Thursday, August 3, 2017

What Donald Trump Can Learn from Dunkirk

For anything to change for the better inside the army, Trump must do what the British did not do: decide what’s most important.
President Trump understands that American society is above all the idea it forms of itself. Trump’s grasp of this truth explains his determination to nurture America’s competitive national spirit, and expunge the self-loathing of the last decade. However, restoring American military power will take more than expressions of confidence in America’s military. President Trump must make important strategic choices and make them soon.
Christopher Nolan’s stunning new movie, Dunkirk, is a cautionary tale. The movie’s theme is one of hope and courage, but the more important meaning of Britain’s strategic defeat in 1940 is lost: The British waited too long to make the hard strategic choices.
In the months leading up to Britain’s disastrous defeat in May 1940, the British public was deluged with reports from their leaders and the press of the invincible power of the British Armed Forces. In the words of B. H. Liddell Hart, “Never did so many boast about so little.”
Two weeks and two days after the German offensive began more than 350,000 British and French troops (not all fighting men) had abandoned their equipment and waited for evacuation to England. In London, the myth that the British Expeditionary Force’s (BEF) defeat on the continent was due to Germany’s superiority of numbers spread quickly. It was a lie.
Germany’s victory was achieved by the rapid and deep penetration of at most 8 percent of the German Army: ten armored divisions, or roughly 150,000 troops. In addition, in all but a few isolated actions, the German soldier routinely out-fought his British, French, Belgian and Dutch opponents.
How and why did this debacle occur?
From 1920 until 1938, the British government and its senior military leaders could not agree on the British Army’s strategic purpose. A future British victory against an existential military threat from Germany or the Soviet Union was always hostage to the defense of Britain’s Empire in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Until 1938 no one in London was prepared to make that choice. Worse, none of the army’s civilian ministers (secretaries of the army) had the stomach for a confrontation with the army’s conservative leadership, the generals that in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s words clung tenaciously to “obsolete methods.”
When informed in January 1940 that the Germans had ten armored divisions poised for attack in the west, General Gort, the British Expeditionary Force’s commander-in-chief, said, “In that case, we haven’t an earthly chance.” Gort was right.
The Fifth Division BEF was an infantry-centric force with one armored division that, in 1939, “was still more of an aspiration than a reality.” When the Germans attacked, the most that the BEF’s infantry divisions could do was to fall back or be crushed by an aggressive, daring and mobile armored German enemy.
A coherent national military strategy that included preparations for British Army ground forces to fight against existential threats to Britain in Europe could have make all the difference, but it did not emerge until the German and Soviet Armies conquered and occupied Poland. When London finally acknowledged what was strategically vital—victory on the European continent—from what was marginally important—defending the Empire against weak, insurgent enemies without armies, air forces or naval power—it was too late.
Like the British Army during most of the interwar period, U.S. Army modernization is now constrained by the deployment of two hundred thousand soldiers to forty countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The force is overstretched and worn out.
The army leadership’s answer is a modernization program that simply re-equips the Cold War Army’s World War II formations with upgraded versions of old tanks, artillery and infantry fighting vehicles inside the old brigade organizations. It’s tantamount to expecting that a refurbished Ford from 1975 with a GPS attached to the rear view mirror will perform like a Tesla.
Twenty years ago, when the railgun was only ten years away from fielding, the army’s leadership insisted that army tactics, doctrine and organization could not change until railguns arrived. The generals’ ploy worked. Nothing changed. Today, the army’s senior leadership is employing the same tactic.
It’s wrong. What works now (mature technology) should triumph over “unobtainium.”
For anything to change for the better inside the army, President Trump must do what the British did not do. He must decide what’s most important: the piece-meal commitment of tens of thousands of soldiers around the world or the reform and modernization of the U.S. Army.
No amount of British air or naval power could have rescued the British Army in France from defeat. The same holds true for today’s U.S. Army, a force that has not fought a capable nation-state opponent for more than two decades.
The U.S. Army cannot do everything, but it must modernize and prepare for a different future. President Trump, it’s time for strategic choices.
Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent book is Margin of Victory.
Image: U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division engage their targets during a Live Fire Exercise for United Accord 2017 at Bundase Training Camp, Bundase, Ghana, May 26, 2017. ​Flickr / U.S. Department of Defense

America 1st: Tucker Carlson & Col. Macgregor

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Toward an ‘America First’ foreign policy

A national strategy is emerging that avoids conflicts impervious to American military solutions
By Douglas Macgregor

Andrew Jackson observed, “One man with courage makes a majority.” President Donald Trump is demonstrating the truth of Jackson’s adage.
In the space of just six months, Mr. Trump shattered the power of the entrenched liberal media and reduced illegal immigration to a mere trickle. In Europe, Mr. Trump not only reaffirmed the United States’ Western identity, he also warned Americans and Europeans that if we and our European allies lack the courage to defend our nations, our institutions, our language and our culture, then our civilization’s end is near.
Now, for first time since he took office, Mr. Trump is signaling a new focus in American foreign and defense policy. His decision to suspend aid to the Sunni Islamist fighters attacking the Syrian government and its allies suggests that he is ready to discard the bankrupt ideology of the last 25 years — the idea that defending the American people is not enough, that whenever possible the U.S. Armed Forces should be employed in open-ended missions around the world to punish evildoers.
Mr. Trump is beginning to translate “America First” into a coherent national military strategy for the use of American military power that avoids investing American blood and treasure in debilitating conflicts that are impervious to American military and political solutions. Halting the ongoing, inconclusive military operations in Afghanistan is likely to be the first test case for his new approach.
For the moment, Mr. Trump’s National Security team in the Pentagon and the White House is recommending policies that treat Afghanistan as if it has a cold. They are recommending a haircut and a shave when the patient needs a heart transplant. Something Washington cannot provide.
Even worse, his advisers are nurturing schemes designed to intimidate the Pakistani government into acting against Pakistan’s own strategic interest. Sending four, five or fifty thousand Soldiers and Marines to train the Afghan army and police, let alone drive back the Taliban will make no impression on Afghanistan or the millions of Muslims who live there. Afghanistan’s hopelessly corrupt government, military and police cannot be transformed into replicas of Western armies.
In the absence of an American and allied military presence, the regional struggle for dominance in Central and Southwest Asia involving India, Pakistan, Russia and Iran will resume with the resurgence of the Russian and Iranian-backed Northern Alliance composed of anti-Taliban forces in Western Afghanistan. These things will happen for reasons that have nothing to do with the United States. The Russian armed forces are already engaged in a sporadic war with Islamist Turks in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The assertion that, “If we don’t fight them in Afghanistan, the Taliban will come here,” must be dismissed. None of the terrorist acts in the West have ever had any tangible connection to the Afghan Tribesmen fighting under the umbrella name “Afghan Taliban.” That’s why American support for continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is razor thin. The lack of support is not a function of a declining national “will to fight.” Instead, Americans reasonably question what we’re doing there.
The truth is that no amount of American military power or capital investment will “fix” Afghanistan. Washington’s only rational course of action is to withdraw American forces with the publicly stated understanding that how the people of Afghanistan choose to govern themselves is their business. In the meantime, Washington must accept the fact that the states with vital strategic interests at stake in Afghanistan — Iran, Russia, India, Pakistan and, more distantly, China — will reengage.
History is littered with politicians that lacked the courage to face unpleasant facts; men who stuck with policies and strategies long past the point when it made no sense to do so. President Harry Truman was not one of them. Truman had the courage to back Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s plan to envelop the North Koreans at Inchon when the Joint Chiefs universally opposed it. And President Truman had the courage to remove MacArthur when MacArthur insisted on widening the Korean War to China.
Truman’s example points the way for President Trump. The sooner Mr. Trump acts to remove American forces from Afghanistan, the sooner he can focus on the issues that shape the “America First” agenda; the restoration of economic prosperity and homeland defense — the security of U.S. land borders and coastal waters to cope with the criminality and terrorism emanating from the Caribbean Basin and Mexico.
• Douglas Macgregor, a retired U.S. Army colonel and decorated combat veteran, is the author of “Margin of Victory” (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why America's Army Is Falling Apart

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that qualified, fresh blood is desperately needed in the Army’s general officer ranks.

Douglas Macgregor
Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told President Trump's nominee for Army Undersecretary, Ryan McCarthy, a Lockheed Martin Executive and former aid to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, that “the U.S. Army is facing a crisis.” 

Senators drew attention to the Army's ever-growing multibillion-dollar acquisition graveyard including the titanic $20 Billion Future Combat System and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, a six-billion dollar failed communications program.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that qualified, fresh blood is desperately needed in the Army’s general officer ranks, as well as, in the office of the Army Secretariat. The Army does not need an unqualified hedge-fund manager, a flamboyant social engineer, or another “revolving door” defense industry executive committed to “business as usual.”

The Army is on track to lose more than money unless President Trump appoints a forceful and informed Secretary of the Army—one who is prepared to impose accountability on his generals and demand sweeping change. It’s going to lose the first battle of the next war. And, in the twenty-first century, Americans may not get a chance to fight a second battle.

The Army’s problems are not financial. Thanks to the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Army will receive an annual sum of $137 to $149 billion—a sum that is vastly larger than the Russian National Defense Budget. The failures in Army modernization and readiness are due to the Army generals’ fanatical resistance to fundamental organizational reform, prudent modernization and change in the way the Army must fight in the future.

Gen. George Washington told his officers, “If we are wise, let us prepare for the worst.” Washington’s wise words are being systematically ignored by the Army.

On July 18 the 173rd Airborne Brigade, along with allied NATO airborne units, will conduct a Joint Forcible Entry exercise near Bezmer Air Base, BulgariaThe goal is to demonstrate an airfield seizure operation that will then allow for the “all wheeled” Second Cavalry Regiment to “build up combat power” and prepare for follow-on operations.

This exercise equates to practicing for suicide. Our East European partners know it and the Russians know it. Any joint theater-entry operation requires U.S. aerospace and maritime supremacy, as well as, overall battle-network superiority in the objective area. Try this “forced entry” against a defended Russian, Chinese or North Korean Airfield and the “exercise” would end in minutes with the total annihilation of the paratroopers and the brigade of light, armored trucks. The Army four-star generals are stuck in a World War II fantasy.

Civilians frequently assume that general officers are ruthless and unsentimental when it comes to discarding obsolescent tactics, organizations and technologies. They are not. How else did the U.S. Army enter World War II with regiments of horse cavalry long after the German army had overrun most of Europe with armored forces?

However, the Army four-star generals are ruthless when it comes to crushing innovation inside the regular army that threatens the status quo. They are more comfortable sinking billions into unproven technologies that promise war-winning capabilities in the distant, uncertain future, as well as spending money on the upgrade of old platforms and systems designed in the 1970s. Clearly, few in Congress object to these actions.

To the aforementioned disasters must be added the relentless commitment of nearly two hundred thousand of the regular Army’s 475,000 soldiers to overseas “train and advise,” “presence,” and special operations support missions in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It’s no secret that counterinsurgency operations seriously eroded the U.S. Army’s capability for high-end conventional warfare, but the dispersion of two hundred thousand soldiers around the world is even more dangerous.

In 1932, General Douglas MacArthur, who was the Army Chief of Staff at that time, told members of the Senate and the House that “the dispersion of the Regular Army in small detachments throughout the continental United States makes it impracticable to have immediately available, an adequate balanced and efficient force of regular troops to meet the first phases of an emergency.” Congress punted, MacArthur retired and ten years later in 1942, Americans played catch-up in a war the U.S. Army was not prepared to fight.

Bad news is never welcome in Washington, DC but it’s necessary. The fighting power of an army lies in its combat formations, not in gross numbers of soldiers. Today’s Army is spread too thinly around the world and its fighting formations are Cold War relics. If today’s Brigade Combat Teams faced an air-defense threat, rocket artillery and loitering munitions (drones that loiter over the battlefield for hours and attack targets by flying into them), let alone a capable, opposing Army, then it would face certain defeat.

None of this means the nation needs a warmed-over version of the World War II/Cold War Army. Another transformation scam like the Future Combat System—a “Potemkin Village” system designed to attract money yet changes nothing of substance—is the last thing Americans need. Instead, the nation needs new combat formations designed for joint, integrated, “all arms” warfare in a battlefield environment more lethal than anything we’ve seen since World War II.

The world Americans have known for fifty years is crumbling. The potential for a 1950 Korean-style emergency grows with each passing month. History may well judge the Trump presidency by the selection of the next Secretary of the Army.

Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent book isMargin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War.

Image: A U.S. Army Soldier, assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, fires an M4 carbine rifle during partnered live fire range training at Tactical Base Gamberi, Afghanistan, May 29, 2015. Flickr / The U.S. Army

Monday, July 3, 2017

What Happened to 'America First'?

If you hire the same architects behind past foreign-policy misadventures, you are are going to get the same results.
Millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump because he promised a new national military strategy that would diverge sharply from the ideologically driven interventionism of the past twenty years. “We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya,” Trump told voters. “It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy.”

Barely six months into the president’s first term, Trump supporters are seeing familiar trends—a threatening Turkish military buildup on the border with Syria, the American shoot down of a Syrian Jet and rising tensions with Russia, Iran and North Korea. They sense that a true “America First” strategy is not going to happen with the president’s current national security team. They want to know why.

Part of the answer is that changing the Washington status quo is never easy, especially for a president whose life has revolved around business, not politics. The rest is easier to understand: personnel is policy.

Imagine for a moment that you are a highly successful businessman with a global reputation. Fate makes you the director of surgery at a major metropolitan hospital. You know little about medicine and nothing about surgery, but you are a prudent person. You consult with the surgeons on the staff and with the hospital’s board of trustees. You select those surgeons that you are told are “the best and the brightest.” Problem solved, right? Wrong.

What if it turns out that the doctors you appointed to run the Department of Surgery have never performed complex surgeries? What if their experience is limited to treating cuts, bruises and performing the occasional appendectomy? What if the few truly major surgeries they performed resulted in fatalities and even led to malpractice lawsuits?

In that case you’d be mistaken to rely on the error-prone experts. And the same is true when it comes to assembling a foreign policy team. Rather than risk repeating mistakes, you’d reach down past the retreads and choose a new leadership team that is divorced from previous foreign policy misadventures. After all, that’s what President Trump promised.

Yet when it came to selecting people to advise the president on national defense and military strategy, the Trump team picked men for jobs in the Department of Defense and the White House on the basis of high-media profiles, medals and uniforms—as well as advice from former secretaries of defense and four-star generals who were leading figures in the three trillion dollar debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s why no one should be surprised that the “best military advice” President Trump’s senior national security leaders can offer is to reinforce the strategic disaster in Afghanistan and expand the slow, ponderous fight against ISIS in Raqqa into a broader American military intervention into the regional snake pit called the Syrian Civil War. People do what they know.
Like their predecessors in the last two administrations, the current national security team is not pursuing a coherent national military strategy tied to concrete strategic interests. On the contrary, they are committed to open-ended military operations without any expectation of conflict termination.

Meanwhile, Washington’s fanatical urge to spend lavishly on America’s Cold War Industrial Age military structure defeats any attempt to build a new twenty-first century armed force, let alone question the American military establishment’s ability to fight a modern opponent that is not deaf, dumb and blind. An accurate and sobering self-assessment of the U.S. military’s strengths and weaknesses—its ability to perform major surgery—is missing.

The problem confronting the president is serious. Today’s international system is radically different from the world of 2001. The United States no longer has an overwhelming monopoly on key military capabilities. Great-power war is no longer a remote possibility.

In his book Currency Wars, James Rickards offers the example of a forest fire that is analogous to the outbreak of a major war. Whether a fire destroys a single tree or a million acres, the destruction begins with a single bolt of lightning. The same bolt of lightning can strike a thousand times with little or no effect, or it can cause a catastrophic fire. Wars between great powers or alliances of regional powers are similar. Major wars are the massive forest fires no one expects, but given enough sparks, they inevitably occur.

Mr. President, you said, “It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy. It’s time to invite new voices and new visions into the fold.” You were right. If the Trump Presidency is to succeed, we’ll need a new national security team with an “America First” mind-set.

The country needs a team with an acute sensitivity to the vulnerability of U.S. military power far from American shores and an appreciation for the importance of conflict avoidance. Events in the Middle East, Asia and eastern Europe suggest there is no time to lose.

Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent book is Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Image: President Barack Obama greets President-elect Donald Trump at inauguration ceremonies swearing in Trump as president on the west front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Can President Trump Cut a Deal for Peace on the Korean Peninsula?

President Trump needs a strategy that rejects the notion that an American military presence on Korean soil is essential.

Douglas Macgregor

Is there a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula? Yes, there is.

President Donald Trump should tell Chinese president Xi Jinping that the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula and the subsequent neutrality of a reunified Korean State are contingent on Beijing's support for a reunified Korean Peninsula under Seoul's control and leadership. Washington’s readiness to underwrite a reunified, but neutral, nonaligned Korean State reassures Beijing that the Korean Peninsula will not be used again as an invasion route into China.

Washington’s offer can succeed because it will incentivize the Chinese leadership to cooperate with Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. Rightly or wrongly, Beijing fears the American military presence on the Eurasian landmass and would welcome its departure. However, Beijing also knows that unless Seoul takes control of North Korea and its oppressed and starving masses, North Korea’s government will remain an economic burden and a permanent catalyst for unnecessary conflict with China’s neighbors and the United States.

President Trump discovered in his talks with President Xi that Beijing has no desire for war with the United States. China wants to do business with America, but if Washington strikes North Korea, Beijing’s readiness to cooperate in the resolution of the crisis will vanish. Worse, Beijing will conclude that its own security demands a much closer military relationship with Moscow—an arrangement that is, from China’s viewpoint, unnatural and undesirable. Clearly, Washington must avoid this outcome lest it obstruct future cooperation between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies.

Now why has this idea not surfaced inside the Trump White House? Why would President Trump who currently demands that Seoul pay for the deployment of additional U.S. Forces to Korea not seek a way to secure Korean unity and freedom by disengaging U.S. Forces from the peninsula? After all, the Republic of Korea's economy is fifty times the size of North Korea’s. In economic terms, North Korea ranks behind Ethiopia, a sub-Saharan African State. Despite North Korea’s grossly exaggerated claims of military capability, North Korea is a dying state.

One of the reasons may be that President Trump’s advisors, like most people inside the Washington Beltway, oppose any change in the postwar status quo. Perhaps, they are privately committed to America’s unofficial, but very real overseas “empire” of military-economic dependencies? If so, they confuse a temporary military presence resulting from a stalemate brokered by President Eisenhower in 1953 with long-term American strategic interest.

During his 1952 election campaign, Eisenhower promised to go to Korea for a firsthand look at the situation on the ground. However, he made no promises regarding how he would end a deeply unpopular war that had killed more than thirty thousand Americans by 1953. When he came to the presidency, Eisenhower was determined to halt the growth of the federal government, balance the national budget and lower the rate of inflation, but the Korean Conflict put those priorities on hold.

Soon after arriving in Korea, President Eisenhower discovered that Gen. Mark Clark, the four-star commander of U.S. and allied forces in Korea wanted a large-scale frontal assault against the Chinese and Korean armies. He also wanted to conduct simultaneous air and sea operations against the Chinese mainland. Clark was convinced these operations would produce a stunning victory.

Eisenhower was not so sure. Eisenhower may have known that Moscow, not Beijing, approved the North Korean invasion of the South. But Eisenhower definitely knew how wasteful and self-defeating Japan’s 1937 invasion of China had been and how China’s determined resistance during World War II fatally weakened Japanese military strength.

Instead of widening the war as General Clark recommended, Eisenhower ended the conflict on the best terms he could get, insisting that Korean reunification would eventually be achieved with political—not military—means. In May 1953, 69 percent of Americans polled approved of Eisenhower’s actions, though, 55 percent still thought the war had not been worth fighting.

The world has changed since the Korean War. China and the United States are trading partners on a scale few imagined. Unlike Germany, Japan is ready to assert itself as an independent world power and play a key role in securing stability in Asia. Vietnam is no longer incurably hostile to the United States. But Americans are no less disinclined today to wage war in Asia than they were in 1953.

The point is simple. It’s time for President Trump to craft a new strategy, one that rejects the notion that an American military presence on Korean soil is essential to Washington’s global leadership. It’s not. Things have changed.

Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated Army combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His newest is Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War, available from Naval Institute Press.

Image: EA-18 Growler at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. Flickr/U.S. Department of Defense

Trump's 100 Day Report Card

Watch Macgregor on WJLA:  Your Voice, Your Future Roundtable: "100 Day Report Card".  You may need to turn off your ad blocker to view video.  Macgregor appears at the 20:00 minute mark.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Book Review: Joint Force Quarterly 85 (2nd Quarter, April 2017)

Colonel John Dethlefs, USAR, is the Commander of the 209th Digital Liaison Detachment and a student at the U.S. Army War College.


Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War
By Douglas Macgregor

Naval Institute Press, 2016
288 pp. $34.95
ISBN: 978-1612519968

Reviewed by John Dethlefs

Douglas Macgregor’s newest book offers a tutorial and blueprint for the strategically guided development of the U.S. military. This is timely, as the Department of Defense finds itself preparing for our future national defense strategy, which in the Barack Obama administration was often referred to as the Third Offset. Planning for it should be nested within the current and anticipated strategic environment, emerging technologies, and how we intend to fight our next war. Macgregor analyzes the preparation for, execution of, and consequences of belligerence in five significant battles. He also includes a chapter with recommendations (some of which are quite controversial) for the U.S. military’s development.

In the opening chapter, the author recounts how Sir Richard Haldane, who was appointed the British Secretary of War in December 1905, reformed the British army despite its well-established naval supremacy and significant spending restraints. After analyzing the strategic environment, Haldane concluded he did not know precisely which power or alliance Britain would face in the next war. He asked first-order questions: Whom do we fight? Where do we fight? And how do we fight? The reforms were nested under the answers to these questions. The subsequent battle of Mons in 1914 would reveal that Haldane’s reforms served the British army well. The British Expeditionary Force proved to be strategically decisive in protecting France until the Allied powers, which eventually included U.S. forces, could defeat Germany.

Next, Macgregor details the Japanese rise to power and embrace of many Western ideas in the early 1900s. General Ugaki Kazushige “embodied the fight for change inside the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA),” as the Japanese struggled with reform and balancing resources between the navy and army. Much like Haldane, many of his reforms were resisted, blocked, or ignored by some military leadership. The subsequent battle of Shanghai in 1937 put these reforms to the test: “The disparity in Chinese and Japanese losses highlights the impact of Ugaki’s modest modernization efforts and the high quality of Japanese troops and leadership, but the struggle for control of Shanghai was harder and bloodier that it should have been. The IJA had failed to change enough to achieve a true margin of victory.” Herein lies a subtle warning to U.S. planners that they must be ruthless with our reform as we adjust to the new strategic environment and growing capabilities of possible adversaries.

The author next analyzes the modernization of the post–World War I Soviet and German forces and subsequent destruction of the German Army Group Center in June 1944 by Soviet forces in Eastern Europe. Macgregor argues the German defeat was decided well before any German forces entered the Soviet Union. The difference was ultimately how the Soviets and Germans approached military reform based on desired strategy.

Before the war, “the idea of waging total war to make Germany a world power was absent from German strategic thinking.” Macgregor goes on to explain Adolf Hitler’s demand that officers obey orders without dissent and his replacement of very capable officers with obedient technocrats. Their efforts in developing mechanized forces did not go far enough, as the Wehrmacht remained too reliant on horses and light infantry. The Soviets made many mistakes (including their own purges of capable officers), but weather and distance granted them the time to recover and regenerate their officer corps. The Soviets ultimately learned from their mistakes more quickly and developed more strategic agility wherein a Soviet marshal had more joint command authority than General Dwight D. Eisenhower did or our current combatant commanders can. The subsequent warfare rewarded operational agility, mobility, protection, and firepower—attributes Macgregor contends are even more important today.

In assessing the Yom Kippur war in the Sinai in 1973, the success of Egypt’s reforms after its defeat in 1969–1970, coupled with Israeli complacency, almost led to an overwhelming victory for Anwar Sadat. However, Israeli culture, leadership, training, technology, and adaptability eventually turned the tide. Considering this battle, Macgregor contends that recent ideas to convert the Israeli army largely into a light force of riflemen that depends on airstrikes for effectiveness is perilous. He highlights the enduring Israeli principle that diversity of capability is vital to success and implies it should be copied. He correctly points out that unless Egyptian and Arab society changes in fundamental ways, they are unlikely to acquire the capabilities required for success in war against modern forces such as those of Israel.

The last battle analyzed is one that Macgregor participated in personally. The Battle of 73 Easting during Operation Desert Storm is regularly cited as an overwhelming success. While Macgregor concurs with that assessment at the tactical level, he makes the argument that the campaign was a lost strategic opportunity for the United States. While successful, this battle did reveal flaws in our strategic thinking and execution. Macgregor contends that “although the twentieth century closed on a note of unrivaled American superiority in military affairs, the failure of policymakers and military leaders in Washington to define the purpose, method, and end state of military operations robbed the United States and its coalition partners of a decisive strategic victory.” He argues that U.S. aversion to risk allowed most of the Republican Guard to escape, ensuring Saddam Hussein would remain in power. From this, he claims that “the myth of the bloodless victory was born, and with it, the seductive promise of silver bullet technology that encourages arrogance and fosters illusions of victory with zero casualties was made.”

Macgregor concludes by looking at America’s “margin of victory” for the 21st century. He is quite critical of the current strategic direction. He correctly warns that “without effective strategic direction, battles such as 73 Easting can be won, but wars can still be lost.”

His more detailed recommendations are quite controversial. The first discusses the need for a change in U.S. national military strategy, contending that “the United States must act now to build the means of commanding its armed forces and impose unity of effort across service lines,” which he finds currently lacking. He writes expansively about ruthless reform focused on building joint integrated command structures at the operational level. This will improve American political and military leaders’ ability to comprehensively and decisively direct military power. Macgregor recommends that we have fewer command and control echelons, faster decision cycles, and more independence at lower levels, and that we become more mobile and dispersed. This is a direct challenge to the current “fighting by concept of operations,” in which four-star commands need approval for almost all actions in their own area of responsibility and lower echelons face even greater micromanagement.

Macgregor recommends changing the way we fight, stating that “full spectrum military dominance on a global basis is both unaffordable and unnecessary,” which directly challenges our past emphasis on building global security. This makes sense in the face of decreasing budgets and changes in the strategic environment. Other recommendations include reducing the number of light infantry forces due to the increase in lethality of modern weapons and replacing them with more armored combat formations requiring fewer—but more mobile, protected, and lethal—people. Hardening or expanding intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), communications, and space-based capabilities is important, as our potential adversaries arguably see disrupting these as the best method to gain parity with us.

Macgregor makes many profound recommendations based on significant historical evidence. This is a must-read for strategic leaders seeking ideas on military reform. In what I have read about future strategy and the defense innovation (including the Third Offset), few to none of Macgregor’s proposals are being considered. The focus is on technology improvements—mostly in regard to ISR and autonomous systems—and not the fundamental changes Macgregor champions. They deserve serious consideration. JFQ