Small Wars Journal

The Sociologists, The Spider and The Fighter Pilot; The Influence of Bureaucracy on Irregular War

Fri, 06/24/2016 - 7:42pm

The Sociologists, The Spider and The Fighter Pilot; The Influence of Bureaucracy on Irregular War

John Maier

Events of the past three years have rebirthed the horrors and issues associated with asymmetrical war in Iraq.  After the limited success of the Surge and America’s subsequent military withdrawal, the security situation in Iraq fell from the world’s stage to become, in the eyes of most observers, a host-nation or regional problem at most.  This brief respite from Iraqi affairs has been grossly and tragically disrupted by the appearance, military success, and hideous atrocities of the terrorist group-cum-guerilla movement known as the Islamic State. (Hereafter ISIS, as it is commonly called stemming from its Syrian civil war origins.)

In confronting the brutality of ISIS, its social media savvy, its maneuver warfare ability, and the host of international security concerns triggered by its foreign fighter cadre, the US government has adopted a limited approach of air power and non-combat advisers as the primary means to aid the Iraqi Government, which lost a third of its territory to the movement.[1]  Like any policy decision made in the era of 24 hour news cycles, these efforts have suffered their fair share of criticism from diverse ranks of academics, political leaders, former senior commanders, and even tactical operators.  All of whom offer counter courses of action, most of which center around increased kinetic responses ranging from embedded combat advisors to a one hundred thousand troop commitment.  These options are much debated, garnering further counter proposals and generating further endless debate.  So much debate that the US Government recently acknowledge it could not, as of yet, form a strategy sufficient to defeat ISIS.[2]  The true paradox, hiding in the open for those of us who served in Iraq, is that it simply does not matter what methods or amount of kinetic response the U.S. military takes in response to ISIS.  The simple fact is the U.S. Military cannot defeat ISIS, or any resulting Islamist movement, unless we are willing to truly change ourselves.

In his reading list, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, U.S. Army, directed his subordinates to a little known business book written by organizational theorist Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, entitled The Star Fish and the Spider.[3]  Within the book, the authors attempt to demonstrate the differences between traditional, bureaucratic top down organizations, which they call Spiders, with those of modern idea-based flattened organizations they call Starfish.  As we will examine below, the authors believe that starfish organizations composed of largely free actors inspired by a common purpose, compose a superior organizational structure for the modern world.  The authors write as a warning to bureaucracies that their end is near as starfish organizations will supplant and eventually subsume them.  This warning should be heeded by the greatest bureaucracy in the world, the U.S. military.  (Hereafter USM.)

The Chairman’s reading list also contains the immortal classic The Art of War by Sun Tzu.[4]  Within the work, Sun Tzu identifies such essential military principles as speed, deception, fluidity, surprise, and shaping the adversaries’ view.  These traits are linkable with such starfish attributes as loose structures, limited rules, dynamic leadership, and guiding ideological principles.[5]   The biography of the military reformer John Boyd, entitled, Boyd; the Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, is also found on General Dempsey’s reading list.   It is a deeply thought provoking book that examines Boyd’s extraordinary accomplishments in fighter tactics, aircraft design, and strategy.[6]  A major portion of the book presents the details behind Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide, Act Cycle.[7]  As a military reformer, Boyd did extensive research into military history and determined, within his famous briefing Patterns, that successful commanders did not meet adversaries head on.  Instead, successful commanders used deception, speed, fluid action, and targeted strength, all occurring in a more rapid cycle then their opponents to achieve victory.  They attacked the mind of their opponent causing it to unravel before the battle began.[8]  Instead of waging a war of attrition or wrestling the enemy for cities, (such as Tikrit or Ramadi) these military commanders reached successful outcomes that were pre-determined by superior planning, technologies, operating methods, human capital, and, above all, military organization.  Before they engaged in a battle, they knew its outcome, as Alexander did at Gaugamela[9].  Boyd’s OODA loop is based on thinking and acting more rapidly than one’s opponent, a process that occurs easier in a de-centralized starfish organization.  Centralized organizations, with hierarchal command structures and complex rules of procedure, do not think or act rapidly, especially if a lack of trust and a demand for a zero-defect outcome make up the operating environment.  The tragic truth is that in application, over the last few years, ISIS’ OODA Loop has been faster that the USM’s.

Currently, many still see ISIS as a regional problem believing ISIS to be an Iraq problem simply by definition of geography.  Though born from Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS now represents a movement in Chairman Mao’s third leg of guerilla warfare, that of maneuver.[10]   ISIS’ geographical military success has allowed them to possess significant space in Syria and western Iraq.  This space has been used as an ISIS safe haven[11] and resulted in global outreach.   ISIS operates as a worldwide movement with chapters in Iraq, Syria Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.[12]  Driving them from a war of movement back to a guerilla phase will significantly retard their capability and reduce their world-wide scope, though it will not end their existence.  Relying on a fractionalized and polarized Iraq Government, i.e. a broken spider to defeat an active, well-resourced starfish will not result in the necessary outcome no matter how many kinetic enablers are provided.  American and European military and economic primacy tailored to the situation is the best option to defeat ISIS.

If it is anything, the USM is a superb bureaucracy. Brafman and Beckstrom, analogize a bureaucracy to a spider, a creature having many legs, but only one head and thus a vital point for destruction.  They identify the tributes of such a centralized organization as having a defined supreme leadership position, clear organizational structure, divided responsibilities, heavily committed infrastructure, rigid protocols, formalized communications, and concentrated knowledge.[13]  The USM maintains a Commander in Chief, a Secretary of Defense, and a Chairman of the Joint Staff.  Military ranks infuse the structure with total pervasiveness to the point that no one is ever left unsupervised. Military units are designated by size and function.  Each unit reports up the chain of command culminating, for operational purposes, in a defined combatant command often based on continental-sized, geographic distinctions.  Military officers and soldiers specialize in certain limited functions, such as artillery, engineering, bomber units, and submarine forces.  Military organizations are composed of sub-units with each person within each field unit working within his assigned level, each field functioning as a sub-capability of the larger department.  These capabilities are then carefully coordinated to perform in a supportive manner until reaching the desired outcome.  Without validation from the bureaucracy, military personnel are very limited in experimenting with means and methods within their field.  Further, they are not authorized to deviate from their fields even if possible.  Infantry men do not fly jets and pilots do not drive ships.  Imagine the outcry of an infantry sergeant taking an F-16 for a flight even if he happened to have the ability to do so safely.   

Even as sequestration effects troop levels, senior leader positions and costs are at a proportional all-time high, “Over the past 10 years, as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan raged, the U.S. military's enlisted ranks shrank, while the officer corps – particularly the general and flag officer ranks – and the bureaucracy supporting these top commanders grew immensely.”[14]  As a result, the Pentagon has 37 four-star general and flag officers on its payroll which is more four-stars than served during World War II – when the military had nearly 10 times as many enlisted personnel.  Per the Secretary of the Navy in a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute “Twenty percent of the Pentagon budget, one dollar out of five, is spent on…the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the defense agencies…pure overhead.”[15]

Military units are extensively based with USM military construction reaching a worldwide footprint at a cost of 8.5 BN yearly.[16]  Procurement expenditures will reach 115 billion this year.[17]  The Pentagon, the USM’s headquarters, has roughly 24,000 employees,[18] costs approximately 580 million dollars to operate yearly[19] and circulates over 1,100 issuances and directives. [20]  These regulations are further augmented by the CJCS instructions (numbering 160[21]) and then of course, the service regulations.  In the end, almost no topic is left unaddressed.  In a bureaucratic hierarchy, workers at the bottom serve workers at the top. Military reports and communications flow from the bottom to the top with returned directives being produced downward.  It is estimated that between the Secretary of Defense and a Pentagon action officer over 30 layers of bureaucracy exists.  As to finding real ground-truth, the Secretary of Defense, the JCS, and the Staff Service Chiefs do visit units in the field, but these visits are heavily orchestrated and tightly controlled.  The truth is few, if any, officers will work in close concert with any General Officer beyond Divisional Commander (two star rank) and statistically only a single percentage will have real daily contact with senior civilian policy makers.  For enlisted men who often hold real-world actual knowledge, the perspective of openly and regularly communicating with senior leaders is nonexistent.  “A May 2013 GAO analysis found that the number of support staff at DoD's Combatant Command headquarters grew by about 50 percent from fiscal years 2001 through 2012." This has created added distance between commanders and warfighters.  "In some cases the gap between me and an action officer may be as high as 30 layers," former Secretary of Defense Gates once stated, resulting in a "bureaucracy which has the fine motor skills of a dinosaur."[22]   

This situation is compounded by the tragic fact that only very limited personnel actually fight in our nation’s wars, even among the military.  For example within the U.S. Army, for every artilleryman, infantryman or tanker there are 3 support personnel: working finance, administration, and supply.  An additional one if you add contractor support.[23]  As an organization the Department of Defense has over  75% of its workforce dedicated to tasks that do not directly relate to its purpose, even more if you factor in civilians, which make up about 25% of the DoD workforce[24]  Worse still “since 2009, the military’s civilian workforce has grown by about 7% while fighting forces have been cut by 8%.... the ratio of military to civilian personnel is out of whack, skewed toward support versus what the Pentagon calls “tip of the spear” forces.[25]  As reported by the Federal News Radio, “Since 2001, we’ve cut the active force by 4 percent and we’ve grown the civilian workforce by 15 percent. The ratio of civilian employees to active duty personnel is at its highest since World War II and the civilian workforce has grown every single year since 2003.”[26]  Imagine the outcome of a Coca-Cola bottling plant that had four people on the payroll for every one putting coke in the can.

None of this over cost or over staffing is going away.  As a spider organization invested in hierarchal methods and values, the Pentagon lacks the flexibility to really change.  Even if real change was desired, military executives would face stiff resistance from all three branches of Government.   As congressional equities were threatened, lobbyists and executive departments would call foul and the judicial process would become inundated with special interest lawsuits bogging down any appetite for reform.  Not that any major change is truly envisioned; Chairman Dempsey himself warned of the need for military reform regarding DoD’s global footprint and military operations in what he envisions will be a long war against ISIS.[27]  Yet even this necessary change is unlikely.  In fact the opposite condition is most likely.  According to Brafman and Beckstrom, when attacked, centralized systems become even more centralized.[28]  An excellent example is the response of the U.S. Government after 9/11.  The US didn’t choose a decentralized response that enabled subject matter experts across federal law enforcement agencies to take coordinated independent action based on experience, authorities, and capabilities.  Instead the government fused 22 existing departments into an uber-bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security that faces challenges to this day.[29]  To prove Brafman and Beckstrom’s point, once attacked, the U.S. government reverted to what it knew and trusted more centralized control.  As a similar, but more urgent example, given the security situation in Iraq today the DoD’s main course of action is to replicate their 2008 choice of trying to reequip and retrain Iraq security forces to carry the fighting load.  This is a course of action that has already failed; a failure directly contributing to the current crisis, yet it is the course of action currently supported.  To quote an old maxim “when all you have is a hammer every problem is a nail.”

In a spider organization or any bureaucracy, leaders make and administer the rules.  Insuring adherence to those rules is the key to their organizational position and the organization’s relevance.  Individuals who break the rules are soon gone.  To some extent this is understandable, as a certain amount of centralization creates uniformity and consistency of result.  The real headache in a bureaucracy is the lengthy, tiresome, and inherently unsuccessful process suffered when parties want to change the rules as part of the system.  A classic example was when the U.S. Army tried to replicate the Clausewetizian concept of Schwerpunkt by going to a mission command orders process, rather than it’s institutionalized military decision making process.  When operating under mission orders, commanders are not told how to think, but what to accomplish.  The individual actions of the commands are not synchronized by a rigid process producing rigid copious orders from one command hierarchy to another.  Instead actions are synchronized by an articulable vision of a focus-based commander’s intent, fortified by an inherent sense of trust both up and down the chain of command.  This leads to a high offensive operational tempo, unpredictable fluidity, and rapid exploitation, all reaching a decisive culmination point.[30]  Though this concept has met with military success before, most notable among the German armor formations of WWII, it has been impossible to implement in the U.S. military for reasons of bureaucracy and the ever pressing US obsession with technological solutions.  These traits have been further aggravated by the guild nature of the officer corps and the omnipresent group-think that encompasses USM staffs.[31]  The desire for increased procurements, an unforgiving zero-defects mentality, and a lack of internal trust prevents the Army from giving little more than lip service to mission command. The USM seeks and promotes sound, corporate managers, not free thinkers.  After all, “the mental and moral aspects of maneuver warfare do not sit well with most military minds, particularly those who use a managerial approach….”[32]  This point becomes troublesome when we compare the USM’s system with that of their opponent, ISIS.

In a starfish organization or any other decentralized system, the important thing is not the individual leader; it is whether leadership trusts its members enough to leave them free to accomplish the mission.[33]  ISIS is a profoundly disturbed organization whose horrifying actions should spur the west to action.  Military professionals, as the primary response option to ISIS, must glean more than condemnation from media reports of enemy activity.  To achieve victory, professionals must understand, among other things, the enemy’s methods, doctrine and TTPs.[34]  ISIS is not a spider organization.  ISIS is a decentralized organization.  Within its chain of command, ISIS uses a series of councils to relay orders down to operatives.  “Two deputies deliver orders to the governors in charge of the various sub-states in Syria and Iraq under ISIS control, who then instruct local councils on how to implement the executive branch's decrees on everything from media relations and recruiting to policing and financial matters.”[35]  These communications occur without centralized computer systems or advanced telecommunications.  Based on binding ideology, local councils are trusted to carry out the doctrinal decisions of the top functional councils.  This method has allowed ISIS to link with affiliates well beyond its operational control, binding them only to a common doctrine and an eventual purpose.  As the Washington Post reported “while the Islamic State does not have an issue with its supporters or grassroots activists attacking Western countries, its main priority is building out its caliphate, which is evident in its famous slogan “baqiya wa tatamaddad” (remaining and expanding).  As a result, it has had a relatively clear agenda and model: fighting locally, instituting limited governance, and conducting outreach.”[36]  It is noteworthy that the key traits of limited governance and outreach remarkably identify with the starfish attributes of circles for members and catalyst as organizational drivers.  Mimicking mission command, the ISIS caliph’s vision is the commander’s intent and its religious outlook generates trust.  Trust is the key in growing the organization and in the conduct of operations.  “The commander and the subordinate share a common outlook.  They trust each other, and this trust is the glue that holds the apparently formless effort together.  Trust emphasizes implicit over explicit communications.  Trust is the unifying concept.  This gives the subordinates great freedom of action.  Trust is the example of a moral force that helps bind groups together….”[37]

Of the several organizations noted by Brafman and Beckstrom, one starfish group had significant military success, the Apache Indians of the southwest United States.[38]  In the late 1600’s, flush with success against the Aztecs and the Incas, the Spanish moved north into the now American southwest with the intent to conquer new lands.  Encountering the local tribal inhabitants, a poor rural lot called Apaches. The Spanish were sure that within a short period of time they would defeat these people as well.  An expectation that was completely false.  As Brafman and Beckstrom tell it:

…the Spanish lost. They lost to a people who at first seemed primitive. …the Apaches also had no gold. So, instead of pillaging, the Spanish tried to turn these people into Catholic farmers by forcing them to adopt an agrarian lifestyle and converting them to Christianity. Some of the Apaches did in fact take up rake and hoe, but the vast majority resisted. Not only did they resist, but they actively fought back—raiding everything in sight that was remotely Spanish.


You'd think that against an army like the Spanish, the Apaches wouldn't have had a chance. But that wasn't the case…By the late seventeenth century; the Spanish had lost effective control of northern Sonora and Chihuahua to the Apaches. The Apaches had successfully wrested control of North Mexico—not that it was ever their desire to do so.  This wasn't a single accidental victory, however. The Apaches continued to hold off the Spanish for another two centuries.


It wasn't that the Apaches had some secret weapon that was unknown to the Incas and the Aztecs. Nor had the Spanish army lost its might. No, the Apache defeat of the Spanish was all about the way the Apaches were organized as a society….How did they survive? "They distributed political power and had very little centralization." The Apaches persevered because they were decentralized.[39]


Because the Apache were an open system, killing off any particular Indian or even his band was not enough to guarantee any victory.  This was because each band and even each Apache operated when, where, and how he wanted too.  The Apaches operated on a spiritual government system headed by mystics entitled Nant'ans.[40]   These individuals guided and influenced most often by achieving successes that would inspire followers; they did not command through binding orders.  The Apache also lacked formal capital, land holdings, a road network, and transferable wealth.  In short, the Apache occupied the space they held and nothing else.  There was little infrastructure for the Spanish to clear, hold, or build.  What did matter to the Apache was holding the maximum maneuver space available.  The Spanish, lacking in numbers, simply could not occupy enough space to deny the Apache freedom of movement. (Such would not happen until U.S. settlers coming in by the millions were able to achieve the “hold” level found in counterinsurgency theory.)

As Brafman and Beckstrom note, the Apaches clearly illustrate the primary starfish attributes/principles.  When attacked, decentralized organizations-decentralize.  With each leader the Spanish killed off, another if not two, Nant’ans emerged.  These emerging leaders were instantaneously effective because intelligence and initiative are spread through the starfish system.  As the authors note, under the Apache system “because there was no capital and no central command post, Apache decisions were made all over the place.  A raid on a Spanish settlement, for example, could be conceived in one place, organized in another, and carried out in yet another.”[41]   In essence, open systems easily mutate, “When the Spanish destroyed their villages, the Apaches might have surrendered if the villages had been crucial to their society, but they weren't.  Instead, the Apaches abandoned their old houses and became nomads.”[42]  The decentralized system sneaks up on you; “The Spanish (a centralized body) had been used to seeing everything through the lens of a centralized, or coercive, system. When they encountered the Apaches, they went with the tactics that had worked in the past (the take-the-gold-and-kill-the-leader strategy) and started eliminating Nant'ans. But as soon as they killed one off, a new Nant'an would emerge. The strategy failed because no one person was essential to the overall well-being of Apache society.”[43]  The Apaches didn’t struggle to recruit warriors; people in an open system want to contribute.  Once the Spanish were defeated, the Apache societal tradition and values enabled them to continue the struggle against the Americans for decades.  The Apaches remained unconquered for centuries with successive Nant’ans maintaining the struggle, one of the most famous latter-stage Nant’ans was Geronimo.[44]   It was not until the Apaches became a centralized system that they were defeated.[45]

In a strange twist the U.S. Military has its own group of decentralized Apaches.  The state National Guards make up a starfish within a spider.  Though appearing as regular army personnel each guard member actually belongs to his own state militia, swearing allegiance to his governor under state law where he trains and operates until federalized for a national purpose.  Though each state guard adheres to the uniform regulations of his service, the National Guard is decentralized into 54 units.  The Chief of the National Guard Bureau (CNGB) does not have command authority and guides as a modern day Nant’an by means of influence over property, finance, and relationships.   Additionally, information and initiative spread not only upward through the CNGB, but between the State National Guards themselves and even to foreign nations through the State Partnership Program where the State National Guards mentor developing nations.   This program is so successful it has been endorsed by the Combatant Commands and the Department of State.[46]   As an open system, the National Guard appoints its own officers and conducts its own training, readiness, and recruiting.[47]  State National Guards perform a variety of missions under their own control and funding that would be unthinkable to active forces such as agriculture support, youth development, and law enforcement assistance.[48]   This starfish organization, its leaders, and methodologies should be heavily leveraged in the upcoming fight against ISIS.

In Starfish and the Spider, Brafman and Beckstrom identify five traits of a starfish organization, much as a starfish itself has five legs. The authors advocate that these are the traits or legs required to establish and run an asymmetrical organization.  First are the Circles, meaning the ability to easily enter or join a starfish organization.  Within the circles, are small groups that make up the large group and do so with members acting as peers, each believing themselves a major contributor.  Second is the presence of Catalysts, these are dynamic individuals who possess the charisma needed to initiate action.  Once action begins, they fade back into the circle allowing others to take on the administrative role.  Third, as discussed above, is a unifying Ideology that holds the group together.  An ideology instead of a rulebook binds the group to common purpose while allowing flexible methods.  Fourth, is the use of Preexisting Networks, which is to say that previous decentralize organizations can launch new starfish organizations and similar asymmetrical movements.  Fifth, and lastly, the starfish organization needs a Champion, someone who is tireless in promoting the organization and its ideology.  Where the catalyst brings people together, the champion advocates the ideas they stand for.  We compare the traits of a starfish organization to ISIS below.

ISIS is easy to join and easy to progress in, as a starfish organization possessing uncountable circles and even circles of one.  Members seeking to join the main body independently transport themselves to the ISIS geographical region where they link up with recruiters operating under the protection of certain religious institutions and charities.[49]  Once accepted after a limited screening, members pledge their allegiance and undergo a very brief period of indoctrination and para-military training before they prove their worth in battle.  Once bloodied and proven, deserving members then receive any needed advanced training.  Members who survive this initial period are then brought off the battlefield for specialized training and then further combat in either Syria or Iraq.  Even more threatening some members return home, in essence leaving the circle, to act as sleepers or terrorist in their home country and thus, create new circles.  In fact, it is these foreign fighters that have western security forces so deeply worried.  ISIS uses short focused training and empowers members quickly through combat action.  In essence, ISIS delivers what it promises, the participation in Jihad romanticized by its social media campaign.  The U.S. military is just the opposite; joining is a bureaucratically complex process that takes months and very often rejects significant percentages of applicants for minor issues such as having tattoos below their wrist line.[50]  Once accepted, members must contractually obligate to a multi-year period of service, often at a specific location leaving them no freedom of entry or movement within the system.  Sadly, many of the few young warriors who join desiring to prove themselves in battle will never really get the chance.  Military specialties can become quite advanced, most requiring years of training to reach supervisory levels. This is demonstrated in the advanced age of most U.S. flag-grade officers.  Non-commissioned officers, warrant officers, and commissioned officers are confronted with both mandatory military schooling and assignments at every pay grade.  In actuality, most military personnel never serve in combat and of those that do combat service is almost always less that 20-15% of their total careers.[51]   In the starfish organization, we see minimum training for maximum gain, while in the spider organization we see extensive requirements that may actually impede the purpose for which the training is performed.  (Imagine the coaching tenure for a football team that practiced so much it couldn’t field a team on Sunday.)  Allowing for and heavily advertising short-term combat contracts for limited combat arms skill sets say four months of training, 12 for fighting, and two for demobilization, would create service options without lengthy, multi-year periods. Combat service could be a powerful attractant to many young patriots eager to serve, but not desiring a four year delay on college attendance.  Additionally, identifying potential recruits earlier and allowing non-lethal training to be conducted within public high schools and colleges (think leadership, first aid, fitness, communications equipment, vehicle driving, etc.,) would provide both military and civilian skill sets to the young, while shortening training time.  Reducing redundant educational requirements on career military personnel, as well as broadening the duties of each military occupational specialty, would enable more duties to be performed by less people for longer on the battlefield, battlefield service being the purpose for a military at war.  In addition increasing the number of National Guard combat divisions, as was done during WWII, would allow for the utilization of persons across the spectrum of ages and civilian occupations providing needed leadership and societal experience.

Within a starfish organization, the founding member takes a unique position as a catalyst.  The catalyst is the one who initiates action, but then uniquely fades from the forefront leaving others to build and lead the organization.[52]  This differs greatly from a spider organization, even an entrepreneurial business where the founder is inevitably the CEO.  In a government bureaucracy the head is almost always a political appointee who assumes control of a large preexisting organization, operating under established methods and hierarchy.  Starfish organizations may emerge from previous organizations, but remain independent themselves.  ISIS stems from preexisting networks, the Iraq Army and Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as a new network founded at the U.S. prison at Abu Gharib.[53]  ISIS generally draws its ideological catalyst from the Islamist trees of Al Qaeda, its founder Osama Bin Laden, and his designee for Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  It is ISIS’s operating stimulus however, that makes the organization unique.  ISIS grew from a communal prisoner base stemming from long periods of detention in the Abu Gharib prison in central Iraq.  Housed in a series of sub camps under loose U.S. control, hardened jihadists had ample time to confer, consolidate, and conduct extensive planning.  This consolidation was enabled by a lack of allied Arabic speakers on the inside of the prison, lack of security personnel, and stringent post-scandal prison procedures that kept the U.S personnel away from daily contact with the prisoners.[54]  In a strange, but manifestly important development, these Jihadists were able to incorporate several ex-Baathist officers who possessed and passed on relevant military experience.  In substance, ISIS combined Iraq’s asymmetrical force, Sunni jihadists, with it symmetrical force, the Baathist Iraq military, into a fused fighting force.  In a strange violent way, the founding members of ISIS became catalysts due to combat losses and the success of selected targeting exercised by the movement’s enemies, notably American drone strikes.  Most of the original founders are supposedly gone, but ISIS leadership cells remain. [55]  The most famous ISIS catalyst is the purported leader cum figurehead Abaer al Bagdadi, whose role is bolstered by hereditary connections that enable the necessary family lineage to claim caliphate status.[56]   In truth, Bagdadi may only be a figurehead in an organization operating under a series of committees, in essence moving from catalyst to champion.  Per Brafman and Beckman, a champion is a person responsible for promoting the ideas of the organization, hyperactively inspiring others whether for good or bad.[57]  Perhaps ISIS’s real leadership structure is best summed up in the following:  “Within IS, there are state structures, bureaucracy and authorities. But there is also a parallel command structure: elite units next to normal troops; additional commanders alongside nominal military head Omar al-Shishani; power brokers who transfer or demote provincial and town emirs or even make them disappear at will. Furthermore, decisions are not, as a rule, made in Shura Councils, nominally the highest decision-making body. Instead, they are being made by the "people who loosen and bind" (ahl al-hall wa-l-aqd), a clandestine circle whose name is taken from the Islam of medieval times.” [58]   

Within the USM no such catalysts are to be found.  Like any bureaucracy, the US Military often stifles champions based on rank hierarchy.  America’s military follows a largely corporate structure circuitously  blending high level political appointees, a professional bureaucratic class, and successful career officers into a complex management team that dictates by policy. DoD policy is designed by a undeterminable layer of inputs from the multitude of organization levels from top to bottom, requiring even those with special expertise and skills to work ideas up a rigid and lengthy chain of command.  It is, as the great U.S. Civil War maneuverist Stonewall Jackson lamented “war by committee”.  In rare cases of immediate need, such as during the failing Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns the USM has gone to outliers, unique persons possessing critical intellectual or exceptional operational skills, but even these individuals can not effect real change.  The system is too big to meaningfully move.  Once the crisis passes the outliers are marginalized and the system returns to its corporate model.

If it has proven anything, in true starfish manner, ISIS has proven to be a very adaptive organization, both on and off the kinetic battlefield.  As stated by Alan Dinerman “Their ability to imaginatively manipulate print and social media provides them diverse and effective tools to conduct information operations.”[59]   The size of ISIS fighting units has remained consistently the same, at about 20,000-25,000. Even though 10,000 fighters were lost this year, these loses have been replaced through social media recruiting.[60]  One of the most fascinating, yet troubling aspects of the ISIS organization has been its unique success at using social media as a vehicle for both recruiting and lone wolf attacks.[61]  There can be no doubt, that the western ideology of individualism, personnel freedom, and protection of law is superior to the medieval outlook of discrimination, ignorance, and barbarism.  This plain fact makes it very difficult to understand why significant numbers of people, many young, comfortable, publicly educated, westerners accept the ISIS message and gravitate to it in word and deed.  ISIS skillfully presents a bad ideology, boldly produced, well sold, and reinforced as a cause celeb attracting societally disenfranchised persons the world over.   As a point of fact, few members have been seen to leave or condemn the group.   Clearly the US and western ideology is better for society and individual, but is not being sold, marketed, or expanded upon as effectively as is ISIS.  During the Cold War, the West’s ability to influence and persuade was a critical element in the ideological struggle against communism.[62]   Currently the  USM has invested untold monies and personnel into so called information operations even offering the career field as a job.[63]  Tragically, none of this effort has come to any fruition as the fear of ISIS has burdened if not crippled western security forces.  The USM has proven unable to win the war of ideas despite investing almost two decades worth of manpower and money into information operations.

In his seminal work[64] former U.S. Special Operations Command commander, now retired, Admiral William McRaven identified the crucial concept of relative superiority, which he described as the “condition that exists when an attacking force, generally smaller, gains a decisive advantage over a larger or well defended enemy.”[65]  Paraphrased, relative superiority exist when an opponent, normally one less in strength and capability, is temporarily able to achieve enough control over his adversary to impose his will upon that adversary at the point of time and space for which he holds relative superiority. McRaven went on to identify that relative superiority is achieved at the pivotal moment in an engagement.[66]  His work further identifies that, in regard to light forces, relative superiority cannot be held for long, before a larger adversarial force responds to restore the balance in their favor.[67]  This painfully begs the question as to why the West has not quickly and decisively responded to ISIS, a delay that has allowed the terrorist organization to hold relative superiority for so long that its territorial gains, now amount to Safe Havens that are being used to export the war into Europe.  In order to achieve relative superiority, McRaven identifies six principles which must be adhered to if victory is to be had: simplicity in planning, security and repetition in preparation; followed by surprise, speed, and purpose in execution.”[68]  In applying these principles to the legs of a starfish organization, circles, catalyst, ideology, preexisting networks, and champions we can identify a lucid interconnecting of McRaven’s principles and the Starfish attributes.

Freedom from a rigid hierarchy brings with it speed and surprise.  The use of preexisting networks and their methods allows for simplicity. Individuals of purpose, such as catalysts and champions, provide the leadership and zeal needed for purpose and with it the resulting motivation for long-periods of preparation.  A common ideology further binds the member to a common purpose and an acceptance of the need for security.   It must be remembered that a starfish organization is not anarchy.  Starfish organizations can and do possess discipline and may originate from spider organizations, as ISIS did.[69]  The fundamental difference between the two is that starfish organizations choose a different hierarchy to exercise power, one loosely controlled, flattened, and enabled as opposed to one tightly controlled, vertical, and constrained.  The difference between the two should be foremost in the minds of western military professionals.  As U.S. Marine Col X Hammes points out “potential enemies are not hampered by an entrenched bureaucracy.”[70]

John Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (hereafter OODA) loop has become a tenant of operational arts for tacticians, military practitioners, and consultants worldwide.  Though few can truly call themselves Boydian, many senior level persons have seen or heard a simplified rendition of the OODA Loop.  In reviewing Boyd’s work, author Robert Corman advocated that the true destructive nature of the OODA Loop was in implementing it in a reoccurring cycle conducted at a rate faster than one’s opponent.[71]  In this way one would get inside of an enemy’s decision cycle and even his mind before he could take action; in essence leaving him too confused and bewildered to take action.  The OODA Loop is not one cycle as often presented in the simplified version popular in lower-military circles, but instead is a reoccurring cycle leading to action conducted at a faster rate of execution than an opponent.[72]  A great example of non-military use of OODA was the use of the technique by the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team Coach Herb Brooks.  His late game constant line-changes preserved player strength and left the USSR hockey team too bewildered to effectively substitute, thus ensuring the heralded US victory.[73]  Because they are a starfish organization operating under common ideology with many autonomous cells and limited command and control structure, ISIS has proven quite capable of implementing their organizational OODA faster than the US and its similarly organized counterpart, the Iraqi Army.  ISIS proves the point that “successful terrorist appear to operate on broad mission orders that carry down to the level of the individual terrorist.”[74]   ISIS is not directed from a central headquarters on the other side of the world.  It has no multi-component political system, no treaty organizations, and its reaction time from order to mission has proven faster than conventional Iraqi forces, and painfully, faster than the western security establishment.  Recent attacks in Paris and Brussels highlight the systemic gaps in the West’s bureaucratic security apparatuses.  These failures have been repeatedly identified after every attack, but never seem to get fixed.[75]

Understanding the OODA Loop is a complex multi-disciplined process.  Taken in totality, it is beyond the scope of this paper.  In order to provide a basis for common understanding, I humbly offer this brief review.[76]  As mentioned above the loop must be performed continuously as long as you are engaged with the opponent force.  With each engagement the loop must occur faster and faster in order to provide the implementing operator with the position of relative superiority needed to terminate the contest in his favor.  The first step is to “Observe” by which Boyd means much more than to simply see.  In Boyd’s view, the Observe action is based on: unfolding circumstances, outside information, interaction with the environment and implicit guidance and control.  These sub-elements feed forward to perhaps the most important part of the loop which is “Orientation”.  Orientation is based on many factors that will predate the engagement, and may in fact have been with the actor their entire life. Orientation is composed of such factors as cultural traditions, generic heritage, previous experience, and new information. These factors interact and culminate in Analysis and Synthesis. (Two of Bloom’s Taxonomy’s highest levels.)  Orientation leads to the “Decide” phase which decision is making in concert with implicit guidance and control.  After deciding, the Looper would then enter the “Act” phase by taking action in unfolding interaction with his environment.  This action should have a projected negative effect on the opponent, which leads back to the initial phase of the loop as the Looper observes his opponents reactions and begins the cycle again.  Though the loop should be completed in its linear fashion, Loopers must be able to cycle back to previous steps as needed.  All of this should occur in what Frederick or Napoleon would have called to Coup d'œil or ”Blink of an Eye”.  It is believed many great commanders possessed an innate feel for battlefield action.  History does not record any bureaucracies that possessed such intuition.

Observation on both a personal and global level is what stimulates action. Though the operator’s loop must occur quicker than the opponents, with each repetition occurring quicker than the last, speed of action is not the most important factor, successful orientation is.[77]  Per Boyd, “thinking about operating at a quicker tempo-not just moving faster-than the adversary was a new concept in waging war.”[78]  Entities that can handle the quickest rate of change are the ones who survive.  Understanding the enemy threat becomes the basis for implementing the loop.  By gathering facts, maintaining cross-cultural awareness, gathering quality, actionable intelligence, and operating on second and third order effects, OODA based commanders can gain and maintain relative superiority over their opponents.  This is not to say that speed is divorced from orientation.  Speed is born from accurate observation and by exploiting the opponents misunderstanding.  Successful Loopers choose the least-expected, most effective action and in doing so destabilize their opponents.[79]  Speed must come from deep understanding of the unfolding environment, one so deep the looping commander can compress time into his decision cycle.  This should be an area where western military commanders, with their information superiority, better educations, and advanced systems should succeed.  Tragically, in modern warfare, it appears as an area where they often fail.

Once oriented, a good commander should be able to decide within the “blink-of-an-eye’ as Frederick the Great advises,[80] “a commander must have a series of responses that can be applied rapidly; he must harmonize his efforts and never be passive… (he) must manifest four qualities: variety, rapidity, harmony and initiative.”[81]  By possessing such qualities a commander can decide on the right course of action quickly.  Supported by the concept of mission command, such a commander would know his superior’s intent, hold him in mutual trust, and make his own decisions to achieve that intent.  Starfish organizations enable this kind of personnel maneuverability, spider organizations do not.

This kind of enabled thinking empowers Boyd’s Decide phase with the inference that one should decide quickly.  It is at this point in Boyd’s cycle that the USM often breaks down, choosing lengthy staff consensus instead of quick command decision making.  The USM is a large bureaucratic structure, built for a nation state industrial war.  This was the kind of war it won in 1945 and the kind of conflict it foresaw during the Cold War.  This kind of conflict called for massive material stores, state mobilization, closely defined application of doctrine, and centrally controlled leadership.  In order to prevail in such a struggle, the corporate model was seen as the best organizational construct.  As such, the Pentagon was designed and created on a corporate, bureaucratic model.  The kind of war envisioned by western military professionals did not materialize.  In the post-World War II period instead of industrial warfare, new kinds of asymmetrical conflicts conducted through endless bush wars, indigenous struggles, and terrorist events emerged.  In application, the pentagon management model is not mated to the threat stream.  The USM chose a spider when it needed a starfish.

The eminent German sociologist, Max Weber identified the six cornerstone traits of a bureaucracy, all of which apply to the USM.[82]  The first is the presence of a formal hierarchical structure, which is to say multiple levels of designated staffs each headed by an appropriate department, bureau, or agency head. The Pentagon has dozens and dozens of levels of bureaucracy moving messages up and down in order.

The second trait is that affairs of process and operations will be managed by rules.  Bureaucracies create incredibly deep and complex regulations designed to address any issue or difficulty that has or could occur within the organization’s mission.   As mentioned above, the Pentagon has thousands of regulations, in addition to the Chairman’s rules and the four services’ copious regulations.

Thirdly, organization will be organized by functional specialty.  Within a bureaucracy, no one component handles the entire function of any task or action.  Generally, each piece of work is circulated among the bureaucracy with numerous smaller sub-departments performing a limited function on each piece of work and then circulating it to the next department.   A brief review of the pentagon organization chart reveals 27 main departments, each compartmentalized and performing functions identified and delegated by regulation.  This process and relative organizational chart is then magnified by the five services themselves.[83]

In his fourth characteristic, Weber noted that Bureaucracies are focused either “up” or “in” having missions to support either the senior leaders in the organization or the organization itself.  The DoD is unique among Government agencies in that it has, per se, no direct public customer unlike the Social Security Administration, the Postal Service or the National Park Service.  Put simply, citizens do not drive to the Pentagon and ask to be defended.  Within the Pentagon, all most all work is mutually supporting among the various departments, work such as circulated policies, complex routing of forms, endless briefings, etc.  Any work beyond that is to support senior leaders, as exemplified by former Secretary Rumsfeld’s infamous “snowflakes”.

Fifth, the bureaucratic system is purposely impersonal.  Bureaucracies treat all classes of employees equally within that class.  DoD employees writ large are hired for life.  In addition to civil servant protections, measurable percentages enjoy union protections almost completely freeing them from work place performance standards or any threat of real discipline.  A very select class of managers are appointed to the Senior Executive Service permanently and do not change upon presidential rotations.  Most supervisor position descriptions are written to prevent outside civilians from qualifying or are in some case purposely limited to only previous government employees.   A brief attempt to improve employee performance by offering increased compensation and bonuses was met with scorn and abandoned immediately once the promoting administration ended.[84]  Rarely does a 30-something corporate employee move into Government service at the Pentagon for four years and then return to the public sector.  To have a career in the Pentagon is to commit to institutionalism.

Lastly for Weber was the understanding that employment was based almost solely on technical qualifications.  Bureaucrats are technicians, not in the sense of the sciences or mathematics, but in the sense that each department has need for and trains its staff to perform a specific function.  Department work often requires special education on unique computer systems, paperwork forms, and knowledge on special rules devolving to minutia. The Pentagon’s processes are so detailed that no one person can fully explain the budget or procurement process.  In fact, the DoD has such a unique vocabulary and process that almost all departments possess a cadre of former military officers to guide the political appointees, especially among the mid to senior level bureaucrats.

To Weber’s six traits the theorist C. Northcote Parkinson added his famous “Parkinson’s Law”, which basically states that, regardless of the size or scope of the task they are servicing, bureaucracies will continue to grow infinitely.[85]  This means that bureaucracies are predisposed to grow in staff automatically upon creation.   As mentioned above, the pentagon has a higher ratio of civilians and more four star generals per capita than ever before.   As German Field Marshall Erich von Mainstein once advised, “even bigger staffs ever worst command.”

ISIS runs on a small hierarchy, committees choose goals and establish standards, however, localized small unit leaders, separated by geographical and political terrain, execute the actions to meet those goals.  Further those leaders do not enjoy complex communications assets and cannot contact higher or be contacted instantaneously.  ISIS members are bound by a common ideology and common purpose, though both may be seriously flawed, they comprise a significant binding force for the organization and its members.  The Emperor Napoleon theorized that it was the moral factor of war that took a place of three to one over the physical.  ISIS is working from a common, albeit disturbed purpose, the western allies are not.  If we accept Napoleon’s maxim of the moral being to the physical in war as three to one, then our adversary has a moral advantage in so much that he has fused his organization with a common purpose strengthened by an, albeit false,  moral belief in the superiority of the ISIS cause.  Freed from a stifling bureaucracy and strengthened by mission commands, in truth ISIS fighters may be more like contractors then soldiers.  In many ways ISIS and their fellow Jihadist think globally, but act locally.

The USM and its western partner’s possess great advantages in their struggle against ISIS.  The USM’s actions are driven by sound doctrine, superior equipment (there is in all war a place for the right technological advantage to be applied) and good training, all supported by a highly educated workforce.  Where the USM so often fails in action is by failing to build and maintain trust among its actors.  This lack of trust and teamwork has resulted in a pattern of micro-management and bureaucratic process.  If the Decide in OODA is delayed, then no action or meaningless action occurs.  As we return the loop to Orient, the result is a false orientation, as our adversary is changing our environment faster than we are changing his.  In essence the tempo is established on his terms results in us suffering outcomes determined by him.  Starfish organizations enable their members to move faster by inherently trusting them to reach the organization’s goals.  Catalysts are so trusting that they allow the very organization they founded to be taken away from them in order for the organization to flourish. Bureaucrats stay in their organizations until removed by the organization itself.

Starfish organizations can be destroyed.  As Brafman and Beckstrom point out, the Apaches ceased as a power.  Not so much as a result of the U.S. Cavalry campaigns, but as a result of the Apaches being converted from a decentralized system to a centralized one:

Here's what broke Apache society: the Americans gave the Nant'ans cattle. It was that simple. Once the Nant'ans had possession of a scarce resource—cows—their power shifted from symbolic to material. Where previously, the Nant'ans had led by example, now they could reward and punish tribe members by giving and withholding this resource.  The cows changed everything. Once the Nant'ans gained authoritative power, they began fighting each other for seats on newly created tribal councils and started behaving more and more like would-be "presidents of the Internet." Tribe members began lobbying the Nant'ans for more resources and became upset if the allocations didn't work out in their favor. The power structure, once flat, became hierarchical, with power concentrated at the top. This broke down Apache society. Nevins reflects, "The Apache have a central government now, but I think personally that it's a disaster for them because it creates a zero-sum battle over resources between lineages." With a more rigid power structure, the Apaches became similar to the Aztecs, and the Americans were able to control them. 


Once the Apaches became centralized they were able to be placed on reservations which left only a few Nantan’s free enough to continue the struggle.  Cut off from their people they became, as Mao would say, a fish out of water.   Though the struggle of the Apaches has long been romanticized, once institutionalized they were never a meaningful threat to European expansion.  Destroying starfish organizations is a permutation of determining Clausewitz’s “center of gravity”.[86]  In modern terms, this means finding the enemy’s sweet spot, the point where they are vulnerable and can be attacked.  In irregular warfare, this requires a deep understanding of the enemy organization; its people, ideals, operations, intelligence, and logisticsLike most irregular movements of the post-World War II era, ISIS has adopted a Maoist influenced struggle conducted along all three phases of popular struggle: the latent incipient phase, the guerilla war phase, and currently the war of maneuver phase.[87]  ISIS is founded on military minds committed to religious ideology, the ebbs and tides of guerilla war will not force them to cease the struggle.  This is why a campaign based on casualty reports and territorial battles will not change the equation.

In applying Boyd’s OODA loop to Starfish and Spider organizations, we can identify various differences between the organizations that can be exploited.  Orientation is based on cultural and generic factors; ISIS is a starfish organization encompassing participants from all over the globe.  It is in fact these foreign fighters that have created international security concerns.  Members entering ISIS must be orientated to a common culture.  For ISIS, this culture is built around a common, if misplaced religious ideology.  This ideology, much of which occurs on social media prior to any movement by the ISIS aspirant, can be blocked and countered.  By using internet safeguards, internet observation, and counter-messaging, along with programs designed to draw at-risk youths back into the societal mainstream, we can identify, redirect, and prevent potential recruits from ever entering ISIS at all.  Youth opportunities in jobs and society can create a positive sense of purpose, thus blocking ISIS’ messaging. The USM is a spider organization, but one built from a far more homogenous pool, born out common citizenry, history, social culture and patriotism. The great military victories of World War II were gained by the citizen soldier of the era, not the professional class created since then.  The USM needs to remove much of its functioning bureaucracy, especially along doctrinal and operational lines.  It further needs to commit to mission command and develop deep institutional trust among its classes.  Within the battlefield itself the USM’s partners, the Iraqi Military should be able to provide the cultural bridge necessary to achieve parity in orientating the Americans to many of the human terrain factors shaping the current war in Iraq.

As ISIS is bound by a common ideology and purpose so must the western allies be bound.  We must identify an enduring schwerpunkt for our efforts, a moral glue to hold an effective alliance together.  Tragically, just the opposite has occurred as no real coalition has been established.  Indeed certain allies are actually operating at cross purposes.[88]  In creating our own center of gravity, we must not fight solely on the battlefield for terrain associated objectives, but must place at the forefront of the struggle a competing ideology based on enduring, articulable western values such as personal freedom, equality, justice, education, rule of law, freedom from want, love of family, community, and nation.  Further we must enable a positive global identification of the Islamic faith and what it really means.  Changing the ideological focus will in the end limit ISIS’s capabilities and enable greater kinetic action as popular support for western coalition activity grows.  As a result of the recent Paris and Brussels attacks, it should be a manageable task to build anti-ISIS support.  The final outcome in the war against ISIS will not be determined by how many people we kill or how high up the ISIS command chain they are, as this is a war of ideals.  Far too often the US has fixated on killing a certain man, not on killing the organization or cause.  This won’t work this time, as it so often hasn’t in the past.  To prevail in this war we must understand what takes place in our adversaries’ minds.  To quote John Boyd, “Machines don’t fight wars, terrain doesn’t fight wars, humans fight wars, you must get into the minds of humans, that’s where battles are won.[89]  ISIS can survive the loss of Al Baghdadi, it cannot survive the wholesale universal rejection of its belief nor the loss of its recruits.

 Without a deep understanding of ISIS and its leadership, assassinating the current level of leaders may only create a vacuum where the replacements turn out to be far more of a threat.  This is the condition we created when we decapitated Al Qaeda, but left the issues of the greater Islamist movement unaddressed.  There is a proper time for decapitation strategy, but not while an organization can still replenish its leadership and retain its war-making capabilities.  In order to win this war we must understand why people join ISIS, as well as what makes it attractive to so many active and passive supporters.  Only when we understand this attraction can we defeat ISIS.  Defensive information operations, such as blocking ISIS messaging and destroying their message producing capability will be vital.[90]  Offensive information operations will be of greater importance through key communicators such as moderate clerics, respected world leaders, Muslim athletes and celebrities, etc.  Sophisticated western media should be able to counter and defeat ISIS messaging, thus removing the ISIS recruitment base and limiting their funding.  This in turn will reduce their offensive capability and deny them safe havens.  These are actions that must occur in addition to targeting their senior leadership and kinetically striking their geographic locations.

As mentioned above, a centralized ISIS operating in a War of Maneuver phase is an easier target for western forces to attack, presenting a very rapid cycle of find, fix, and finish.  Their maneuver phase actions have presented the western coalition an opportunity to continuously strike them as we are doing.  This could turn out to be very advantageous, but only if we are ready to instantaneously exploit gains by securing and holding the territory acquired.  The creation and utilization of an effective security force would present a populace weary of jihadist-inspired, dictatorial rule with an option to side with the legitimate government.   A secure environment for the populace would deny ISIS space and resources forcing them to consolidate into a smaller space, creating the density needed to enable even more effective kinetic strikes.  ISIS is not an insurgency, but counterinsurgency principles may hold dear as ultimately this is a fight for the populace.  In order to enable the creation of security forces, as well as to preserve Iraq we must clear out ISIS at a far quicker rate.  The recent liberation of Ramadi is a phyric victory at best, as the battle to free the city from heavily entrenched ISIS fighters destroyed the very city itself.[91]  Had government forces moved quicker, and denied ISIS the time to fortify their positions the damage to the city would have been lessened.  A shorter fight would have preserved resources for the government to use in countering ISIS.  Most importantly, territory once liberated must be rebuilt in order to address the causes that produce the desire to join ISIS.  Civic action across the DIMEFIL[92] spectrum will be vital.  Most importantly, supportable, functioning governments at the local, regional, and national level will have to be empowered.

In order to accomplish the tasks set forth above, the huge bureaucracy we have created to fight an industrial nation state war must be checked.  The first step is to decentralize ourselves by building independent, joint-interagency brigade size, task-forces reporting directly to a temporarily empowered pro-counsel type command that reports directly to the President.  A hierarchy that would in reality places the Commander in Chief and his immense power only three or four layers from the battlefield.  These commands, each assigned a corresponding territory balanced on all the elements of the DIMEFIL spectrum across multiple agencies, must possess a concentrated ability to flow between peacekeeping to counterinsurgency to kinetic operations.  Unit commanders would be relived from outside interference and the “red-tape” would be cut by executive order and eventually removed by national policy.  Careerist and institutionalist need not apply.  In fact each commander should be required to end his career upon completion of a command accepting the just admiration of his countrymen as reward enough.  Additionally, these task-forces would leverage the private sector for ideas and innovation.  As was done in World War II, deserving persons proven of achievement in other sectors (business, governmental, academic, etc.,)  could be entered into the USM at ranks commiserate with that experience instead of coming in at menial levels and suffering years of institutionalism prior to reaching decision making levels.  Military qualifications and past branch job experience would take a back seat to identified individual capabilities, such as intellect, bravery, and zeal.  The USM would simplify its counterinsurgency training, equipping, and operating methods for a faster response option. These task forces would find the enemy, strike the enemy, permanently secure the liberated territory, and conduct civic action to alleviate the conditions that made ISIS an option for the populace.  Gone will be the forward operating bases with their PXes and chow halls; back will be foxholes and long patrols in rough country and bad weather.  Command elements will remain mobile, lightly staffed, and field based.  Yes risk will go up and yes things will go wrong, but by reducing the bureaucracy and empowering lower level warriors, our OODA cycle would become faster than our ISIS foes.  Our superior intellect, localized technology and dedication to purpose would prevail over medievalism and brutality.  Taking the fight into the enemy’s battle space in both in the operational and stabilization phase will result in more casualties in the short term, but in ending the struggle permanently, preserve more lives in the long term.  We must find the courage to take risk, accept failure, and acknowledge our high casualties and suffering.  By decentralizing ourselves, the USM can become chaotic in action, while remaining sound in thinking.   A lighter, locally enabled force can be fluid, trusting, and morally courageous, as the limited SOF forces were in the opening days of the Afghan campaign.  The USM must understand and implement the relevant starfish rules:  be small and flexible, use informal networks, accept chaos and risk, spread knowledge, get everyone contributing, and kill the ideology-not the head.  It must find catalyst and champions to empower its efforts.  The USM must use mission command and build trust among its members.  It must counter ISIS ideology through key communicators.  The U.S. government must measure results generally, stop fixating on numbers adjusted continually, and flatten itself to decentralization if it is to achieve victory against ISIS.[93]

To date the US has not prevailed against ISIS, as it failed to prevail in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  We have to face the truth; in many ways the USM is not as good a system as we routinely state.  Though it excels at phase three “dominate” it often fails at phase four “stabilization”, is often slow in phase two “seize initiative”, and is wasteful in phase one “deter”.   The current threat presents an opportunity for the US to expand its toolbox.  The bureaucracy of yesteryear has gone from being invalid to now being an impediment.  The bloodbaths of World War I were consequences of the failure of Statesman and Generals to adapt to 20th century technology, a misplaced faith in artificial systems, and a misunderstanding of their current environment.[94]  Today’s conditions seem eerily reflexive.  We are fighting the wars we always wanted to fight and losing them readily instead of fighting the wars we must in the manner we have to.  As Geoffrey Parker records “nor are these conflicts normally capable of resolution by the use of sophisticated weaponry since such weaponry requires delivery from the air…it is almost impossible to eradicate guerilla forces from 15,000 feet with conventional weapons.”[95]  The western coalition reassures itself with petty gains and high-level killings while barbarism remains unchecked and terror is bought into our cities.  This cannot be tolerated, the ultimate struggle is between a medieval fascist ideology and the ideals of western humanism.  This is not an isolated regional struggle, but a fight against an enemy dedicated to the destruction of our way of life.  As General De Gaulle pointed out almost 80 years ago “…it is the West that must be restored, if the West declines barbarism will sweep everything away.”[96]

The views presented in this article are those of the authors alone, the do not represent the official policy, position or like of the U.S. Military Departments, the Department of Defense or the United States Government.

End Notes

[1] Bill Roggio & Patrick Megahan: “ISIS seizes more towns in northern and central Iraq” available from, posted on June 10, 2014.   For an excellent living documentation of the percentage of Iraq controlled by ISIS see,

[2]Chelsea J. Carter, Catherine E. Shoichet, and Hamdi Alkhshali: “Obama on ISIS in Syria: 'We don't have a strategy yet'”, CNN, September 4, 2014 at

[3] Ori Brafman and Rod A Beckstrom: The Starfish and the Spider; The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, London, England, Penguin Books, 2006.

[4] Sun Tzu: Art of War, New York, Penguin Classics, 2002, translated by John Minford.

[5] Brafman and Beckstrom, supra note 3 at 87 thru 99.

[6] Robert Coram: Boyd; the Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, New York, Back Bay Book, 2002.

[7] Id at 327.

[8] Id at 337.

[9] Barry Strauss: Masters of Command, 109-120, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2012. 

[10] Mao Tse-tung: On Guerrilla Warfare, Urbana, Illinois, University of Chicago Press, 1961, translated by Samuel B Griffith II.

[11] Robert D. Lamb Ungoverned Areas and Threats From Safe Havens, Final Report of the Ungoverned Areas Project (Washington, D.C.: Office of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning, 2008) 15, and Angel Rabasa and John E. Peters, Dimensions of Un-governability, & Dimensions of Conduciveness, Ungoverned Territories: Understanding and Reducing Terrorism Risk (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp. 2007).

[12] Karen Yourish, Derek Watkins and Tom Giratikanon, “Recent Attacks Demonstrate Islamic State’s

Ability to Both Inspire and Coordinate Terror”, the New York Times, updated Jan. 14, 2016,  at

[13] Brafman and Beckstrom, supra note 3 at 45 thru 52.

[14] Benjamin Freeman: “The Pentagon Has Too Many Generals”, US News and World Report, July 24, 2013, at

[15] Julian E. Barnes: “Navy Secretary Calls for Cuts in Pentagon Overhead, Bureaucracy”, The Wall Street Journal,  June 2, 2015, at

[16] Department of Defense, Department of Defense Budget Fiscal Year 2016, Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, February 2015, at

[17] AEROWEB: “U.S. Defense Spending, at, accessed on February 26, 2016.

[18] Global “The Pentagon” at, accessed on February 26, 2016.

[19]Department of Defense, Department of Defense Revolving Funds Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 President’s Budget, Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, April 2013 at  See also headquarters support costs, which GAO found had more than doubled from fiscal year 2007 ($459 million) to fiscal year 2012 ($1.06 billion) at

[20] Department of Defense, DoD Issuance Website; The Official Website for DoD Issuance, at, accessed February 26, 2016.

[21]Department of Defense, Joint Electronic Library, at, accessed February 26, 2016. 

[22]  Supra Note 14, at

[23] John McGrath The Other End of the Spear, The Tooth to Tail Ration in Modern Military Operations, Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2007.

[24] Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Military Community and Family Policy, 2013 Military Demographic Profile of The Military Community, at, accessed February 26, 2016.

[25] Mackenzie Eaglen “The Pentagon’s Growing Army of Bureaucrats”, The Wall Street Journal, Jan 29, 2015, at “When President Obama unveils his annual budget on Monday, watch his defense priorities. His State of the Union address presented plenty of new ideas to invest in nondefense domestic programs, but the Pentagon’s budget got zero mention—even as the specter of sequestration looms again for fiscal 2016. Mr. Obama’s track record as Commander in Chief is not encouraging: Under his stewardship, active-duty ground forces have been slashed while Defense Department civilians have flourished. For this President, it seems, bureaucracy beats combat power every time.”

[26]Jared Serbu, “Carter opens door to more DoD civilian job cuts”, Defense News Radio,  Mar 5, 2015, at .

[27] Marcus Weisgerber,” Dempsey’s Final Instruction to the Pentagon: Prepare for a Long War”, Defense One, July 1, 2015, at

[28] Supra Note 3 at 144.

[29] For a good explanation of how DHS was formed and under what authority see

[30] Supra Note 6 at 336. See also U.S. Army Field Manual, FM 6-0 Mission Command.

[31] Don Vandergriff, “The Myth of Mission Command, How “Synchronization Warfare” has removed the human from modern warfare” excerpted from “Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs” at, accessed Mar 11, 2016.

[32] Supra Note 6 at 337.

[33] Supra Note 3.

[34] Tactics, Techniques and Procedures- Which is short hand way military professionals describe their daily methodology and/or standard operating procedures.

[35] Nick Thompson and Atika Shubert, “The Anatomy of ISIS: How the 'Islamic State' is Run, from Oil to Beheadings”, CNN, January 14, 2015, at

[36] Zelin, Arron, “The Islamic State’s Model”, The Washington Post, January 15, 2015, at http://www.washington

[37] Supra Note 6 at 337.

[38] Supra Note 3 at 47 thru 53. 

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Id.  See also Max Boot, “Invisible Armies, An Epic History of Guerilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present” Liveright Publishing,  New York,  2013 at 147-149.

[45] Id at 144.

[46] Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill, “Combatant Commanders Praise National Guard Contributions”, The National Guard Bureau Website, March 14, 2015, at

[47] U.S. Const. art. I, § 10.

[48] The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, National Guard Youth Challenge Program 2012 Highlights, available from, accessed on March 11, 2016, and Purdue University, National Guard Afghan Agriculture Development Team Training Program, available from, accessed on March 11, 2016.

[49] Ben Taub, “Journey to Jihad”, The New Yorker, June 1, 2015, at

[50] Mark Thompson, “It's official: Army Issues New Tattoo Rules”, The Army Times, April 10, 2015, at

[51]Mark Thompson, “Combat Deployments Unbalanced Burden”, Time, March 16, 2012, at

[52] Supra Note 3 at 107.

[53] Christopher Reuter, “The Terror Strategist, Secret Files Reveal the Structure of the Islamist State”, Der Spiegel, April 18, 2015, at

[54] Lee Smith and Hussain Abdul-Hussain, “On the Origins of ISIS”, The Weekly Standard, Sep 08, 2014, at For a more in depth history see Robert G. Rabil, “The ISIS Chronicles: A History”, The National Interest, July 17, 2014 at

[55] John Kerry “Half of ISIS leaders killed by Iraq and Allies”, CBS News, January 22, 2015, at

[56] Supra Note 54.

[57] Supra Note 3 at 98, grotesquely  one of ISISs most notable champions was the English speaking, mass murderer identified by the moniker, Jihad Johnny (Mohammed Emwazi) whose public assassinations went viral on the internet and even consumed the attention of the British Prime minister, His death by UAV attach was confirmed in January 2016.

[58] Supra Note 53.

[59] Alan Dinerman, “Defeating ISIS in the Information Environment”, Small Wars Journal, Oct 22, 2015, at

[60] Lucas Tomlinson, “Size of ISIS Army 'Remains the Same' Since Last Year, US Official Says”, FOX News, Feb 4, 2016, at

[61] Karen Yourish, Derek Watkins and Tom Giratikanon, “Recent Attacks Demonstrate Islamic State’s Ability to Both Inspire and Coordinate Terror”, The New York Times, Jan. 14, 2016, at

[62] Robert Mcmahon, “Channeling the Cold War: U.S. Overseas Broadcasting”, Foreign Service Journal, October 2009, at .

[63] See

[64] William McRaven: Spec Ops Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice, Novato California. Presidion Press, 1996. 

[65] Id at 4.

[66] Id.

[67] Id at 21.

[68] Id at 11.

[69] Supra Note 53, “The secret of IS' success lies in the combination of opposites, the fanatical beliefs of one group and the strategic calculations of the other.”

[70] Thomas X Hammes: The Sling and the Stone, Minneapolis Minnesota, Zenith Press, 2006, pp 195.  For an additional point of view by the same author consider: “DoDs focus on high-tech drive its doctrine, organization, training, and education to teach people to take advantage of technology-not to think about, fight and win wars.”

[71] Supra note 6 at 334-335.

[72] Id.

[73] See

[74] William Lind, et al., The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation, Marine Corps Gazette, 86, Vol 100, No. 3, March 2016.

[75] Nic Robertson, “How 'Glaring' Intelligence Failures Allowed a Second Bout Of Terror in Paris”, CNN, November 18, 2015, at

[76] Supra note 6 at 327, for a true and complete narrative on the OODA Loop and is creation.

[77] Supra note 6 at 334.

[78] Supra note 6 at 328.

[79] Supra note 6 at 336.

[80] Frederick II, King of Prussia: Frederick the Great on the Art of War, Jay Luvaas, Editor and Translator, New York, Da Capo Press, 1999, pp. 142.

[81] Supra note 6 at 336.

[82] Max Weber:  Economy and Society, Edited and translated by G. Roth and C. Wittich, Los Angeles  California, University of California Press, 1968, pp. 956-958.

[83] See See also For total review on the Pentagon organization see

[84] Adam Weinstein, “Inside the Corporate Plan to Occupy the Pentagon”, Mother Jones, Nov 21, 2011 at

[85] The Economist, “Parkinson’s Law”, Nov 19, 1955, at

[86] Carl von Clausewitz: On War, Col. J.J. Graham, Translator, New York, Barnes & Noble, 2004, pp. 686.

[87] Supra Note 10 at 41-49.

[88] Michael S. Schmidt, U.S. Plans Coalition Meeting on Fight Against ISIS, The New York Times, Jan 20, 2016, at

[89] Supra note 6 at 341.

[90] For a report on ISIS media capabilities see

[91] Iraq declares Ramadi liberated from Islamic State, BBC News, December 28, 2015 at  See also Daniel Wasserbly & Jeremy Binnie, “Iraq Forces Retake Central Ramadi”, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, January 6, 2016.  See also Martha Raddatz, “After ISIS: Inside the Iraqi City Left in Ruins”, ABC This Week, May 16, 2016 at

[92] DIMEFIL: Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Intelligence and Law Enforcement.

[93] Supra Note 3 at 156.

[94] Geoffrey Parker, Ed., Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare, Cambridge England, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp.242-244.

[95] Id at 396.

[96] William Manchester and Paul Reid: The Last Lion, Winston Churchill: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965, New York, Bantam Books, 2013, pp. 863.


About the Author(s)

John Maier is currently an AGR Lieutenant Colonel serving as an Operational Law Judge Advocate at the National Guard Bureau. He is a former 18 Series NCO, MI Officer, and Operations Officer and has served on several Special Ops TF Deployments as a Support Officer. He is a graduate of The Citadel, The University of Akron School of Law, and The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School.