zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » New Book: Mission Revolution by Jennifer Morrison Taw

New Book: Mission Revolution by Jennifer Morrison Taw

Mission Revolution: The US Military and Stability Operations by Jennifer Morrison Taw

Columbia University Press just sent me a review copy of Mission Revolution: The US Military and Stability Operations by Jennifer Morrison Taw, an assistant professor of IR/Security Studies at Claremont McKenna College.  Taw has written a very timely book given the looming threat of sequestration – she has investigated and analyzed the institutional and strategic impact of the US having elevated MOOTW (military operations other than war) in 2005 to a DoD mission on par with war-fighting, terming the change a “Revolution”.

[ Parenthetical aside: I recall well Thomas Barnett loudly and persistently calling for the Pentagon to deal with MOOTW by enacting an institutional division of labor between a heavy-duty Leviathan force to handle winning wars and a constabulary System Administration force to win the peace, manage stability, defend the connectivity. Instead, in Iraq and Afghanistan we had one Leviathan force trying to shoehorn in both missions with a shortage of boots, a river of money and a new COIN doctrine. Soon, if budget cuts and force reduction are handled badly we could have one very expensive, poorly structured, force unable to do either mission.]

Thumbing through Mission Revolution, it is critical and well focused take on the spectrum of problems the US has faced in the past ten years trying to make a “whole of government” approach an effective reality in stability operations and counterinsurgency. Taw covers doctrine, training, bureaucratic politics, procurement, policy, grand strategy, mission creep, counterterrorism and foreign policy visions of the civilian leadership, all with generous footnoting.

I am looking forward to reading Mission Revolution and giving it a detailed, in-depth, review in the near future.

10 Responses to “New Book: Mission Revolution by Jennifer Morrison Taw”

  1. Madhu Says:

    Yeah, I remember the whole Core-Gap, Leviathan-SysAdmin theorizing, too. I also remember Dr. Barnett’s raving over FM 3-24 on his globalization blog and in SWJ, around 2007 or so. I think you interviewed him?
    .
    I disagree. Our problems had nothing to do with not having a SysAdmin system in place. We built plenty of schools. Didn’t take. Wasn’t the main issue.
    .
    There is no “there” there to Core-Gap. What’s the difference between this and 1950s modernization theory, or 1960s/70s development theory, or 1990s capacity building? It’s nothing new and it hasn’t been shown to work, but the thing is, it’s unfalsifiable. The problems are never with the theory itself, just that we haven’t “tried” hard enough.
    .
    Shocked to see this actually. 
    .
    And that’s why I’m bored, bored, bored, with military intellectuals of the day. Hey, I’m not saying he isn’t a good consultant or doesn’t have good ideas, but why do some things seem to imbed themselves in this world?
    .
    Building schools and patrolling better were never the answer in Afghanistan, IMO. We lost the initiative, we were, and are, reacting, not setting the shape or tempo of the larger campaign, or even, the smaller battles.
     

  2. Madhu Says:

    Sorry about the bored, bored, bored stuff. I think this is actually a facet of my personality and when I read too much about a particular field, I start to see the same stuff over and over again and long for intellectual movement, so, it’s nothing against you all. This is me. This is typical of me, actually.
    .
    But I stand by the Core-Gap criticism. 

  3. Madhu Says:

    From the Amazon book blurb;
    “Jennifer Morrison Taw examines the military’s sudden embrace of stability operations and its implications for American foreign policy and war. Through a detailed examination of deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, changes in U.S. military doctrine, adaptations in force preparation, and the political dynamics behind this new stance, Taw connects the preference for stability operations to the far-reaching, overly ambitious American preoccupation with managing international stability. She also shows how domestic politics have reduced civilian agencies’ capabilities while fostering an unhealthy overreliance on the military. Introducing new concepts such as securitized instability and institutional privileging, Taw builds a framework for understanding and analyzing the expansion of the American armed forces’ responsibilities in an ever-changing security landscape. ” 
    .
    I don’t see how a SysAdmin administration would ever be anything but mission creep, given the set up. Just because we took over global responsibilities after the British doesn’t mean we are the British, or what worked for their Empire would work for our global peacekeeping duties, which, in my opinion, we confuse with a lot of things. We are too big and diffuse and mixed up for this stuff to work, we have to many fingers in too many pies, and we have conflicting goals based on various stakeholders within our democracy. All these factors would keep a SysAdmin system from working in any kind of efficient way. At SWJ, there is an entire thread on the newer things the Indians have done in Kashmir, the types of things a light infantry would do. It seemed well received by the crew over their that seems as frustrated as I am with the same old ideas being trotted out, over and over again.
    .
    Again, this really isn’t against you or Dr. Barnett, or anyone. I’m frustrated with what’s on offer and taking it out on you folks. Unfair, I know….
    .
    The book looks good, though. 

  4. Madhu Says:

    This is actually the part I wanted to excerpt from the book blurb:
    .
    “Defined as operations other than war, stability operations can include peacekeeping activities, population control, and counternarcotics efforts, and for the entire history of the United States military, they have been considered a dangerous distraction if not an outright drain on combat resources. Yet in 2005, the U.S. Department of Defense reversed its stance on these practices, a dramatic shift in the mission of the armed forces and their role in foreign and domestic affairs. With the elevation of stability operations, the job of the American armed forces is no longer just to win battles but to create a controlled, nonviolent space for political negotiations and accord. Yet rather than produce revolutionary outcomes, stability operations have resulted in a large-scale mission creep with harmful practical and strategic consequences. ” 
    .
    Okay, I’ll leave you all alone for the time being. I have now made myself sick on this stuff, like eating too much of the same kind of food….
    .
    :) 

  5. zen Says:

    Hi Doc Madhu
    .
    David Ucko feels Taw is overhyping (he has done similar research) but has not read the book. Neither have I, beyond a casual flip through and looking at the bibliography and notes.
    .
    Military theory can get into a rut because most of the writers have to balance advocacy vs. career – both in terms of advancement as well as professional focus. If you don’t master tactical leadership and demonstrate that you do it well as an officer, you don’t get to design campaigns or construct strategies.
    .
    I have had an idea for a SWJ piece I have been kicking around in my head for the last few months. Something different, but so little time, so little quiet in which to write 

  6. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    Greetings, Zen.
    .
    I never was much for the Leviathan/SysAdmin bifurcation of the military, either.  Mostly because it’s untenable at the tactical level of war.  Ultimately, you need guys with guns who are entrusted to kill, both within the SysAdmin and Leviathan.  If you decide that the killing function is secondary to the other essential tasks, you only present yourself as a soft target.
    .
    Rather, both SysAdmin and Leviathan forces need to be unified by policy at the lowest tactical levels.  That is the real issue–lack of a solid, workable policy.  The supposed requirement to bifurcate the military into warfighting and peacefighting task organizations actually a symptom of lack of policy, not a solution to it.
    .
    And people can rationalize a Leviathan type force into the core of a SysAdmin force (that was Barnett’s conception of the Marine Corps, actually–serving as the Leviathan within the SysAdmin), but ultimately, it comes down to the requirement to defeat and disarm the enemy, in order to implement a policy.  However, even the stink of SysAdmin has infected the supposed Leviathan-ish Marine Corps.  I remember when, back in 2003, the subject of Warning Shots was brought up.  We were instructed that the best warning shot is a killing shot.  Nowadays we mess around with flares, horns, and whistles.  This is a step backward, in my estimation.  Gen Mattis once said something to the effect that the best way to influence the mind of the enemy is to put a bullet in it.
    .
    S/F,
    NTL

  7. Madhu Says:

    Zen,
    .
    Steven Pressfield is right about you: you are a professional. You are always so polite, even when I deserve a more tart answer.
    .
    I need to order some of David Ucko’s books, if only for intellectual completeness. I’ve heard so much complaining about them, that for fairness I ought to read one.

  8. Madhu Says:

    Er, by complaining, I meant at Carl Prine’s old site, etc. Of course, the Amazon reviews are very nice, but you know what I mean….

  9. Negro Diente Says:

    As someone’s done “nation building” of the SysAdmin nature over the last few years, I have to grudgingly agree with Madhu here. Even professionals like us who do FID missions for a living don’t fully embrace it. a lot of us would rather do kinetic stuff in Afghanistan, just the nature of the people in this community. it’s not just a matter of losing the initiative over there, i’m beginning to buy Huntington’s civilizational argument. everytime some wacko burns the Koran or calls Islam a bad name, the entire region freaks out and takes it out on those unlucky to be caught in harm’s way.  really guys? 

  10. zen Says:

    Hi Nate,
    .
    Great comment! You wrote:
    .
    ” If you decide that the killing function is secondary to the other essential tasks, you only present yourself as a soft target. “
    .
    Yes. Though I must note these deciders are generally not often among the unwilling soft targets. That disconnect is one part of the problem
    .
    Much thx Doc Madhu!
    .
    Hi Negro Diente,
    .
     Huntington took a lot of abuse for saying, in essence, that “Islam has bloody borders”. Excepting Latin America and Eskimoes, Islamist extremists seem to be in simultaneous conflict with nearly every other civilizational group on the planet. That’s a remarkably consistent track record of disharmony and conflict with everyone within reach


Switch to our mobile site