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Recommended Reading

Some great posts out there this week. Picking a top billing was tough.

Top Billing! Information DisseminationThe Calm Before The Storm in Haiti

One topic kept popping up today among many observers: why is China kicking the State Department’s ass in strategic communication in Haiti? It doesn’t look good when somehow the Chinese can get a fully loaded plane into Haiti all the way from China before we can get many of our own search and rescue teams in from the US. I sat dumbfounded watching CNN this afternoon seeing a big red Chinese flag waiving in the background, and became frustrated when I saw a different Chinese flag an hour later behind an NBC reporter in a different area. There cannot possibly be that many Chinese in Haiti already, and they did bring humanitarian supplies and not flags, right? What the heck is going on?

This is soft power; symbolism and perception matters a lot to achieving strategic objectives in disaster recovery and humanitarian response operations. In the opening hours of crisis, the people are still in shock. The first 48 hours is the calm before the storm, and every detail in public communication and public diplomacy matters. I was seriously impressed when I saw State Department folks engaged in an actual conversation on Twitter today, but every element of government needs to get organized a bit better in the online space.

Galrahn has become so much the # 1 “go-to Navy blog guy” that it is all to easy to overlook the fact that he is also a very shrewd analyst for strategic and political issues. This post demonstrates why (and I bet Ray does not speak even a word of Creole).

The Scholar’s Stage – America’s Greatest Challenge — and Danger  

The people have no desire to govern America’s Republic. The oligarchy of good intentions maintains its dominance over society by claiming that its members are the sole possessors of the knowledge needed to hold the reigns of enterprise and state. This claim is for the most part true. Across the board, Americans are woefully ill informed in the fields of science, civics, and history. The worldview of the average citizen is provincial, the media he consumes even more so. There is little indication this will change any time in the near future. To the contrary, the population of the United States is marked by a multi-generational decline in political participation matched only by the nation’s falling levels of civic engagement. With pure passivity the public gazed on as its access to the conduits of power were cut off one by one; without raising a voice in protest the people have have seen their liberties stripped away. Those few items that can capture the interest of the citizenry are petty – popular public discourse is but a competition to see who can fit the most theatrics into a seven second sound bite, politics but a never-ending game of governmental “Gotcha!” Such is needed to keep the attention of a population obsessed with the flashy and trivial; the affairs of the country one has no affection for pale in comparison to the allures of the circus. Bread also has a part to play: in an age where voluntary associations have collapsed and economic disparity is growing, every trial and tribulation has become a problem best solved by someone else.

T. Greer is a commenter here and on numerous friendly blogs and has, if I am not mistaken, an academic background in classical studies ( correct me if I am mistaken, T. Greer).

SWJ BlogA Certain Trumpet and The Green Beret Who Could Win the War in Afghanistan

The first, on General Maxwell Taylor runs against the usual professional historical opinion of General Taylor, which is influenced by the historiography of the Vietnam War, where Taylor was first an adviser to President Kennedy and then later Chairman of the JCS and Ambassador to South Vietnam. The second is about Major Jim Gant, author of “One Tribe at a Time“.

All Things CounterterrorismAbu Dujana al Khorasani

Leah investigates a shadowy jihadi figure and serves as a springboard for a guest post here on Tuesday by Charles Cameron.

Kings of WarAre you experienced?

Hat tip to Schmedlap who also sums up the issue well in the comments section at KoW.

Tactical questions require somebody with tactical experience and know-how and not inexperienced kibbitzers ( like…..me!). Strategic problems by contrast, are not solved with tactical answers, as frustrating as that may be to practitioners.  Moreover, there isn’t a single field or domain of knowledge or graybeard guru that can provide all the answers for questions of strategy. Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Machiavelli, Musashi, Metternich, Jomini, Boyd, Bismarck, Liddell-Hart, Talleyrand, Kennan, Kissinger, Wohlstetter and so on have many answers but not “the answer” to crafting a winning strategy.

That’s it.

6 Responses to “Recommended Reading”

  1. Dave Says:

    Your last comment is one of the most brilliant I have read lately.  BZ.

  2. T. Greer Says:


    I am grateful to see you link to me. I am afraid, however, that my interest in classical and ancient history is simply a passion, not a profession.


    The issue brought up on the Kings of War post you link to is an important one – particularly for those of us who desire a republican system of governance. The age where the warrior-king ruled by the power of his might is gone; we like to think we live in a more benign and democratic day. Yet if government by the people is to work it cannot be a province limited to those who have experienced combat. This is a general problem I find when talking with specialists or people with "needed experience" — they wish the world would just shut up and listen to them and the other experts. The problem is, the average citizen will never be an expert at every issue facing the state — if any. Still, we expect that responsible citizen should be able to articulate a position on these same issues! Is there not a contradiction there? How can the citizenry become engaged if we cordon them off from the discussion at the beginning?


    Of course, if it is a problem of people acting as if they are experts when they are not, then I am fine telling them to be quiet and sit down. Heck, this is probably why I will always refuse to call myself a classicist. ^_~

  3. zen Says:

    Gracias Dave! I was basically rephrasing and elaborating on Schmedlap when he said:
    "….The boots-on-the-ground perspective is not particularly relevant to an informed opinion of the strategic issues. Familiarity with the strategic issues is not particularly relevant to the boots-on-the-ground implementation"
    Schmedlap in turn was refining Payne at KoW, who in turn drew on Keegan.
    Give me enough rough drafts and I can sound pretty damn glib! 😉
    Hi T. Greer,
    Ah, my pardon.
    Yes, I’m very uncomfortable with this anti-democratic technocratic bias of the elite too. Moreover, they really overestimate themselves. Sticking to the military realm, there’s no soldier alive today with the strategic experience of any of our 5 star generals from WWII. Or most of our 4 star generals from WWII. Or some three star generals. Who in uniform has commanded an Army Corps or an equivalent? ( I think there’s one guy, now retired)The US Army by itself had some 90 divisions then. The experience gap on the top tier civilian administration side is less extreme but still very much present. I’m sorry, being Fed Chairman is not the same as steering Bretton Woods and creating the IMF, World Bank, UN and Marshall Plan.

  4. onparkstreet Says:

    Yeah, your point Zen, and Schmedlap’s original point, are right on. But… .
    There are different ways to use, deploy, and think about the so-called boots-on-the-ground opinion. If you are using it to discredit the person who is arguing a point, then yes, it’s nothing but a rehashed "chicken-hawk" argument. It’s just a way to say "your opinion is legitimate and I’m not even going to consider the merits of the argument." On the other hand (I always have about twelve hands when it comes to arguing something), if you are trying to glean some information to plug into a large argument, then boots-on-the-ground becomes an interesting anecdotal data point. What does that data point mean? Depends. I actually appreciate the second – especially with the day job. In all the years I’ve been working in a hospital, I don’t think I’ve ever had any management just come and observe what we do. And yet, they make decisions on staffing, funding, everything. Not one person. Ever. Seems a bit wierd. But hey, if your management textbook and the consulting company say something, then sure, it ought to work in our hospital with our staff and our patients. Sure, why not. (Sorry, I’m in sort of an anti-credentialed elite mental space right now… .)
    – Madhu

  5. onparkstreet Says:

    Er, your opinion is "illegitimate"
    Incidentally, we have to do the same "put a dot holder in place" in our on-line lab reports because whoever bought the hospital wide system didn’t make sure our specific lab system was completely compatible. No-one asked us. I digress. No wait, I just made my point above with an anecdote.

  6. Schmedlap Says:

    Reminds me of Harry Truman’s gripe: find me a one-handed economist.

    Madhu – You raise a good point. That’s one of the reasons that in the military we promote from within, rather than recruiting CEO’s to take command of our divisions and corps. They have a better understanding of those footsoldier issues because they once served at the platoon level and worked their way up. But, piggybacking on your example, I doubt a hospital administrator needs a whole lot of knowledge about the particulars of your job when deciding whether to install security cameras in the parking lot or whether to made an addition to the cafeteria. If a decision requires personal boots-on-the-ground knowledge, then it’s probably not really a big-picture issue.

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