War Council: Past, Present, and Future



Like all good things, it started with a threat.

In early fall 2013, as a response to Bashar Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria, President Barack Obama threatened a cruise missile strike to deter the Syrian dictator from future use of such indiscriminate weapons.  The cadets wanted to talk about it.  So I named (“War Council,” via the military’s Council of War tradition), organized, and then held an event.  And we’ve had nine more since this first one in September 2013, on conflicts in:

  • Iran
  • Crimea
  • Gaza
  • Afghanistan (two) discussion with Sebastian Junger and Major Dan Kearney, and screening Korengal
  • ISIS (two) one featuring Iraqi special forces officers fresh from the front
  • Panel on Iraq, Afghanistan, and military leadership with General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal

To top it off, having gone everywhere else, we went to the future.  We held a panel on the future of warfare, at which Colonel Greg Daddis provided thought provoking insight that he’ll (soon) share with the world in a National Interest essay.

In sum: ten events, approximately 3,000 attendees (1,100 attended the Korengal screening). Continue reading “War Council: Past, Present, and Future”

Aloha, Military Strategy: A West Point Teacher’s Last Letter to His Cadets

Image provided by Flikr user US Army. Image provided by Flikr user US Army.

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

*Editor’s Note: Those who have followed the WarCouncil site know I’m an assistant professor at West Point, where I teach DS470: Military Strategy.  Unfortunately, I find myself at the end of my three year teaching tour, and this summer I will move on to the Korean Peninsula. At the end of each semester, I give my cadets a letter – which I’ve reproduced below. I wish I could have handed out more of them, taught more cadets (really, where does the time go?); which, I suppose is what motivates me to make public something that is fairly personal. I hope the letter is as useful to a reader as the experiences that led to it’s creation were to me…  

From Personal Experience to Course Concept

I was twenty three when I went to war and I was terrified.  I acknowledged I could die, but my sense of invincibility led me to think it would happen to someone else.  The fear was from the unknown. Even after West Point and Officer Basic Course, war was this vast, black hole, completely unfamiliar to me.  I even went to the doctor to investigate the possibility that my recently surgically repaired knee would keep me at home.  I physically couldn’t run and quietly hoped I wouldn’t have to go. My hopes were dashed when I got a jar of pain pills and the doctor assessed I was “good to go.”  Continue reading “Aloha, Military Strategy: A West Point Teacher’s Last Letter to His Cadets”

The Future of Warfare in Five Drawings

Image proudly created by Matt Cavanaugh. Image proudly created by Matt Cavanaugh.

*Editor’s Note: A version of this essay will be presented as remarks to the War Council event on May 4, 2015. The panel discussion will be focused on the dominant trend that will shape warfare over the next 20 years.  

The Continuum of Conflict

Why do bad things happen to good people?

It’s a question that we had better start thinking about. Because when enough people start thinking this thought, when a critical mass of people start thinking this thought – whether it’s due to barrel bombs or burning pilots or killing cadets – that’s when society calls for the use of force. Continue reading “The Future of Warfare in Five Drawings”

The Strategist’s Core Competency

Image courtesy of Matt Cavanaugh. Image courtesy of Matt Cavanaugh.

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

What are strategists good for?  What is our signature contribution to national security?  Those familiar to the site know that I’ve been kicking around this idea for awhile, having tried my hand at a “Strategist’s Mission Statement” – which Frank Hoffman critiqued at War on the Rocks – causing me to revise my original work. Continue reading “The Strategist’s Core Competency”

The Strategist’s Mission Statement, Version 2

Image courtesy of War on the Rocks. Image courtesy of War on the Rocks.


Frank Hoffman and I are in raging, intense agreement – for the most part.

I wrote a short essay this past week describing my thoughts on a “Strategist’s Mission Statement.”  This was a return to first principles – what is a strategist and what does one actually do?  For example, if military strategists around the world, from Kabul to Korea, had a plaque on their desk citing their unique contribution to the nation, what would it read? Continue reading “The Strategist’s Mission Statement, Version 2”

The Strategist’s Mission Statement


As silly and simple as it sounds, it’s hard to explain what a strategist is and does.  I run into this definitional problem when I describe my job title: “Army Strategist.”  Eyes glaze over as if they’ve heard the word “strategy” and “strategic” so much that it’s lost all meaning.  And that overuse is clear in a world where you can pick up any phone book and find an entry for “Strategic Waste Management” (is that what the janitors at the Pentagon say in bars?).  I can imagine some future boss of mine, looking angrily at me and pointing out the door, shouting “go…be strategic!” Continue reading “The Strategist’s Mission Statement”

Was the war in Afghanistan worth it?

On March 26, 2015, the University of Utah’s Center for Peace & Conflict Studies and the Hinckley Institute of Politics sponsored three others (listed above) and I to debate this proposition: was the war in Afghanistan worth it?  I spoke in support; I made the argument, that, to my mind, the war in Afghanistan was worth the effort. Continue reading “Was the war in Afghanistan worth it?”