Monday, April 23, 2012

Disruptive Strategic Questioning

I've always been one to question authority.  Not in the rebellious teenage, angst-ridden way mind you, but literally Question the Authorities.  In high school, I gave a five minute speech excoriating the school board (in front of them...) for poor decision making -- which garnered a standing ovation from the packed audience.  I got a reputation at Northwestern for challenging big name guest speakers with off-the-wall, difficult questions.  Not because I wanted to be "that guy," but simply because I wanted to know what the answer was.

This has continued in my time with the Navy.  Conferences, ready rooms, wherever, I ask tough questions, particularly of flag officers.  I even had the Chief of Naval Operations walk out of a Q and A session aboard ship after a question I asked about aviation procurement startled him.  The one good thing about this was that in that awkward moment when the big wig asked if anyone had any questions, my peers always knew someone did...and they wouldn't be voluntold to offer something up. 

Anyway, as I mentioned in the last post, I came across a black book with leadership lessons,  strategic observations, and questions on warfare I had written back in 2008.  I'd like to share a few of those observation and questions to see if there are any insights from the audience.  Again, all of these were written in the isolation of a deployed carrier, by a searching soul, based on direct observation.  These are in no particular order:

1.  An immutable principle of War is that it cannot be fought "nicely."  Overwhelming death and destruction are necessary to make an enemy truly conform to your will.  It cannot be fought on the cheap.  There are always unintended consequences.

2.  Technology has been the primary motivating factor for the evolution of tactics.  It is, however, only effective when applied adaptively, and its course is nearly impossible to predict.

3.  When the U.S. military trains, we always assume success and put limitations on the enemy.  This is disconcerting. 

A Disruptive Thinker -- In Captivity
4.  Why and how does the most heinous and destructive of all human activities occasionally produce men of revered honor, integrity and character?

5.  In the case of the U.S., and more broadly, democracies, how important is, and what impact does, a formal declaration of war by the Legislature have on the country's societal involvement and long term success?

6.  How does a country and its associated leadership create an armed forces that can seamlessly fight both asymmetric and conventional conflicts?  Is this even possible?

7.  Why is warfare not taught in the context of politics, economics, sociology and psychology when its effective execution is dependent on all of these fields?

8.  In Washington, it seems to take an institution behind an individual to bring change.  Is this really true? -- Yes, but I dont want to believe it.  (Later)  Individuals, however, run institutions.  So, how can you work within a given institution, retain your individualism, and then one day shape an institution through your unique viewpoint?

9.  Millennium Challenge 2002 and General Van Ripper.  Red Leader quits when game is changed midstream and Blue forces "Re-gen" because tactics employed weren't "fair."

10.  If you want to look at why a decision was made, don't necessarily look at its causal merits.  Look at what interests advocate for it. 

11.  What if a political candidate really did run an unconventional, non-politically based campaign?  Is this even possible?

12.  Markets in the real world are imperfect and inefficient.  So are "price discovery mechanisms."

13.  The Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex is alive and well.  Reference Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, L3 and the Tailhook Convention.

14.  Why are the inefficiencies of industry dirty little secrets within the military? Is it because many officers want cushy jobs with contractors after they retire?

Fooled You...
15.  The civilian defense industry, even if innocently and unavoidable, has financial incentives to eventually have weapons systems outclassed by our adversaries.

16.  A propensity to lie betrays the trait of selfishness.  Conversely, a selfless person will tell the truth.

17.  The thing we need to fear most in a war with an Eastern Power (China) is not its Army, nor the numerical quantity of its forces, but the Eastern psychology and way of thinking.  The use of deception and non-Western thinking will do more to disrupt our strategies and advances than overwhelming force.
  • Look at their strategic heritage (Sun-Tzu, The I-Ching, Samuri Codes, Book of the Five Rings, etc)
  • Imperialism as not something overt, but veiled (African resource stockpiling...)
  • The long view vs. short Western attention span
  • Integration of Western methods with an Eastern flare
  • Direct confrontations (Western) vs. Feints and "retreats", exploiting ambiguity on the battlefield
  • Money and technology vs. intellect and psychology
In rereading this list, I'm pretty sure I still have the same questions and musings as I did 4 years ago.


  1. That is a really outstanding list of questions and observations.
    I'm afraid that too many of the answers are to be found in the self interest of the ruling oligarchy.

  2. Comments concerning numbers 1,11, and 13:

    I agree with most of 1, however I do not think that overwhelming death and destruction is the only way to drive an enemy to capitulation. My Sun Tzu is rusty, but I believe he stated that the real goal is to bend your enemy to your will without engaging in conflict at all. I'd say we've wreaked untold destruction on the Afghan population in the last decade, and it has accomplished very little when held up against our larger strategy.

    Concerning number 11, I do not believe the politics lends itself to a-political campaigns. At least, not as our system is currently structured. If we could overturn the Citizens United ruling (equating money to free speech, and do away with the idea of corporate person-hood), and take all but public financing (paid for by, yes, taxes) out of the political realm, I think you would see a lot more reasoned and effective campaigning.

    In 13, I enjoyed the fact that you employed the MICC moniker, which I believe to be an accurate representation. A nice nod to Col. Boyd and the "Fighter Mafia".

    Just my two cents.