Monday, November 21, 2005

Dr. Chet Richards, Editor of Defense & The National Interest has posted a review of Blueprint For Action by Thomas P.M. Barnett. This was a very important review, one well worth reading in full; tough but fair and frequently laudatory, written by someone in the small circle of theorists and defense intellectuals who can reasonably be considered a peer of Dr. Barnett's.

It was, unlike most book reviews, informed commentary.

For those not familiar with Dr. Richards, a mathematician by training, he was the long-time associate of the great military strategist Colonel John Boyd, of whose ideas Richards is the
" universally acclaimed keeper of the flame" and authorized briefer since Colonel Boyd's death. Richards is himself the author of several books on strategy including A Swift Elusive Sword and numerous articles. In addition, Richards operates the Belisarius and DNI sites, both of which I recommend highly to anyone interested in strategy or military history.

Several excerpts of Dr. Richards review of BFA ( my comments are in regular text):

"His recommendations for the Department of Defense have finally reached the “radical” level. Essentially, he wants to shrink it down to the special operators (SEALs, Green Berets, Rangers, etc.) plus airpower and put the rest of the Army and Navy and the entire Marine Corps into a new Department of Everything Else. In other words, all of the Marine Corps and about 95% of the Army would become part of Sys Admin. I am truly in awe."

I have watched this evolution in Dr. Barnett's thinking since the publication of The Pentagon's New Map where he introduced the Leviathan-System Administration dichotomy. Initially, the borders were fuzzy between the two and Dr. Barnett leaned toward the conservative side of structural transformation of the armed services, chiding me for including some serious " trigger pullers" in the Sys Admin category. Ultimately in BFA, Dr. Barnett envisioned something far more radical by making the Marine Corps the " Mini-Me Leviathan" of the Sys Admin force. This incidentally returned the Marines to their historic role as the undisputed masters of Small Wars, a mission that is a good cultural fit for the Corps.

"Pattern for success

Like John Boyd, whom he references several times in the book, Barnett considers the range of human conflict from the national aim or vision down to tactics. Putting Barnett’s scheme into Boyd’s pattern would give us something like:

Vision: End “terrorism” and war as we know it; alleviate suffering and poverty world wide.

Grand Strategy: Shrink the Gap – connectivity everywhere.

Strategy: Six point process for “processing politically bankrupt states” (to be critiqued below) featuring internationally-sanctioned preemption when necessary.

Grand Tactics: Build support among a designated group of Core states to sanction attack for removing offending regime and funding reconstruction.

Tactics: Airpower-intensive network-centric warfare (NCW) to take out organized military forces and eliminate or capture indicted members of regime; then, actions to preclude fourth generation warfare including armed counterinsurgency and timely reconstruction of state with connectivity and "New Core" status.

Dr. Richards is laying out the cornerstone for a grand synthesis of strategic thinking that really needs to be considered more deeply. PNM, Boyd's Patterns of Conflict, 4GW, NCW, Global Guerillaism all contain at least some principles that can be extrapolated to every level of the Boydian Taxonomy. Some of these theories are more versatile in this regard than others -i.e. they are more fully developed comprehensive paradigms - and most excel or exhibit greater detail at a particular level.

PNM 's locus is at the level of Vision and Grand strategy and grows sketchier as you move downward toward the practical, concrete, operational application in limited scenarios. Barnett is leaving an " open system" for practitioners of warfare to fill in details by trial and error. The other theories seldom reach the Grand Strategy level, much less articulate a coherently persuasive Vision that becomes the basis of a new moral authority the way PNM/BFA does. That in essence is the " secret" of the power behind the appeal of PNM theory; Dr. Barnett's vision is not a recipe for blowing things up with greater efficiency than the other guy -it is a moral argument for why we should act.

The potential for finding complementary interactions here is large. And discovering the underlying dynamics that give all these theories their varying degrees of validity - which I expect we will find through a better understanding of the behavior of complex networks and in applying such principles as resilience, emergence and phase transitions to analyzing strategy.

"Iraq and the non-case for Sys Admin

Now let’s turn to the one acknowledged failure – Iraq. For Iraq not to blow his case out of the water, Barnett has to declare it a “no-test,” the term used in programs like missile defense when you don’t want an obvious disaster to end support for the project. Barnett’s explanation for Iraq is that we didn’t follow his six-step formula, so it doesn’t represent a failure of it. He is obviously correct that there was no Sys Admin (it was 2 months after the capture of Baghdad before we cut orders for the first military police unit) – but this observation is not conclusive. The fact that we had no Sys Admin and Iraq is a debacle does not imply that having such a force would have led to a more favorable outcome.

...Is there any reason to suspect that with enough troops on the ground, we couldn’t have precluded an insurgency? Against this is the argument that the occupying force itself is a catalyst for insurgency and so one of the ingredients in successful counterinsurgency is keeping as small a footprint as possible. A large Sys Admin force, particularly a multinational one with varying proficiency in handling insurgency – and comprising different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds – adds complexity, increases the potential for misunderstandings and provocative events, and provides a target-rich environment. For these reasons, 250,000 largely non-Muslim Sys Adminers, some with experience fresh from Chechnya, might not have been the panacea Barnett claims. [And I have to admit that this is a significant change from my own critique of Map here on DNI, where I argued for such a force.] "

Well, there are a great deal of variables to play with here in terms of a thought experiment entitled " Iraq with Ideal Sys Admin conditions". Simple advantages in numbers do gain the security effect of proximity when you hit " X" personnel per 100,000 - it simply becomes that much more difficult of a task to pull off insurgent attacks when occupation forces are spread " thick" rather than thin. Higher levels of security means more basic services which in turn reduces grievances but the pivotal aspect will be the political skill with which such a larger force is employed. A considerable portion of America's problems in Iraq are of our own making - an insurgency composed only of foreign jihadis is nothing more than the Baader-Meinhoff gang in a khaffiyeh.

Much food for thought here. A very stimulating review of a superior book.
Excellent. And congrats on scooping Barnett. :)

Dr. Richards writes like Sun Tzu and Boyd: simply and deeply. Easy to understand, but re-readings are valuable to comprehend. There are no wasted words. Top-notch.
Ah, he was off watching some football game so it was easy pickings ;o)

Yes, I'm impressed with Richards. His review shows his ability as a logician, not surprising for a math PhD but he has a far more global picture than most of the high level math guys I've encountered who tend to be rigidly linear thinkers.
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