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In Praise of Don Vandergriff for the “Next Yoda” at ONA

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Don Vandergriff

Friend of ZP blog and expert on adaptive leadership training Don Vandergriff has thrown his hat into the ring to replace the much admired, should not have been retired, Andrew Marshall,  the long time (appointed originally by Richard Nixon) head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, affectionately known in DC circles as “Yoda”. Given the military’s badly broken personnel system and dire problem with “toxic leaders” and Vandergriff’s adamant philosophical emphasis upon ethical integrity, strategic thinking and honest intellectual inquiry, he would be a breath of fresh air and catalyst for change.

James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly gave Don a ringing endorsement:

Want to signal a change? My candidate, until someone has a better idea, is Donald Vandergriff, who has in fact applied for the job.

Vandergriff spent 24 years on active duty an enlisted member of the Marine Corps and an Army officer. When he retired ten years ago as a major, a relatively junior rank, he exemplified the tensions between an independent-thinking, irrepressible, let’s-rock-the-boat reformer and the “don’t make waves” normal promotion machine.

Because of his writings and advocacy, near the end of his active-duty tenure Vandergriff was described as “the most influential major in the U.S. Army.” I did an Atlantic-online discussion with him and Robert Coram, author of a popular biography of the late Air Force colonel John Boyd, a dozen years ago. He has written many well-received books about working fundamental change in the training and promotion of officers, including The Path to Victory; Spirit, Blood, and Treasure; and Raising the Bar. If you want an illustration of someone willing to take (and suffer) career risks in the cause of telling unpleasant but important organizational truths, he would be your man.

Yes he would.

Fabius Maximus blog weighs in as well:

….Donald Vandergriff (one of the authors on the FM website) has identified a powerful point of leverage to change our massive and dysfunctional military apparatus:  its personnel system, the process by which the Army recruits, trains, and promotes its officers. Change this and the effects ripple outward through the entire organization over time as the nature and behavior of its leaders evolve. The Army has begun the long slow evolution of its personnel policies, responding to the ideas of Vandergriff and others.

This success puts Vandergriff on the cutting edge of America’s sword. He, and others like him, are crafting a solution of the third kind (about people) to defeat our foes at 4GW.  We can win at 4GW. We must learn to do so, or the 21st century will be a harsh time for America.

There are many strategic and operational issues that the U.S. military and NatSec community would prefer to ignore because they do not play to our areas of strength where the United States enjoys overwhelming dominance relative to the rest of the world. Well, these problem areas will only grow in scope and importance because they are the points where our adversaries see hope of gaining leverage and comparative advantage over us. I am almost tempted to say “Duh” here because enemies hitting your weak points instead of running headlong into our strong points and being killed en mass is strategy 101, but strategy is less popular in some quarters these days than it should be. Don Vandergriff is the sort of man to highlight deficiencies so they can be remediated and, eventually, become new strengths.

Don Vandergriff….strongest recommendation.

Fallows on John Boyd and Boyd 2008

Friday, December 26th, 2008

James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly recently posted on Colonel John Boyd ( Hat tip to Fred Zimmerman) and I missed it in the pre-Holiday chaos:

First in a series of year end pensees: grand strategy

Could end up being a very brief series, but here is one to start:

As my wife and I near our third consecutive Christmas/New Year stretch outside the United States, mainly we feel lucky for all that we’ve been able to see and do and experience in China and its environs.

But of course there are costs. And while I wouldn’t exactly put this at the top of the list of things we regret missing out on (compared, say, with seeing our families and friends etc), I am in fact sorry not to have been around for the last few installments of the John Boyd Conferences, where people interested in Boyd’s theories of competition gather to apply them to topics ranging from financial meltdowns to handling Iraq. Much more about Boyd via links you can find here, here (second item), herehere, and here, for starters.

Read the rest here.

OODA, 4GW and Obama vs. Clinton

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Via John, I noted that James Fallows has some posts citing Chuck Spinney of DNI and generally injecting 4GW and John Boyd’s OODA Loop into his political analysis of the Democratic primary battle.

Sweet! Kinda wish I’d thought of that myself.

Fallows’ $ 1.4 Trillion Question

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Both Tom and John have weighed in on the important piece by James Fallows in The Atlantic Monthly, entitled “The $1.4 Trillion Dollar Question“:

Dr. Barnett:

What Fallows doesn’t address in China’s vast surplus/savings is the huge and very real current sovereign debts and future mandates that are hidden in this development scheme: overseas resource dependencies demanding investment stakes, future aging costs, current and future enviro costs, future requirements to build out (and up) the poor interior, and so on.

Those are real sovereign liabilities because the people will expect some/much government help in these matters over time to ensure continued development and sustained movement up the product chain (gotta get as rich as possible before getting old).

Having said all that, Fallows’ analysis of the government’s logic is dead on. I suspect that, with all his time spent in China, we’ll see a book that does a big turn in explaining China to America. That will be a huge journalistic endeavor, and most welcome from someone with his considerable narrative talents.

As for the larger strategic question, we owe China a quiet international security order within which to develop, and sufficient partnership so as to obviate too much defense spending on their part. Eventually, Deng’s “grand compromise” of 1992 (PLA supports him on market acceleration in return for money and cover to modernize) must be tempered so that China doesn’t field a military for a war that should never happen and which it could never win. It needs to field a SysAdmin-heavy force that partners with us in mutual dependence: we can’t rule the peace with our Leviathan-heavy force, but they can’t rule war with their Leviathan-lite force either, so we must cooperate in extending and protecting globalization to our mutual advantage.”

John Robb:

Fallows runs through the details of the “financial balance of terror” between the US and China and concludes that it won’t last long. However, of the reasons he listed for a collapse of the balance, he didn’t include the most likely: that China will need the money to shore up its domestic economy as the US heads into a lengthy and severe recession.

Remember, China hasn’t endured anything other than growth pain for over a decade. Further, the average Chinese citizens hasn’t reaped much from that boom. They don’t have the financial reserves to weather a crisis (and many of those that do will lose their shirts when China’s market bubble tanks). So where will this cash go over the next two years? Not into Blackstones or US Treasuries. Instead, it will be invested domestically. Into jobs and projects to shore up the little bit of legitimacy the Chinese government still has (we see a similar pattern with many of the globe’s marginally legitimate governments, from Saudi Arabia to Russia).

Frankly, I’m not sure that $1.4 trillion (the normative value of which is evaporating with each plunge in the dollar) will be enough to prevent China from disintegrating if this crisis becomes a panic.”

My two cents:

China holds enormous reserves in dollars because their financial strategy – parking surplus cash in Treasury securities – also represents an internal political strategy of deferring acrimonious, major, spending and investment choices that might precipitate division among the elite. China’s leaders are acutely aware of their nation’s deficiencies and historical tendency toward centrifugal, regional, disintegration and keeping the country intact and the state in charge is right up there in terms of priority with sustaining a fantastic rate of GDP growth. The dollar surplus represents an agreeable, strategic, “rainy day fund” consensus choice of the elite and significant changes here will only be in response to pressures or needs that the elite of the CCP can get behind as a whole. Likely, cautious changes but possibly also too little too late.

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