It’s Time to End the Tyranny of Ends, Ways, and Means

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

A few years ago, I showed a senior officer a draft strategy. He looked at it, and then looked at me with a Christmas orphan’s unsatisfied disappointment: “We need to more clearly explain our ends, ways, means analysis,” he said, leaving silent the implied threat—or it’s not a real strategy. Underwhelmed but outranked, I grudgingly included the formula.

American strategists know the formula well. It’s Col. Arthur Lykke’s, published in Military Review in 1989, and since then widely taught and promulgated by the US Army War College: “Strategy equals ends (objectives toward which one strives) plus ways (courses of action) plus means (instruments by which some end can be achieved).” It is convenient and concise, short enough to fit cleanly onto a PowerPoint slide and clear enough to be expressed as an actual mathematical equation: ends + ways + means = strategy (less residual risk). This simplicity has driven universal adoption; nearly every single strategic document the American military generates is directly or indirectly influenced by Lykke’s formula.

But what if this dominant view is bad for American strategy, as Jeffrey Meiser points out in a recent essay? While he acknowledges “some value” to this method, Meiser also alleges the formula “has become a crutch undermining creative and effective strategic thinking” because it channels practitioners toward “viewing strategy as a problem of ends-means congruence” (e.g., do we have enough troops to do the job?). Is Meiser right? Is Lykke’s model a tyrannical mental straightjacket, constraining American strategists?

I think so. Lykke’s model is flawed on four counts: (1) it’s too formulaic, (2) “ends” don’t really end, (3) it minimizes the adversary, and (4) our strategic performance since widespread adoption has been unremarkable at best. Continue reading “It’s Time to End the Tyranny of Ends, Ways, and Means”

A Nuclear Game of Thrones with North Korea

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

Last night, HBO aired the seventh season premiere of Game of Thrones—a season for tens of millions of fans to contemplate the looming threat north of The Wall. While a considerable amount of America and the world fixes their gaze on this fictitious barrier, in the real world there’s a real threat north of our own wall—the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that buffers our people and allies from North Korea.

Can the show provide any lessons for how to deal with the North Koreans? Continue reading “A Nuclear Game of Thrones with North Korea”

Time to ban downhill traffic on the Incline

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on July 11, 2017. It can also be found online here.

The Manitou Incline’s rules do not prohibit downhill traffic. They should.

On the Fourth of July, I ran up the Incline through a herd of holiday hikers and just below the top a group of six downhillers nearly knocked me off the steep trail. Jarring, but, this was to be expected on a day when I passed 23 people going down in my 24 minutes going up. Continue reading “Time to ban downhill traffic on the Incline”

No, soldiers aren’t the only ones who serve

*Note: This letter to the editor was published in the Baltimore Sun print edition on June 17, 2017. It can also be found online here.

Last week, U.S. Naval Academy professor Bruce Fleming described the circumstantial pomp of this year’s graduation day. He “usually love[s] it.”

This year was different. It “wasn’t fun,” because Fleming felt the event’s speeches “portrayed a vision of the Navy as a self-serving, closed entity.” He excoriated the speakers and concluded, “It’s not good for the military to believe itself better than the civilians it defends.” (“Naval Academy graduates no better than the civilians they defend,” June 5.)

Admittedly, as an Army major and West Point graduate, my initial reaction brought out the worst, particularly having just written my own painful reflection on fallen friends this past Memorial Day. How could someone attack the military like that?

My instinctual reaction was wrong. And Mr. Fleming’s essay was (mostly) right. As Gen. Martin Dempsey, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, wrote a few years ago, “We can’t allow a sense of separation to grow between [the military and the rest of society].” Both General Dempsey and Mr. Fleming point out that those in uniform aren’t the only ones in America who serve or sacrifice. Continue reading “No, soldiers aren’t the only ones who serve”

Containing the Pocket-Sized Threat to America’s Military

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

The scary/cool juxtaposition of the recent global ransomware attack with Google’s annual developer’s conference should, if nothing else, prompt us to reevaluate our relationship with the digital world. Google’s event (and the settled consensus) tells us the information age enables better, more productive lives. But this latest attack and mounting evidence suggest that the accompanying costs are serious, even rising to national security concern levels as an ongoing threat to American lives and liberty in the pursuit of false happiness.

As a military officer and strategist, I’m bound by an oath charging defense “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” For several years I’ve noticed the growing impact of the persistent, dependent link between the majority of our soldiers and the internet, often enabled by and embodied in the smartphone. Officers responsible for teaching compass-driven land navigation, a critical ground combat skill, worry they’re fighting an unwinnable battle with recruits unable to see the forest from their screen. Cadets, as with their non-military, college-age contemporaries, can’t concentrate in class when they’re so wired to the web. Social media divides units over inappropriate online sexual behavior in garrison, and while on deployment, as one officer reports, the “band of brothers” is coming apart due to “too much connectivity.” Continue reading “Containing the Pocket-Sized Threat to America’s Military”

Members of Congress serve in the military. They shouldn’t.

*Note: This essay was published at the Washington Post on June 2, 2017.

Congress is in recess, and members have returned to their districts to hold town hall meetings, fundraisers and, in a few cases, don military uniforms to serve in the National Guard or Reserve.

They shouldn’t.

As an Army officer I appreciate and admire their desire to serve. We need more citizens who want to serve in politics or in uniform. But allowing representatives of the legislative branch of government to act as officers in the coequal executive branch impedes their ability to make independent strategic judgments about war, violates the spirit of Defense Department guidelines and flouts the nonpartisan traditions of the military profession.

Read the rest at the Washington Post.

Their Chairs Are Empty, but We Know What Their Sacrifice Was For

*Note: This essay was published in the Wall Street Journal print edition on May 26, 2017.

I didn’t even know I was crying until half my face was wet. It was Memorial Day 2004, and I had just returned from a year of fighting as a cavalry officer in Iraq. I was sitting in a sea of parishioners at my parents’ church for a holiday-themed Sunday, complete with tiny flags and people thanking me for my service. It was all very nice until the minister’s voice trailed off and an enormous screen showed images of American soldiers recently lost.

Then I saw him. No, it wasn’t him, exactly, but the guy on the screen looked enough like one of the soldiers under my command who had been killed that I was overwhelmed by tears. I pushed my way down the pew, ran to a bathroom and stayed there until the storm passed.

Like so many others, my wars have been marked by the distinct cruelty of rapid, random and repeated death of young soldiers. There was the tank driver who drowned in the desert. The experienced leader who accidentally discharged his weapon, killing a nearby squad mate. The lieutenant who had written two years earlier as a cadet that his favorite time of day was when “Taps” played: “One day it will play at my funeral and when it does, I pray that I am deserving enough of that honor.” He was.

Read the rest at the Wall Street Journal.