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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum

I spent this weekend in Chicago with a great collection of serving and former military officers and enlisted at the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. This was a unique defense conference put together by a group of young, like-minded officers who found each other through social networking and their writing in a number of forums. Ben Kohlmann, the mastermind, provided the spark for this group with his article published last year in the Small Wars Journal entitled "The Military Needs More Disruptive Thinkers." This article and its title was one that people either loved, or loved to hate. Despite the criticism some heaped on the disruptive title, it served as an inspiration to frustrated, but still motivated young officers. What is more, the tagline stuck in the way that something less edgy would not have. It created a buzz and that buzz turned into some very positive relationships that will ultimately be good for the military as a whole.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Military Transition Pointers


I recently completed a transition from the military to civilian employment. This is my effort to share some of the lessons I learned in the process. First, I’ll provide a little information about myself as a baseline. This post is targeted primarily at officers and senior SNCOs with a college degree and 10 or more years of service, to include retirees at the 20-plus year mark, aiming at civilian employment outside of the defense sector. Many of the lessons here will carry over to military members separating earlier or those looking for defense sector employment, but my experience is not in those demographics.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An Essay and a Quote

My latest essay at War on the Rocks is out, in which I argue that this is not the diplomacy you're looking for. The rush to war with Syria has turned into a tumble into a Russian led diplomatic effort that is a lose-lose for everyone. Our focus on war and dismissal of due diplomatic process has led us into a dead end that ultimately damages both American credibility and the reputation of diplomacy, not to mention the continued tragedy that is Syria.

I was also quoted today in the Washington Post on a story about the Obama Administration and the President's uneasy role of Commander in Chief, alongside Panetta, Gates, Cordesman and others. Read the story here.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Moral Abstractions, Real Tragedies, and False Solutions

As the debate over unilateral American intervention in Syria continues, it is relatively clear that US public opinion does not favor a new adventure there. Nonetheless, the Obama Administration continues to push for Congressional authorization, promising a "full-court press" in coming days. While Obama and Kerry have spoken on the issue, remarks by Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power seem to have resonated most with the foreign policy audience and may begin to change the discussion.

Power's remarks played carefully on notions of moral indignation, then providing a nuanced and circumscribed call for limited intervention to prevent future use of weapons of mass destruction, explaining that the latest chemical attack killed far more than even the worst of Assad's conventional barrages against civilian neighborhoods. While I found her words to be compelling in a way, and I truly am conflicted in my feelings about the entire issue of Syria, I think that a deeper deconstruction of the bases of the case for intervention helps me to remain steadfastly against military action.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Don't Gloss Over the IEDs in Your Primrose Path

In my latest post at War on the Rocks, I argue that intervention in Syria demands a more honest accounting of the possible complications than the glib handwaving offered by Senator McCain (when he wasn't playing poker during hearings or dismissing criticism of the same) and Secretary of State Kerry.
...Whatever action America takes, it must not be based on such fantasy. We have been down this road before, with America’s foreign policy leadership disingenuously glossing over the IEDs buried under their primrose path. If we have learned anything over the past decade, it should be that years of brutal repression followed by civil war do not give way quickly or easily to utopian democracy. What is more, people who have lived in fear, then fought brutally to overthrow their oppressors do not all share the same vision of the future.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

American Foreign Policy is Broken

My first contribution at the relatively new "War on the Rocks" came out today and there will be more to follow as I've been invited to be a regular columnist there. War on the Rocks is a web publication that serves as a platform for analysis, commentary, and debate on foreign policy and national security issues through a realist lens.

My first offering deals with the foreign policy implications of the US handling of the Syria crisis:

Due to characteristic American impatient righteousness and to domestic political pressures that reduce our discourse to an apoplectic cacophony, US diplomacy has been reduced to half-hearted, moralizing lectures to the rest of the world accompanied by the threat of unilateral use of force to police the international order. US officials swear that they value international norms, but they are too impatient to bolster and follow those same norms and institutions when crisis strikes.
There's much more at War on the Rocks

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Last Chapter

As I look back, there are many memories that rise to the surface, but somehow one innocuous, forgettable flight keeps coming to mind. It was 2001, in the summer. Before September. I was a new pilot in the KC-130 flying a day helicopter refueling mission over the shimmering waters off of North Carolina. Jacksonville and Wilmington were off our right wing. Cherry Point was on the tail. And somewhere over my left shoulder was the fishhook of Cape Lookout anchored by the iconic black and white pole of a lighthouse. I was entirely focused on the dials in front of me: airspeed, altitude, vertical velocity. Trying to keep all the needles pointed in the right direction, as motionless as possible in order to steady the hose bouncing in the airstream some hundred feet behind me, where I could hear the rotors of a CH-53E beating the air in an effort to claw its way into the basket for a good plug and drink of fuel. At 120 knots in a wallowing, heavy Herc, keeping steady requires concentration. I’d flown this mission before and I would fly many afterward, but this one sticks out. My sweaty hand squeezed the yoke and my brow furrowed in concentration. Then, for some reason, it dawned on me just how amazing my job was. My brow unfurrowed, my hand relaxed a bit on the yoke, and I took in the beautiful day and the Carolina blue skies above us through the arc of greenhouse windows that open the cockpit of a KC-130 to the world. I wish there were more such simple moments that I’d taken in over the years, but that is life. We are often too busy to appreciate the everyday things that make it truly exceptional.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More Thoughts on a Defensive Mindset

My op-ed in the Washington Post on 3 Feb was generally very well received. It has now been reprinted in multiple papers in multiple countries including my own hometown of Cleveland, the Stars and Stripes, as well as places as far-flung as Japan, Malaysia, and Qatar. Crafting an argument in under 800 words is no small task and given some of the commentary I've clearly left some ambiguity in what I meant. That being said, this was hopefully more of a conversation-starter piece than a solution to all that ills us.
Critically, I was not arguing–as some have interpreted–about the opportunity costs of defense spending nor arguing that defense spending is crowding out other sectors to make for a serious drain on our economy. While I do believe that we could spend less, more intelligently, and find greater return on investment, I don’t believe that a reduction in defense spending is the key issue.
Instead, I’m arguing that a defensive mindset has permeated our culture and discourse. As such, instead of leading and taking advantage of change, we are afraid of it. What is more, this mindset makes us paranoid and pessimistic, impairing the sort of bold investments and initiatives that make business and society great. We complain of short term outlooks in our corporations, for example. Part of this is due to the tyranny of the investors in public corporations and the concomitant short term outlook based on quarterly statements, but part of it also is due to pessimism and fear of change.
Infrastructure and educational spending is not a panacea. I’m not arguing for a massive state-led focus on projects such as high-speed rail, but many of our cities and the businesses and workers therein are facing real losses due to poor and underprovided infrastructure. Likewise, while we are pumping out college graduates, for example, these graduates are not necessarily suited to the jobs that are available. Same for high school and technical school grads. Businesses again are facing real losses due to the mismatch of educational programs to skills required and the dearth of specifically skilled workers. We need to revamp these institutions. And while I said "invest" in them, I more properly should have said "invest rationally" in them. We spend a great deal on education (as an aside, we also spend a great deal on healthcare) and we do not get the return on investment we should in either field. We need to reexamine the distortions in our markets and continue to invest, but invest smartly.
Many of our illogical and inefficient investments come because specific interests have distorted markets. A pessimistic and defensive outlook prohibits the consensus and cooperation needed to provide the public goods that underpin our economy. You need to believe in a better future to invest in it, whether in public goods or in specific corporate projects. If you don't believe in a better future, it makes more sense to ensure that investment disproportionately benefits your interests. While human nature tends to make people want to profit ahead of others, this is especially the case when we don't believe a more general investment will pay off. 
I am arguing that our last decade of war, coupled with the economic crisis which I couldn’t discuss in a short op-ed, has made us incredibly defensive and pessimistic and that we absolutely have to change that mindset if we are to lead again, invest in our future, and ensure that the bases of our liberal state and capitalist economy are properly tended. I argue this at much greater length and nuance in my new book, War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America’s Quest for the End of History.
I hope this helped to flesh out my argument a bit and I hope people can find something to build on in it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Banish the Fear, Paranoia, and Dissension. Lead Again.

This weekend, the Washington Post published my opinion piece which they have titled "An America Cramped by Defensiveness." In it, I argue that a traumatized America has an overwhelmingly defensive focus and must learn to stand up, create, and lead again.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States sent its military off to war and fretted about post-traumatic stress disorder — but paid little attention to the fact that America itself was traumatized. Americans became angry and withdrawn. We are fearful and paranoid because after a strike on our nation we chose to focus on defense rather than the resilience and vitality that made America great. ... 
We have little reason to be so negative. ... In our increasingly paranoiac discourse, we too have lost focus on the positive, creative tasks that continuously remake American power, resilience and vitality. We cannot agree to invest in education for our children or in infrastructure for our commerce, to rationalize the regulations that underpin our markets or to act collectively to create value. Instead, we hunker in a defensive crouch. 
Defense is an act of negation. It brings no victory, instead making us fearful, paranoid, angry and uncooperative. ... We must exalt those who create value in our society: parents, teachers, workers, builders, entrepreneurs, innovators. We must go forth confident that we can lead a changing world by continuing to create, by working together and by living the sorts of fearless lives that our fallen lived.

Read it all here. It is online now and will be in the Sunday print edition. The thoughts here are drawn on much deeper foundations in my book, War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History, which you can explore here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Discussion with Sal and Eagle1 on Midrats

I had a good discussion with Sal and Eagle1 of the Midrats radio talk show this Sunday touching on the themes of my new book. You can listen to the episode embedded below or go to iTunes to download the podcast episode. The first half of the show was their discussion with Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Chief of Information of the Navy. My portion starts at the 33:30 mark.



Listen to internet radio with Midrats on Blog Talk Radio

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Q&A with Time Magazine

Mark Thompson of Time Magazine was kind enough to do a Q&A with me about foreign policy in a changing world and the topics in War, Welfare & Democracy. See the whole discussion here.

No matter what portion of the ideological spectrum Americans come at world problems from, their views are shaped in a way by the idea of the “end of history.” We think that political development has a single endpoint, that being liberal democracy. 
I’m not arguing that there’s a better endpoint. 
Instead, I’m arguing that America cannot get the world to that endpoint in the near term. America needs to be more humble in its foreign policies, more realistic than its current expectation of instant modernization without any instability, and more cognizant of the significant challenges it faces in getting its own house in order. 
In a phrase, I argue that America should focus more on being an exemplar than a crusader.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

War, Welfare & Democracy Is Now Available

After several years of work and anticipation, my second book, War, Welfare & Democracy is available online right now and will be in select stores by the 28th of January. A Kindle edition is available via Amazon and a Nook format via Barnes and Noble

You can find it online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BooksAMillion, and others.  It will be available in select Barnes and Noble stores in major metro areas. You can search from the B&N webpage at the "Pick up in store" hyperlink next to the big orange "Add to bag" button with your ZIP code to see if it will be at a store near you. If not, please ask them to carry it if you happen to be in the store!

Below, you'll find a few ways to help, the book's summary, and the praise it has already received.

A few ways you can help:
  • Ask your local bookstore to carry War, Welfare & Democracy. It will be in their computer system so they should be able to order it. 
  • If you read the book, post a short review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or other websites. Just a rating and a few words are helpful. 
  • "Like" the book's page on Amazon, BN, Books-a-Million, etc. 
  • Follow the War, Welfare & Democracy page on Facebook and share updates on the book with your friends. 
  • Follow @PeterJMunson and @WarWelfareBook on Twitter. 
  • Tell your friends about the book! 

SUMMARY

American foreign policy since World War II has actively sought to reshape both domestic and international orders, hoping to hasten the coming of the “end of history” in a peaceful democratic utopia. While the end of the Cold War heightened optimism that this goal was near, American foreign policymakers still face dramatic challenges. In War, Welfare & Democracy, Peter Munson argues that the problems we face today stem from common roots—the modern state system’s struggle to cope with the pressures of market development and sociopolitical modernization.

America’s policies seek to treat challenges as varied as insurgency, organized crime, fiscal crises, immigration pressures, authoritarianism, and violations of human rights with a schizophrenic mix of realpolitik and idealism. The ideologies that inform this policy outlook were born during the Great Depression and two world wars and honed during the early years of the Cold War. Although the world has long since changed, American policy has failed to adjust. The crisis of the world’s leading welfare states compounds this inflexibility.

By addressing the inequality of wealth, security, and stability brought on by dramatic economic change and modernization, Munson describes how America can lead in reforming the welfare state paradigm and adjust its antiquated policies to best manage the transformation we must face.

PRAISE

“In this savagely critical yet astonishingly insightful book, Peter Munson lays bare the folly of what passes for sophisticated thinking in Washington. Better still, he offers a sound, reasoned basis for an altogether different approach—one with fewer wars and greater attention to putting America’s own house in order."

-- ANDREW J. BACEVICH, author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War

"An outstanding indictment of the protracted and repeated political folly and grand strategic incompetence that has imperiled U.S. ability to function effectively as a prudent hegemonic power, Munson's powerfully persuasive study is an uncomfortable, but essential, read for Americans."

-- COLIN S. GRAY, author of National Security Dilemmas

"With experience as a military professional and the eye of a strategist, Peter Munson provides a wise, elegantly written assessment of the choices the United States faces today in its security policy. Advocating neither isolation nor appeasement, he makes a strong case for retrenchment from ‘micromanagement of world affairs’ and a return to an exemplary role. All Americans concerned with their nation’s future should read it."

-- STEVEN METZ, author of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy

"U.S. Marine and scholar Peter Munson has written a superb book about the severe limitations of military force to achieve what he rightly characterizes as 'utopian' outcomes. This is not an easy, feel-good read. War, Welfare & Democracy is a hard-hitting, rigorously researched call-to-action by a man who has served on the front lines."

-- RYE BARCOTT, author of It Happened on the Way to War

"Peter Munson has a sharp mind and a keen eye for military affairs. His work develops a series of critical arguments designed to focus our limited resources in smart ways to cope with real security challenges today and in the future. His bottom line is straightforward: we should get our own house in order as the precondition for the emergence of any sound national security strategy."

-- Col. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR, USA (Ret.), author of Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting and executive vice president of Burke-Macgregor Group

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Military Review Recommends War, Welfare & Democracy

The US Army Combined Arms Center's professional journal Military Review has featured my book War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History in the "We Recommend" section of their January/February 2013 edition (see this PDF, p. 87).

The book will be released at the end of the month and can be pre-ordered now. A summary follows:

American foreign policy since World War II has actively sought to reshape both
domestic and international orders, hoping to hasten the coming of the “end of history”
in a peaceful democratic utopia. While the end of the Cold War heightened optimism that
this goal was near, American foreign policymakers still face dramatic challenges. In War,
Welfare & Democracy, Peter Munson argues that the problems we face today stem from
common roots—the modern state system’s struggle to cope with the pressures of market
development and sociopolitical modernization.
America’s policies seek to treat challenges as varied as insurgency, organized crime, fiscal
crises, immigration pressures, authoritarianism, and violations of human rights with a
schizophrenic mix of realpolitik and idealism. The ideologies that inform this policy outlook
were born during the Great Depression and two world wars and honed during the early
years of the Cold War. Although the world has long since changed, American policy has
failed to adjust. The crisis of the world’s leading welfare states compounds this inflexibility.
By addressing the inequality of wealth, security, and stability brought on by dramatic
economic change and modernization, Munson describes how America can lead in
reforming the welfare state paradigm and adjust its antiquated policies to best manage the
transformation we must face.

Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year, New Direction

It has been a while since I posted here. Life, always busy, has gotten busier. This fall, I was selected to be the aide de camp to the Commander of US Marine Corps Forces, Central Command. While the aide position to a 3-star is roughly analogous to an executive assistant in the civilian world, the military uses this as a senior management/leadership development program, selecting officers with around 15 years of experience to sit in for a year on the world of senior decision-makers, giving us almost unfettered access to their meetings and thoughts. This has been an extremely rewarding few months, filled with travel and long days. What's more, I found out early in December that I was selected for lieutenant colonel.

This isn't all, of course. I've also been keeping the journal side of the Small Wars Journal rolling, lightly editing, selecting, and posting all the great essays submitted by the community, keeping those coming out Monday through Friday. I've also been editing my own work, finishing the edits for my book War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History (available for pre-order now for a late-January release at Potomac BooksAmazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or other booksellers online).

I've also been planning for a change of directions. I've spent over 15 years of my life as an itinerant in the Marine Corps. My kids are coming into high school and some sort of biological calendar has turned over for my wife and I and we realize that it is time to settle down. We cherish the memories and adventures of the last decade and a half, but feel very clearly that it is time to embark on a new journey. We are headed back to Cleveland in the hope that I will be able to put my experiences and qualifications to work as a strategic thinker and planner in business development, human resources, or management in the private sector.

This, as you would imagine, has been a momentous decision. I have received a great deal of very good feedback from family, friends, and mentors. Some think I am crazy, but many more understand. Some are even envious. I just finished the first draft of a novel that, in ways, may someday more fully explain my rationale for choosing my own way rather than following the expected path. There are many reasons, but in brief life is too short and uncertain to wait on someone else's milestones or follow someone else's path when you feel very clearly that the time has come to re-evaluate your priorities and shift gears.

I am very excited for this new opportunity. I feel very much the same way I did when I entered the Marine Corps. I feel excited and alive, with only that tinge of apprehension that we need to keep ourselves honest--to avoid those fatal mistakes of complacency. And in keeping with this new direction for my life, I've vowed to take a new direction in how I think and what I comment on. We shall see if I can keep true to that. I plan to take a step back from the world of national security and military affairs. My aim is to avoid the negativity and non-constructive criticism--the destructive commentary--that seems to almost wholly surround those affairs today. War doesn't create anything, a friend once said. It only consumes and destroys. The culture that surrounds national security seems to me to be similarly destructive, and growing more so day by day. I will continue to edit the SWJ, but my intent will be to stay away from the commentary there, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc, that all too often descends into criticism of everything and production of nothing. When I do write about national security, I plan to take lessons about strategic planning, decision-making, culture, and organizational design and to apply them more generally to problems of creation and competition in the world more broadly.

I do believe that I will eventually re-enter the national security world in some capacity, hopefully though not until my kids are out of the house and I've had a good period to get some other experiences and gain some perspective on mine to date. Until then, I (perhaps lamely) will follow a charter of seeking to create and not destroy/tear down that came to me a few days ago. The feeling has been with me for far longer, but a little over a week ago, I had a dream that took me back to what must have been the woods of Quantico and a patrol I did in training there once, thought the feeling was far more real than that. I could just make out the outlines of a rifle barrel and a scope in the green undergrowth, aimed down the axis of the patrol. At that instant, I woke up. I got ready for work. And on the drive in, a procession of 1960s songs shuffled through my iPhone, giving rise to the image of Rhah, in the final scenes of Platoon--a movie I last saw probably two decades ago with my father, a Marine officer and Vietnam vet.

When I got to work, I searched for the quote from that final scene where Chris Taylor is flown out of the jungle. It resonated with me and what I want to do. "I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us. ... But, be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach to others what we know, and to try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life."

I bid the world of national insecurity farewell. I am looking forward to building and finding goodness and meaning.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Caution on Civil-Military Relations


This brief post represents only a few quickly dashed thoughts in the hope of getting something on paper today that might morph into a longer and more useful essay on civil-military relations. I believe that civil-military relations in the United States are deeply troubled. The issues are lurking mostly in the background right now. On the surface, our leadership—civilian and military—has been able to negotiate some relatively complex rapids without any of the major drama that has cropped up in the past. The falling out between Truman and MacArthur comes to mind. Nonetheless, there are serious background issues that will only get worse in 2014 and beyond.  There are several reasons for concern. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Thoughts on Military Culture Today and its Implication for the Future Force

I compiled the following thoughts in preparation for a trip to DC this week for a panel discussion with the Chief of Staff of the Army's Strategic Studies Group on "Military Culture Today and its Implication for the Future Force.” The panel is on Wednesday, so you have a few days to comment and perhaps have your voice heard at the panel.


For an organization facing a period of significant transition, during a time of continued resource advantage and undefined threat, coming on the heels of the traumatic experiences of two ambiguous-to-unsuccessful wars, adjustments to culture will be critical to the success or failure of any reform efforts. Recent experiences have significantly skewed the organization’s culture, which must be re-grounded in order to move ahead rationally.  You can see my general thoughts on this issue in more detail at “Disruptive Thinkers: Defining the Problem.”

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Case for Disruption and Dialogue in Defense Reform


Case studies abound of businesses that have seen their success turn into bloat, hubris, and ultimately decline.  It should be no surprise then that the most powerful and unparalleled military in history is having a hard time coming to grips with the coming budget cuts.   The resources at the disposal of the military are as massive as the coming cuts are comparatively paltry (despite protestations to the contrary), yet the real challenge is more one of rationalizing the organization’s allocation of resources. 

The military is saddled with more restraints and armed with fewer incentives and metrics than any private sector organization. At the same time, the massive, conservative bureaucracy of the Department of Defense (DoD), replete with its four separate services and countless other fiefdoms, is notoriously resistant to change.  Attempts to rationalize, streamline, and flatten the organization will be staunchly resisted, while general officer leaders are unprepared, if not unwilling, to break this phalanx.  This all means that reforms will have to come at the hands of disruptive actors within and outside DoD, rather than a unified, top-down campaign.  While it is much in vogue to deny that the rules of the business world apply to the military, the time is ripe for more dialogue between the two worlds to both inform and learn from this unique case.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Advanced Praise for War, Welfare, and Democracy

My book, War, Welfare, and Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History is making its way toward release, which is scheduled for January 2013.  It is available for pre-order at the publisher's websiteAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.  I'm honored and excited by the endorsements below.


“In this savagely critical yet astonishingly insightful book, Peter Munson lays bare the folly of what passes for sophisticated thinking in Washington. Better still, he offers a sound, reasoned basis for an altogether different approach—one with fewer wars and greater attention to putting America’s own house in order.”
—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War

“An outstanding indictment of the protracted and repeated political folly and grand strategic incompetence that has imperiled U.S. ability to function effectively as a prudent hegemonic power, Munson's powerfully persuasive study is an uncomfortable, but essential, read for Americans.”
—Colin S. Gray, author of National Security Dilemmas

“With experience as a military professional and the eye of a strategist, Peter Munson provides a wise, elegantly written assessment of the choices the United States faces today in its security policy. Advocating neither isolation nor appeasement, he makes a strong case for retrenchment from ‘micromanagement of world affairs’ and a return to an exemplary role. All Americans concerned with their nation’s future should read it.”
—Steven Metz, author of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy

“U.S. Marine and scholar Peter Munson has written a superb book about the severe limitations of military force to achieve what he rightly characterizes as “utopian” outcomes. This is not an easy, feel-good read. War, Welfare & Democracy is a hard-hitting, rigorously researched call-to-action by a man who has served on the front lines.”
—Rye Barcott, author of It Happened on the Way to War

“Peter Munson has a sharp mind and a keen eye for military affairs. His work develops a series of critical arguments designed to focus our limited resources in smart ways to cope with real security challenges today and in the future. His bottom line is straightforward: we should get our own house in order as the precondition for the emergence of any sound national security strategy.”
 —Col. Douglas Macgregor, USA (Ret.), author of Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting and executive vice president of Burke-Macgregor Group

Monday, July 2, 2012

Rajiv Chandrasekaran on Afghanistan, COIN, and the Future of the MAGTF

This is an excerpt of a longer discussion posted at Small Wars Journal.  Please go there for the rest of the interview.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post has been one of the most important chroniclers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  His "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," a searing tale about the dysfunction that wracked our efforts in Iraq, was a National Book Award finalist.  I was excited for his new work on Afghanistan, "Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan," however the thrust of the excerpts published last weekend in the Washington Post left me a bit skeptical.  Even a cynical Marine bristles at what seems to be an affront to the service and the thought that Marine efforts were squandered in Helmand created many emotions in Marines.  What is more, the idea that things would have been vastly different if we sent the Marines to Kandahar, not Helmand, did not square with my impression of the larger flaws in our campaign.  I am decidedly pessimistic about our ability to successfully prosecute small wars, as I have explained at FP's Af-Pak Channel, so my impression of this argument was that it was only a step above arguing over deck chair placement on the Titanic.
Nonetheless, when I was offered the opportunity to discuss these issues with Rajiv, I jumped at it.  I plowed through the book in one sitting late into the predawn hours of Saturday, recalling my graduate school days and found that "Little America" was an eminently readable, sensible, and balanced account.  Even if I remain more cynical than Rajiv does, this is no rosy pro-COIN missive.  Even the title parable underlines a skepticism about our past and our future in Afghanistan, as you will see below.  While the excerpts make it seem as if Chandrasekaran gives the Marines a black eye, he pulls no punches with anyone and many others, such as the Department of State and USAID, come off looking far worse.  In fact, his criticism of the decision of where to send the Marines is a reflection his respect for their tenacity and success in Helmand.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Egypt and the Future of the Arab World

This weekend's events in Egypt were incredible by any stretch of the imagination.  No Egypt expert would have predicted two years ago that Mubarak would be in jail and a Muslim Brother would be president on this day.  I don't deign to have a prediction of what the future holds there, nor can I state categorically "what this means."  I do have a few short thoughts about the importance of the coming days and weeks in Egypt, followed by a short excerpt from my forthcoming book, War, Welfare, & Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History.

First, the importance of the next steps in Egypt cannot be overstated.  There has been a revolution there, but it is not complete in the eyes of the revolutionaries.  The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the SCAF, still holds power and a veto over the future of the country.  This was surely strengthened when the supreme court declared 1/3 of the seats in parliament invalid, in effect disbanding parliament altogether.  In turn, the SCAF has taken the opportunity to name a constitutional drafting committee and  unilaterally decreed itself virtual autonomy on military matters and veto power over the drafting of the new constitution.  It is against this backdrop that Mohammed Morsi, whose membership in the Muslim Brotherhood was ended only yesterday after he won the election, takes a presidency with significantly circumscribed power, in contrast to a remnant of the old regime that seems clearly resurgent.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Face For Radio: Midrats This Sunday

Amidst a very busy schedule this weekend, I'll be on CDR Phibian Salamander's weekly radio show, Midrats.  It will be on from 5-6 PM Eastern time on Sunday 10 June (that's 1700-1800 for those of you who are brainwashed and not disruptive).  The topic will be disruption, dysfunction, and leadership.  As my son says, if you don't have haters, you're doing something wrong, so all you supporters and haters tune in for what will either be an exposition of the nuance I see in the disruptive thinkers issue, or an exposition that radio is not as easy as it seems as I fumble for words on my first go-round.  The link to more details on the show can be found here.  Go to that link to figure out how to listen.  It is also available on podcast.


I'll post more details on how to listen or get to the podcast once I get them.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The "Dear Boss" Saga

The Air Force has a storied tradition called the "Dear Boss" letter. While there may have been previous iterations, and certainly the feeling was out there before, the "Dear Boss" letter as it is known started with a letter penned by then-Captain Ron Keys in 1973 to General Wilbur Creech, Tactical Air Command commander. The below is just a snippet of the opening of his missive.

"Dear Boss,
Well, I quit. I’ve finally run out of drive or devotion or rationalizations or whatever it was that kept me in the Air Force this long. I used to believe in, “Why not the best,” but I can’t keep the faith any longer. I used to fervently maintain that this was “My Air Force,” as much or more than any senior officer’s…but I can’t believe any more; the light at the end of my tunnel went out. “Why?” you ask. Why leave flying fighters and a promising career? Funny you should ask— mainly I’m resigning because I’m tired. Ten years and 2,000 hours in a great fighter, and all the time I’ve been doing more with less—and I’m tired of it. CBPO [Central Base Personnel Office] doesn’t do more with less; they cut hours. ...

"I’m too tired, not of the job, just the Air Force. Tired of the extremely poor leadership and motivational ability of our senior staffers and commanders. (All those Masters and PMEs [professional military educators] and not a leadership trait in sight!) Once you get past your squadron CO [Commanding Officer], people can’t even pronounce esprit de corps.

The rest of the letter can be found here. The letter could have been written today, judging from recent discussion. As a matter of fact, the letter has come back, purposefully copied numerous times including in 1997 and 2009. And if you delete the Air Force-specific references, the same has been cited in all of the services.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The End of History

It has been a while since my last blog post, but life goes on beyond the interwebs.  The below is a more extended explanation of the overall "end of history" ideal, albeit one that was significantly cut back from the original draft in order to make my book one that the average-ish educated reader would find interesting rather than trying to please people who already have read the literature more thoroughly.  For those looking for a more detailed explanation of these concepts, see the notes, especially Fukuyama, Kojeve, and of course Hegel.  The below is excerpted from my forthcoming book, War, Welfare, and Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History (Potomac Books, 2013). (As an aside, the image doesn't exactly fit with the End of History theme, but the "plus ultra" inscription is somewhat topical and the image will figure in my next book, a novel, currently in its early stages.)

There are two very different tracks to the legacies that underpinned the development of the modern state system. On one hand, our thoughts, arguments, and political scholarship are built on the long line of philosophy and ideology that has informed, criticized, and justified political, social, and economic actions since antiquity. On the other hand, the real process of state development has been a much more morally ambiguous and violent affair, the messy details of which have rarely informed popular understandings of history. Neither legacy is faithfully remembered, making the gulf between the ideal and real especially large.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Q&A with Owen West: Advisors in Iraq

Originally published at Small Wars Journal.
Owen West:  Hi Peter.  Before we get to this, looking at your background, let me ask you a question. Why doesn’t the Corps have an AC-130 per company-sized unit? In Iraq, we advisors and our Iraqi charges were supposedly the focus of effort, but the only time we got gunship support was when we brought a SEAL along!
PJM: Actually, the Marine Corps has fielded a kit to arm the KC-130J called the Harvest HAWK.  I was lucky enough to be the detachment officer-in-charge in Afghanistan when we got the first kit.  The system places a sensor and laser designator on the wing, along with four Hellfire missiles.  Inside, there are 10 Griffin missiles (a modified Javelin).  With this punch and over 9 hours of on-station time, this was quite a popular option for troops in Helmand Province.
Moving to our discussion of your book, "The Snake Eaters," which is available May 1, let me first dispel some preconceptions readers may have.  This is not 300 pages about Owen West.  You do not show up until the last 50 pages of the book.  Also, I noted in small print at the back of the book that your net proceeds are being donated to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and to the families of fallen advisors and fallen Iraqi “Snake Eaters” (the title refers to the nickname for Iraqi Battalion 3/3-1). 
The Snake Eaters is not a memoir. Originally titled The Advisors, the pronoun “I” didn’t appear in the initial draft. Teams of advisors are like jockeys switching atop a thoroughbred in mid- race. My role in mentoring the Snake Eaters was small. But I was the team leader when the town turned, and the editor at my initial publishing house was adamant about personalizing the story. We parted ways, but he was correct that the “unnamed advisor” was clunky and distracting. So the final pages include first-person perspective on our little awakening. 100% of the proceeds are donated. That’s how I convinced my wife to allow me to shave some hours each night and on the weekends. Only two hundred demerit days to go. Know any country music festivals I can send her to as additional repayment?  Ironically, tonight marks the 50th anniversary of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, which honors Marines—especially the fallen—by educating their children. The tradition was started here in New York in 1962 when an outraged Marine saw a newspaper story of a struggling Medal of Honor winner juxtaposed with a fundraiser for cats in the Style section. He organized a small fundraiser that is today the Leatherneck Ball.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book Review: Owen West's "The Snake Eaters"

Judging the book, “The Snake Eaters” (Free Press, May 1, 2012) by Owen West by its cover, I would never have picked it up. I would have been wrong. I would have assumed that this was another first-person “there I was” tale from Iraq. After hearing far too many contractors and retirees try to slyly slur that they “have a bit of a SOF background” in a conspiratorially lowered voice, I would have assumed that the title referred to another attempt to anoint some unit or experience as “special.” I would have been wrong. Owen West has written an eminently useful and readable account of an advisory team in Iraq that, without being pedantic, should make us question the conventional wisdom about counterinsurgency, advising, and what works and does not. It should also add to our anger about opportunities squandered, troops left twisting in the wind without the proper training and support, and a conceptually ill-disciplined force wandering every which way, rather than fighting a consistent and unified battle.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tommy

Apropos of my rantings about our expectations of perfect conduct on the part of our young enlisted, I read a blog post pointed to by Doctrine Man and written by "Sgt Jones" about how "America needs her warriors."  I don't agree with everything that Sgt Jones says.  Some things, we cannot condone, even if we understand that they always have and always will happen.  Nonetheless, he makes what would seem to be a commonsense point that we cannot expect our soldiers to be "plaster saints."  Door kickers, point men, even those who signed up to be Marines or soldiers and ended up in more pogue-ish specialties, many came to the service because the sense of adventure and risk appealed to their personalities.  This is not a personality trait that can be turned on and off.  A friend of mine who was a Marine machinegunner and now is an infantry officer, used to toast at The Basic School, "Here's to death in a fusillade of small arms fire."  Those rousing words and a number of drinks do not exactly counsel cautious behavior, but who else do you expect to lead men in a charge to the sound of gunfire?  None of this is rational behavior.  Like the scene from Goodfellas, my wife would come to say to me on more than one occasion, "Normal people don't live like this."  Very true.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Do You Love the Marine Corps?

I'm reading Karl Marlantes' novel Matterhorn.  It is one of the most painfully outstanding books I have ever read.  This exchange between a regimental and battalion commander struck me.  It is a question every officer should ask.

"We are engaged in a shitty war," he said.  "A shitty little war that is tearing apart the thing I love.  Do you love the Marine Corps, Simpson?"
"Yes sir, I do."
"I mean do you really love it?  Do you go to bed with it at night, wake up with it in the morning, see its sour side, see it when it's sick and tired, not just when it's glorious?  Do you think about it all the time?  Or do you think about where it's going to get you?"  

The exchange only gets better from here.  A fantastic work.

Friday, April 20, 2012

War, Welfare & Democracy

Here it is - the cover of my book which will be out in January 2013.  This passage from the final chapter explains the painting.

The fears of our forefathers are creeping towards reality.  These fears, which our Founding Fathers had in mind when they placed their limitations on our government, also produced one of the most beautifully haunting series of paintings in American art.  Thomas Cole, a famed painter and founder of the “Hudson River School” of artists, created a cycle of paintings labeled The Course of Empire in the 1830s.  His work was inspired in part by a verse of Lord Byron’s nearly contemporaneous poetry.
There is the moral of all human tales;
Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory - when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption - barbarism at last.
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page...
The cycle of five paintings depicted a landscape’s transition from the state of nature, through a pastoral era, to the Consummation of Empire.  In this grandiose scene, the emperor and his retinue stand in their pomp on a bridge.  In the background, we see the ships of commerce and the decadent temples and buildings they paid for.  The next scene is entitled Destruction, as armies battle over the same bridge, which has begun to give way under their weight.  Only warships ply the waters now.  Finally, Desolation prevails as nature begins to reclaim the abandoned ruins.
Cole was painting with American hubris in mind.  His notes lay plain his fears of the coming tragedy of the Civil War.  “Americans are too fond of attributing the great prosperity of the country to their own good government instead of seeing the source of it in the unbounded resources & favorable political opportunities of the nation.  It is with sorrow that I anticipate the downfall of this republican government; its destruction will be a death blow to Freedom, for if the Free government of the U[nited] States cannot exist a century where shall we turn?” The United States did survive, but only after a titanic clash that left scars to this day.  It should give us pause to hear the growing stridence of voices calling for radical solutions to the problems facing America and other established democracies.  Furthermore, our discord undermines the power of example as we hope to lead others away from illiberal politics and state capitalism toward our more liberal model.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Framing the Disruptive Thinkers Debate

If you have not seen the Disruptive Thinkers debate at Small Wars Journal, please head over and join in. I published this piece today.

Benjamin Kohlmann’s essay, “The Military Needs More Disruptive Thinkers,” struck a chord like no other essay published recently in the Small Wars Journal. In brutal honesty, I have to say that the many sniping comments struck exposed flesh. While an ardent fan of Kohlmann’s essay, I have to agree that his argument was more akin to birdshot at maximum range than a mailed fist to the throat of the problem. Perhaps a better analogy is that his was a marking round lobbed in the general vicinity of the problematic enemy fire. Whatever it was, it was a wildly popular read. For all the comments on the article, the one that rang truest with me came from commener “Null Hypothesis” and asked, “What problem are we trying to solve again?” This was absolutely the right question.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Send SWJ Your Disruptive or Non-Disruptive Thinking

I try to mostly stay out of the comments section of SWJ articles now that I'm editor, but I couldn't help jumping into the epic fray over Ben Kohlmann's piece. I jumped in because I am passionate about this issue and because many of the comments demonstrated - in my mind - exactly the malaise Kohlmann aims to address. In think pieces like this, people love to snipe the suggestions, extrapolate suggestions far beyond their scope to make a strawman that can be knocked down, and condescend about how a junior cannot possibly understand what they are talking about. All were found in the debate.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sleepwalking into Eurozone Crisis

With talk of bailouts, restructuring, and austerity, Europe and the world breathed a collective sigh of relief earlier this year that the Euro-crisis did not reach critical mass.  Many thought, and maybe still think, that things were getting better.  Good news of a U.S. recovery may lead some to figure a recovery in Europe won't be too far behind.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Europe is in crisis and people are kidding themselves.  It will get far worse before it gets better.

Tuesday's Financial Times had a host of articles based on a raft of bad news that explained all of this.  Part of the problem with understanding the Euro-crisis is that the news is fickle, proclaiming doom one day and good tidings the next.  The doomsayers have far more to commend their position, however.  Europe is returning to recession.  Demand is collapsing, purchasing managers' indices (a measure of manufacturing growth or retreat) are generally below the 50 mark - indicating retreat, and public spending is likewise in significant retreat as governments try to right their budgets.  As I have described before, the crisis is one of the balance of payments, rather than a debt crisis.  This stems from a larger structural imbalance in which some countries were perpetual deficit consumers and others were surplus producers.  When the private sector funding ran out, much of the debts of this imbalance were transferred to public rolls.  Thus, governments trying to right their books are turning to stark austerity programs, just as imbalanced, consumer economies are facing crisis.  As a result, unemployment is skyrocketing in the problem states, especially in the young population.  While states like Germany have a modest 5.7% unemployment rate, Greece and Spain both have over 20% unemployment.  In the 15-24 sector, unemployment in Spain and Greece has reached over 50%.  These are crushing, society-rending numbers that won't be fixed soon.

The move into recession makes the predictions of austerity programs launched last year far too rosy.  More bailout cash will be needed, budget deficits will grow, and short term financing will come due without the cash to pay for it in the problem states.  People are once again seriously considering at least a partial breakup of the EU, with FT's entire comment page dedicated to this with the titles, "A Blueprint for an Amicable Divorce Settlement," "The Euro is a Time Bomb that No One can Defuse," and the lone positive contribution, "Forget Break-up: It Just Needs More Parental Love."  But parental love is not forthcoming in a divided, divisive, and polarized Europe made up of states with very different priorities and plans for the future.  While global policy elites worry about an Iranian nuclear program we probably will not make go away, a pivot to Asia, the "threat" of a rising China, and our continued lunacy in Afghanistan, we are sleepwalking into a breakup of the Euro zone, which will make all other problems worse, and will make them pale in comparison.  We could see a 1930s style depression return to most of Europe in the coming years, the erosion of the common market and common goals that has kept the continent moving in the same direction for over half a century, and the spin-off effects of one of the world's leading economic zones falling into chaos.  The greatest threat today is depression and break-up in Europe, but few are paying attention or giving it the consideration it is due.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Will the U.S. Win in Afghanistan?

The Atlantic asks a number of pundits if the U.S. will win in Afghanistan. More specifically:
"The Obama administration's stated objectives in Afghanistan are to deny al-Qaeda a safe haven, prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the government, and build up Afghan security forces in order to transition U.S. combat forces out of the country by 2014. Based on the current strategy, do you think that the Obama administration will achieve its goals?"
Admittedly, I'm cherry-picking some of the statements, but you can read their full context at the original article:

Andrew Exum
I believe Afghanistan may be a case in which the president's policy will succeed but not the strategic goals associated with that policy.
Jamie M. Fly
If the war is lost, it will be lost in Washington, not on the battlefield. Our men and women in uniform can succeed, but only if they are given the resources and time to do so.
Gian Gentile
That botched strategy has sought to achieve very limited policy aims--the reduction of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan--with a maximalist operational method of armed nation building. It represents the death of good American strategy and a waste of good American blood and treasure.
Candace Rondeaux
The Taliban are unlikely to overthrow the Afghan government wholesale but they don't have to for the White House strategy to fail--it already has.

Why Operational Access is No Revolution

This post was coauthored with Nate Finney and originally posted at Adam Elkus's Rethinking Security blog.  Nathan K. Finney is an Army officer and strategist (Functional Area 59) currently assigned to the Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth. He previously served at the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan and writes for various journals and blogs, including hisown, on issues that involve security sector reform, security force assistance, stability operations, and the integration of civilian and military agencies. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of the United States Army or Department of Defense.

The newest shiny object in the military – the concept that will bring about a “revolution in military affairs” following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – is operational access. This concept has its roots in two reports from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, which asked “Why AirSea Battle?” and set “A Point-of-Departure Operational Concept” around AirSea Battle. These concepts ultimately led to the establishment of an AirSea Battle Office in the Department of Defense and the publication of the overall thematics of AirSea Battle pushed in the Joint Operational Access Concept. It is important to note that the creation of this AirSea Battle concept was tasked to the Air Force and the Navy by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Losing the battle of the budgetary narrative, the US Army and US Marine Corps recently joined the bandwagon by publishing their addition to the operational access concept – Gaining and Maintaining Access: An Army-Marine Corps Concept.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Over a Barrel

Today's Financial Times has a full-page article on energy and the global economy entitled "Once More Over a Barrel," in which there is a parallel drawn between the rising price of oil today and the inflationary tendencies of the oil shocks of the Seventies.  That conventional wisdom may not be as true as it seems at face value, as I explain in my forthcoming book, War, Welfare, and Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History, (Potomac, January 2013).

A bit of explanation is called for in order to understand why the crises we are facing today have roots that reach back nearly four decades. As noted in Chapter II, America was unable to keep up with the dual fiscal (spending) commitments of war (Vietnam) and welfare (the Great Society) and chose to cut the dollar loose from its gold anchor. Since all other currencies in the Bretton Woods system were pegged to the dollar, floating the dollar un-tethered the entire system from any real mooring and inflation soared like a submerged buoy freed and heading for the surface.

Conventional wisdom holds that the 1973 oil embargo after the Arab-Israeli War and the shock of the 1979 Iranian revolution were the primary drivers behind this inflation. In reality, this Middle Eastern volatility can be blamed for maybe a quarter of the inflation. The rest came from more structural causes, as indicated by the fact that the inflation trend began in the mid-1960s and helped lead to Nixon’s decision to close the gold window. The exact causes are not even clear to economists, who still argue over them, but several factors likely played a role. The beginning of the decade saw a spurt of rapid growth that fueled a brief commodity boom, inflating prices. Shortly thereafter, productivity slumped significantly, even though workers’ wages stayed high, and unemployment began to rise in the U.S. Partially in an attempt to control this after abrogating the gold standard, the Nixon Administration devalued the dollar twice; an act that tends to aggravate inflation. Facing what seemed to be a potential recession and rising unemployment, the administration attempted to counter with spending and an increased money supply, accepting rising inflation as a lesser evil.

The European Monetary System exacerbated this trend at the end of the 1970s. By lashing governments’ monetary policies to that of the relatively austere Germans, Europe’s welfare states lost the ability to manipulate their currencies in pursuit of social goals. In the stead of monetary policy, fiscal policy – government spending and taxation – became the only tool available. As their economies continued to stagnate and calls for welfare services increased, governments turned to the rapidly growing international financial markets to borrow money. The money supply soared by nearly 2000 percent in the last three decades of the twentieth century, playing no small part in the inflation of the many asset bubbles that would pop across the world around the century’s turn. The U.S., too, turned to the debt market, heavily becoming a net debtor nation in 1988. Thus, all these factors combined to yield rising prices, but did not force government austerity. The combination of rising prices and stagnant or declining economies, “stagflation,” made for hard times for many people. In response, governmental spending and the numbers of governmental employees increased markedly.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

In Loco Parentis or Bureaucratic Cowardice

"I was hard on you when you was growin' up. I did
things that made you hate me. Now you can see
why."
Much digital ink has been spilled of late over the Secretary of the Navy's announcement that he would soon be requiring breathalyzers for Sailors and Marines reporting for duty.  There is no disputing that alcohol has caused its fair share of problems in the naval services and that cracking down would likely save some of our young servicemembers from themselves.  What is more, unlike when an 18-year old leaves his or her parents' house to go work at a garage somewhere and room with buddies, when parents send their kids off to the military, they expect a degree of in loco parentis.  They expect us to "make a man" (or woman) out of their son or daughter.  They do not expect us to socialize their children to become alcoholics, or even binge drinkers, although one wonders why they wouldn't expect this with the reputation we have.

In any case, we have an obligation to maintain our units at the highest readiness and to develop the skills and character of our young Marines and Sailors.  Like it or not, our services have adopted a culture and a reality of providing some degree of in loco parentis supervision to our juniors.  With that comes some "intrusive leadership."  The commentators above, however, cite the blow to the concept of "special trust and confidence" and to the likely effects on morale as servicemembers are increasingly treated as suspects.  This is all true, in my book.  But it is not so simple as it seems at first glance.  This is not a blow to trust and morale solely because it is an imposition.  It is seen that way because it is just one more policy doomed to fail because it is based on institutional moral cowardice, risk averse thinking, and is part of a policy portfolio that is reflective of a lack of priorities.  I'll delve into each of these, but the best summation came from an infantry officer friend of mine: "I get weighed once a month so I don't get fat.  I pee in a bottle once a month so I don't take drugs.  Now I'm going to to have to take a breathalyzer on a regular basis so I don't come to work drunk.  Yet, no one is checking to make sure that I'm competent at my job and am not going to get anyone killed."  There is a lot to discuss in this statement, but don't start sniping it yet.  We are going to take a somewhat circuitous route to get back to the breathalyzer issue, but it all ties together.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

War, Welfare, and Democracy

In the next month, I'll be making the final edits to my forthcoming book, War, Welfare, and Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History.  Additionally, I'll be trying to line up endorsements and finalize the other details such as cover design, etc, that are required before the book goes into production.  I still do not have a publication date, but hopefully we will pin that down soon.  The goal is fall 2012.  For those who are interested, here is the summary blurb.

America, the clear and continuing leader of the current world system, finds itself torn between conflicting foreign policy desires. As a status quo power, it values the stability offered by strong states and powerful rulers. Faced with persistent conflict in the developing world, and imbued with the idea that only liberal democracy and free trade can erase age-old enmity, it seeks radical change in the governing paradigms of modernizing societies. As a result, America confronts challenges as varied as insurgency, organized crime, fiscal crises, immigration pressures, persistent authoritarianism and violations of human rights, and major power conflict with a schizophrenic mix of hard-nosed power calculations and lofty idealism. America once strove to remain an exemplar of her ideals. In the century since the First World War, she has become a crusader, striving for the utopian “end of history” community of peaceful liberal democracies. Based on the nation’s founding ideals and chastened by the lessons of two world wars, the Great Depression, and a half-century of Cold War, America has promoted a mix of war, welfare, and democracy to remake the world in her image. This campaign is under major strains as the welfare state paradigm faces crisis in the developed world and the forces of war, modernization, and single-minded democracy promotion throw the developing world into chaos. In order to deal with these challenges, American policy-makers must better adapt their ideology to a changing world, first addressing the welfare state crisis, then acting as an exemplar to lead the developing world through a more carefully considered transition to new domestic and international power systems.

America and her allies are struggling to sort through the challenges presented by two related trends. First, the world’s economic structure is changing dramatically as the leading democracies’ power declines relative to that of rising states in the developing world. This relative decline comes as aging and individualistic societies existentially challenge the national welfare state paradigm that dominated the postwar boom. These changes defy the national boundaries and tax revenue plans that sustain the welfare state, yet no new paradigm is ready to replace it. Second, a wave of modernization is buffeting societies in the developing world, as weak states struggle to keep pace with rapidly emerging markets and those seeking to profit from them. Modernization is coming quickly in the developing world today and with significant complications. Combined, these trends have yielded sharp inequality within and across borders in terms of wealth, security, and stability. These imbalances feed the major issues of the day, from insurgency and organized crime, to immigration and chaotic domestic politics.

The United States will preside over this time of great change. Leading pundits and policymakers chase varied symptoms with abstract prescriptions of democratization and liberalization. A more holistic view of the fundamental transformation of the relationship between state, society, and economy points the way toward intelligent policies. The United States and its allies must face the deep roots of these crises by stemming the waste of power on strategic overreactions, more narrowly defining true interests, promoting governance ahead of abstract democratization, and promoting domestic and international ruling paradigms that ease rather than exacerbate the imbalances inherent in rapid market development. America cannot halt the change in the world’s power structure and socio-economic make-up, so it must adjust its policies to best manage the transformation we face.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Global Politics Interview on Iraq

Last week, Robert Tollast interviewed me for the British web journal Global Politics.  You can find the entire interview here, but I've pasted a short excerpt of one of my answers below.  I don't think this tack will surprise my readers.  You'll find more of the same at the interview, and a lot more in my book Iraq in Transition.  I take the same line to a broader analysis of our era in my forthcoming book, War, Welfare, and Democracy:  Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History.
"As we look at future scenarios, I don’t think the lesson is that we need to be ready to do more human terrain analysis. This is a throwback to a British colonial administration type of thinking to my mind: we need to understand these people so we can administer them. No, we need to let people work out their own administration and we need to stop listening to the hucksters and expats who will tell us stories for their own advancement that simplify and distort the real situation on the ground there. Finally, we must stop telling ourselves that these complex human terrains are some sort of cosmic new problem. If you look back at the history of state creation in Europe, you’ll see that the human terrain that we now imagine is homogenously French or German was not long ago an extremely complex patchwork of different socio-cultural and even linguistic groups. Our states and nations are constructed, not some natural and eternal constant. We should look back at western history to understand that what we’re seeing in the rest of the world should not be all that unsurprising."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Forgetting Our Own History - The Messy Process of Modernization

I had the opportunity to do an interview with Robert Tollast on some issues with the transition in Iraq for Global Politics this week.  I'll let you know when he publishes it.  I found myself coming back again and again to the theme that our surprise with the way things went there owes more to a lack of understanding of our own western history of state formation than it does to some cultural peculiarity of Arabs.  To back that up, I offer an excerpt from my forthcoming book, War, Welfare, and Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History, (Potomac, fall 2012).

The lofty discourse of philosophers and other intellectuals has too often ignored the sordid reality of state making.  Charles Tilly, the preeminent historian of state formation, has compared the process to the protection rackets of organized crime.  Local warlords provided protection for merchants and farmers in turn for rents, later taxes.  They vied with rivals, each seeking to expand their territory and their revenues.  Certain conditions, noted by anthropologist Robert Carneiro among others, brought people together and forced them into competition over resources, yielding the wars that produced the state:  competition drove the creation of militaries, internal security, bureaucracies and taxation mechanisms, and campaigns to create allegiance to the ruler and the nation.[1]  Over centuries, with no world public opinion to judge them as criminals, warlords became monarchs, created state governments, and cobbled together empires.  The process of Western state formation was morally dubious, but there was no international community to judge and intervene as there is today.  Only the strong survived, forcing competitive development of state capacity.  While the foibles of developing states today evoke exasperation, they should not be surprising when considered against the long road of European state development.