The Darkness behind Colonel Nightingale’s Two Great Truths

Cross-posted from

Colonel Keith Nightingale, was featured  at Thomas Rick’s Best Defense blog  “future of war” series at Foreign It is a strong piece, well worth reading:

The seven ingredients of  highly adaptive and effective militaries  

The there are two great truths about the future of war.
The first is that it will consist of identifying and killing the enemy and either prevailing or not. We can surmise all sorts of new bells and whistles and technologies yet unknown, but, ultimately, it comes down to killing people. It doesn’t always have to happen, but you always have to prepare to make it happen, and have the other guy know that.
The other great truth is that whatever we think today regarding the form, type, and location of our next conflict, will be wrong. Our history demonstrates this with great clarity.
Well then, how do we appropriately organize for the next conflict if both these things are true? There are a number of historical verities that should serve as guides for both our resourcing and our management. In no particular order, but with the whole in mind, here are some key points to consider that have proven historically very valuable in times of war. The historic degree of support for any one or all within the service structures usually indicated the strengths and shortfalls of our prior leadership vision, preparation, and battlefield successes or failures at the time…..
Read the rest here.
Nightingale goes on to explain the important variables of technology, intelligence, personnel quality eccentric or maverick thinkers, linguistic and cultural expertise, deployability and leadership. His points are sound and I recommend them with general agreement.
One area I wish he had spent more time expounding upon was the part “prevailing or not“. We face a major problem here in that the current generation of  American leaders, our bipartisan elite, our ruling class – call them whatever you will – do not seem to care if America wins wars or not.

Certainly, our civilian leaders stand ever ready to claim political credit from any tactical success or bask in the reflected glory of the admirable heroism of individual soldiers, Marines, pilots and sailors. And no one wants to be the guy blamed for an overseas disaster (“Who lost China?”, the Vietnam Syndrome, Desert One,  Iraq) or losing a war, but winning one? Victory in a strategic sense? Not really a priority for this administration or its prominent GOP critics. Not even close.
While the Beltway elite are generally fairly enthusiastic about starting wars, once begun the orientation of our officials appears to be one of “management” rather than “leadership”. The war is perceived a problem to be “managed” – like unemployment, sex scandals or high gas prices – in terms of how short term public perceptions of the war impact domestic politics and the fortunes of politicians, donors, lobbyists and other credentialed, upjumped ward heelers. Victory, if it comes, is as likely to be a product of chance rather than design. Few nations as fantastically wealthy and militarily puissant as the United States could lose a war to an enemy as backward and impoverished as the Taliban without an impressively clueless political culture wallowing in narcissism and moral retardation.
Perhaps this astrategic or anti-strategic posture is merely the natural course of cultural evolution in complex, imperial powers.  Did Roman senators,  patricians or the plebian masses living on the dole in Rome circa 180 ad trouble themselves to look beyond the pleasures of the bath house or the table and worry overmuch about the sacrifices of the legions manning the the forts on the Rhine that kept them safe? Did the British aristocracy and gentry of Hanoverian Great Britain cease their addictions to gambling and whoring long enough to preserve their empire in North America?
Has human nature changed enough in the last two hundred or two thousand years that it is reasonable to expect that we are any different?
There is time to turn away from the path of decline, oligarchy and creeping authoritarianism – America is an incredibly wealthy and powerful nation, blessed in many ways, which is why we can survive periodic bouts of corruption and gross mismanagement. However, this time we have raised a new class among us; children of the sixties and seventies, now turning gray, and this Manhattan-Beltway nomenklatura have the ethical compass of the locust and the spirit of the courtier as a form of class solidarity. They seem to view their fellow Americans with a mixture of paternalism, disdain and fear,
They will go neither easily nor quietly.

6 thoughts on “The Darkness behind Colonel Nightingale’s Two Great Truths”

  1. At about the time that W started his war in Afghanistan, I read someone to the effect that the US would be dreadfully handicapped by the uselessness of the CIA. Its officers, the writer argued, are reluctant to leave Washington – the fount of all promotions – to master foreign languages and cultures, and to serve anywhere where they might suffer diarrhoea.

  2. “At about the time that W started his war in Afghanistan”

    Actually, a fellow named Osama bin Laden started that war, as I recall.

    There’s a pretty good book, and I’m sure you’ve read it as you seem to be an expert, called “Jawbreaker” about how the CIA was the front line in that war early on. Of course, that CIA was the DO branch not the Valerie Plame branch which mostly read foreign language newspapers and leaked fake data about the Iran nuclear program. The Plame branch was firmly ensconced in Washington. When Bob Baer, who wrote another good book about Afghanistan, retired, he requested a replacement who spoke the local language, Dari and several others. The Plame CIA sent him an expert in sexual harassment, useful in Uzbekistan.

    Then there is an earlier generation of CIA officers like Reuel Marc Gerecht who were expert in the languages of the “target” countries and very devoted to the culture. Gerecht was so enthralled by the culture of Iran that, after he retired from CIA, he had himself smuggled into Iran to spend some time there.

    Valerie Plame preferred Chevy Chase cocktail parties and New York City salons. Today’s CIA is run by that branch.

  3. >>At about the time that W started his war in Afghanistan…

    I will let that idiocy stand on its own.

  4. “They will go neither easily nor quietly.”

    But they will go. All that is left to decide is what can be salvaged.

  5. We focus on the current elites, but I think something far deeper in American culture is in play. We grow tired or a war in three years, whether we are winning or losing, whether we are right or wrong. Lincoln was just barely re-elected in 1864 and had to use most of his political capital to push the war to a conclusion in 1865. In WWII we did not really enter the fray until well into 1942. Thus the popularity of dropping many old bombs on civilians in Dresden, and a few new powerful ones on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in order to bring the war to a quicker end. I believe we would have considered that not quite fair at the beginning. (Note: I think those were defensible actions.) Plus, there was a reluctance to then take the war in Eastern Europe, even on a limited scale. Too tired. Go home. Korea – 3 years. We dabbled around in Vietnam until we really ramped up the troops in 1965 – and in 1968 we had not only hippies but grannies looking for the exits. Bush went into Iraq in spring 2003 and had to spend his last political capital on the Surge in 2006. 3 years. That’s our attention span.

    As for the elites, it is true that the events outside of the US, and sometimes even outside the beltway, seem to be treated as mere counters in the board games they play in DC. The people outside are not quite real – except perhaps the similar class of urban elites in Western Europe (and Canada, Australia, maybe) and an even smaller circle of Real People in the remaining countries.

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