5.0 out of 5 stars Solving Major Problems Early for 1/50th of the Cost
July 4, 2001
I first heard Kris Wheaton lecture in Europe, and was just blown away by the deep understanding that he demonstrated of why commanders and CEOs are constantly missing the warnings their subordinates and forward scouts are sending back–the huge cost! Kosovo, for example, could have been a $1 billion a year problem if acted upon wisely and early, instead it became a $5 billion a year problem. I like this book very much because it makes his deep insights available to everybody in a very readable, well-illustrated, and concise book.
I strongly recommend this book because it offers the only thoughtful explanation I have ever seen on the conflict between the senior decision-maker’s attention span (can only think about $50 billion problems) and the early warning that *is* available but cannot break through to the always over-burdened, sometimes arrogant, and rarely strategic top boss. In this regard, his book is a fine complement to the more historical work by Willard Matthias on “America’s Strategic Blunders.”
This book also offers solutions. It is a book that should be required reading for all field grade officers in all military services, as well as state and local governors and majors, university and hospital and other non-profit heads, and of course the captains of industry who spend billions, often unwisely, because they have not established a scouting system that can be heard at the highest levels *in time*. America, among many other nations and organizations, has a habit of ignoring its iconoclasts and mavericks–in an increasingly complex world where catastrophic combinations of failure are going to be more common, such ignorance will eventually become unaffordable and threatening to the national security as well as the national prosperity of those who persist in thinking about old problems in old ways.
There is one other aspect of this book that merits strong emphasis: it focuses on human understanding and human engagement with the world, and makes it clear that technology has almost nothing to do with how well we cope with the external environment that defines our future. There aren’t five people in the US government, to take one example, that adequately understand the rich intellectual history of Islam nor the core difference between the Islamic emphasis on knowledge integration as the core value and the Christian emphasis on love as the core value. The author of this book is one of America’s foremost authorities on the Balkan conflict and the deep importance of historical and cultural understanding as part of current political and operational competency–we need 1000 more intelligence professionals just like him. This book will inspire and provoke and is a great value for anyone who deals with the world at large.
This is a very thoughtful and well-documented book that has been 20 years in the making–although it was actually researched and written in the past three years, the author is on record as having discussed water wars in 1980, and should be credited with anticipating the relationship between natural resources, ethnic conflict, and great power discomfort well before the pack.
He covers oil in particular, energy in more general terms (to my disappointment, not breaking natural gas out from oil, a very relevant distinction for commodities brokers), water, minerals, and timber. His footnotes are quite satisfactory and strike a very fine balance–unusually good–between policy, military, and academic or industry sources.
Sadly, I believe that this book, as with Laurie Garrett’s book on the collapse of public health, will be ignored by the …Administration, which appears to have decided that real war is only between states, that energy is something to be increased, not moderated in use, and that real men do not concern themselves with ethnic conflict, small wars, or scarcity of any sort in the Third World.
As I reflect on this book, and its deep discussion of the details of existing and potential resources wars (it includes a very fine illustrative appendix of oil and natural gas conflicts, all current), I contemplate both my disappointment that the author and publisher did not choose to do more with geospatial visualization–a fold out map of the world with all the points plotted in color would have been an extraordinary value–and the immediate potential value of adding the knowledge represented by this book on resources and the Garrett book on public health threats–to the World Conflict & Human Rights Map 2000 published by PIOOM at Leiden University in The Netherlands.
What I really like about this book is its relevance, its authority, its utility. What I find frustrating about this book is that it is, like all books, an isolated fragment of knowledge that cannot easily be integrated and visualized. How helpful it would be, if US voters could see a geographic depiction of the world showing all that the author of this excellent work is trying to communicate, and on the same geographic depiction, see the military dollars versus the economic assistance dollars that the U.S. is or is not investing. The results would be shocking and could lead to political action as the community level, for what is clear to me from this book is that there is a huge disconnect between the real threat, our national security policies, and how we actually spend our foreign affairs, defense, and trade dollars from the taxpayers’ pockets.
A trillion dollar tax cut, or a trillion dollar investment in deterrence through investments in natural resource stabilization and extension? Which would be of more lasting value to the seventh generation of our children? The author does not comment–one is left to read between the lines.
Wake Up Call for the Next President–Real World Security,
December 6, 2000
Two proven historians, a father-son team, draw stark comparisons between the post World War I period in which Britain took a gigantic “peace dividend” and allows its national defenses to crumble, and the post Cold War period in which America has done the same. Those who trust the Kagan’s analysis-as does the distinguished Colin Gray, master of strategic thinking-may skip the first half of the book and go directly to the second half focusing on the American experience.This is not, as some might claim, an ideological treatise. It is firmly grounded in history and the authors strive to present a balanced reasonable theme. I believe they succeed. Even for those steeped in the literature of the American military, there are new lessons in this book. Perhaps the three most important lessons are these: 1) regional threats can become global threats without sufficient warning such as is necessary to reconstitute global defenses; 2) successful diplomacy is best founded on the immediate availability of armed force that can be projected to any point on the globe with great credibility; 3) national security, unlike domestic policies, is not something to be achieved by consensus-this is where the President earns their keep, by guiding and forging a consensus in the absence of domestic constituencies for spending on external affairs and external security.
Especially gripping for anyone who anticipates a future in which Dick Cheney and Colin Powell have something to say about our national security, is the authors’ analysis of their strategic decisions following the Cold War. Both Cheney and Powell get very high marks for understanding that global strength is a pre-requisite for stability and security. The Powell vision for a Base Force with Atlantic, Pacific, Strategic, and Contingency force elements is categorized as brilliant. Powell does, however, get very low marks for being consistently unwilling to use force to impose order in the absence of clear objectives-the authors are very clear in calling the Weinberger Doctrine (setting conditions under which force may be used) completely out of date and at odds with today’s needs. Both President Bush and Chairman Powell are severely castigated for having ended the Gulf War too soon and without a decisive result-the author’s compare this to the similarly indecisive outcome of World War I, an outcome that left the aggressors strong enough to come back and fight another day.
The authors then go on to systematically review a series of major foreign policy and defense failures in the Clinton administration, an Administration characterized by a consistent failure to understand and address the mismatch between wandering and vacillating foreign policies and attendant commitments, and the real-world capabilities of a declining military force. Especially dangerous, in the authors’ view, was the Bottom Up Review approach that abandoned the Cheney-Powell appreciation for maintaining sufficient force to deter two regional surprise attacks (Russia and Iraq on one side, China and North Korea on the other), and instead adopted the premise that 6 months warning would be available, that reconstitution of both the force and its industrial base was possible, and that forces could be justified only in terms of existing threats, most of them from non-state actors. Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, Iraq inspections, North Korea inspections, these are all reviewed and all are found to have left America with a legacy of half measures. “By trying to ignore the problem, to leave it to others, whether the UN or NATO, by declaring it to be of no vital interest to the United States, by refusing to use any force once involved and then to use adequate force once committed, they [Bush Sr. and Clinton] found themselves making the very mistakes that brought defeat and disaster in Vietnam, the fear of which had played so great a role, first in their failure to act and then in their inadequate response.”
In their conclusion, the authors find that the next Administration will assume responsibility at a time when the rest of the world has learned, from the past eight years, that America is not willing to summon the forces to defeat aggression; that developing weapons of mass destruction is the fastest means to elicit billion dollar bribes from America; that ethnic cleansing and politically driven mass starvation will not inspire intervention by America. “The most likely American response will be neglect, at first, followed by some attempt at negotiation. If, at last, driven to action, the Americans attack, it will be from the air, employing limited rules of engagement, and it will not destroy the aggressor. Ground forces will almost certainly not be used until the aggressor himself invites them in as part of a negotiation that gives him [the aggressor] most of what he wants. Above all, he should be sure to develop weapons of mass destruction. Even the hint of such a program in a threatening country will bring high-level American officials on top-secret missions to bribe its leaders to abandon the program. They will probably be able to keep the bribe and to pursue the programs they like, as well. These are the lessons America has given the world in the past eight years…”
The book closes by concluding that the strategic pause is gone and it is almost too late. Forces have declined severely (one can only lament the ill-considered Navy program for decommissioning destroyers and frigates that, once decommissioned, are almost impossible to resurrect), coalitions and alliances are in disarray, and non-state actors have learned how to play on the naiveté of the U.S. Government. America’s responsibilities for global stability and security are “inescapable”, and the next President must make the necessary commitments and be materially and morally ready to meet them.
Brilliant and Valuable, Missing the Presidential Trade-Offs,
December 6, 2000
Henry J. Aaron
The public policy overviews by Brookings are always among the best, and they are even more valuable this year when several think tanks appear to have defaulted on their traditional role in offering up reviews for consideration by the transition team. Across the various issue areas, including international, social, domestic, and governance policy domains, they present thoughtful recommendations.
Unfortunately, despite their deep understanding of the dilemmas facing the next President, the book does not provide the two things I would most like to have seen: one or two page “decision-papers” that set out the choices to be made within each issue area, and the specific budget costs and timelines for those choices; and a larger over-all budget choice document in no more than 2 pages that outlines what changes might be made in both the budget construction already underway in CY 2001 that the new President can influence, and the budget to be prepared from scratch in CY 2002 that should reflect the vital trade-offs as well as the vital plus-ups that need to be made in defense, intelligence, public health, and education, to name just my top four. In defense and intelligence, my specific area of interest, I would have liked to see some specific recommendations, and their costs, for restoring the 450 ship Navy, creating the contingency and peacekeeping force as well as the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief forces, and some specifics on considerably reinforcing diplomatic, peace corps, and economic assistance operations including a Digital Marshall Plan. This is not to quarrel with findings and views of the authors, all of whom merit very serious consideration, but rather to note that the book does not go far enough, either in specific programmatic terms, or in politically useful presentation terms.
This is an excellent book, but it is also a classic example of unfettered brilliance-without the concise decision papers and the over-all budget numbers, this book will only be read by staffers, not by principals, and that is a shame, because on balance I think there is a great deal to be learned from each of the authors contributing to this work.
Used with permission, this was created by Paul Ray, co-author with Sherri Anderson of the brilliant early book, Cultural Creatives, see my review.
Contrast this issue-based factionalization–one that can be drawn together by first focusing on the 80% where we are all in general agreement–in contrast to the ideological divisions represented by the Tyranny of Two.
Persico has done a wonderful job of capturing Casey’s magnificent complexity and intellectual voraciousness. Oddly enough the best quote in there, part of a really excellent over-all description of why the DO does not succeed, comes from Herb Meyer when he was a special assistant to Casey: “These guys have built a system that shuts them off from any intelligence except what you can steal. These people needed to be reconnected to reality.”
THE DOLLAR HAS NO INTRINSIC VALUE : DO YOUR ASSETS?