The Mike Flynn Problem is Actually a Profession of Arms Problem

*Note: This essay was originally published at War on the Rocks.

When twelve stars tell you to knock it off, there’s a problem.

At several points throughout this past presidential campaign, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn’s partisan political behavior, while legal, was so out-of-line for a member of the profession of arms that a trio of the nation’s elite retired officers reached out informally and publicly to tell Flynn to cease and desist. Flynn’s old commander and comrade, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, quietly urged restraint, and two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote open letters to mark their disapproval: Gen. Martin Dempsey explained to the American people that Flynn’s inappropriate actions violated the profession’s “apolitical tradition,” and Adm. Michael Mullen amplified the same sentiment, that “for retired senior officers to take leading and vocal roles as clearly partisan figures is a violation of the ethos and professionalism of apolitical military service.”

Yet, despite three enormous red-and-white flags waving “stop,” Flynn, as a commission-holding retired military officer, continued to violate these apolitical values — etched in code, written in policy, deep in history, and reinforced every two years by service-supported voting education and assistance programs — yet, when pressed in an interview about this very criticism, Flynn responded combatively: “What’s Marty Dempsey going to do?” While troubling on its own, Flynn’s defiance raises a larger, more important question: What’s the profession of arms going to do?

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

Stars and Stripes, Forever?: Why New Zealand’s Flag Choice Matters

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

New Zealand is a small country of giants. My wife and I grew to love “the land of the long white cloud” while living in Wellington for two years, having been sent there for graduate school by the U.S. Army. Enamored so much, that my wife, without irony, still calls New Zealand “the place where dreams are made,” and it really did seem like a dream: Our first daughter was born there, we hiked the Milford Track, enjoyed flat whites and the All Blacks, grew to love wine, sheep, sea, sky and even acquired a taste for the rugged loveliness of Wellington’s windy coastline. Continue reading “Stars and Stripes, Forever?: Why New Zealand’s Flag Choice Matters”

A Very Unequal Dialogue: Debating Civil-Military Relations with Tom Ricks

*Note: What follows is the beginning of an essay of mine (“A Very Unequal Dialogue”) on the current state of civil-military relations, which is available in full over at The Best Defense. 

Tom disagrees with my recent assessment that the recent New America Foundation/Arizona State University Future of War Conference underrepresented the uniformed military, resulting in a stunted, unbalanced product.  In response, I’ll do three things; first, we’ll look at the numbers. Second, I’ll explain why this is imbalance undermines the conference’s efficacy.  Third, I’ll get into some personal anecdotes that describe how these civil-military themes play out at the individual level.  What a reader will find is that the civil-military gap is unacceptably wide in the intellectual sphere, and even the kindest expressions of gratitude cannot effectively bridge this expanse.  My takeaway from the Future of War Conference: the military is to be thanked and not heard. Continue reading “A Very Unequal Dialogue: Debating Civil-Military Relations with Tom Ricks”

An Ebola Manifesto for the Military Profession

Image of Camp Funston, Kansas (USA), US Army base, 1918 provided courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of Camp Funston, Kansas (USA), US Army base, 1918 provided courtesy of Wikipedia.


There are three conclusions for the military profession to be drawn from the present Ebola outbreak: the threat is enormous, but ultimately manageable; the desired ends are currently vastly under resourced; and the profession’s lack of intellectual focus on the outbreak may result in the nation bumbling towards unnecessary, potentially catastrophic, strategic shock. Continue reading “An Ebola Manifesto for the Military Profession”

On Ebola: Calculating Geostrategic Landpower Requirements

Image courtesy of the New York Times. Image courtesy of the New York Times.


In his famous 1998 set of BBC Radio Reith lectures, military historian Sir John Keegan described war as a “protean activity” that “changes form, often unpredictably” like a “disease” that “exhibits the capacity to mutate and mutates fastest in the face of efforts to control or eliminate it.”  Today, some have used similar themes in describing ISIS.  Columnist Maureen Doud has noted that ISIS “has rampaged like a flesh-eating virus through the region,” while her colleague at the New York Times, Tom Friedman, writes about ISIS that we can only “contain these organisms, until the natural antibodies from within emerge.”  And, ISIS certainly can seem like a horrible malady that will not end.  Particularly when coupled with all the writing on the 100th anniversary of WWI.  We’re told that our modern world bears many similarities to that of a century ago – Margaret MacMillan of Oxford has argued that we’re complacent, while Christopher Clark of Cambridge has assessed that we could be “sleepwalking” into another global conflagration.  When we think about war in our world, we can’t help but consider that ISIS might be a catalyst for a much larger war.

But it’s worth wondering – when we compare ISIS and the Ebola outbreak –  what is the more likely and more dangerous threat to the United States and world?  It has been estimated that ISIS numbers approximately 30-40,000, with roughly 100,000 supporters.  Consider that ISIS can only coerce so many people into their ranks – they are limited by what they can “infect” by religion and geography. Continue reading “On Ebola: Calculating Geostrategic Landpower Requirements”

Ebola and West Point: What is the role of land power in outbreaks?

Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control.


Public Radio International runs a great news program (locally, it’s usually on National Public Radio) called “The World.”  The other day the show ran a five minute segment that caught my attention: there was a violent attack on an Ebola clinic in the “West Point” neighborhood/slum in Monrovia, Liberia.  The New York Times is following the same story.

It got me thinking (owing entirely to the place name and connection to where I teach)  – what is the role of landpower in outbreaks?  Would the U.S. Army ever be a part of an effort to contain the spread?  Is U.S. Africa Command working this up right now?

Collateral Damage and Societal Apathy

Image courtesy of CNN and House of Charity. Image courtesy of CNN and House of Charity.

Friday’s Last Word – Pull Pin, Throw Grenade, Run Away: A provocative thought to kick off the weekend…

How much time do we as a society reflect on the damage we inflict on other societies in war?  Any at all? Don’t get me wrong, I’m clearly not a pacifist and certainly believe that the United States generally stands for good in the world.  But often – to do good – we have to do things that are not so good. Continue reading “Collateral Damage and Societal Apathy”