On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 2: Military Officers Can Choose Professional Values Over Their Personal Vote

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Retired Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap has written, perhaps unintentionally, a truly ironic essay for The Hill publication.

While he may have meant to disagree with my earlier-written opinion that military officers should not vote to maintain their professional obligation to reduce cancerous political partisanship in the ranks, his response’s immense irony is noteworthy. Continue reading “On Officer Voting Abstinence, Part 2: Military Officers Can Choose Professional Values Over Their Personal Vote”

The Military Strategist’s Oath

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I pledge, to the best of my ability, that:

I will take pride in being part of the Nation’s arsenal of ideas, because wars are won as much in the mind as by the fist.

I will remember the battlefield punishes vanity; I am the most loyal skeptic, and personal investment will never obscure focus on clear-eyed, selfless support for the best strategy available.

I will wield words as weapons; with precision and concision, I expend great effort to share knowledge, with exceptional candor and courage, for the betterment of all in the security community I serve.

I will grant appropriate credence to and draw upon the sum total of all academic disciplines, the accumulated wisdom of the policy community, and the hardest-fought lessons of warfare. Continue reading “The Military Strategist’s Oath”

Uncontrollable War: Why We Can’t Accurately Predict or Adequately Prepare for Violent Conflict

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

War is hard. Even the sharpest mind can’t accurately predict or adequately prepare for trial by combat. It is inherently dependent on the enemy’s zags and the environment’s zigs—we can’t foresee where war will take us, so while we may shape it at the margins, we can never truly control the next stage of conflict. Moreover, even if we could predict where war might go, it wouldn’t really matter since we can’t replicate the precise conditions of war, and therefore we’ll never be fully ready for such violent challenges. Both characteristics bear heavily on what strategists can accomplish at war, and so these merit some scrutiny. Continue reading “Uncontrollable War: Why We Can’t Accurately Predict or Adequately Prepare for Violent Conflict”

The 21st-Century General Staff: Military Moonshots for Modern War

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

With the turn of a new administration and a new year, it’s fun to play king for a day. How about I go first? I would build a 21st-century American General Staff.

Several smart folks have called for this in front of Congress. Jim Thomas said he’d like to see a “true General Staff” that would “advocate for globally fungible power projection capabilities” and act as the “military’s global brain.” Adm. (Ret) James Stavridis also said he’d “stand up a truly independent General Staff,” to be “manned by the brilliant few, selected from their service at the [mid-career rank of major or lieutenant colonel], and permanently assigned to the General Staff.” Both made strong cases for a General Staff (GS) to meet current and coming challenges. And while they’ve put their fingers on a problem and argued that we should stand up a GS, and what this GS ought to do, they’ve skimped on specifically how we’d actually pull it together. Continue reading “The 21st-Century General Staff: Military Moonshots for Modern War”

How a Russian Razor Blade Explains American Strategic Culture

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

If ever there was a symbol for intimate violence, the razor blade is it. Every day, military men wage a small, savage war on stubble by scraping steel across their faces to meet shaving standards. Yet, as in war, not all cultures see this activity the same way—and the way different cultures view the reduction of facial hair provides insight into (or at least a useful comparative tool with which to explore) the different ways they view the reduction of armed opposition. There are ways of shaving and ways of war; we can profit from understanding both. Continue reading “How a Russian Razor Blade Explains American Strategic Culture”

What Killed the Horse? Some thoughts on the Dead Horse Ultra

I just raced the Dead Horse Ultra near Moab, Utah, and I can’t stop wondering what killed the horse. Was it the breath-removing beautiful red vistas? Or the dangerous drop-offs from rock ledges that promise certain death? While most race reports ponder trail conditions, shoe selection, gear tradeoffs, course advantages and disadvantages, and some might even promise to help you “beat the Dead Horse Ultra”—I’d prefer to focus on two straightforwardly simple viewpoints—what you’d see when you look up at this race, and what you’d see when you look down on this run. Both, I think, give us some insight into the mystery of the stiff stallion. Continue reading “What Killed the Horse? Some thoughts on the Dead Horse Ultra”

The Watch and The Pen: The Strategist’s Two Tools

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

It was surreal to watch. Here I was, sitting near someone at a conference I’d admired from afar as a strategist, a titan in the academic and policy worlds—and there he was, plugged into every conceivable Apple product on the market: first, the laptop for emails; next, the iPad for news; third, the iPhone for immediate engagement with social media’s ceaseless drumbeat of dings. Continue reading “The Watch and The Pen: The Strategist’s Two Tools”