@MichaelEOHanlon ‘reviews’ Mattis’s ‘Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead’. Political Observer comments

ORDER FROM CHAOS

FOREIGN POLICY IN A TROUBLED WORLD

A how-to guide for managing the end of the post-Cold War era.

Headline: The place of military history in today’s defense planning

From the highfalutin ‘Order From Chaos’, the rubric under which Mr. O’Hanlon’s essay is framed by its headline, to where?  Is this writer outside his area of expertise in matters military?  He began his career as a budget analyst.Yet Mr. O’Hanlon reviews James Mattis’s  Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. 

As an example of O’Hanlon’s approach to this book, this quotation is demonstrative,  if a bit out of order of its presentation.

Without giving away too many of the book’s best nuggets, it is worth noting a couple examples of how Mattis used history to guide his thinking and leadership.

Exactly who is this  ‘review’s’ audience? Are we in the territory of BestSeller Fiction? ‘Giving away too many of the book’s best nuggets…’ assures the reader that O’Hanlon is not a reliable nor honest critic?  Further reading  proves that this writer is in the business of currying favor with powerful men. I’ve skipped ahead as the in-order-too of advancing into O’Hanlon’s argument , and the first actual clue about what might constitute the Mattis character.

After all, though Trump liked to call him “Mad Dog Mattis,” and though “Chaos” is the nickname that Mattis (and coauthor Bing West) chose to employ in the book’s title, the never-married and book-worm’ish Mattis also had a third sobriquet:  “warrior monk.”

The tendency is to dwell somewhat excessively on the lessons of World War II and the Cold War — which translates for many into an expectation of new cold or even hot wars with Russia and China. Again, the point is that this was a type of conversation you could have with Mattis (who liked to begin conversations by asking, “what am I getting wrong, what am I missing?”).

‘For many’ is the amorphous place holder, for a widely held opinion,without proof of its validity.

What is particularly impressive about these and other cases is not just that Mattis could dredge up these kinds of historical allusions and precedents when writing his memoirs at a quiet study in Washington State or Stanford University, where he often hangs his hat these days. Rather, he had the deep knowledge of history to think of its lessons quickly and easily even when under pressure — indeed, at times even when under fire. Among his other favorites are Thucydides’ accounts of the ancient Peloponnesian Wars; the writings and sayings of Marcus Aurelius, Clausewitz, and Napoleon; and the Paratrooper’s Prayer from a young French lieutenant in the desert campaign of World War II.

In sum Mattis as presented by O’Hanlon is an intellectual. Yet how can he be both of the intellect and remain a ‘warrior monk’ ? A conundrum that a Neo-Conservative, like O’Hanlon, feels to be an expression of kinship? Or the imagined propinquity between a clerk and a man of action?

The tendency is to dwell somewhat excessively on the lessons of World War II and the Cold War — which translates for many into an expectation of new cold or even hot wars with Russia and China. Again, the point is that this was a type of conversation you could have with Mattis (who liked to begin conversations by asking, “what am I getting wrong, what am I missing?”).

And note the New Cold War against both Russia and China are facts, and O’Hanlon one of its ideologists, who finds an abode at Brookings,  along with his fellow travelers.

While he may be among the best of them, Mattis is far from the only modern American officer who studies and expounds on military history. Retired Admiral Bill McRaven, the man who ultimately did “get bin Laden” when leading Special Operations Command, wrote a gem of a history of covert operations (mostly from World War II) in a book called Spec Ops. Retired Generals Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, and John Allen are among those who frequently consult U.S. Civil War history as a guide to all aspects of combat. Retired Admiral James Stavridis traces the evolution of U.S. naval strategy in his recent book, Sea Power. The U.S. military’s war colleges, where most mid-career officers headed for higher command spend a year or two in their careers, are still strong in these disciplines. The military service chiefs have required reading lists for their personnel with heavy representation by the tomes of history.

And O’Hanlon is not above some strategic genuflecting to some very powerful retired military men, that might be advantageous in future.

Even more so than is usually the case with hot new bestsellers that generate a political buzz, Mattis’s book is one you really should read, rather than simply read about.

The last sentence proves that O’Hanlon is not just a Technocrat, but a Courtier.

Political Observer

The place of military history in today’s defense planning

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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