You can’t see the future, part 1 of infinity

60163009There have been lots of developments in the defense and policy worlds in the last week or so. Here are some key items that engaged my attention.

First and foremost, the #IranDeal is making waves, and will continue to do so for years to come. What to make of this…Certainly a gamble, I guess. The NeoCons are going to give themselves strokes if they’re not careful, but skepticism about the deal isn’t limited to them (just search #IranDeal on Twitter). I’ve long been somewhat partial to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Anthony H. Cordesman has a useful analytical framework for judging the agreement, which agreement can be found here in its entirety. Lawrence Freedman, whose opinion should certainly carry weight with the thinking individual, believes that, while it won’t bring “peace in our time,” the agreement should achieve its objectives.

Second, another interesting report from the CSIS is Camilla Wuensch’s Turkish Stream: Ankara Trying to Balance East and West, which addresses a topic of growing interest for me. As I’ve come to see Turkey and Turkish history as increasingly important for understanding medieval, modern, and Middle Eastern history, I’ve grown more and more curious about all aspects of Turkish society and politics.

Third, here’s another article down on the F-35, and the similar assumptions that went into the design of the F-4 back in the day. Granted, it’s impossible to design weapons platforms without building some assumptions into them, but this seems yet another instance of what makes historians like myself tear their hair out.

Fourth, several articles have surfaced about the Middle East conflicts and U.S. strategy. One discusses so-called “hybrid war,” and how it’s stumping the Pentagon. Welcome, new buzzword. What you’re describing isn’t new, but watch the experts on hybrid warfare suddenly proliferate…Heck, I’ll probably write an article now showing that it existed in the Middle Ages. I do agree, however, that most Americans’ views of war are too simplified. Another piece discusses innovative ISIS tactics, particularly shock troops. Yet another piece is the famous Vice article, which wasn’t as long or as ground-breaking as I’d thought it would be, on going “inside the Islamic State.”

Fifth, as more and more reports emerge of ISIS atrocities, on both Muslim and Christian communities, I find myself agreeing with David Kilcullen that a conventional war is probably essential to at least cave in ISIS conventional abilities, even if it doesn’t erase the group from the face of the earth. I’ve long been skeptical of some folks’ insistent rush to war, and I still agree with the President that the issues here are first and foremost political, diplomatic, and humanitarian, but I’m now convinced that military force is a crucial part of the equation as well.

Sixth, U.S. strategy is caught up in fights over the “Asia pivot” and “Jointness” (yes, “jointness” is now a word). Mark Perry’s excellent “The Pentagon’s Fight Over Fighting China” shows that often times it’s less about cool, calculated strategic planning, and more about internal budget wars, buzzwords, and prestige (and election cycles…). James Holmes’ “Why Jointness Makes For Bad Strategy, And Other Thoughts,” isn’t wholly convincing, but I’m inclined to agree with him that strategy without geographic context is bound to unpleasantly surprise you.

Finally, here’s a very good review of Morris, Farrar, et. al.’s War! What Is It Good For?, by Stephen Davies at Reason.com. As one of the favorite songs and questions of my friend and mentor Greg Daddis, I’m very familiar with the question and the way it is often elided or ignored by the public and policy-makers. I look forward to reading the book, though I am skeptical of Morris’ conclusions. I’m also somewhat amused to see that, once again, the Middle Ages are the stumbling block to yet another attempt to postulate governing global systems. But of course, I suspect Davies is right and there are other, non-medieval issues.

Ultimately, despite the millions of dollars poured into the endeavor, you simply can’t see the future, and often times your attempts to do just that can wind up creating a future that you didn’t anticipate.  And war has a way of not appreciating your (not-so-) fine calculations.