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Recommended Reading

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen”]

Top Billing! SWJ Blog  ( BG HR McMaster) The Pipe Dream of Easy War and General James Mattis (USMC Ret) On Middle East Policy 

….Our record of learning from previous experience is poor; one reason is that we apply history simplistically, or ignore it altogether, as a result of wishful thinking that makes the future appear easier and fundamentally different from the past.

We engaged in such thinking in the years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; many accepted the conceit that lightning victories could be achieved by small numbers of technologically sophisticated American forces capable of launching precision strikes against enemy targets from safe distances.

These defense theories, associated with the belief that new technology had ushered in a whole new era of war, were then applied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; in both, they clouded our understanding of the conflicts and delayed the development of effective strategies.

Today, budget pressures and the desire to avoid new conflicts have resurrected arguments that emerging technologies — or geopolitical shifts — have ushered in a new era of warfare. Some defense theorists dismiss the difficulties we ran into in Afghanistan and Iraq as aberrations. But they were not aberrations. The best way to guard against a new version of wishful thinking is to understand three age-old truths about war and how our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq validated their importance. 

Information Dissemination ( Bryan McGrath) H.R. McMaster Sets His Sights On AirSea Battle 

….If you think that I’m wrong, and that he’s not arguing against AirSea Battle, then it is not worth your time to read on.  If you think he is or might be, then consider moving forward. 

McMaster employs the straw-man technique of argument in this piece, defining for us “War” by three of its “age old truths” and by inference, pointing out the shortcomings of this shadowy approach that he does not name.  Additionally, he creates a ridiculously high bar over which “defense concepts” must hurdle, one that lards the full weight of the conduct of war upon constituent pieces thereof.  His first lesson:  ” Be skeptical of concepts that divorce war from its political nature, particularly those that promise fast, cheap victory through technology.”  So, we are to be skeptical of military concepts that do not take into consideration a full Clausewitzian approach to war?  How hamstrung will that leave us?  Why should concept development worry about the political nature of war?  Isn’t this the purview of statesmen and politicians?  Is it not the job of military thinkers and planners to put together a menu of possibilities for civilian leadership to choose among, one aspect of which would be the political fall-out therefrom?  This line of operation is aimed squarely at the possibility that in a conflict with China, we might target mainland objectives.  “There go those irresponsible fools in the Navy and the Air Force, talking about mainland strikes.  Why this would lead to horrible escalation, probably nuclear war.  Why would we even consider these things?”  We consider them because they could be militarily useful, and because a commander might wish to utilize such an approach in an actual war, guided by the political instructions received  from civilian leadership 

USNI Blog  – The Battle for American Minds: Guest Post by Robert Kozloski 

….The Chinese thinking on psychological operations continues to advance and expand.  In a recentbackgrounder, Dean Cheng notes, “Successful coercive psychological warfare is the realization of ends for which one is prepared to go to war without having to take that final step and engage in active, kinetic, destructive warfare. From the Chinese perspective, given the destructiveness of nuclear weapons and even conventional forces, there is also significant incentive to develop coercive psychological approaches in order to achieve strategic ends without having to resort to the use of force.”

….Is it possible to defend a nation against widespread psychological operations?  The Chinese believe so.  Cheng describes one of five broad tasks:

Implementing Psychological Defenses. Since psychological warfare can have such far-reaching impacts, in the Chinese view, it is assumed that an opponent will mount psychological attacks. Consequently, in addition to negating or neutralizing such attacks, it is necessary to expose them, both to defeat them and to demoralize an opponent by demonstrating the ineffectiveness of his efforts. Thus, not only must there be counter-propaganda activities, but one must also publicize enemy machinations and techniques, thereby exposing and highlighting their futility. 

Defense News (Freier & Guy) – Future of Ground Forces:Planners Must Evolve Beyond Past Wars 

If you like this short riff, it is drawn from a more comprehensive CSIS report

John Arquilla –How Chess Explains the World and Founding Insurgents 

Marine Corps Gazette Blog (Brett Friedman) –Back to the Future Part OneBack to the Future Part 2 and Back to the Future Part 3: Amphibious Raiding 

War on the Rocks (Frank Hoffman) – Forty Shades of Gray 

Feral Jundi –Industry Talk: Bancroft Global’s Bet On Peace In War-Torn Somalia

DoDBuzz –Generals: ‘Human Domain’ Will Dictate Future Wars 

Global Guerrillas – China: The Watermelon Revolution 

Scholar’s Stage –Despots Near and Despots Far 

Steven Pressfield Online –Art is Artifice, Part Two

WPR (Steve Metz) –Strategic Horizons: America’s Limited Leverage in Afghanistan 

Slightly East of New –Temporary insanity 

David Ronfeldt -In favor of “peer progressives”: how, where, and why they’re good for TIMN (part 4 of 4) 

That’s it.

9 Responses to “Recommended Reading”

  1. Grurray Says:

    I was reading Chet Richard’s article, Boyd’s  Real OODA Loop, and in it he mentions Musashi. Now I’m about as far from a martial arts swordsman as a craft beer drinking, bbq brisket eating dude can get. However, I enjoy a good samurai movie as much as the best of them, so this one in particular caught my eye:
    in the Book of Water, one technique is described as the flowing water cut. Here’s what he says:
    “is used when you are struggling blade to blade with the enemy. When he breaks
    and quickly withdraws trying to spring with his long sword, expand your body and spirit and cut him as
    slowly as possible with your long sword, following your body like stagnant water”
    Quick attacks only serve to reinforce the stalemate, so a slow movement is instead applied. As often happens in a stalemate, a periodicity or flux tends to set in. When the swordsman sees an ebb he’s supposed to become like water flowing into a chasm. Slowly transferring energy from a laminar back & forth to a turbulent cascade.
    Anyway, I’m still not sure what AirSea battle actually is – whether it’s a plan for a naval blockade or joint air force/navy cyber warfare or what. The pipe dream description would seem to be pretty accurate except for the fact that when, considered as a part of larger containment strategy, it has been mighty effective at throwing the Chinese off their game.
    The Chinese economy had a big setback in 2009 that severely degraded their ability to project their main instrument of international influence which is importing and exporting by ship. Precisely the same time we came up with the AirSea plan.
    Chinese economy and growth rebounded over the next couple years then pulled back again just at about the same time Hillary came up with the “Pivot to Asia”
    Now it’s on the precipice of going into a recession (bringing ocean shipping with it) just as we’ve got all its peripheral allies (save N. Korea but Rodman is working on them) aligned against them and it looks like they’re not going pull out of this one unless there’s some kind of fundamental shift in their political and/or economic system.
    Was this the plan all along? With each pull back, our “flowing water cut” sinks deeper in the retracting middle kingdom.

    I don’t think we ‘re that smart, but maybe like, in the Cincinnati Kid, we were at least positioned well enough to make the wrong moves at the right time.

  2. larrydunbar Says:

    “Anyway, I’m still not sure what AirSea battle actually is”

    Not too many years ago China took away the advantages of both our nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers in one great swoop of their sword. I am no expert, but my guess is that AirSea battle is the US military’s answer to that maneuver. Instead of stagnant water, I am thinking it is more like a mist appearing behind the enemies lines. 

    “…their main instrument of international influence which is importing and exporting by ship.” 

    Importing and exporting by ship is the way, not the main instrument. Their main instrument is the “army” of Overseas Chinese. It is an instrument to extract resources in the most economical manner possible, by any means.

    So far the instrument has worked pretty good (well?), from South America and Africa to the South Pacific. 

    It looks to me like we are letting the long sword act as stagnant water following Islam, as AirSea Battle uses the long sword to sever the Oversea Chinese from the mainland. 

    I mean basically we are fighting 2GW, in a 4GW world. It is all in the targeting, right? The Chinese have successfully targeted our nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, and we are targeting their instrument of international influence, which is centered in the Indo-Pacific.

  3. T. Greer Says:

    I believe that most Western commentators are mis reading the Watermelon Vendor incident.
    Facts: Chengguan roughed up a water melon vender for selling water melons without a license. The water melon vendor died. The story went viral. Weibo exploded. Millions were outraged by the death.
    Another fact: there was no centralized effort to censor or contain this story. Not only has the story not been censored, but it has featured prominently in almost every Chinese newspaper and news program – including the People’s Daily, Xinhua, and Beijing Times. They have kept this story rolling just as much as spontaneous netizens have.


    This does not suggest that the CCP is worried about this turning into a “watermelon revolution.” Why? Well, it comes back to that conversation we’ve been having about powers far and near. Who do the poor, rural Chinese fear – powers far or powers near? The answer: powers near. Western media tends to highlight prominent cases of censorship or other acts of selective tyranny chosen by the the tippy top of the CCP to crush dissidents. These acts are really not the common. Much, much more common is local tyranny and corruption, which crushes millions of peasants daily. The last year has been one series of local government scandals after another – a sex extortion ring here, “black prisons” there, abuse by chenguan here. Almost all of the country’s “mass incidents” are a direct response to this type of abuse.
    Where outsiders tend to go wrong is equating the two. I have seen no evidence that the average Chinese man-on-the-street equates the two. Nor have I seen evidence that the universal hatred of the Chenguan translates to a universal hatred of the CCP writ large  (the Chenguan are not part of the party, after all!)  A few Chinese  have tried to equate the two, but they were censored –  and censored quickly. That is a message the Party cannot have bouncing around. But heaps of scorn for corrupt and evil local officials…  that is kosher.


    Why is it kosher? I am not sure. If I had to guess, it is because the CCP is ready for the wheel of the Mandala to turn. Everyone hates corrupt local power. But what can we do about it? Nothing. Except appeal to the top. The top isn’t too good at listening. But what if it was? What if the top just declared that there is a Chinese Dream that will kill corruption, that will destroy local tyranny? Well then those afflicted will love those at the top and the CCP has solved its legitimacy issues for another decade.
    That is just a tentative explanation. But I haven’t found another explanation that matches the CCP’s behavior. Everyone should feel free to suggest a better one they have found. ’til then, the wheel turns.


  4. tdaxp Says:

    +1 to TG’s comment

  5. Grurray Says:

    “Their main instrument is the “army” of Overseas Chinese” Western oil companies learned in Venezuela and Irkutsk how fickle autocratic governments can be about foreign development. Depending on which way the wind’s blowing, one day you find yourself staring in the face of populist movements intent on either stopping colonialist exploitation or toppling your oppressive near strength clients (to borrow LCR parlance).
    Plus now that there’s Bill & Melinda Gates/Warren Buffet money (earned on the backs of Chinese assemblers ironically) sloshing around the continent, all those Chinese built opera houses and Confucian centers don’t look so exciting. *
    I agree the Chinese subs and missiles have knocked around our seaborne center of gravity, but I think the real problem is that our blue-water navy isn’t so well suited for influence building and power projecting in and around SE Asia. That may be part of the plan (if there really is one) – fall back out of range past the island chains and set up a blockade. 
    Something like 2/3 of all ocean going containers that enter the US originate from SE Asia & Japan. We’re extremely dependent on all that stuff and its free flow through the seas. A coherent strategy would be one that
    (a)   a.  prevents one country from controlling the transportation routes, and
    (b)   b. prevents one country from being our sole supplier of all that stuff
    so we aren’t adversely affected if they decide to throttle or choke access and trade.

  6. larrydunbar Says:

    “We’re extremely dependent on all that stuff and its free flow through the seas.”
    As are the Chinese (as are the rest of the nations in the Indo-Pacific pivot). The US’s consumer economy guarantees a market for all the resources the Oversea Chinese are able to secure, and import to China for manufacturing and assembling.
    What the western oil companies have learned, i.e that they have no control over autocratic governments, the Chinese have been able to take advantage of by letting the autocratic governments control as they will.
    As I have said before, the Chinese don’t want to confront the US navy, they simply want to replace the one navy that controls the transportation routes with their own.
    This should be fine with the Republicans in Congress, such as Paul Ryan, as control of the shipping routes will not fall on the backs of the US taxpayers, nor will it mean that we will have to payback the debt we owe China. This is what TPMB calls a non-zero sum situation. 
    According to TPMB the Chinese are more than willing to infuse the heartland of America with foreign direct investment funds.
    Because this infusion of FDI funds means jobs, FDI by the Chinese should give the Republicans much political capital, at least enough to take the majority in both in the Senate and White house, with only the Liberals in the Republican and Democratic party standing in the way.
    As the Liberals can’t even get healthcare for all out of the starting block, they really are not much of a problem.
    Have you seen the movie: “The Man With The Iron Fist”? It seems like the elites in Hollywood are on-board with the Conservatives in this country, ha! (hint, the movie is all propaganda.) 
    As for “b. prevents one country from being our sole supplier…” I think we can see “fracking” taking care of that problem, the problem of a supply of oil, as the world burns.

  7. larrydunbar Says:

    “The answer: powers near.”
    Exactly! The Chinese military is designed to control near, but as China’s Military/Industrial/Government Complex takes hold and exerts power far it’s going to split the exponent (the exponent represents the structure of its distribution of energy).
    As TPMB likes to say, to paraphrase,: watch out for the exponent.
    When the Chinese military “splits” the exponent and confronts an insurgency in the Indo-Pacific (F-35 and LCS), it is going to have a moment, not unlike the “Singularity”, that is going to be unfriendly to its homeland security and much of the rest of the world.

  8. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    Peiping seems to tolerate local oppression as long as the local oppressor doesn’t get too big for his britches or possibly if they oppress the wrong gweilau in front of the other gweilau. Bwo Xyi-lai did one and two. Doing two helped Peking bring him down for one.


    While Peking operates an ostensibly centralized authoritarian state, the outside provinces seem to want to spin further out even if everyone wants to remain (even if nominally) part of All Under Heaven. Or at least that’s been the general pattern of the past 5 millennia, most recently in the Chinese Civil War. It’s possible that, having reached Peak Centralization under Mau during the Cultural Revolution, there is a spinning outward leg of the cycle underway where local CCP bosses seek more autonomy through surreptitious maneuver from the overweening center as compensation. Of course many of the provinces are merely farm teams for people whose real interest is not local tyranny but clambering up the greasy pole standing in Peiping as Bwo was doing in scenic Chung-ching.


    The most efficient way to close in blockade the mainland would be pre-laid undersea suicide drones mines. Second would be undersea suicide drones mines that moved into place under their own power, perhaps by drifting with the ocean currents. Third would be undersea suicide drones mines delivered by non-suicide undersea drone unmanned undersea vehicle. Fourth would be undersea suicide drones mines delivered by manned diesel sub (which run quieter than nuclear subs where the pumps for the reactor coolant can’t be completely masked apparently). Fifth would be undersea suicide drones mines delivered by manned nuclear sub. Sixth would be air delivered undersea suicide drones mines delivered by long distance land based aircraft (I seem to recall our current inventory of sea born aircraft don’t have the same effective range unless their carriers are parked real close). Seventh would be surface interdiction by land-based aircraft which would probably have to operate from the Republic of China, the Ryukus, or northern Vietnam or Burma (if they could be held against Chinese missiles or ground assault. A big if. Too bad we don’t have temporary airbase kits we can quickly unfold on one of those disputed pinpricks in the South China Sea). Eighth would be unmanned diesel submarine interdiction with torpedoes, perhaps a giant expanding piece of styrofoam (all you need is a big air bubble), or maybe a rail gun. Ninth would be manned diesel interdiction. Tenth would be would be unmanned nuclear sub interdiction (who knows what happens to them in case of a software crash. I wonder if there are thorium powered subs). Eleventh would be manned nuclear sub interdiction. Twelfth would be small surface boat interdiction. Thirteenth would be deploying one of those large pieces of missile bait we spend money on. I hear they have short range airpower that can be deployed against third-world countries with no navy or air force at will. Fourteenth would be nuclear mines placed around the north and south ends of the Republic of China to prevent amphibious landings in western Formosa (it would be useful if the ROC went nuclear, bought more subs, or bought more mine sweepers). Fifteenth would be placing nuclear mines around the approaches to the major port cities.


    Since we’ve cleverly off-shored much of our core industrial know-how in the name of financialization driven by government mandated quarterly reports aimed at speculators and (even worse) passive index funds, this would be much more painful than it would have been with our traditional tariff walls. Every American boy in such a conflict would be entitled to the epitaph DIED OF TRANSNATIONAL FREE TRADE.

  9. Grurray Says:

    Larry, I haven’t seen that movie but I will make a note to look it up.
    I’ll leave you with a line from the Hagakure the way of the warrior,
    even if it will be very difficult to succeed by advancing straight ahead, it will not do to think about doing it in a long, roundabout way. One’s heart may slacken, he may miss his chance, and by and large there will be no success. The Way of the Samurai is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong. 

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