The Barefoot Strategist

Strategy, planning, policy, international relations, security affairs, and barefoot running.

The Bridge - A New Medium for The Barefoot Strategist

Recently I started a column over at Medium, one of the web’s newer sites dedicated to writing…it’s a much cleaner and easier format to use than Tumblr.  I’ve enjoyed my time here and will probably continue to re-Tumbl (if that’s a real concept) and add interesting content that is more visual, which is what Tumblr does best.

The new column is called The Bridge, named after one of the more influential strategy books I’ve read…as well as the concept the author, Colin S. Gray, puts forth as a metaphor for the function strategy, and strategists, play.  I encourage anyone interested to follow The Bridge, as well as provide content.  As long as the topic involves policy, strategy and/or national security affairs I’ll be glad to post it.  You can contact me via my website.

Defining Strategy, One Pen at a Time


I was pleased to see two authors that were published in the Infinity Journal were recognized last week for their contribution to their discipline.  Dr. Thomas Bruscino and Dr. Dan Cox, both of the US Army’s School for Advanced Military Studies, were awarded Silver Pens from the Command and General Staff College for significant articles deemed to contribute significantly to the body of knowledge on war and warfare.  Their contribution came in the form of the article, “Why Hybrid Warfare is Tactics Not Strategy: A Rejoinder to ‘Future Threats and Strategic Thinking.”

For those that have not read the article, I recommend you do.  Much like my article on Air-Sea Battle, “Hybrid Warfare” places this concept in its proper place as a contribution to the negotiation that is strategy development and creating strategic effect through tactical action…not a strategy in and of itself.

And this is the undeniable value of the Infinity Journal.  Strategy is so incredibly misunderstood, or misapplied, that a resource like IJ that publishes well-written and insightful articles to help define and frame strategy is necessary.  If you are a military professional, involved in the defense industry, make policy that involves the use of military force, or hope to be a policy maker one day, the awarding of Dr. Bruscino and Dr. Cox are another example of the importance of reading the Infinity Journal.

Even more importantly, this should display the importance of joining the discussion by publishing an article in IJ.  If you have questions or want help writing for IJ, send me a note.

Full disclosure: I’ve been a part of IJ’s Special Advisory Group for some time.  I support this great publication and frequently comment on it because of the value I think IJ provides to myself and my fellow strategists in the military.


Helping Congo Help Itself

Today, Congo’s M23 rebel group called for an end to 20 months of violence.  The international community has high hopes for peace.  But outside powers should not interfere as they have in the past.  Instead, they should help Congo help itself.

I am tempted… to declare dogmatically that whatever doctrine the Armed Forces are working on now, they have got it wrong. I am also tempted to declare that it does not matter that they have got it wrong. What does matter is their capacity to get it right, quickly when the moment arrives.

— Another classic from the great Sir Michael Howard Quoted by Geoffrey Till (via musingonwar)

Bridging Divides

A good sign of a successful gathering is not only the interaction that takes place at the event itself, but more importantly the conversation that occurs following.  In this respect the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum has been blessed; one of the reasons I’ve been remiss in reporting out on the event is the rapidity and thoroughness that some of the participants have written on salient points from the weekend.  They have covered topics such as the lessons on how to manage an inclusive conference, the surprising results of a crowd-sourced and distributed planning effort, the innovations and unique methods employed at #DEF2013, perspectives on the event through a civilian’s eyes, and the importance of action through publication.  If the quantity of hyperlinks less than a week after the event isn’t a testament to the excitement, then I assure you the quality of their thought is…I encourage you to read each of them.

As for me, I’m surprised the event came off.  It may be disingenuous to say that, but after almost a year of planning in an unorthodox manner and depending on others to ensure major aspects of the event were a success, I’m equal parts thrilled and exhausted.  The team not only volunteered their time and money (the event was funded entirely by the board and a small event fee), but their expertise and energy, as well.  I’m impressed with the success that a few mid-grade and junior military members can accomplish when they have a powerful idea.

For me, the planning and execution of this event was an experiment.  When I was originally approached to become a member of the board I was in intense discussions with peers and superiors about mentorship in the military; specifically, how most senior officers didn’t take the time to mentor their subordinates and (more importantly to me) how younger officers were unable to ASK for mentorship.  From my perspective, most younger officers simply thought they deserved mentorship and it should come to them.  This discussion provided fertile planting ground for an idea that would support younger military leaders to generate and implement ideas that could improve their military services.  I relished the idea of empowering people that are self-starting, energetic, and smart.  I have very few of those tendencies myself – and certainly not many original ideas – and felt I could at least help by providing my own energy.  Plus, I figured another person’s network of friends and acquaintances could only help the effort.  But as a military officer, the prospect of a decentralized planning process with no leader seemed heresy; since I’m not above a little heresy now and again, I of course jumped in with both feet.

As a nascent Army strategist and self-proclaimed acolyte of Colin Gray, I came at the problem DEF hoped to address with the metaphor of a bridge in mind.  Gray’s concept, and I’m paraphrasing a much smarter man here, is that strategy acts as a bridge, providing the connection between the policy a political entity desires with the tactical action on the ground that will create it.  On that bridge is the notional strategist, facilitating and translating the negotiation between the two sides of an otherwise difficult chasm.  What I saw in DEF was the ability to act as a bridge…between smart and energetic military members on one side and the slow-changing and justifiably (in some ways) rigid bureaucracy on the other.  The members of DEF could play the role of Gray’s strategist, acting as a translator and connector by empowering individuals through each other’s collective networks.  While the Department of Defense can seem like a monolithic entity, it is instead made up of other individuals that can be leveraged and supported to implement ideas.  All it takes is relationships.

As one of the few non-techies on the board, I also saw my personal role as a bridge between those that envisioned every problem having a technological solution and those that worked toward process or systemic solutions…or those solutions that affect the human domain, as it were.  Roxanne Bras covered this dichotomy well this weekend when she discussed high-end and low-end innovation.  As it turns out, this role was rarely employed, particularly at the event itself.  After decades of war that has shown the limits of technology, most of those that participated in DEF seem to understand there needs to be a balance between technology and the human dimension.

I think DEF lived up to my personal hopes.  Over Columbus Weekend over 100 people gathered to share ideas, think through some of our military’s most intractable problems, and come up with the beginnings of some viable solutions.  There were participants from the enlisted ranks to general officer, military to civilian, young to old(er).  Each came with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and energy, ready to participate.  Not once did I see or hear any divides between them.  Frequently I saw or participated in a conversation that ended with a task to be accomplished…many outside of the “bounds” of the conference itself, spurred simply by a speaker or the conversation itself.  Everyone seemed to part reluctantly and with an eye toward the future.

If DEF is to be a bridge, a connection for others to leverage, than I think the keystone was placed at the banks of Lake Michigan.  Well done, ladies and gentlemen.  Now get to work…

Choices - The Latest Installment of Infinity Journal

Why is it, in the nation that is supposed to be the “shining city on a hill,” are we forcing people not to work? Why are we telling some 800,000 men and women with jobs that they are prohibited from showing up to their places of employment? Because of choices. Choices made by policy makers. Choices made by legislators. Choices made by society. Choices made by individuals fed up with not getting their way. Choices on how to retain, or achieve, power…in a word, politics. What is politics but a series of choices? Or in the words of a recent strategy brief by the Infinity Journal, “politics is all about the distribution of power;” choices on who gets what, when, and how. And what is strategy, the raison d’etre for IJ, but the extension of politics…but I won’t go all Clausewitzian on you…it makes Crispin angry. And you don’t want to make Crispin angry.

The newest edition of Infinity Journal, coming out on Monday, is all about choices. At least that’s how I read the articles when the publisher provided me an early copy. There are six articles that span the breadth and historical depth of strategy, from Clausewitz to covert action and massive retaliation to Afghanistan and Syria. All are about the choices that were, can, or should be made in regards to strategy, national doctrine, and the threat/use of violence to achieve strategic effect.

As I’ve done before when reviewing an edition of IJ, I won’t bore you by going article by article, pointing out the goodness of each. You should take the time to peruse them all, though. And for full disclosure, I have a piece in this one (if you think Syria’s complicated, it turns out you’re right. So don’t fault me if I didn’t solve it.).

That said, I would direct your attention to two (much better) articles. The first is the leading piece, “Does War Have its Own Logic After All?” by Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria II. In this piece, Dr. E, one of the pre-eminent scholars on Clausewitz, re-examines the grammar and logic of war as relayed in On War. Through historical example, he demonstrates that military imperatives or “rules” (the grammar of war) sometimes drove and changed the policies (the logic of war) decision makers were trying to achieve. Instead of war having logic (policy) that drove the grammar (military imperatives), they more frequently are at odds that must be reconciled through a strategy development process.

While I agree that policy and military objectives affect each other in a very symbiotic, continual process, I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the ghost on Uncle Carl’s logic and grammar just yet. Regardless, this is a great article on how we have choices in what we accept and use from our theoretical underpinnings.

The second article that you should pay particular attention to is, “Why Did the US Adopt the Strategy of Massive Retaliation?” by Dimitrios Machairas. This historical analysis of Eisenhower’s “massive retaliation” strategy is quite strong, not only in its accuracy, but in its applicability to today. Machairas does a wonderful job explaining how this approach, this choice, was undertaken as much to prevent “overextension and ‘practical bankruptcy’” as it was to better integrate a growing nuclear arsenal into our strategic approach. As the United States continues to wrestle with decreasing resources and a turbulent economy, lessons from such times as these should be dusted off and used to help frame the issues of our own day. I can’t think of a better leader to emulate than Eisenhower…but I may be biased.

While I cherry-picked two articles, I highly recommend the rest. There really is a beauty in a journal that can span historical strategic doctrines to current military strategy and foreign policy issues – all while focusing on the most important element of them all: strategy. As I seem to say every time I discuss the Infinity Journal, one of the core reasons I support it is because it focuses on quality articles pertinent to strategy. We need more people interested in this topic to write – not just to fill the pages of IJ with quality pieces – but also to continue the robust discussion strategy deserves. If we are not critically analyzing the choices we make, and theoretical knowledge such choices are based upon, we are failing as strategists.

So, write something for IJ. Send it to me or to the journal and join the discussion. Now.


 Was reminded of this (probably my favorite scene, from one of my favorite films) while reading the following quote from Gray. This relationship between the uniformed military and their civilian superiors is something I’ve become more and more fascinated by the more I study strategy.

"The strategist, most typically a professional military person - though not in non-state entities - may well have dysfunctional habits of mind and behaviour in the eyes of his political masters. Those masters, successful politicians, these days are unlikely to enjoy any great understanding of military affairs. As military amateurs, they may find themselves prisoners of their military experts, or, with the arrogance of ignorance, they may insist upon the undertaking of militarily impractical missions. Either way the personality contrasts between the qualities most characteristic of successful politicians and those of soldiers often yield rich evidence of uneasy and perhaps antagonistic relations." Gray, The Strategy Bridge (NY, 2010) p. 63

I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It’s not what Tom Friedman writes about, I’m sorry. You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking twelve miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people — Americans and Europeans — come back and go, “Ohhhh.” And the lightbulb goes on.

Henry Rollins 

(so very true) 

(via awelltraveledwoman)

My daughters will travel for a year between high school and college, if I have anything to say about it. I will probably join them for a lot of it…

(Source: commovente, via wilwheaton)


Why American Education Fails
Since the end of the industrial age, Americans have worried about improving their education system. But the country has never been able to make much progress. Other nations do it better, and the United States must learn from their examples if it hopes to catch up.


Why American Education Fails

Since the end of the industrial age, Americans have worried about improving their education system. But the country has never been able to make much progress. Other nations do it better, and the United States must learn from their examples if it hopes to catch up.