I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It’s not what Tom Friedman writes about, I’m sorry. You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking twelve miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people — Americans and Europeans — come back and go, “Ohhhh.” And the lightbulb goes on.
In which I use a very scary title to say, “there’s nothing new under the sun…just new combinations”:
Sign up now to join us in Chicago in October to recombine some old ideas:
Since the end of the industrial age, Americans have worried about improving their education system. But the country has never been able to make much progress. Other nations do it better, and the United States must learn from their examples if it hopes to catch up.
WASHINGTON—Calling the last four days of American life just…I mean, talk about a goddamned punch in the gut, citizens across the nation confirmed today that, Jesus, this week.
This fucking week, sources added.
Our May/June issue is here. Look for it in your mail boxes and inboxes next week!
Today was definitely a moment to reflect. Mostly on how blessed I am to have such a wonderful family and friends. Those of you who know me are aware I’ve been preparing for the Boston Marathon for months - and raising money for two great charities, ReadBoston and Team RWB. I was fortunate to be off my mark today and delayed in reaching the finish line…the explosions occurred pretty close to when I would have arrived at the end.
I was even more fortunate to have my three beautiful girls away from the blasts. They were headed that way, though, and I will daily thank two of my peers who were at the site and called to waive them to safety…before they gave what aid they could to the injured and help move debris for EMS.
Hold your loved ones closer tonight, my friends. The last sight of mine could have been at Mile 17 when they held up their homemade sign and gave their very smelly and tired Daddy a hug and kiss.
Also send your thoughts and prayers to the poor, poor families who were irrevocably ripped apart by this infuriatingly sad act. All they wanted was to celebrate an annual tradition like no other. Unfortunately, it will be ingrained in their minds like so many events our service members have experienced over the last decade. I’m sorry to see such an event not only occur on US soil, but at such a true celebration of sport and life.
In reference to the US-China strategic relationship, one of the best quotes I’ve heard lately came from the UK Shadow Foreign Minister, Douglas Alexander:
“Trust is not developed through transparency. Trust comes from aligning interests, transparently recognized.”
After more than 950 training miles between us, Billy Pope and I are 18 days away from running the Boston Marathon for ReadBoston! Help us tighten our laces with a reception on Friday, April 5th from 4:30-6:30 at the Stockyard Restaurant in Brighton (not far from HKS). Your donation at the door gets you free beer, wine, and appetizers! This is a great opportunity to socialize, win great prizes in our charity raffle, and help us feel the love before we run 26.2 tough miles for a great cause.
Many of you who know me are aware that I’m a huge proponent (and member of) the strategy publication Infinity Journal. The two main reasons for this are that 1) I generally agree with their vision of strategy and their mission of making strategy more widely understood, and 2) the quality of the articles and caliber of people they publish are astounding. This month’s unveiling on the new edition (Volume 3, Issue 1) once again reaffirms my reasons for supporting this publication.
This edition is particularly topical, given many recent conversations on strategy I’ve encountered. From the applicability of Clausewitz in contemporary war to “complexity” and the practice of strategy to the debate over “grand” strategy, this edition hits the hotspots – and with particular academic (and pop cultural) wit.
To be perfectly honest, the kick-off article by David Betz, “Clausewitz and Connectivity”, is one of the best I’ve read in IJ, due in equal parts to its understanding and presentation of core Clausewitzian concepts, its connection of the same to modern arguments of connectivity, and its use of witty pop culture allusions. Not many articles can come off as both academic and colloquial, but Betz pulls it off. I won’t belabor his points or give away his pop culture references, but his handling of recent critiques of those that still believe Clausewitz has something applicable to war today (particularly how they miss the keys points in CvC’s core concepts inherent in his trinity) and how technology, while specifically not covered in On War, are inherent in his larger concepts…primarily those of chance and friction to push back on such concepts as ‘total information awareness’ put forward by those completely inured in the omniscient power of modern ISR.
The best argument I found in the article against those that believe the only way to progress in strategic understanding is to immolate the theorists of the past was a gem:
It is not the fault of Clausewitz or a flaw in his theory that governments are attempting to make war ‘work’ as a tool of policy against threats that are difficult to permanently staunch with the kinetic blows that armed forces are generally designed to deliver. Indeed, it rather confirms the continuing salience of another aspect of the trinity: reason, or political purpose.
Additionally, in reference to the above and as an argument against the religion of the new over logic of the right, Betz touches on the continuity of Clausewitzian concepts even into our technologically connected world:
The late 20th century burgeoning of connectivity is historically unparalleled and the pace of the ‘wiring up’ the world is still sharply increasing. It is long past argument that this is causing us to do all sorts of things differently, whether that is how we engage in commerce and organise our economies, educate and entertain ourselves, maintain our social lives, and even attend to our spiritual affairs. But these are not different things: we still buy and sell, teach and learn, and talk and argue—things that as human beings we have always done…The trinity is not a device for fixing the meaning of war for all time. On the contrary, the simile of war as a ‘chameleon’ rests upon the essential mutability of these ‘tendencies’ within the trinity, their constant variance in strength and respective influence.
These are just a few passages that struck me as particularly poignant. I highly recommend you swing by IJ to pick up the entire article and enjoy it in its entirety.
In addition to David Betz’s article, the US military is well represented by a Marine pilot, Robert Boyles, and a fellow Army Strategist, Robert Mihara. Boyles’ article, “A U.S. Military Force-Political Objective Disconnect: Assessments and Assumptions Matter”, was interesting; particularly his assessment that, much like Betz, he believes our military has focused too much on the technological advancement of our adversaries and ourselves and too little on the political effect desired…especially by any adversary we are trying to dissuade.
Mihara’s article, “Strategy: How to Make it Work”, was not a checklist of how to “do” strategy, but rather a very well-reasoned rebuttal to the US Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff’s recent article and further discussion on how the US should better utilize the ends-ways-means model, particularly given the future austere fiscal environment. His conclusion is one I personally believe rings true: “the real test of strategic planning is not in implementation but in the fidelity that one’s choices keep to the vital and important interests of the nation.”
Finally, two well-known IJ alumni, Adam Elkus and Lukas Milevski, finish the edition off with two great articles on “grand” strategy. Elkus, in “Must American Strategy be Grand?”, tries to reconcile “grand” strategy in an American context, determining that it would not have much in common with classical strategy, but instead would be built around the ways and means necessary to support America’s ideological consensus. Finally, Milevski’s “The Mythology of Grand Strategy”, sets out to describe the historical and theoretical antecedents of the term “grand strategy” and the myths that have sprung up over the years. Both these articles are worth a detailed read, and I recommend readers think on them. “Grand Strategy” is a term that, while frequently pops up in our business, is rarely understood.
Each of these articles is well placed in Infinity Journal, but as the letter from the editor in this edition elucidates, such articles are in short supply. As I stated at the beginning of this screed, one of the core reasons I support IJ is its focus on quality articles pertinent to strategy. We need more people interested in this topic to write – not just to fill the pages of IJ with quality pieces – but also to continue the robust discussion strategy deserves. If we are not critically analyzing our mental models and theoretical knowledge, we are failing as strategists.
Write something for IJ, send it to me or to the journal, and join the discussion. Now.
As Western defense budgets are declining, the price of projecting power is increasing and the range of interests requiring protection is expanding. To square this circle, the Pentagon needs to embrace a dramatic shift in its strategy. It should turn its focus away from repelling traditional cross-border invasions and pursuing regime change followed by stability operations — and concentrate instead on assuring access to key regions and the global commons.