middle and upper-grade members of the Civil Service.  They are mostly card-carrying members of the Establishment. They accept globalism and, out of either conviction or cowardice, cultural Marxism.  They see themselves as members of an elite membership in which certain political views are required. President Trump, who comes from the populist Right, represents everything they loath.  They see it as their collective mission to destroy him, and they will sabotage him and everything he tries to do in any way they can. They will do the same to any successor who comes from the populist Right.

From a conservative perspective, if we are ever to be able to govern effectively, we must destroy at least this wing of the Deep State.  If we do not, winning elections will matter little. The question is, how?

The best way would be to return most of the powers the federal government has seized since 1860 to the states.  State governments too have a large portion of employees who share the Deep State’s worldview and objectives. But because state bureaucracies are smaller, it is easier to identify and dismiss the saboteurs.  Unfortunately conservatives have been attempting for decades to shrink the size of the federal government, without success. Until the debt crisis and resultant depression hits, that is unlikely to happen.

But here’s something that might work.  The Washington members of the Deep State are mostly very well paid.  Like the members of the Frankfurt School who created cultural Marxism, they insist on combining their Leftist views with a haute bourgeois lifestyle, which takes money.  Their ample salaries and good benefits packages are paid for by American taxpayers, most of whom have far smaller incomes.  In effect, we are financing the elites that despise us.

So let’s change that.  A populist measure I think would prove very effective would rule that no civil servant can be paid more than the average American taxpayer makes.  The worker bees in the Civil Service would see little change. But the vast middle management, where people like our whistle-blower spin their webs, would have to choose between serving what they believe in and their expensive lifestyles.  My bet is they would quit in droves (while Washington real estate value went through the floor).

When corporations become stuffy, stodgy, and unable to adjust to change, a common approach of new owners is to clean out the middle management, not just firing most of its people but also not replacing them, thereby shrinking their ranks.  The new, streamlined organization is not only less expensive, it performs better because the people who do the work are no longer separated from the owners by a vast, wet blanket of bureaucracy.

If conservatives are serious about changing national policy, it is not enough to fight individual alligators.  We do have to drain the swamp, the swamp that is the Deep State. Firing civil servants is extremely difficult.  But creating conditions where they choose to depart might prove easier, and politically popular. Mr. President, may I suggest this could be an effective way to strike back at the saboteurs in what should be your own ranks?  Here in Cleveland, most people would like to see you try.

The View From Olympus: The Houthis Teach a 4GW Lesson

The recent Houthi attacks on Saudi oil facilities at Khurais and Abqaiq, which are more than 500 miles from Yemen, offer a number of Fourth Generation war lessons.  Although the U.S. is saying the Houthis, a non-state entity, don’t have the ability to undertake such a sophisticated operation and that Iran must therefore be responsible, I think the Houthis and some other 4GW entities are fully capable of this and similar actions.  Why is no one considering that the Houthis might have launched their drones from the sea? It does not require a warship to launch drones; a dhow would serve quite nicely and be a “stealth” platform because it looks like all other dhows. The Quds 1 drone, which the Houthis have used previously, is large and capable enough for the mission.  The dhow could have been positioned north or northwest of the targets. Iran probably supplied the drones and expertise, but we have been doing the same for the Saudis in their air campaign against the Houthis. Turn about is fair play.

The first lesson here is that states tend to underestimate the capabilities of non-state, 4GW players.  We did so with al Qaeda and paid for it on 9/11. The Israelis did it with Hezbollah and paid by being fought to a draw last time they invaded Lebanon.  Now the U.S. is doing it again with the Houthis, as did the Saudis when they launched what they thought would be an easy war against them in 2015. This chronic underestimation will probably continue until a 4GW player sets off a nuke somewhere inconvenient.

A related lesson is that all the latest technology has not altered the limits on air power.  From Douhet onward, the (often well paid) advocates of air power have over promised and under delivered, as General McPeak, then Air Force Chief of Staff, said on my Modern War TV show years ago.  Each time air power used for strategic bombing fails to win a war, the hucksters promise a new airplane or system they claim will finally work.  It never has and never will, including in Yemen.

The most important lesson is that the technologies that matter for future war are mostly not the baroque, hyper-expensive “systems” state militaries squander billions on but cheap, simple adaptations from the civilian market.  The most effective cruise missiles ever were the civilian aircraft used by al Qaeda on 9/11; all that cost was a few thousand dollars in pilot training. The Houthis’ Quds 1 drone costs much less than multi-million dollar models we buy, not to mention the $100 million-plus F-35 or the $15 billion Ford-class aircraft carrier that is supposed to launch the F-35 but can’t.  If I’m right and the Houthis launched their attack from a civilian-type ship, compare the cost of their dhow to a U.S. Navy destroyer. Then ask which one has actually destroyed something.

This vast disproportion between what states get for their money and what non-state, 4GW actors get is typical of a change in generations.  The German Panzer divisions of 1940s were much cheaper than the Maginot Line they bypassed. The bicycles the Japanese used in their campaign to take Singapore in 1942 cost a tiny fraction of the defenses of Singapore.  The hi-tech sensors of the “McNamara Line” in Vietnam cost infinitely more than the cans of piss the VC hung from trees to fox them, and the ratio was about the same for the microwave ovens the Serbs used in defense of Kosovo to decoy our multi-million dollar anti-radiation missiles.

Smart state militaries will learn this lesson and start using their greater resources for lots of small, 4GW-type procurement programs in which they modify products for sale in the civilian market.  That will not happen here, because the worst thing you can say about a proposal in the DoD is that it is inexpensive (that’s why our troops are still marching instead of riding bicycles). In Washington, the budget, not a weapon, is the product.  And so Fourth Generation war and the non-state entities that wage it are the future, not because they are so competent but because we are so corrupt.

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.