Small Wars Journal

Peace, Art and … Special Operations

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 7:44am

Peace, Art and … Special Operations

Brian S. Petit

It is early 2014 and the United States is surrounded by war. Iraq is behind us, Afghanistan and Libya are beside us, and ahead of us lay a number of regions in turmoil, with Syria and Egypt topping the list. With persistent talk of military actions and war, we need an intensified conversation about military options and peace.

Warren Buffett said “Most people are interested in stocks when everyone else is. The time to get interested in stocks is when no one else is.” With wars simmering on all sides, Buffett’s contrarian logic has great strategic wisdom. So in this moment of war, let’s get interested in peace. Let’s be further contrarian by examining the role of the notoriously lethal US Special Operations Forces (SOF) in peacetime, or at least non-wartime, environments.

Getting Engaged

The post-Iraq and Afghanistan US national security environment is predictably yearning for a renewed era of engagement. Engagements, described as “the active participation of the United States in relations beyond our borders,” are the centerpiece of the current (2010) US National Security Strategy.[1] The desire to exert American influence through engagement reflects the foreign policy guidance of The White House and, arguably, the mood of a war-weary American public. Yet a key question remains: How are engagements designed, arranged, and implemented to accomplish US policy goals and strategic aspirations abroad?

Engagements occur where the US is in dialogue with allies, partners, friends, and competitors in reasonably normal diplomatic relations. In military parlance, engagements occur in Phase Zero, the pre-crisis environment in which state relations are relatively peaceful and routine. Beyond Phase Zero lies the military phases that represent an escalation of conflict: Phase I (Deter), Phase II (Seize the Initiative), and Phase III (Dominate). Phase Zero then, is a slang descriptor for both the actions and the environment in which the US pursues its strategic interests prior to any act of war.

Closer to Peace than War

Although economic, diplomatic and informational elements of US national power generally take precedence in Phase Zero, the US military plays a significant role in  peacetime foreign engagement. Among the US military options to engage foreign partners are US SOF. US Army SOF includes Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Military Information Support; US Navy SOF is comprised of SEALs and specialized maritime capabilities; and from all armed services come skilled aviators and counterterror forces.  Public knowledge of US SOF is centered on tales of derring-do and inspired stories of lethal military prowess. But there is another story to be told about SOF that is less sexy but more central to the national security interests of the United States.

Specially selected, culturally attuned, and language trained US SOF operate in small teams with select, vetted host nation security forces. Very often, these Phase Zero engagements are in and among local populations with committed, military partners. At other times, engagements unfold with potential partners who are judged to be less than ideal. In such cases, these US SOF engagements are exploratory in nature and can be expanded or retracted according to partner suitability and US policy aims. When engaging new, potential partners, US SOF engagements do not represent deep policy commitments; by design, they are limited policy expressions that start where the pavement stops. Subsequently, the assessments derived from special operations engagements help guide policy decisions about expanding, contracting, or retracting relations with putative partners.

Special operations engagements range from simple tactical-level training (marksmanship, radio operation and communications, medical training, small unit tactics) to more sophisticated topics like armed forces professionalization, security philosophies, and institution building. A typical engagement might last six weeks and involve twelve to twenty US personnel. When performed correctly, these exchanges are both transactional and relational – delivering mutually beneficial exchanges (finite) while deepening the trust and partnership required for true strategic relationships (infinite).

Enter Operational Art

In Phase Zero, highly skilled US military capabilities are required but capabilities alone can only take the US so far. A closer look reveals a compelling problem: Phase Zero military engagements lack a coherent operational art, the sound link between tactics and strategy. While many military operations are physics-based problems of time, space, and capability projection, the application of military power to solve problems does, in fact, take a great deal of creativity, design, and even intuition; thus, the term art.

How could the US Armed Forces, 238 years old, and with few global peer competitors, lack an operational art?  To be clear, there are volumes of operational art. But operational art principally exists for the type of warfare where two military foes duel, within a bounded realm, intent on the harmonious synchronization of maneuver, firepower, and logistics with the singular purpose of destroying an opposing armed force. In Phase Zero, no such contest exists.  Without this contest, boundaries are less clear, foes are uncertain, and military options are radically reduced. Subsequently, traditional military operational art often becomes inert. For the US to fully maximize engagements in the pursuit of its strategy, the US military, within an interagency team, requires a revised, modernized operational art.

In Phase Zero, policy and diplomacy are the dominant disciplines – and should be. In this setting, the military operational artist is, appropriately, more confined and lacks a free hand to creatively apply military effects. Thus, in peacetime environments, military art options are limited. But complaining about such restrictions misplaces the desire for military efficacy with the need for policy supremacy. Military actions are expressions of policy and need to be calibrated and applied correctly to achieve policy aims. But even when these principles are understood, tensions are inevitable. Foreign policy, incremental in application, often produces a nebulous framework to guide military actions. And the military artist, by his nature, seeks those free, unfettered arenas to unfurl the flag and put full military capabilities into play. Lacking a foe to defeat on a tidy field of conflict, one can see the tension forming: military actions (Full speed ahead!) and policy aims (We’re negotiating.) can be uncomfortable bedfellows.

Coupling Warriors and Diplomats

Despite these tensions, an operational art is gaining form in Phase Zero. Among the leaders in this discipline are US SOF. The evidence suggests that US SOF, within the US Joint Force, are crafting new campaign modes guided by revised operational art constructs. In over 75 countries, where the US is actively engaged but is not at war, special operations engagement approaches are showing increased coherency in connecting tactics with strategic objectives.

In sovereign countries, US SOF engagements pursue national objectives where pervasive action is welcome but invasive action is not. Such approaches, as seen in Colombia, Thailand, and the Philippines, suit the nuanced, light footprint approaches favored by SOF. The art is connecting the tactics (engagements) with the programs (security assistance) within a diplomacy-centric environment where host nation sovereignty is paramount. These are complicated efforts in finicky environments.  Exacerbating this challenge are ill suited US military doctrines, bureaucratic security assistance programs, and gaps in the civilian and military education regarding the application of peacetime military effects. But with changing global power paradigms, this dilemma demands greater attention from the US diplomatic, development, and defense communities.

The Strategy Imperative

To grow an effective Phase Zero operational art and therefore optimize engagement, two requirements are necessary.  The first requirement is an actual strategy to achieve. Where no coherent strategy exists within a country or a region, then engagements are singular acts of goodness with unreliable connections to broader strategic aims. In these environments, US SOF engagements are not wasted. They are critical relations-building events and a visible demonstration of US partnership. Special operations engagements also represent incremental US policy obligations. But without an intelligible strategy to pursue, these engagements, no matter how tactically exquisite, have limited long-term effects.

Secondly, effective Phase Zero operational art requires a tighter weave on US diplomatic, defense, and developmental actions. This starts with improved cooperation and collaboration. But pursuing US interests over years and decades requires measures beyond mere improved US interagency cooperation. An operational art, built within and inclusive of the interagency, is required to fuse the often-conflicting logic of the diplomatic, defense, and development realms. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated in a May 23, 2012 speech, “We need Special Operations Forces who are as comfortable drinking tea with leaders as raiding a terrorist compound. We also need diplomats and development experts who understand modern warfare and are up to the job of being your partners.”[2] Anything less than a mutual understanding of an operational art is unlikely to consistently bridge our defense and diplomacy cultures.

Art Applied Before Bullets Fly

The emerging applications of operational art by US SOF are less oriented on raw militaristic applications of power and more on a connected, collaborative method of pursuing US interests bound by diplomatic norms. Applied correctly, this is a 21st Century operational art suited for a world where land armies are shrinking, power is diffusing, and lawlessness poses threats on par with military peer competitors. Properly conceived and applied, US special operations applications of operational art are one possible US strategic option to influence these environments without a wrongheaded application of US military power. In form, these special operations engagements do not achieve rapid, tactical military victories with high political payoffs. Instead, these operational art designs aim for a smarter, strategically empathetic use of US power projection abroad.

Special operations-modified operational art is not a replacement for traditional, high-intensity warfare operational art. Rather, this is an operational art offspring that is better suited for the pursuit of US interests in peace or in volatile regions hovering between peace and war. In a world where the military actions of great power states can be perilously publicized and politicized, new pathways are needed to attain US strategic objectives. Merging 21st century diplomatic and military art with revised design elements is a necessary evolution of US power projection.

So how and where do we start? Successfully linking military engagements within diplomatic realms means less books by George Patton and more by Henry Kissinger. Currently, you won’t find too many Kissinger books in military curricula. Conversely, you’ll find fewer books on special operations in diplomatic circles. A new operational art will require closing the cognitive gap between engagements and strategy within military and diplomatic practice and culture. This doesn't require resources. It simply requires will.

Good strategy is achieved by smart posture and shrewd resource expenditures rather than provocative force projection and high resource outflows. For military engagement to fulfill the aims of US security strategy and propel engagement into a suitable building block for US strategic aims, an improved concept of operational art is sorely needed. With such an art, the elements of US national power have improved options for sticky foreign-policy problems. A sound start is the messy merger of peacetime diplomatic and military operational art. Such a merger must treat peacetime strategy with the same urgency, technicality, and focus as our wartime operational art.

Options, Options, Options  

For its part, special operations applications of operational art aim for scalable commitments and differentiated options. When directed, US SOF act as policy frontiersmen, providing clarity on options involving surrogates, actions in remote regions, or to gain understanding where complex human factors confound policy clarity. By design, SOF are also comfortable in a lead role, in a supporting role, or as a backbencher, according to the suitability of special operations contributions.

Engagements that are smartly devised and applied within operational art do not represent a desire for perpetual war. In fact, they represent the polar opposite: a restrained use of US power, smaller in size but not in effect, to sustain an advantageous peace and mitigate conflict.  Strategic partnerships are built in peacetime often to be leveraged in wartime. The current strategic context demands that peacetime partnerships that are built in peacetime are leveraged in peacetime. Toward that end, the strategically maturing US Special Operations Forces deserve fresh consideration for their applications of operational art – not in war – but in not-war.

End Notes

[1] The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America, May 2010 (Washington DC: The White House).

[2] Secretary of State Hilary R. Clinton, “Remarks at the Special Operations Command Gala dinner, Tampa, FL.” Washington DC, May 23, 2012. http// (accessed December 15, 2012).


About the Author(s)

Brian Petit is a US Army Special Forces Colonel with experience in combat, conflict, and peacetime environments. He is the author of the recently published book Going Big by Getting Small: The Application of Operational Art by Special Operations in Phase Zero (Outskirts Press, 2013). This article is the opinion of the author and does not constitute an official endorsement by the Department of Defense.



Mon, 02/03/2014 - 1:03am

RCJ wrote

‘....when do you suppose it is that the half of Afghan society who were deposed of patronage power through our actions stop seeking to wrest that power back from those who gained the power from them due to the artificial and illegitimate infusion of US power into the mix?’

I am curious as to the nature of the evidence that the primary driver for the killing of civilians and destruction of private property is a consequence of Pathan political grievance. I am somewhat puzzled by the suggestion this death and destruction in mainly Pathan areas (40% of all of Afghanistan) is a result of a lack of GoIRA legitimacy in Pathan eyes and not as a direct result of Pakistan’s UW campaign. Even by AF/PAK standards it is somewhat illogical to kill innocent Pathan women and children in a apparent response to a supposed Tajik hegemony stemming from the other side of the Hindu Kush hundreds of km north of Kabul and a thousand km from the traditional Pathan southern heartland.

The recent study, conducted by the Kabul-based ATR (Assess, Transform and Reach) consulting firm, surveyed more than 4,200 Afghans from 11 provinces and revealed that the support for the Taliban was as low as 3% and even in the hotbed of Helmand amongst the male population (The Talibs most sympathetic demographic) the percentage was just 27%.

For the sake of argument let’s say we take this worst figure (27%) as indicative of all Pathan males (which it is not as this would include some of Kazai’s own family members and tens of thousands of his fellow Kandaharis). This 27% of 50% (I am assuming there are very few women who desire the return of the Taliban anywhere in AF thus the female population is weighed to the naysayers) of the most pro-Taliban region of AF indicates only 15 % of natives of Helmand desire the return of the Taliban, in what is easily the most anti GoIRA/ISAF region of AF.

If you move next door from Helmand into Karzai’s hometown in Kandahar this 15% support is greatly reduced. A further move into the 60% of the country that is not ethnically Pathan and Taliban support drops to near zero. Consequently even if this inflated 15% level is expressed as an representative indicator across the entire country the most the Talibs can hope for in terms of popular national support is a mere 6%. In other words, as a whole 96% of the AF population oppose a return of Taliban rule.

I would argue that if you asked 4200 souls in the year 2000 the same question as the 4200 folks were asked in 2013 you would have obtained a very similar answer. Perhaps at the height of the ISI supported power struggle between Gulbideen, Dostrum and Masood et al in the mid-1990s the percentages was considerably greater than 6% for the Talibs but that support had long gone prior to 9/11.

The current debate regarding the importance of Operational Art and the emphasis on understanding the HN’s cultural, political and military habits and nuances from the inside out is a refreshing change. From what I understand the hope is to glean a solid understanding of the HN’s state of affairs during peacetime. By doing so if this Phase Zero comes under illegitimate threat from an enemy foreign or domestic we will be better placed to better assist to preserve the peace or help the HN to return to what our new-found understanding recognized as peacetime normality.

IMO if we insist on suggesting to the international community that a foreign and/or domestic movement as violent and as backward as the Taliban is somehow enjoying the support of half of the population despite the considerable evidence suggesting to the contrary we are rightfully doomed to abject failure. IMO if the same endorsement was applied to the Phase Zero state of the US the Ku Klux Klan would be running the country.

We all have one,


Bill M.

Sat, 02/01/2014 - 11:02pm

The point of this article is we need to treat Phase 0 with a much greater level of seriousness, and not confuse the purpose of Phase 0 as simply a prelude an unavoidable war, but rather reframe Phase 0 as a focus on preventing/countering threats to our interests with the objective of staying in Phase 0 while doing so, while simultaneously giving due diligence to setting conditions to ensure we can fight effectively if required. The balance of effort between prevention and preparedness will always result in some degree of friction, but to some extent each effort is mutually supportive of the other. Like others I have been working on developing supporting Phase 0 plans for a few years with a lot of smart people who I think are generally in agreement with the arguments presented in this article, yet we continue to face significant hurdles for operationalizing new concepts. Why?

1. Excessive Conformity: Our problem isn’t a lack of professional military education, rather we have too much of it that is overly focused on indoctrinating the force in simplistic planning rituals instead of critical thinking focused on solving problems. Current planning approaches are largely based on process and formats, to include half-hearted attempts of integrating operational design (a much dumbed down version) as depicted in doctrine results in group think based framed my our limited doctrinal vocabulary. This naturally enough results in illogically structured Phase 0 campaigns.

2. Desire for Control: Instead of embracing the requirement to achieve objectives that require the blended efforts of multiple agencies and perhaps foreign partners, we seek the illusion of control by developing standalone military objectives that even if achieved mean little when separated from the larger context. We continue to be haunted by the injection of McNamara’s business management practices into military operational art that failed us in Vietnam and continue to fail us today. Conducting operations in an iterative fashion in a complex global environment to achieve desired conditions has limited parallels with how to industrial management processes made Ford Motor Company more productive. For example, our quantifiable assessments over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan have generally been positive, but most would be hard pressed to claim we achieved our desired condition in either Iraq or Afghanistan. What do we say? We did our job, we trained XXX number of indigenous security forces, so we don’t really care if it achieved our desired condition? We need to learn to appreciate that many of our objectives require a blended effort, not individual agencies pursuing individual objectives in parallel. That means we be dependent upon others to varying degrees that we can’t control. We will have to seek consensus and cooperation through greater collaboration and coordination versus seeking to pull everyone to our command and control structure. Trying to wish this away by developing military only objectives won’t change the result.

3. Understanding: Current planning in practice results in planners rushing through defining the true nature of the problem so they can quickly get into developing the plan. The beauty of Phase 0 is it not a crisis and we have the time to conduct deliberate planning instead of rushing to failure. Most Theater Special Operations Command (TSOCs) have environmental analysts that help planners develop a deeper and evolving understanding of the operating environment which is a big step in the right direction, but in itself not sufficient. Geographical Commandant Commands (GCC) and interagency partners must develop similar processes that result in a collective understanding across the enterprise to facilitate understanding for all relevant actors. Furthermore, we need doctrine that effectively integrates this evolving understanding into the planning process. USSOCOM’s incorporation of Systemic Operational Design is a non-doctrinal approach for doing so, and if accepted it may serve as a model to experiment with, but it is clear the doctrinal approach described in JP 5-0 is inadequate.

4. Bureaucracy prevents meaningful change: Senior leadership in the GCCs have a deep appreciation for the potential of Phase 0, but they are often hindered in operationalizing new approaches by existing bureaucratic processes. Non-responsive resourcing systems that demand detailed requirements months in advance do not facilitate rapidly adapting to reality on the ground in a non-crisis situation. If we’re going to treat Phase 0 with the same level of importance as warfighting, we need to recognize the requirement to give commanders the ability to maneuver in peace based on changes in the environment. We need to program resources, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give the GCCs greater flexibility to shift those programmed resources from one mission to another based on emergent requirements/conditions. One solution may be for GCCs to control more funding instead of having to rely on the services and USSOCOM and their increasingly inflexible resourcing programs.

5. Capacity Building Ain’t All That: Concur with Bob’s that we too quickly default to capacity building and associated security assistance programs as the Holy Grail to Phase 0. This is one line of effort among many to achieve our desired conditions. It certainly has its place, but it is not the only method for achieving our desired effects we should be focused on. SOF can be applied in many ways during Phase 0 to include conducting very limited, discreet, small scale combat operations that fall short of progressing to Phase 1 & 2 and beyond. They can also engage with partners in many ways not tied to building their capacity to collaboratively develop ways to solve a mutual problem. If we’re serious about effectively implementing our National Defense Strategy we have to get better at Phase 0 operational art.

We need, I suggest, to put things into perspective in order to understand where we need to go and how we need to get there.

As COL Petit points out, the term "engagement" best characterizes the perspective we are looking for.

But we must know, I believe, to what use and purpose "engagement" is being employed.

The so-called “DIME” principle suggests applying all elements of national power –– diplomatic, information, military and economic -- to U.S. foreign policy goals.

So what are our broad foreign policy goals?

And how does "engagement" seek to achieve these goals?

Is our broad foreign policy goal to attain long-term and enduring regional stability?

If so, then we must articulate just how we expect to achieve long-term and enduring regional stability.

For example:

a. By transforming, via engagement, outlying states and societies along modern western political, economic and social lines? And, thereby,

b. Integrating these states and societies into global economy and the international community?

If this is what "engagement" is expected to bring about, then we need to know this.

Otherwise "engagement" activities become so many loose cannons -- with diplomats, information assets, military personnel and economic entities all having no idea -- or different ideas -- as to what they are expected to achieve.

How can one do "mission command" or "art" in such an environment?

Our diplomats, information officers, military personnel and economic assets also must have some general idea of (1) what they are expected to achieve and (2) how they are expected to achieve it so that they might be able to determine "natural" friends from "natural" enemies.

Thus, to discuss such things as Phase Zero, mission command and/or art -- without outlining, to some degree, what one is expected to achieve and within what boundaries one is expected to achieve it (in, as it were, a vacuum) -- then this would seem to be, not only dangerous, but also something of a waste of time and effort.

G Martin

Sat, 02/01/2014 - 12:04pm

In reply to by G Martin

In conclusion- I agree with COL Maxwell that phase zero is a bad term. It makes the Army think that it is mainly to prep for phase one. Phase zero is successful if we never get to phase one... sometimes (most times?). It isn't country or even regional focused- but world and region... and country. It is counterintuitive and mostly should rely on long-term emergent forces and a fuzzy notion of where we are attempting to go vice a clear and detailed strategy (sometimes... most times?). It requires an appreciation of emergence theory, complexity theory, and multi-philosophical approaches. It really requires one to understand one's self- and why one does some of the things one does (a technically rational approach for instance). It requires one to address implicit assumptions - one's institutional philosophy for instance- as opposed to taking it on faith.

Phase zero is about more about "feel" than it is deterministic maneuver. It is the difference between playing soccer and football. Soccer coaches are sometimes aiming for a tie and many times they don't play their best players. And there are multiple ways to "win"- but most are geared on more long-term objectives than winning in any one game. Football has scripted plays, lots of deterministic preparation and planning, and clear boundaries and objectives. There are tons of stats in football. Not too many in soccer. A soccer coach rarely- if ever- actually "coaches" during the game. Unfortunately the U.S. military- even SOF- is geared to play football. I'd argue that phase zero is more feel than process- and even requires one to view the concept "outside" of itself (the "phased" approach). To fix this requires a fundamental break from the military culture of determinism, reductive analysis, and categorical thinking.

G Martin

Sat, 02/01/2014 - 11:52am

"<em>A closer look reveals a compelling problem: Phase Zero military engagements lack a coherent operational art, the sound link between tactics and strategy. ...the application of military power to solve problems does, in fact, take a great deal of creativity, design, and even intuition; thus, the term art.</em>"

I think it is a really bad assumption that success during political/military competitions requires a deterministic approach. Why should we assume- without any rigorous testing or even critical thought- that we must 1) reduce warfare to "phases" in order to best understand them/plan for them/act, and, 2) that one can only link strategy with tactics through a conscious effort (so-called "art")? There are so many implicit assumptions in this approach that it I'd think it wouldn't make it out of an even cursory MDMP application (assuming one COA would be to use the deterministic approach). Using Occam's Razor as one criteria, I would think a critical realist approach- if not a multi-framed approach- would be what we would choose if we critically weighed all approaches- instead of taking it on faith that a deterministic (technically rational, if you will) approach works best. I'd also opine that "phase zero" efforts many times (most?) require a counterintuitive approach (vice an intuitive one).

"<em>To grow an effective Phase Zero operational art and therefore optimize engagement, two requirements are necessary. The first requirement is an actual strategy to achieve. ...without an intelligible strategy to pursue, these engagements, no matter how tactically exquisite, have limited long-term effects.</em>"

I would say that the comment "US SOF engagements are not wasted" might be an understatement depending on the situation. Through emergent forces, long-term engagement can potentially have very good outcomes. The problem, of course, is that our institution- through operational art and other things- requires immediate, linear, intuitive, and seemingly rational feedback in order to assess efforts. This is, I would assert, anathema to many so-called "problems" we attempt to involve ourselves in solving. Thus, the belief that we need a strategy or our tactics will be limited in effect ignores those "problems" throughout history that have been "solved" through non-deterministic means- indeed, ignores the foundation of our own political and economic philosophies here in the U.S. I would go so far as to say that in many instances, having a strategy might actually limit us more in the long-term than not having one- assuming, of course, that a common understanding of long-term American principles unconsciously (or not) are guiding our tactics in aggregate.

"<em>Secondly, effective Phase Zero operational art requires a tighter weave on US diplomatic, defense, and developmental actions. This starts with improved cooperation and collaboration. ...An operational art, built within and inclusive of the interagency, is required to fuse the often-conflicting logic of the diplomatic, defense, and development realms.</em>"

I disagree with this statement if it means our other agency partners need to get on board with the military way of doing things. If "tighter weave" means that we appreciate others more- then I'm all for it. For example, our Unified Action Partners (hate the term, but...) across the board tell us they don't view things through phasing constructs nor do they have a problem operating in environments without clear strategies. Instead of trying to convert them to true believers in technical rationality- why not attempt to see the world through their eyes (I'm sure I read that in the human domain concept somewhere...)? I am against a "tighter weave", however, if it means that we all have to adopt the military's processes and systems for linking strategy to tactics. If we assume phase zero is not a military phase- then why not adapt to the diplomatic approach? That would get us away from phasing- which is arguably a terrible construct for viewing "reality", and keep us from demanding clear strategic vision- which often we just won't get.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 5:42pm

Forwarded this link to my peers.

Waging peace as war has not produced the strategic effects we hoped for. Smart, experienced perspectives such as Brian brings to the discussion are vital for getting to a new operational art that better enables us to embrace messy and chaotic peace and attempt to understand more deeply, and perhaps shape as necessary, without the angst of attempting to force events into some category of "war."

"Building Partner Capacity" remains the big bass drum that many are banging; some because they believe capacity a cure for instability, and some because they believe it a cure for pending cuts in force structure. We need a more sophisticated framework for thinking about these things, and Brian's work is worthy of our consideration.



Dave Maxwell

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 2:47pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu: I could not agree more on reading and especially engaging with your reading and having a conversation. Wise counsel. "No matter how busy you are, you must find tome for reading, or you surrender yourself to to self-chosen ignorance." Confucius

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 1:16pm

To add to my other comment, it's not just reading Kissinger instead of Patton (read both), it's about reading with <em>soul</em>.

Given my background, I have complicated thoughts about Kissinger. He's brilliant, he's often been right, he's often been wrong, he's admirable, he's deplorable, really rotten, really terrible, he's about his image (Nixon and I moved the world, the Chinese did nothing! Focus on me, me, me!), he's capable of change, he apologized in India about intemperate remarks during the Bengal crisis, and so on.

An entire class could be devoted to the writing ABOUT him and what that says about US, the Americans and our national security apparatus.

It's complicated.

For instance, tilting toward Pakistan so that the US could change its relations with China is a complicated story, made more complicated by the fact that we view it so much through Kissinger and Nixon, and in the heat of the moment of the Bengal crisis, many silly things were said and done that were different from the more staid theories of using China against the Soviets.

So, which is the real Kissinger? Which is the real pivot? What really happened? If you mined some Chinese archive, what would one find? Why not view it through the lens of the Pakistanis? Would Kissinger be so important then, really? Would it change everything we think about Nixon and Kissinger? What did he get wrong, why is some American diplomatic writing so America centric? I mean, you are diplomats, right?

And so on....

Read like you are having a conversation, why'd you do this, why'd you do that, can you speak Chinese (I am being jerky, I know), what does your consultancy do, what is your favorite color why why why why?

I may be odd, but I read in my own way, don't I?

PS: You have to be careful with engagement for engagements sake. If you do it, remember that psychologically you may become vulnerable, others are working on you too, and that you might create a lobby within the US system that is all about the engagement, even when it is no longer so profitable. I know there is no way to completely avoid this but someone should be thinking about it. American eagerness is sometimes a gateway into our system for those that would like to use our system to their advantage.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 12:25pm

Excellent piece.

I sometimes think I have one advantage in that I have no formal training, that I fell accidentally into the world of the Abu Muqawama website by complete accident, and make up my own academic small wars world as I go along.

In the beginning it was much harder, but after years of reading about the subject here and elsewhere in my own idiosyncratic way--where any book or article or novel is potentially useful, depending on "how" you read it--I think it's easier for me. I am free to read and explore and think my own thoughts.

Of course, that's just study and I won't pretend that is a reality which requires so much more in the way of practical education to operate in.

I don't have to conform my thoughts to anybody, I don't have to kiss up, I don't have to modify what I say to appear more professional or reasonable or not to p*ss off some mentor or friend....

Although I've been rude at times and that's not good. Not good at all. A very bad online habit I've picked up and continually struggle to modify.

Still, the freedom of thought is worth it. Can't be an easy field to work in, the field of the so-called military intellectual, civilian or otherwise. Pitfalls everywhere: budget cuts, competing with apparatchiks, ideologues or the contractor intellectual class, and the just plain weird who somehow manage to catch the ear of a decision-maker.

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 10:31am

As I have mentioned, I am using Brian's book in a graduate course I am teaching this summer on UW and SOF for policy makers and strategists. This despite the fact that I do not like the term "Phase Zero" (and I have told Brian this). I think that we need strategy and campaign plans that function in the space we call "Phase Zero" (as Brian is discussing in his essay) but the use of the term Phase Zero seems to imply two things - one, it is a lesser important phase and two, it implies that there will be something next and that the "real" phases come later (e.g., decisive operations). I would really like to see strategies and campaign plans successful in the so-called "Phase Zero" space without having to go to Phase 1, 2, etc. (while at the same time recognizing that we do need contingency plans if the strategy and campaign plans are not successful) I also think most agree with that idea and would chastise me and say that I am pole vaulting over molehills and that the use of "Phase Zero" is merely semantics. But I would argue that some words have meaning and they influence the mindset and I think we need a mindset that will drive us to success in that the "Phase Zero" space while at the same time if success is not achieved we do have the agility to execute contingency plans. The bottom line for me is that operations in that "Phase Zero" space are so important that stand alone strategy and campaign plans are needed and that they be given the same priority (or even higher perhaps) than the Phases 1,2, 3, etc (e.g., if we can prevent going to the decisive operations phase by successful operations in the "Phase Zero" space then we truly could achieve decisive effects - perhaps that is unrealistic but one can dream).

All that said, Brian's essay is important and except for my terminology criticism we are in agreement (though perhaps instead of or at least in addition to Kissinger I think we should look at George Kennan and Charles Hill and some others).


Thu, 01/30/2014 - 8:19am

A lot worth considering in this piece; for juniors and seniors alike. I'm curious as to how you view the role of US FLEA and the USIC relative to SOF and Phase Zero coordination and collaboration. Thanks for putting this narrative out for review and discussion.