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Director's Commentary On Chapter One: The Seven-Deadly Sins Of Bush-Cheney

Some background: this chapter was originally designed (at the time of writing roughly a year ago) to be the fourth chapter (and the first of Part Two that included the "12-steps" and the American history chapter), and was written as the fourth chapter in terms of sequence of production.

Point being: by getting so much out of the way in the now-discarded first three chapters (rationalized correctly by Mark as so much "pre-writing"), I hit the ground running on this one with a lot of personal confidence.

My original take on the chapter was not to organize it as I ultimately did, but once I came to the conclusion that I would re-use the 12-steps AA approach from my old Proceedings piece on the Indian navy (2001), Vonne suggested I think about doing the same with my 1999 bit on the "seven deadly sins of network-centric warfare" (the beginning of my beautiful relationship and collaboration with Art Cebrowski--as in, it served as our introduction to one another).

Actually deciding on the seven sins (meaning how to match up the major criticisms of Bush-Cheny with lust, anger, sloth, gluttony, envy, greed and pride) was fairly easy--as in, maybe an afternoon of thinking and white-boarding in my office. The order of presentation flows naturally from a sense of time-line, meaning you simply decide that "I can't do this one in front of that one" (like bad postwar planning in front of generals taking control with COIN, etc.), and the temporal rank-ordering falls naturally into place. I actually love that sort of organizing stuff, which is why I'm so drawn to such schemes.

But the larger reason why I go with Vonne's suggestion is that I don't want to go overboard and make this a huge chapter. Whenever I would feel like I was veering off too much, I would stop and ask myself, "Is anybody out there really waiting for my magnum opus on this particular point? Or should I just deal with it quickly and move on?" So no trying to out-Ricks Ricks on Fiasco: just make the appropriate links and cull your topline points and keep it brisk. I certainly didn't want--in retrospect--this first chapter to drag on and delay the sense of the book's progress in the reader's mind.

As it stands, it's a neatly packaged 31-page review of Bush-Cheney from a particular slant--not so much ideological as compartmentalized around the subject of grand strategy. That's where the 7-sins construct was so valuable: I won't try to cover all ground here, I imply to the reader. Instead, I'm going to limit my points to those I can tie back toward grand strategy. By making the construct the 7 sins and not so overtly grand strategy (feeling like I had gotten all those boilerplate references done in the thereupon discarded Part One chapters), I was able to maintain great focus.

Neil's influence here was distinct. He told me flat-out that the book would not be futurology (doesn't sell well on average) flavored, but that he also didn't want a too pedagogically-driven treatise on grand strategy either. He wanted diagnosis and prescription that centered on the next 5-8 years, so contextualize alright with plenty of history and employ the language of grand strategy to focus the delivery, but don't making an intellectual fetish out of grand strategy as you process the material.

As I stated in an earlier commentary (TOC), Neil sent me an email when I was in MN with Kevin in early June for my Mom's surgery. We were walking around the Mall of America and I was really nervous, knowing Neil had had the full submitted manuscript (for the first time) for about three days at that point, and he always dives in quickly. So I was on pins and needles waiting for the email that announced his "this works" or "this doesn't work" judgment.

What he told me was that the first two chapters (creed of an American grand strategist and 20 questions review of PNM and BFA), while good, simply delayed the natural start of the book. He cited a mystery he edited recently where the book really took off in chapter three and he had to talk the author out of the first two. I was depressed at this judgment for nary a second, because Neil quickly followed up with the judgment that my 7-sins and 12-steps chapters were the best and most concise analysis on Bush-Cheney that he had ever read. I was just so psyched by that that I immediately agreed to dumping chapters 1 and 2 and Mark and I, in a phonecon immediately following, decided to switch 12-steps from its current spot behind the history chapter to in-front of it (and immediately following the 7-sins chapter). It was all so click-click, bang-bang decision-making, but it scratched so many itches and erased so many lagging doubts that is was super easy to make. From that moment on, we knew what the book was: the one Neil wanted and the one I promised, sans the bookended parts one and two (or a total of four chapters [maybe 36,000 words] that we tossed). People sometimes ask me how I can discard stuff so easily and the answer is always, Mark and Neil simply show me why it makes sense and these guys are supremely talented people on this score. That's why I work with them. Plus, quite frankly, I know I have the tendency to overproduce and I have no fear of reducing--as in, boiling down the superfluous stuff--the item so as to raise the overall flavor and get a structure that simply strikes us all as right for the audience, for the moment, and for sales.

Last general note is the decision to go with Bush-Cheney as ubiquitous shorthand for the era. Despite the title, this strikes me as eminently sensible given Cheney's unprecedented role in shaping foreign policy.

More details:

Start with the praise, because you strike the tone of fairness.

The bit about new rules is one I have used in countless meetings. Steve DeAngelis will talk about SARBOX in this light (the new minimum standard) and I would pipe in that Bush did the same basic thing in foreign policy.

Can't resist the pre-emptive strike on McCain/Kagan and the whole "league of democracies" thing, even though I don't use the term here. The minute I write this last March, I realize this book will be better received by Obama or Clinton or some combo thereof vice McCain. But it's the advice I believe in right then--and now--so why pull punches? I expect the American public to make the right choice and they do.

I kind of stumble into the conclusion in the opening, realizing as I type that, if you think back to all the ambition coming in with the neocons, they ultimately end up triggering the exact opposite of what they had hoped to achieve.

"Virtues worth citing" really is the start of the book proper, and it's worth noting that I begin by praising Bush-Cheney.

I come up with the Brutus reference ("Julius Caesar") and Mark adds in the seven tones.

The "barrier" to great-power war argument comes from conversations with Art Cebrowski years ago.

Specific praise for Bush-Cheney on China and Russia. I repurposed this section as a column in the fall of 2008.

I add in the Archduke Ferdinand bit after somebody on the blog liked the line so much WRT Russia-into-Georgia.

My complete lack of an apology for the Iraq invasion, which I still wholeheartedly agree with, because it takes us where we need to go in so many different ways and on so many different levels.

The primacy argument is the obvious starter: wanting to preserve too much unipolarity after the Cold War's end. Also must come first because we trace back to the 1992 Defense Policy Guidance, so a very PNM start to the analysis.

The one mistake I've found so far in the text: present-tense reference to Bush-Cheney near bottom of page. I caught two on 15 and then searched the rest of the book for them, forgetting to look backward--oh so typical!

John Boyd reference is the only time I touch on him. I loved Coram's bio and had tons of notes to use in the "How to be a grand strategist" chapter because Coram's book really covers that dynamic implicitly. The "fitness" bit comes from Chet Richards paper on Boyd and grand strategy that I read after Fabius Maximus came after me on that subject. My reply post became the basis for the discarded Chapter 1, now out online on the Zurich-based security site. See how useful criticism can be?

Anger = demonization of enemies was very easy to write because it pissed me off the worst.

The casual lumping of Sunni and Shia is the preeminent stupidity, in my opinion.

I loved the two quotes from the Marine and Mattis in Ricks's Fiasco. As soon as I read them I knew they were going into my book. They show what a big frickin' hole that sort of bad behavior put our troops in--as in, people die for those sorts of mistakes.

Greed = concentration of war powers: Savage's book propelled me here, and it's a good example of using the 7 sins device to work in stuff that maybe doesn't get into your analysis if you do some over-ambitious historical recounting. The Savage book really dovetailed with my long-made assertion that Bush's administration was logically tracked back as much to the Ford legacy and his old man's, with Cheney and Rumsfeld as the main conduits. I really love this section.

Savage's book, BTW, has a great quote from Enterra's general counsel and then-JAG for the Air Force, Gen. Nolan Sklute. Nolan, always terribly sensible, comes off very prescient. He also displays the intense uncomfortableness these administration practices created among military lawyers.

I slip McClellan's book in here in the last edit just because I liked the phrase "truth shading" so much.

A hint of the argument I offer later in the security chapter: Bush-Cheney and the neocons (Rummy especially) were determined not to dawdle in nation-building like those bad old Clintonites in the Balkans (pretty damn successful by comparison), thus the crazy ambition and careless disregard for history (true hubris)

The "envy" entry leading to the misdirect on Iran: the ultimate taking-our-eyes-off-the-ball argument to me.

The truly infuriating part: just as the Big Bang is really unfolding big-time across the region in 2005, Bush-Cheney begin the redirect toward Iran. To me, this is just about the dumbest foreign policy decision they make. It was when they lost me completely.

My infamous "3 guys sitting on a park bench and I walk up and shoot the guy on the right through the forehead" bit from the brief. I really wanted to get that and other killer brief bits into this book.

The "sloth" entry leading to the U.S. military finally asserting control: whenever I hear the BS rewrite of history where Bush is da man on the surge I just about puke. F---king it up for three years and then finally caving into reality and common sense judgment from sound military minds (including civilian Frederick Kagan and Jack Keane) does not constitute a tough decision made so much as a necessary one averted for far too long. I see no leadership here, just a lot of dead American soldiers who did not need to be sacrificed on the altar of these guys' enormous egos.

I start dipping into the "Monks of War" Esquire piece, which I remain enormously proud of, but keep the bulk for the security chapter. I do start plumbing the first of a series of brilliant quotes of Sarah Sewall's intro to the COIN field manual. That is--flat out--one of the best articles I've ever read. You can see why she was involved.

Gluttony entry was driven by my favorite Bible story of the Old Testament: Joseph's dream and how it saves Egypt (telling the pharaoh that his seven years of plenty will be followed by seven lean years).

The whole bit on strategic overhang: I guess I made up the term, but it feels like something I've heard before. Who knows?

The section begins with my anti-Chalmers Johnson research, generated by my radio appearance with him a while back. I find him a complete jerk.

The opportunity costs bit is so Hank Gaffney-esque. I am certain I learned such logic at his knee, especially the cynicism about it not being a true global crisis unless the Marines show up and the Americans declare it to be such on that basis.

"Suing for peace" comes from a comment made on the blog once by Joe Canepa (pretty sure). Joe goes off the deep end so frequently on so many topics that we needed to detach a while back (he being one of those unable to venture forward with me into Democratic White House-land). But I always liked this phrase.

I like ending with the one-sentence para of "no more swimming against the tide. Makes me wish we were still in RI.

Overall, I couldn't be more pleased with the chapter--a very strong start and the right start to the book.

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