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Recommended Strategy Reading

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

A short list of recent strategy or at least strategy-related posts and articles.

Steven Metz – The Paris Attacks and the Logic of Insurgency 

Even before the smoke cleared from last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, people were struggling to make sense of them. Because the initial victims were associated with Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine known to deride Islam, attention fell on questions of free speech and whether it should be limited when religion is involved. But even if the belief that Islam is being insulted influenced the killers at a personal level, the al-Qaida strategists who claim to have directed the Charlie Hebdo attack had other goals. For them, the notion of blasphemy is useful propaganda, but their objectives are much bigger than punishing cartoonists.

In 2004, Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, who went on to be a key adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and an architect of U.S. thinking about counterinsurgency, proposed an innovative perspective on what had, by that point, become known as the Global War on Terror. Islamist terrorism was, Kilcullen argued, “best understood as a global insurgency, initiated by a diffuse grouping of Islamist movements that seek to re-make Islam’s role in the world order.” This insight still applies today. To understand jihadist organizations like al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State (IS) first requires understanding the core logic of insurgency. …

John Hagel – The Big Shift in Strategy – Part 1 and The Big Shift in Strategy – Part 2 

Most strategies (strategies of terrain) tend to look from the present out to the future. Strategies of trajectory start with a view of the future and work back to the implications for action in the present.  

Here’s the paradox: strategies of trajectory become more and more essential in times of rapid change and uncertainty, while at the same time becoming more and more difficult.  But that’s exactly what makes strategies of trajectory so valuable. Most of us tend to fall back into our comfort zone and just focus on the present, leaving us vulnerable to the changes just ahead.  Only a few will venture beyond their comfort zone. Those few who craft strategies to focus action today based on an anticipated future that’s quite different from today will be in the best position to reap the rewards of a rapidly changing environment. They will stand out from the rest of us who are scrambling to respond to the latest event and, in the process, spreading our limited time and resources more and more thinly.

So, what’s required to craft these strategies of trajectory? Five elements can help to make these strategies successful:

  • Challenging

  • Shaping

  • Motivating

  • Measuring

  • Learning 

Global Guerrillas – Saudi Arabia Plunges into an Abyss 

Here why this attack is signficant.  

  • It tells us that ISIS is starting to focus on Saudi Arabia –> with good reason.  The reason is that there’s simply no other way to unite the various groups under the ISIS banner.  ISIS, like all open source movements, needs to keep moving in order to stay alive (like a shark).  Right now, ISIS has stalled.  A jihad to retake the holy sites from the corrupt regime in Riyadh can serve as a simple plausible promise that can reignite the open source war ISIS started, on a global scale.

  • The Saudis are vulnerable.  The attackers knew exactly when the general was going to be at the outpost.  This tells us that the Saudi military is rife with ISIS sympathisers and/or active members.  If so, the Saudi military may melt away when facing jihadis (or switch sides) in the same way 30,000 Iraqi troops did early last year a couple of hundred miles to the north.  

Proceedings ( VADM Thomas Rowden, RADM Peter Gumataotao, RADM Peter Fanta) Distributed Lethality 

….A new emphasis on sea control derives from the simple truth that navies cannot persistently project power from water space they do not control. Nor can navies guarantee the free movement of goods in the face of a power-seeking adversary whose objective is to limit the freedom of the maritime commons within their sphere of influence. Sea control is the necessary precondition for virtually everything else the Navy does, and its provision can no longer be assumed. Threats ranging from low-end piracy to the navies of high-end nation-states pose challenges that we must be prepared to counter—and ultimately defeat.

Sea control does not mean command of all the seas, all the time. Rather, it is the capability and capacity to impose localized sea control when and where it is required to enable other objectives to be met, holding it as long as is necessary to accomplish those objectives. We must begin to treat expanses of ocean the way we viewed islands during World War II—as areas to be seized for conducting follow-on power-projection operations. Additionally, we should recognize that the enemy gets a vote, and that all of the elements of the Navy’s Fleet architecture are unlikely to be available when the shooting starts. The day-to-day persistence of the surface force means that it must be prepared to immediately go on the offensive in order to create conditions for the success of follow-on forces.

The enablers for this shift to the offensive are an array of existing platforms and capabilities, planned capabilities in various stages of acquisition, and future capabilities resident in today’s promising research-and-development programs. Employing the concept of “distributed lethality,” the surface force—through innovation, emerging command-and-control concepts, and an increased ability to operate within an acceptable margin of risk—will flexibly adapt to future maritime operations, exploiting seized areas of localized sea control to generate larger combat effects.

Distributed lethality is the condition gained by increasing the offensive power of individual components of the surface force (cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships [LCSs], amphibious ships, and logistics ships) and then employing them in dispersed offensive formations known as “hunter-killer SAGs.” It is the motive force behind offensive sea control. Both parts of the definition are critical; raising the lethality of the force but operating it the same way sub-optimizes the investment. Operating hunter-killer SAGs without a resulting increase in offensive power creates unacceptable risk.

That’s it.

9 Responses to “Recommended Strategy Reading”

  1. Madhu Says:

    Yeah, Barry Posen (among others) has been making the same Robb point about Saudi Arabia, but he puts it as our system not really thinking through what it means to prop up the monarchy especially against a really violent revolt, even more violent than till now.
    I’ve often joked our desire to keep the Pakistan Army in play may be related to this, can’t be our troops battling insurgents looking to replace the Saudi monarchy except that we have done that too. Disengagement to a minimum would have been the correct answer but those guys spread the cash around Western capitals and banking systems.
    What’s with the male military coffee klatch and the anti-intellectual Yoda thing? What healthy system needs a Yoda and why the weird adherence to a favorite military theory over academic study? A weakness of the more policy minded online world versus the academic world?
    It’s bizarre, close minded, sclerotic and very much a kind of male subculture; the war “guys” and their robots and cliques.

  2. Madhu Says:

    Even thought I don’t usually do this, it’s also a white male of a certain age and I know best even when it comes to them furriners world….
    Oh, I know people don’t mean that, but it is an awfully narrow world, self-referential and lacking rigor.

  3. Madhu Says:

    The more I read, the more interesting things I find to read and it doesn’t all come from the same few groups of military intellectuals or consultants. Sorry, I am going to be a pest about this thing because ever since I stumbled into this online world it’s one group of alcolytes after the other, one big guy that “gets it,” and there is no one big guy that gets it all, or one big gal that gets it all. World don’t work like that.

  4. zen Says:

    hi Doc Madhu
    The al-Saud, for all their faults, which are numerous to be sure. are an indigenous entity and not some artificial construct dictatorship built on a fake state with borders drawn by European colonialists. The al-Saud powerbase is rooted on the conquests of Abdul Aziz, the tribes (represented in the National Guard, developed as a counterweight to the Army in the era of nasserism) and the alliance with the Wahabbi clerical extremists. They are allies more than clients and we do not “prop them up” the way we prop up Pakistan or used to do with Mubarak. The Saudis could always buy French warplanes, German tanks, Russian missiles etc. they have the cash. The problem is that what is likely to replace the Saudis are not westernized moderates but ISIS/AQ-like crazies which compose probably a large plurality of the kingdom’s males. The al-Saud cooperate with the crazies and bribe them but periodically stomp on them too and this goes back to the Ikhwan revolt when Abdul Aziz cheerfully machinegunned his former religious fanatic shock troops to death. Pakistan’s ISI actively generates, trains and funds their crazies while KSA has a natural overabundance of them, no training or encouragement required. If anything, the Saudi ideological influence have made the Pak extremists much worse than if they had been left to their own devices. Mawdudi looks like a Anglophile moderate next to AQ and ISIS and a renaissance scholar next to Mullah Omar
    “What’s with the male military coffee klatch and the anti-intellectual Yoda thing? What healthy system needs a Yoda and why the weird adherence to a favorite military theory over academic study? A weakness of the more policy minded online world versus the academic world?”
    Anti-intellectualism has deep roots in the Army in particular. Partly this is because America is a deeply anti-intellectual, pro-action culture, as De Tocqueville noted. Partly because it is the legacy of our WWII mass-mobilization, industrial revolution military legacy that says thinking is best left for the very top and that passively following top-down orders is the only way not to disrupt the machine with some half-baked bright idea. Order is preferred to innovation and criticism is a threat to order. The JCS has shut down the service academies as a source of independent ideas for the OSD and they have that lightweight Hagel’s buy-in to do the same to ONA. Makes it more likely that future SECDEFs have no informed alternatives to JCS bullshit options and positions

  5. Daniel Bassill Says:

    I’ve been following articles posted by you and Charles on Zenpundit and read this one today. The information about the Al-Saud and the Whabbi clerical extremists was timely. I had read an article on the Huffington Post earlier this morning about the Wahabbi. It’s titled “You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia” You can find it at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alastair-crooke/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia_b_5717157.html
    For the typical news reader in the US or the West, I’m not sure how many have ever heard of the Whabbi. I hadn’t.

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Daniel:
    It is always a pleasure to read you. I have been thinking quite a bit lately about barriers, or perhaps I should say baffles.
    I was just watching a video from Human Rights Watch in which people were begging Obama to intervene to save them from the Lord’s Resistance Army. I wasn’t thinking primarily about whether intervention would work or not, or what the second order consequences might be — just about how the appeal, which is pretty straightforward and pesron to person, heart to heart, would actually transit from the people who were making it (via HRW movie) to the White House. I was asking myself what baffles are there between, say, Obama being moved by the message and acting directly on it as requested.
    It seeme to me, with my mapping mind, that the sequence as those Africans would like to imagine is something along these lines:

    we speak >> you listen >> you are moved >> you act accordingly >> we are protected

    when in fact the realities “on the ground” at their best are more like:

    we speak >> you listen >> you are moved >> black box >> you do or don’t do anything >> we are or are not protected

    So then the question for my instinctively mapping mind is: what’s in the black box?
    Because — to generalize even further — every wish for peace, every impulse to better the state of affairs we may have, runs into some form of that black box, whether it’s at the White House, or in the form of biased news reporting, or what I call the “gunk factor” in human psychology.. our own, or that of others.. wherever.
    I have many, many friends who are lovers of peace, but they spend so much time proclaiming it that little energy is left over for examining the black boxes, the baffles, between here and that goal of theres. And I have friends for whom the black box is the whole enchilada, who may like the idea of peace but move immediately from any mention of it to considerations of the real and imagined problems presented by the black box, the political realities, the military logistics, their own political preferences, the ethos, the zeitgeist, the trend.. And then there are the people whose lives are best described in The Wire — what room in their lives between hustles and busts have they, for a request to recycle their used Coke cans?
    I guess that in my view, the various shapes and sizes of black boxes, the various baffles I’m describing are where the effort of tikkin olam, healing the world, should be focused.
    I know that you are involved daily in the navigation of those black boxes in Chicago, in the Chicago school system, day care, transportation, urban renewal, and other areas, and reaching out to others in similar situations elsewhere — and I thank and praise you for it.
    Love and peace make such direct demands, and get deflected by so many realities…

  7. Daniel F. Bassill Says:

    Hi Charles.
    I think I’d ad a little more to your first sequence which then makes the second one more comples
    1) we speak .. you listen .. you are moved .. you act accordingly … we get a fragment of the help we need, the cycle repeats, over and over, ..at some point in the future the problem is gone or reduced to a manageable level
    2) in the context of repeat actions over time, the problems within the black box become more complex. In the wake of a tragedy, or natural disaster, the “we speak” causes greater response. But after a time, when attention is elsewhere, the response is reduced, or virtually non existent, yet the problem has not been resolved.
    Over the past couple of years I met an interesting guy name Gene Bellinger via Linked in. He focuses on systems thinking and visualization of problems. Here’s an article where I used some of his graphics to focus on the problem solution thinking (perhaps your black box) that I feel needs to be taking place in Chicago and other cities to build and distribute resources that would lead to programs creating bridges connecting youth in concentrated, segregated poverty neighborhoods with people, ideas, opportunities and resources beyond.
    While I can find people talking about this in the abstract, all the way back to our days at Social Edge, I can’t find many who focus on this with a specific aim at the same issues I focus on.

  8. Daniel F. Bassill Says:

    Here’s the address to the blog article I referred to. http://tutormentor.blogspot.com/2014/07/problem-solving-systems-thinking.html

  9. Charles Cameron Says:

    That was a nice move from my static to your iterative version, Daniel, and you’re right, tragedy anddisaster do shift some of the baffles, at least in the short term. Much to chew on.

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