Center for Strategic Communication

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

It has been a very long time since I have done a Recommended Reading post. In the interim, there have been some fabulous things online, for example, the #Profession series at The Bridge, which was outstanding! [ yes, go dig in to it]  I will be selecting some of these along with more contemporary posts in the past week or two.

Adam Elkus – A Matter of Path Dependence 

The US has opted to pursue a strategy of control, with short-term objectives of containment and (some) rollback and a long term objective (it seems) of rolling back the Islamic State completely. But in doing so Washington is setting the state for the expansion of Iranian influence — and a backlash is beginning to emerge in Western policy circles. How to interpret this? 

In my piece with Nick Prime on control and US strategy in Iraq and Syria, many likely did not pay attention to our aside: 

If the Obama administration truly thought ISIL was the worst of the worst, they would be open to options that might more directly benefit the likes of Bashar al Assad or an expansionist Iran. Yet they would prefer that striking ISIL and other terror groups not benefit Assad.More bluntly, how much does Washington want ISIL/ISIS/Daesh (I have opted to refer to it as the Islamic State here) stopped? How much would it be willing to trade off other priorities? 

This poses hard questions for Washington, questions that unfortunately are not getting responsible answers….

Lexington Green – History Friday: The Storming of the Taku Forts, 1860 

The war against China was a splendid opportunity to try out the latest equipment. The British brought with them the new Armstrong breach loading cannon.

One chief interest in this campaign has been to watch the first trial of the Armstrong guns, and I was soon down at the edge of the river at the south gate of Tankoo, watching our fire and that of the enemy; as usual, the direction of the Chinese guns was good, but the elevation defective; they sent their shot either short or over our heads, and during that morning not one shot came nearer than within twenty yards of our guns. Not so the Armstrong shells; the first few were short, and burst in the water, but soon they got the range, and then you could see the dust fly, as the shell struck the battery, nor was it long until their fire was slackened, and they were eventually silent. Mr. Hosier, R.A., is the officer who has the credit of that morning’s work at Tankoo.

As it happened, the concept of breech loading artillery was sound, and was in fact the wave of the future. But as sometimes happens with new technology, the first use of this new approach was unsuccessful. In the case of the Armstrong, they were comparatively expensive to make, and complex to operate. The Armstrongs performed well when they worked, but broke down and were unreliable and difficult to use. The British actually went back to using muzzle loading cannon, which would predominate for a few more years, including during the American Civil War which would break out a few months after these events on the other side of the world.

Fabius Maximus (Don Vandergriff) – Reforming the US Army: can be done, must be done. 

….The army has several experiments with reforms under way. But it’s only slow progress.

Even as late as 2011, Scott Halter (Lt. Colonel, Army), a successful Aviation Battalion Commander who practices Mission Command and Outcomes Based Training and Education (OBTE; details here), wrote “What is an Army but Soldiers: A Critical Assessment of the Army’s Human Capital Management System” (Military Review, Jan-Feb 2012) describing recommendations of the Secretary of the Army’s Human Dimension Task Force to reform the Army’s personnel system. Results of their work? Nothing!”

One promising tool is 360 degree assessments (aka multi source feedback). Used by the Wehrmacht in WWII, they’re based on work going back to the T-groups devised in 1914. Today the Army experiments with this on a small scale. Too many senior officers fear that the fastest “water walkers” would get exposed by it. I know guys that I commanded companies beside who were hated by their senior NCOs and Lieutenants, but did well — some making it through brigade command to general. Great politicians, but their soldiers knew the truth.

Simon Anglim – Orde Wingate and Combat Leadership 

Major General Orde Wingate was the most controversial British commander of the Second World War, and can split opinion seventy years after his death, not least every time something new is published about him. This is unsurprising: a man who ate six raw onions per day, ordered all his officers to eat at least one and who conducted press conferences in the nude while scrubbing himself with a wire brush is bound to leave an impression. However, much of the controversy runs deeper than this, stemming from his performance as military commander and leader, specifically during three episodes occurring late in a military career beginning with passing out from the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1923 and ending in death in an air crash in Burma in 1944.

First came the Palestine Arab uprising of 1936-1939, when Wingate, a captain on the Staff of General Headquarters in Haifa, was authorised by two British General Officers Commanding (GOC) Palestine, General Sir Archibald Wavell and General Sir Robert Haining, to train Jewish policemen, in British organised counterterrorist units known as the Special Night Squads. Wingate, a passionate Zionist, politicized this mission, turning it into the backbone of a personal campaign for a Jewish state, deploying his Night Squads in politically explosive pre-emptive and reprisal attacks on Arab villages believed to be hiding insurgents and using ‘robust’ methods to extract intelligence from prisoners. 

Octavian Manea – Thoughts from Garmser and Kabul 

SWJ: Did COIN work in Afghanistan? What does Garmser tell us about COIN in Afghanistan?

Carter Malkasian: To say that counterinsurgency didn’t work is not a fair assessment. If you look at a variety of places in Iraq and Afghanistan you can see that counterinsurgency tactics—particularly the ones related to the use of military force, patrolling, advising, and small projects—worked in pushing insurgents out of a specific area. From a tactical perspective, counterinsurgency worked.

The argument that counterinsurgency didn’t work has more weight from a strategic perspective. The Afghan surge ended with the government in control of more territory than any time since 2005 and in possession of large and competent security forces. As a result, the government may yet succeed. Nevertheless, the Afghan surge did not end with Afghanistan stabilized or the government ready to stand on its own. On top of that, counterinsurgency was expensive and demanded thousands for troops, facts that will always darken its story in Afghanistan.

Global Guerrillas –The Open Jihad and ISIS isn’t the long term problem, Saudi Arabia is 

The XX Committee –Is This the End of NATO? and Obama, the Un-War President

Nuclear Diner –Another Minsk Agreement

David Ronfeldt-The problem is preternatural tribalism, more than Islamic extremism — a reiteration

Mahdiwatch –ISIS Beheadings: Hotwiring the Apocalypse One Christian Martyr At A Time

Cicero magazine –Don’t Build A Berlin Wall in Ukraine


Aeon Magazine Be Not Brave

War –Red Ideas: In Praise of Divergent Thinking

Blake Bennett – The Dark Science of Interrogation

That’s it