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.