Compelling, Insightful, Useful – Glosses Over Some Fundamentals
This book excels at offering a compelling overview of the severe deficiencies in US national security strategy, policy, and operations – it is one of the strongest indictments I have seen of our total inability to wage peace instead of war. Among the many high points covered by the author and included in my extensive notes:
01 USA has no Grand Strategy and no process for creating and executing a Grand Strategy. Deep in the book the author observes that not only is Grand Strategy the only means of fully employing all sources of national power, but it is also how one anticipates and avoids unintended consequences.
02 The elements of the US Government (USG) nominally responsible for waging peace – the Departments of State and Commerce, the US Agency of International Development (USAID), the US Information Agency (abolished in 1999) are under-trained, unsynchronized entities unable to deter conflict or build a lasting peace.
03 Morality matters – there is no conflict between ethics and pragmatism. The author offers some very fine references I would never have noted otherwise, including the new book by Derek Yuen, Deciphering Sun Tzu: How to Read the Art of War, and does a fine job of pointing out that we need to do more circular thinking, more holistic thinking, leveraging Sun Tzu instead of Clausewitz and the linear thinking that tends to characterize Western scientific and political reductionism.
04 The separation between political deliberations and military deliberations has been catastrophic — politicians are too quick to use the military instead of developing civilian solutions, and the military has been too quick to accept impossible missions unsuited to its capabilities. I particularly like the author’s recurring emphasis on the public as the center of gravity for successful national policy:
QUOTE (124): In truth, it is the American people, not the government, who are the ultimate engine of peace or war.
05 Over-all the author provides a brilliant useful review of foreign policy thinking from the Founding Fathers forward – drawing on both Henry Kissinger and Robert Kagan with whom she disagrees on some points.
06 While the author does not seem to be aware that I started the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) revolution, the book provides a superb indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the need to do vastly better with open sources of information – she frequently cites one of my heroes, LTG Mike Flynn, for whom I wrote the CounterPunch article, “On Defense Intelligence – Seven Strikes.”
07 On balance I consider the book essential reading for the war colleges, business schools, and graduate programs that wish to offer their students material relevant to creating a prosperous world at peace. This book is a preliminary – unfinished – handbook for adaptive leadership, for those who wish to be change agents within a great government suffering from multiple sucking chest wounds in how it governs.
There are three areas where I take issue with the author’s general tone.
01 The book emphasizes Chinese and Russian aggression and the need for the USA to be more energetic in confronting China and Russia with non-kinetic power. A useful alternative perspective on China is the book by my friend Parag Khanna, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, which documents how the Chinese are waging peace and garnering both influence and control over natural resources, by building ports, roads, and high-speed rail.
02 The author does not discuss aggression by the USA against others, neglecting the fact as pointed out by my colleague Ambassador Mark Palmer in Breaking the Real Axis of Evil that we are best pals with 40 of the 42 dictators on the planet including the Saudi royal family that exports Wahhabism, funds ISIS, and bribes everyone from Hillary Clinton to the Prime Minister of Malaysia; that we have been Killing Hope around the world over 200 times, and that we are in fact a corrupt Griftopia in which the military-industrial complex is in the service of Wall Street and the City of London, and most of our “interventions” are motivated by financial greed and a desire to capture natural resources. On the US history of imperialism, Sorrows of Empire and The Eagle’s Shadow offer helpful surveys of how others see us.
03 The author articulates some neoconservative and Zionist views than I find out of place and distracting – particularly in relation to Palestine – but this does not undermine her larger depiction of the severe problems we face in the USA across grand strategy, diplomacy, development, and intelligence, especially cultural intelligence.
This is a compelling read and recommended – we all need to read the views of those who may diverge from our own opinions, and regardless of my disagreement with the author on some of the fundamentals, I find her overall contribution to be stellar and therefore essential to my learning.
A few more books I would not have known existed without the author’s citation:
- Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower
- Robert Kagan, Dangerous Nation: America's Foreign Policy from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century
- John Gittings, The Glorious Art of Peace: From the Illiad to Iraq
Best wishes to all,