Monday, February 6, 2017

Now Is the Time for All Good People to Rally to Each Other

To borrow the classic nautical metaphor, the American ship of state is in distress and facing the direst dangers in my memory.  I have spent a lifetime studying the history and analyzing the politics and projecting the future of nation states.  I have seen and even witnessed the disappearance of governments, regimes, states, and nations.  Yes, this could happen here.  It is already evident that the United States of America that emerges from this crisis will be very different from the United States of America that has reached this point.  The Democratic and Republican parties which have aided and abetted the development of this crisis will either fade into history or emerge dramatically, possibly radically altered.

Specifically, the victorious insurgents have occupied the capital.  Their leader is ensconced in the presidential palace and his minions are trying to settle into their new lives as rulers and adjusting to life in the capital.  They’re finding this harder than they expected.  It seems that actually governing a country requires more than just sitting in an office and writing decrees.  Those who have made the government function are cycling through the fight or flight – or collaborate – reflex.  History tells us that insurgents make lousy bureaucrats (who are the folks you need to run things) but which if any of the bureaucrats they now find around them are friendly?

What do you do after the capital has fallen and you’re out of power?  That’s easy and very hard at the same time.  Clausewitz talked about that, and others talked more precisely about what you do next.  The first step has already begun with the mobilization onto the streets, into the cyber world, to the phones, and to the mailboxes, the new grass roots rebellion against the insurgent regime is already emerging.  This energy needs to be united into the broadest coalition that can gathered together.  Issue by issue, person by person, find out what motivates them, what do they want to change, what do they really want or need, and determine how many people want the same thing or something similar enough that they can work together.  The focus must be on issues and solutions that bring people together rather than drive them apart; disagreements need to be broken down to the smallest working parts and, wherever possible, reassembled into agreement on possible solutions.  This is not work for the capital.  This is work for the “provinces” – street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, and community by community.  Hard, street pounding, shoe leather consuming, face to face work done one on one at first and then group on group, all the time focusing on bringing people together rather than driving them apart.

Among the issues that must be addressed are changes that will take the power away from those with a vested interest in continuing the current political stagnation and back into the hands of an active, committed citizenry.

End Gerrymandering by taking redistricting away from legislators and placing it in the hands of nonpartisan panels, commissions, etc. with access to the best statistical, demographical, and topographical techniques.

Support the greatest possible franchise by protecting access to voter registration and to polling places – fight voter ID laws and other restrictions on voter eligibility and access and where necessary initiate programs to help obtain required IDs for legal voters targeted by restrictive measures.

Campaign finance reform – support measures that curtail or eliminate corporate campaign donations or compel such donations to be identified publicly.

This kind of grass roots mobilization, activism, and organization will take a long time and a sustained effort.  Groups across the country can help each other with ideas, share experiences, coordinate their efforts on specific issues, and share funds and resources.  The Democratic Party is too burdened by old ideas and has been too slow to respond to this altered political scene to be the source of this local activism.  Where it has a presence it can and should be included in the coalitions that need to emerge but the repair, reconstruction, and rescue of that party should not be the first concern of the population – their job is to organize and fight to preserve the nation.

What both the Democratic Party and those Republicans who recognize the danger can do is to be democracy’s rear guard in the capital.  They must resist the ‘new normal’ and the related radical changes in any way they can using the powers of incumbency and their roles as the wheels and gears of representative democracy.  In the capital the Democratic Party will have to carry the banner while the real coalition is being built across the country, to emerge at some point in the future as a cohesive resistance that can point to a proven track record of governance at the village, township, county, district, town, city, and state levels – and present the body of new ideas that have been proven in those locations.  And these local and state governments will represent the growing power and support needed for the final push on the capital and the true taking of the government by and for the greatest number of people.

The people united can never be defeated.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

From the Military Philosopher's Bunker to Those Entering the Political Trenches

Some advice for those trying to resist The Donald tide as it rolls in, reflecting a life spent in the study of war, warfare, peace, and policy.

Students of warfare talk about “The Center or Gravity”, the decisive point or the decision point, etc. but it generally means the same thing referring to the person(s) or point in time and space that you must control in order to determine what happens next.

In the ongoing political contest the center of gravity, the point of decision, is in the hearts and minds of your fellow Americans.  But remember that you are not fighting, defeating, or beating them you are persuading them to share some common ground or common viewpoint with you.  Whatever it may seem they are a NOT foreign “other” but fellow Americans with an amazing variety in origins, background, experiences, but a common commitment to this country.  Most importantly remember that just because someone has been silenced does not mean that they have been convinced.

You will have to pick your fights. You can't fight everywhere all of the time, you need to focus on the most important issues where you can win and then go all in.  This is called concentration of effort or mass.

Never interrupt your opponent when he's in the middle of making a mistake. You will not win this fight by constantly screaming and shouting and yelling in order to persuade people who voted for Donald that they made a mistake. Leave that job to the Donald.  Otherwise, you will find that your audience quickly tunes you out as mere background noise.

Don't confuse outrage with passion. The forces of chaos, fear, and division would like nothing more than for those with heart and vision to become numbed and exhausted by the outrage-du-jour and a false sense of needing to defend against every perceived disrespect or slight or to counter every lie. It is our passion for the best that we can be that will carry us through the long haul -- especially if it can be combined with shared passions of people from other ethnic, cultural, religious, and political backgrounds.  And whether you're feeling outrage or passion, channel it and keep a clear head.

In this contest the moral high ground is every bit as important as and perhaps even more important than the tactical high ground.  In modern politics transparency is invaluable so always be prepared to show your work.

Remember, you are not fighting for the future of the Democratic Party or any other party, you are fighting to protect those who are vulnerable and cannot protect themselves and depend upon the people they vote for to do that for them. A tradition in American politics is that if you look out for the people they will look out for you. Whatever you might think of Jesse Helms (and Ian Paisley for that matter) a close examination will show you that they were brilliant constituency politicians who looked out for the people in their district.

Finally, this will be a long struggle over years. It will not be decided quickly or easily so pace yourselves (and as noted, pick your fights, no need to pound your head against a brick wall with no promise of any return on the effort).

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Some Philosophic Remarks for the New President-Elect

Congratulations, President-elect Trump, you are now committed to filling what is arguably the toughest jobs on the planet.

As you obviously understand, the President’s most important function is to make decisions.  You will be inundated by matters to be decided by you usually accompanied by recommendations from advisors, counselors, cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, et al, but you will be the actual decision maker.  Also, as important as many of your past decisions were in business, your decisions as President may literally decide between war and peace, life and death for Americans and others.   Although the Federal Government will not function if you try to make all of the decisions yourself, it’s just too big and complex and there are too many things going on every day, you should resist as much as possible any thought of delegating the big war and peace decisions that will define your presidency. 
War is the organized use or threatened use of violence in conflicts between two or more states or proto-states.  Warfare is the collective human activity of conducting a war.  War is universal but warfare reflects culture, history, social organization, technology, personality, inspiration, etc. and will always be different each time a war breaks out even as parties to the conflict try to refight their last war.  Peace is generally but inaccurately considered to be the absence of war.  A lifetime studying history, war, warfare, military affairs long ago convinced me that "if you want peace, prepare for war" (from Epitoma Rei Militaris, by the Roman Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus).  To appear unprepared to go to war even in your own defense is the surest way for a nation to invite war.
That said, the most important lesson I have derived from the reading of Clausewitz is that war and the use of military force to resolve a dispute or conflict is almost always the worst possible tool for solving a problem or resolving a dispute (except in cases of national survival).  Murphy’s Law applies to war because in war whatever can go wrong probably will go wrong.  The military set great store in having plans because a plan let’s everyone know what they’re deviating from.  The Law of Unintended Consequences equally dictates that for every anticipated result of a war, there will be multiple events that were not intended almost none of them good for you.  Edward Luttwak, a very smart guy even when I disagree with him, wrote a whole book on how the logic ofwar and conflict is the opposite of what applies outside of war. 
The first decision you have to make – because if you wait until a crisis to decide it may be too late – is whether you accept the reality that nuclear weapons are not for fighting wars but for preventing anyone else from using their nuclear weapons against the US or its friends or allies.  Deterrence is the name of the game and in order for it to work, the US invests effort and resources in to preparing to use them.  (See above re the logic of war).

Another important idea for both decision making in general and for war and warfare in particular is to understand that ‘speed is essential, haste harmful’ –Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov.  Our own John Boyd took this idea a step further with his OODA Loop, which emphasized the cycle of Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – and doing it faster than your opponent so that he is reacting to what you do rather than initiating his own plans.  Many observers note that in today’s cyber-world, the available time to complete this cycle is under incredible pressure.

There are also some important concepts used in discussing warfare - 

Surprise – doing anything that your opponent did not expect, i.e. attacking in a place, at a time, or with a capability that wasn’t expected.  This is one of the oldest force multipliers giving the attacker the initiative.

Mass and/or Unity of Effort – making sure that enough friendly force is concentrated at the right place and time to assure victory – but not too much force – and that few if any friendly forces are needlessly left out of the fight.

Simplicity – “keep it simple, stupid”.  Combat is a multiple body problem (a phrase coined by astrophysicists to describe really hard and complicated interactions between many objects moving through space over the same time period).  The more bodies you have in motion, the harder it is to know who’s doing what much less control them as they do it.   Napoleon, Robert E Lee, Ulysses S Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower all ran into this challenge.

You never want to pit your strength directly against an opponent’s strength.  You commit your strength against weakness – never fight fair.  All properly executed warfare is Asymmetric.

You have seen along with all of us how in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the US failed in its efforts to rebuild and reshape those nations, societies, and cultures.  The US Armed Forces and the Department of State are not constituted, equipped, manned, or supported for such missions.  Ultimately, only Iraqis and Afghans can rebuild.  Our best role is to help and support them with aid and sometimes by fielding military forces to secure space in both time and geography in which our local friends and allies can do that rebuilding.   We are also not constituted politically and socially to support seemingly open ended deployments of our military forces for anything other than a major conflict.

Finally and most importantly, holding the Moral High Ground in conducting military combat operations is as critically important to long term mission success as holding the tactical high ground on the battlefield.  We have to reserve the use of lethal military force for those situations in which it is truly warranted, will be most effective, and can be used with the minimum – preferably zero – damage or casualties to civilians/non-combatants.  And we have to be seen to be acting with restraint and limited aims because as the old cliche reminds us, "with great power comes great responsibility."  As you may have observed, many Americans are not happy with the USA acting as the world's policeman, but they are even more unhappy when anyone else does it.