How to Run Wars

Originally published in The Independent Review

To the National-Security Elites,

We stand at a critical juncture in the history of our country. Though the United States has always faced threats, the problems of today are unprecedented. As our commander in chief, President Biden (2022), recently said, “equality and democracy are under assault.” The threats come from many places. The National Defense Strategy (NDS) for 2022 highlights two powerful adversaries—China and Russia. China, “our [the United States’] most consequential strategic competitor,” has been working for decades to undermine U.S. policy goals (U.S. DOD 2022). The same may be said for Russia. “Russia poses acute threats,” reads the report, “as illustrated by its brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” (U.S. DOD 2022). As one commentator succinctly stated, “Both Russia and China ... view the U.S. as their mortal enemy.... [B]oth have developed doctrines that seek to defeat the United States. Both adversaries have redefined the traditional battlefield of ground, air, and sea to include space and cyberspace, and have developed arsenals ... to conduct ... warfare against the U.S. military, intelligence, and civilian networks and systems” (Koffler 2022).

Though China and Russia are the largest threats, they are not the only ones. The North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, “will continue efforts to steadily expand and enhance Pyongyang’s nuclear and conventional capabilities targeting the United States and its allies” (Office of the Director of National Intelligence 2022, 15). He remains “committed to expanding the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal” (17). Iran poses a danger that could destabilize the entirety of the Middle East. The most recent threat assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated clearly that “Iran and its militant allies will take advantage of weak governance to continue to plot terrorist attacks against U.S. persons and interests” (2022, 5).

In addition to these external threats, the United States now faces real internal dangers as well. In response to the threat of domestic extremism and domestic terrorism, the Justice Department established a specialized unit to combat homegrown terrorism. As noted by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen (2022), “We have seen a growing threat [within the United States] from those who are motivated by racial animus, as well as those who ascribe to extremist anti-government and antiauthority ideologies.”

The U.S. government has worked tirelessly as a force for good in the world. Things have not always gone according to plan—Iraq and Afghanistan being recent examples. These less-than-ideal outcomes have led many to be skeptical of the American government’s military capabilities and called into question the country’s geopolitical dominance. But the obstacles faced by the brave men and women in our military and our political leaders are not permanent roadblocks but mere speedbumps on the long road to our country’s perpetual project of spreading liberty, democracy, and peace around the globe. Naïve “peacemongers,” isolationists, and antigovernment ideologues have tried, and will continue to try, to persuade you to withdraw your support from the activities of your government. But to be deterred from this project means the triumph of authoritarianism over democracy, the victory of terrorism over peace, and the ascendancy of our enemies over our friends and allies.

If the United States fails in its goals of protecting and spreading democracy, illiberal regimes like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea will not hesitate to utilize their military and political capabilities to spread their antidemocratic ideals. In doing so they will threaten freedom both at home and abroad. The United States government, as the world’s dominant military power, has a duty to protect our allies, those countries who cannot protect themselves, and our own people from those who would seek to destroy those values we hold most dear.

People—both at home and abroad—must be made safe and kept free. A proactive, military-driven foreign policy, carefully designed, implemented, and evaluated by those experts in the U.S. government is the only way to achieve this goal. But how?

We submit an answer and offer you a playbook for carrying out war. We discuss what is necessary to execute successful campaigns abroad. Though this guide utilizes examples from throughout history to illustrate our points, it will prove useful to contemporary and future conflicts as well. This playbook is intended for your eyes only and is not for consumption by the general populace. Indeed, a key part of building and maintaining a benevolent global hegemony is to keep the populace in check. Cultivating the correct popular image is paramount. Like the Wizard of Oz, the best-run wars are those that follow the motto “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

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