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« Preface to the Turkish edition of Blueprint for Action | Main | Director's Commentary: Chapter One: What the World Needs Now »

Director's commentary on Chapter 2 of Blueprint for Action

Director's Commentary: Chapter Two: Winning the War Through Connectedness

This chapter was, in some ways, the hardest to write, and it came to me in terms of content rather late in the game (the February 2005 Esquire article that dealt with Iran and the Wired article of the same month that proposed a new rule set on dealing with individual terrorists).

Now, if you remember my blogging at the time, I was writing BFA across January and February of 2005, so how could that material have come so late? Remember this about magazines: a February issue comes out in early January, which means it goes to the printer NLT early December, which means you’re editing it in November, having basically written it in October. In other words, I had the material in hand well before starting the book.

This chapter was envisioned as a bottom-up chapter that would start with Iraq, then move onto the region (dealing with Iran), and then propose the system-level rule set for the Core (the World Counter-Terrorism Organization). However, because I covered so much of what I wanted to say on Iraq in Chapter 1, the planned first section was jettisoned in the great reorganization that settled the book (which also involved moving “chapter 0,” called “Blogging the Future,” from the front of the book into the Afterward). Mark and I went back and forth on this first section, with Mark complaining increasingly over time that he felt he couldn’t make the material work in a two-fold sense: first, it felt repetitious as a result of Chapter 1’s exploration of Iraq; and two, it just had a kitchen sink feel to it (bit of a grab bag of concepts I wanted to cover but that didn’t hold together particularly well). When I finally agreed to cut the section (at that time we were in the first major edit of Chapter 1), Mark was eminently relieved and we quickly came to the side agreement on moving “chapter 0” to the back of the book.

At that point, both Mark and I were in strong agreement on how the rest of the book would unfold in terms of editing, so the decision was a real tipping point in the process (growing tension until it occurred, and growing confidence from that point on).

What I ended up doing with the section was to yank out the bits I really felt most strongly about and then stick them into various points of Chapter 1. I had been reluctant to do that prior to the decision, fearing that Chapter 1 was growing too bulky, but then I counted up the total words there and realized it was still smaller, even after these additions, than Chapter 3 had been in PNM. Since Mark and I always considered Chapter 1 in BFA to be PNM-3’s equivalent, I soon got over that fear and made the additions.

In the end, it was due to this decision making process that Chapter 2 becomes the only one of the five chapters to have only two sections instead of three, but I got over that as well, despite my legendary anal attitude about such things (i.e., I like symmetry and I especially like trios).

When all was said and done, I was surprised by how much I liked this chapter. I felt like I got everything into it that I wanted. I mean, I know the arguments on Iran are controversial by today’s standards, but I really write for the long haul, and over the long haul, I know that some sort of co-optation process with Iran is inevitable and that a new, more transparent rule set on dealing with individual terrorists is inevitable, so it was important to me to get these points down now--in print.

chapter intro

I really wanted to get the stuff in (p. 71) about how the Chinese policy types interpreted the yin-yang mix of idealism and realism somewhere in the book, and I knew it would be too hard in my later description of adopting Vonne Mei, so the intro seemed like a decent place to explore the concept.

So I start with a quick para on the wide disparity of reviews that PNM got, and then quickly segued into the segment on PNM being a mix of idealism (long term) and realism (short term), a nifty interpretation that was introduced to me by an audience member (Army National Guard chief for the northeast) in a brief a while back. The ANG flag compared that balancing act to the description offered by Admiral Jim Stockdale in his memoir of long-term captivity in the Hanoi Hilton: the guys who kept hoping for release by this or that date (“home by Christmas”) were the guys who lost it, whereas the ones who remained optimistic about the long term (“I will get home!”) but ruthlessly realistic about the short term were the ones who survived.

Since Chapter 1 was so big, I put in a para reminding the reader of the three major proposals I offered there on page 73.

Then I wrap it up (p. 74) with the bit about the grand strategist not getting it alone, just getting it first, segueing into a brief preview of the two career stories (CENTCOM and SOCOM) that I would use in the subsequent two sections. The last para makes a Star Trek reference (Jim Kirk’s “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario” from “Wrath of Khan”) and marries it to a Lincoln reference (“house divided against itself”). This may seem strange to some, unless one remembers that Kirk and Lincoln actually “met” in the third season of the original series.


Connecting The Middle East To The World

Start off here (p. 75) with how the visionary and the military interrelate, and I preview a bit with the “Dirty Harry” quote.

I liked both the “suck eggs” (a bit I’ve always wanted to work in) and the “requirements” explanation (cribbed from Hank Gaffney). Yes, the first few pages (pp. 75-77) have a bit of a pre-writing feel to them, but I love that kind of meandering detail that pulls back the curtain a bit. Warren would let me do it a bit here and there to start certain sections (“a bit of misdirection is okay if you don’t go overboard,” he would say), but we always stuck to the notion that career stories had to move the narrative along or they had no purpose.

Then I work in the Mac Thornberry quote (p. 77), which is a story told to me by Greg Jaffe from his interviews for the May 04 WSJ page-one profile on me. It didn’t make it into the piece, but I liked it so much, I knew I would find a way to stick it into Vol. II. I am still amazed that he took time out of his schedule to review PNM in the Washington Times.

The recollection (pp. 78-80) of the interactions with Central Command’s J-5 staff is, I think, really cool. This is something I was bold enough to try in PNM, with Mark Warren’s encouragement, and I think it worked well in BFA too: giving readers a sense of what the work is really like, especially the careful dance between senior military officers and civilian strategists.

That story gave me the excuse of laying out my “seams” arguments for the Middle East WRT to the Big Bang (pp. 80-84), which includes my not-too-bold prediction about African Command (p. 82). I had worked this out with CENTCOM’s people, just like I describe here, so it felt very organic to preface the material with the story of its origins.

Once I got to the end of the piece, it felt natural enough to then engage in some self-congratulatory quoting from David Ignatius’s very complimentary December 2004 op-ed about PNM (p. 84), in which he wrote about how much my thinking seemed to have penetrated CENTCOM. The only way I could include a quote like that was to really build the story from A to Z, otherwise it would have come out of left field.

At that point, the career portion of the section is done, and we go straight into the policy arguments and analysis, so the section really pivots on page 85 when I go into the Marc Sageman (a guy I met at SOCOM) material on the global Salafi jihadist movement.

Then a quote from Olivier Roy (P. 87) to introduce him, segueing into my typology of troubled Muslims that starts with those generally disgruntled with American policies in the region and drills down to Osama himself. I got this stuff from a variety of reference web sites that seek to lay out a basic understanding of “radical Islam.” I also use this exploration to take some additional pot shots at the hardcore Fourth Generation Warfare types like van Creveld and Kaplan (pp. 88-89).

Then we’re into my main points that I want to make about the Middle East (pp. 90-96), focusing most on demographics and making my general point that it’s the expansion of the global economy that’s driving a lot of this tumult.

My long pivot to the Iran material, which is itself an extensive reworking of the February 2005 Esquire argument, is the notion of “overlapping races” (p. 97), which naturally becomes a nifty slide in my current brief on BFA. That’s a quintessential sort of summary strategic concept that you find in my work: collapsing a lot of other people’s analyses into a meta-analytical singularity that’s fairly accessible--as in, simple.

My shorter pivot (p. 98) is my backhanded dismissal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the perceived center of the Middle Eastern universe. We’ve had our vision of Mideast change held so captive to that concept for so many years now, it must seem insane to see it treated so summarily in a section focused on the region, but that’s what I believe. For too long, we’ve pretended that if we got a perfect “peace plan” on Israel and Palestine, then somehow everything would chill in the region, when in reality, there is no peace on that subject until the region as a whole is transformed from its rancid authoritarianism into something better. Is Israel put at risk by this process? No more than normal.

But that’s the underlying message of the Big Bang: speed the killing. And that’s my message on Iran: get to the rapprochement we all know must happen. Definitely scary terrain to cover between here and there, but no risk, no reward.

Then I blow up the Iran segment of the Esquire article (pp. 98-104), turning paras into pages. This section naturally get caricatured as “forging an alliance” with Iran as though we’re throwing in our lot with the mullahs (or worse, “giving Iran the bomb”), when really what I’m talking about here is the best and fastest version of the “soft kill” we used to defeat the Sovs.

I feel very good about getting this idea down in formal print. I think the strategy will be amply proven by history, or the Big Bang will simply go down in flames. Our choice, really.

Creating the New Rule Set on Global Terrorism

In many ways, I am most proud about this section, because if I had neglected to make this argument (something I wasn’t planning on doing prior to being asked by Wired to write on the subject) I really would have regretted not addressing the subject.

Plus, it just rounded off my rule sets to propose one for states and one for individuals in the GWOT.

I basically use the same format as the previous section, this time recounting interactions with the Special Operations Command and in particular the experts group brought together for a weeklong effort with the commander, General Doug Brown and his senior planners (pp. 105-114).

Now, to reveal some of the names implied on page 106:

The “psychiatrist” is no surprise, since I used his book (Understanding Terror Networks) so much in BFA: Marc Sageman. Smart as shit, but not the easiest guy to be around. When people say I have a big ego and a brusque manner, I just remember what it was like to spend that much time with Sageman. He makes me look like a child in comparison. Still, no arguing the competency. It’s just that he’s a drill-down artist supremo, so no surprise that he and I didn’t mesh.

The “noted futurist from the business world” was Peter Schwartz. He was the great middle-ground type who kept trying to maintain the peace in our discussions. Very good at this. Pretty easy to get along with.

The “best-selling author of science-fiction novels popular with military offices” was Orson Scott Card, who wrote “Ender’s Game.” Not surprisingly, he was the big storyteller of the group. Nice guy to hang with.

The “expert on the online activities of youth” was J.C. Herz, who was the NYT’s first videogame critic. Interesting lady who tends toward the dark. Still, fun to be around. Imagine Winona Ryder with a 160 IQ.

There were a few others, but those were the ones that stuck in my mind.

My standard for SOF guys is the current vice commander, Vice Admiral Eric Olson. Spend some time with him, and you will be left with a strong impression. I hope he becomes eventual commander. As much as I like Brown, I like Olson’s more pure take on trigger pulling.

I mentioned Kerry’s proposal for enlarging SOCOM (p. 112) because he had just made it during the campaign prior to the week I spent down there, so it was something Brown addressed in our consultations. Funny thing is, Kerry is defeated and then his proposal for plusing up SOCOM is pursued by Rummy as the big answer on the GWOT. Funny how that works out, no?

What Rummy hasn’t seemed able to get through the system is the return of Civil Affairs to the regular Army. That’s part and parcel on his apparent desire to put Iraq behind him by making SOCOM the center of the GWOT universe. Wishful thinking, say I.

The bit about not fighting states any more and drawing a clear line of events all the way back to Just Cause (p. 114) is a verbal thing I just started spontaneously in the brief around the time PNM hit the stores. I really liked using it in the brief, so I wanted to get it into Vol. II.

I really like the Kaiser Soze bit on page 115. My brother-in-law and surrogate reader Steve Meussling really objected to that in the first draft, saying it was criminal to give away a “gotcha” ending for a movie plot in a book on international relations, but I figured it was just too good to pass up, especially after I read a bunch of the crazy rumors about AMZ, as the military likes to shorthand him (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi). Also liked mentioning Dennis Miller.

Can’t believe I misspelled “millennarian” twice in the book (99 and 117). Wait a minute? I didn’t misspell it according to MS! Seems it really does only have one “n” in the middle.

The section critiquing the mystique of Al Qaeda (pp. 118-122) relied heavily on Sageman, whose book is really without peer, as I say in the endnotes. I kept using his name in the text across these pages in the first draft, along with Roy’s, but Warren made me cut those out. He kept saying, “Write the material in your own voice and cite them, but don’t turn this section into a book report.”

I manage to pull my desired trifecta in this chapter by working in the bit about sitting down with the senior officers of the Joint Staff’s J-5 on page 123. I thought it was pretty amazing that PNM brought me to SOCOM, CENTCOM and the Joint Staff all in one summer (2004) like that.

The time I spent with the J-5 people in the Joint Staff made a real impression. The PNM brief changed a lot after that interaction, as it did after the SOCOM and CENTCOM consultations.

What was cool about the Joint Staff story was that it allowed a smooth segue into the argument for a new Core-wide rule set on dealing with individual terrorists, which gets me to the Wired article.

But before that, I go into a lengthy bit about why a new rule set will prevent bad things from arising in the Core (pp. 124-128). Within that space I work in a bit about the DC sniper and give my NASCAR “yellow flag” concept, a bit that Art Cebrowski always loved (we actually planned a workshop on it, but I could never get the Naval War College to bite on it).

I didn’t really blow up the Wired piece all that much, because in its original format, it was a fairly lean and meaty piece, so it plugged in here quite nicely.

I finish the chapter with a neat but quick (one para, really) bit on how the GWOT’s outcome is crucial to globalization’s future advance. Didn’t try to get too poetic here. I mean, I knew the first two chapters, in sum, were long (133 pages!), so I wanted to move the book along.

* * *

The first five sections of the book (3 in Chapter One and 2 in Chapter Two) really close off the “Pentagon” portion of the series for me. At this point, I really felt I had said everything I needed to say on the military (no drill-down artist, I), and what I wanted to do over the rest of the book was explore the solution set beyond the five-sided building.

In many ways, Chapters One and Two belong more to PNM than to BFA. I just didn’t think I could go that far in PNM, since the bifurcation notion was radical enough.

Still, the five arguments in these five sections make for a nice opening handful of “blueprint” bullets WRT the Pentagon and the U.S. Government.

But I have to admit: I was relieved when we were done with these sections. To me, the book really starts in Chapter 3 in terms of expanding my vision to its full breadth. Not coincidentally, the Pentagon effectively disappears as a character from this point onward. That surprised me deeply when I was writing the first draft. In retrospect, though, it makes perfect sense.

Reader Comments (1)

My only critique on this section is there is no acknowledgement that DoD can now work with many other organizations, (Directly attributable to being forced to work w/ each other. ie If you can work with the Navy how hard can Treasury be?) but other organizations do not yet work well w/ others.

February 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterthenode

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