Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Review: Margin of Victory – Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War
Speaking Truth to Power — Senator McCain Agrees, the Flag Officers Do Not
Margin of Victory is a hugely important book that should be required reading in all of the war colleges, as well as all national security programs in political science and international relations courses across the country.
In sailboat racing the race is often won or lost before the boat ever hits the water. If the hull is not perfectly formed; perfectly painted; and perfectly clean before it gears up, then the boat starts with an automatic embedded penalty factor – it goes slower. What the author has done with this book is demonstrate that wars are won or lost 10-20 years before they are fought, based on whether the nation-state devises an effective grand strategy and properly develops a balanced approach to organization, technology and human capital, with human capital being most important.
This book is an historically-based indictment of the political and economic mismanagement of national security, and it is particularly brutal on the fact that we do not have a Department of Defense with a national defense staff that is able to achieve unity of command in relation to strategy, operations, tactics, and technology – instead we have four separate services – very selfish services – who work with military-industrial-political partners to loot the public treasury to their own ends, producing a military with too many flag officers, outdated or dysfunctional equipment (the F-35 and the USS Gerald Ford come to mind, and impoverished neglected and often abused enlisted personnel and company grade officers.
Across five world-changing battles, apart from the documentation of how the battles were decided decades in advance, the author has done superb research into the minds of the commanders on both sides of each of these five battles, and their perceptions of higher, adjacent, and enemy commanders and units.
The author is compelling in showing how each of five major battles were virtually inevitable in their outcome because of positive or negative decisions made decades before by specific sets of actors in the UK (1914), Japan (1937), Germany (1944), Egypt and Israel (1973), and the US (1991.He is compelling in his criticism of the present US obsession with spending trillions on technology while neglecting human capital and persisting with dysfunctional criminally corrupt organization (my adjectives, not his). I will throw in here General Bob Scales, USA (Ret) documented observation that the infantry, 4% of the force taking 80% of the casualties, gets 1% of the Pentagon budget – a budget that consumes 60% of our FY 2015 disposable income, 16% of our total income, while we spend more than the next ten peer and non-peer competitors (from China and Russia to Iran and Turkey) and create a military that cannot win wars.
This leads to the other major strategic points in this book. First, grand strategy is about waging peace and avoiding war, but it demands a military that can move and win the first fight. Second, the occupations and military investments we have been making have domestic opportunity costs (imagine what 5 trillion would have bought if invested in free education, infrastructure, renewable energy, and community-building at home, instead of in the military-industrial complex and the destruction of other countries).
I have a number of margin notes; just a few are provided here.
+ The military cannot reform itself. Senator John McCain receives praise from the author as does his House counterpart, they know we are broken, but there are not enough people like the author (and I would add, me) who are being drawn on to create a new National Security Act that goes beyond Goldwater Nichols to break the backs of the service crime families and create a coherent whole within which the services are capabilities providers, not mandarins who will lie, cheat, and steal to their own ends. [See the Army monograph, Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession – I will say that in my own experience I have found the Navy and the Air Force to be vastly more unethical than the Army – witness the F-35 and the USS Gerald Ford.]
+ The first thing that breaks in war is communications – already broken going into war are timid unimaginative flag officers. The author emphasizes over and over again that the culture and education and initiative of the enlisted personnel and company grade officers are the root of enabling victory, on top of prior organization and prior intelligent investment in balanced technology that can be relied upon to work.
+ Air power is vastly over-rated. A 40-day air campaign in the area where the battle of 73 Easting took place killed 2 tanks at very great cost in time and munitions; in sharp contrast – and the sub-text of this entire book, a handful of US tanks killed fifteen T-72 tanks in three minutes and in the course of a few hours, a total of over 70 enemy tanks, 70 armored fighting vehicles, 44 trucks, and 32 bunkers (all of which the US Air Force failed to hit).
+ Naval power is vastly over-rated given the proliferation of access denial technologies and the incompetence of the US Navy in mine clearance. With pervasive surveillance and existing technologies, the US Navy can be sunk by mid-level opponents, not only peer challengers.
+ The Israelis and the Americans are making a huge mistake in over-investing in the Air Force and cyber-offensive capabilities, while neglecting everything else but particularly armored ground forces and human capabilities development. He does credit the Israelis with having a vastly better culture that fosters initiative across both enlisted and officer ranks.
+ We should close all our bases overseas and tear down our pre-positioned equipment stocks on land and sea, and instead focus on a very large standing Army at home that can test new organizations and technologies, scale quickly, and be delivered quickly. I have to agree, having written a grand strategy monograph for the US Army that recommended precisely the same approach.
+ Most if not all of our “lessons learned” from Afghanistan and Iraq are fraudulent. The flag officers and the senior executives in the Department of Defense do not want to admit the depth and breadth of their failure and their inability to win wars against peer competitors as well as entrenched indigenous rebels.
+ The US does not understand history, with references made to both China and Iran, each of which is actually engaged in a defensive campaign, not an offensive campaign.
+ We are not ready to assert our power in the four global commons (the high seas, the atmosphere, Antarctica, and outer space.
The author concludes with a few sensible prescriptions that must be demanded by the public and Congress, they will never be considered by the entrenched service mafias:
01 We need a grand strategy that rebalances the instruments of national power and forces unity of command within the military; it must be complemented by a national military strategy that stops all of our elective occupations and campaigns that are creating terrorists and displaced persons. [See my CounterPunch article, “The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes”.]
02 We must reinvent our entire C4ISR constellation to protect against the collapse of our satellites while providing the protected and robust tactical and operational bandwidth that does not exist today (to which I would add, an end to our self-imposed emissions quagmire).
03 The ground force must be air-mobile as General Eric Shinseki envisioned, but it must be built around air-transportable armor surrounded by everything else in armored mobility form including artillery, engineers, infantry, and able – with a proper Air Force and Navy – to enter any target area from all sides, not simply through one obvious and easily closed down port and airfield. I totally agree with the author on the urgency of redirecting the Air Force toward proper attention to strategic lift.
04 We need a national defense staff of “purple” professionals who will not lie, cheat, and steal for their services but will instead see and nurture the whole. We need joint force commanders that own all service elements assigned to them and do not have to “negotiate” with each individual service commander when they want something specific.
There is much more in this book, the above summary notes are how I will remember this book into the future. There is no question in my own mind but that the US military is committing moral and intellectual suicide by failing to embrace the ideas of this author and others like him, we few, we happy few who really do believe that the truth at any cost wins wars and wage peace. The ultimate warrior is the one who stops wars from starting in the first place – that is not what the military-industrial complex, its bankers, and its corrupt political servants want. To his enormous credit, Senator John McCain seems to be focused on hearings and legislation that might become his greatest legacy – a functional integrated cost-effective military that is not frittered away occupying countries to steal their resources while displacing millions of refugees that inevitably migrate toward the West.
Best wishes to all,
Robert David Steele
An American Grand Strategy: Evidence-Based, Affordable, Balanced, Flexible