Better the devil you know?

Mr. [William] McCants [director of the Project on U.S. Relations With the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution in Washington} said this was an underlying theme in his forthcoming book, “The ISIS Apocalypse,” to be published in September. “You’d like to say that treating people well and good governance go hand in hand,” he said, “but it’s not the case.” “ISIS Transforming Into Functioning State That Uses Terror as Tool,” Tim Arango, New York Times, 21 July 2015 (registration required)

This statement is almost correct, and well within what one might say but then like to edit later for clarity. A more accurate way to put it might be:  “You’d like to say that treating people well — as we would define “well” here in the West — and good governance go hand in hand, but it’s not the case.” Continue reading

Amazing what you can find on Google

Like an essay by an Israeli general that originally appeared in Hebrew in an Israeli defense journal in September 1949 (that would be coming up on 66 years ago).

Boyd extracted a paragraph from it as Chart 99 of Patterns of Conflict. Chuck Spinney, some 35 years after Boyd incorporated it, got worried about the source and after a few minutes, found the original.  We have now added a citation to that slide.

Chuck made the following observation:

If you think about it, this is Israel’s strategy — as well as its grand strategy — to this day: Divide up its opponents. This becomes clear in the use of settlements and Israeli-only roads to carve up and control the West Bank and in its failing effort to isolate Iran. Of course, strategy is destructive and these ideas work to destroy your adversary, but grand strategy should be constructive, it should end the conflict on favorable terms that do not also sow seeds for future conflict. Applying concepts from strategy, such as these from Gen. Yadin, to shape a grand strategy is a prescription for perpetual conflict and destruction (ultimately your own)!

Chuck, incidentally, is echoing Boyd’s observation that strategy is destructive while grand strategy should be constructive, which Boyd put on Chart 142 of Patterns. The notion that grand strategy should “end the conflict on favorable terms, while ensuring that conflict and peace terms do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict” is from Chart 139.

Chuck has a nice treatment of grand strategy on his Blaster blog, and all of Boyd’s briefings, including the newly revised Patterns of Conflict, can be downloaded from our Articles page.

An addendum to Dean’s piece

Dean has told me that his line,

Everyone expected a close match. During the first game Fischer blundered and lost. Fischer then went on to “take measures which allowed him to keep his own orientation intact, while taking active measures to destroy that of the opponent”.

contains an exact quote from Certain to Win, page 30.  I am most flattered.

However, he did mention that his middle initial is usually rendered as “M.” Personally, I thought “A.” flowed better.

Incidentally, if you haven’t downloaded The Turnaround from the Articles page, give yourself a middle-of-the-week present and do it now.

On OODA Loops, Fast and Slow

Boyd is often identified with the ability to operate more quickly than an opponent.  For example:

The ability to operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than an adversary enables one to fold adversary back inside himself so that he can neither appreciate nor keep-up with what’s going on. He will become disoriented or confused. Strategic Game, 44.

This is sometimes interpreted to mean that in a conflict, one should simply go berserk — run around like a chicken with its head cut off (I’ve never actually seen this, but you get the idea).  That might be a useful tactic, but there are other times when you might choose to operate at a much slower tempo.

Dean Lenane, CEO of Fischer Dynamics Europe in Wuppertal, Germany, and author of The Turnaround (available on our Articles page) explores this idea in the following article.

The Long Slow OODA Loop

Dean M. Lenane

We generally associate maneuver warfare and the application of the OODA loop as being part and parcel of a high tempo approach to winning in conflict situations. Indeed, part of the Boydian imperative for knowledge and training is preoccupied with creating the ability to do the right thing without having to think about it. We generally want to have ourselves so attuned to the environment that we can respond smarter and quicker than the opposition. This is one of the basic essences of the Colonel’s method. Continue reading

Does it make any difference what you call it?

Yes, because what you call it affects how you think about it.

Here’s just one example, from a recent article in The American Conservative:

During wartime who dares question almost any Pentagon cost “to defend America?”

From “12 Reasons America Doesn’t Win Its Wars,” by John Basil Utley.

Sun Tzu suggested, in the opening lines of The Art of War, that

War is a matter of vital importance to the state, the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin.

Griffith trans., p. 63.

It follows, then, that if what you’re looking at isn’t a matter of survival of the state, it isn’t war. Can you, with a straight face, claim that the United States is engaged with an existential enemy outside of its own boarders?  Continue reading

Tremblay’s Thesis Wins Major Award

From Chuck Spinney’s Blaster.

The “Blaster” is Chuck’s collection of commentaries on articles and events, which he began in the late-1990s. Numbers 155- 549 (July 1998 – January 2006) are archived on the DNIPOGOsite,

He is posting later comments on his own blog at

You can download Maj. Trembley’s thesis from our Articles page.  A link to Maj. Trembley’s after action report, referenced by Spinney at the end of his post, is here.

Note:  I have NO connection with any site claiming to be “Defense and the National Interest,” other than DNIPOGO. Please use appropriate caution when visiting any other site claiming to be “Defense and the National Interest.”


09 JUNE 2015

Long time readers of the Blaster are familiar with strategic theories of Colonel John Boyd (new readers will find a variety of references to them at this link).   I am pleased to announce that Marine Major PJ Tremblay’s thesis, Shaping and Adapting: Unblocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop, has won the  “The Colonel F. Brooke Nihart Writing Award for 2015. This award is endowed by Colonel and Mrs. F. Brooke Nihart, USMC (ret), and presented in honor of the late Colonel Nihart to the Marine infantry officer at Command and Staff College whose Master of Military Studies paper demonstrates the greatest depth of scholarship, clarity and originality.

In my opinion, Major Tremblay has made a significant contribution to the growing corpus of analyses and writings aimed at fleshing out and evolving Colonel Boyd’s ideas.  Tremblay’s thesis was written in partial completion of a masters degree, and I think it  provides an excellent and readable introduction to the use of Boyd’s OODA Loop as a frame of reference for examining the tactical level of combat.  Tremblay goes further, however: He introduces general frame of reference for incorporating Colonel Boyd’s ideas more effectively into the Marine Corps education system, from junior to senior ranks and from the tactical to the strategic level of combat.

Tremblay actually used Boyd’s ideas in both the planning and execution of a stunningly successful tactical assault by a reinforced infantry company in Afghanistan.

Why do we keep losing?

Referring to such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. We send in military forces, they engage in combat — successfully the vast majority of the time — but fail to accomplish our political goals. In the process, we lose thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars.

Fabius Maximus has a new post on this subject, “Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.” His argument is that foreign forces rarely win other people’s insurgencies. So we need to quit trying.

Another way to say this is that we’re asking our military forces to do things that military forces can’t do.  Military forces forces engage with and defeat the enemy, as I was taught in ROTC many years ago. After that, what?

Shaping and Adapting

While leading his company in Afghanistan, Marine Major Paul Tremblay was ordered to clear a much larger Taliban force that was defending an area of rugged terrain. Ordinarily, such terrain would favor the defense, not to mention the numbers problem.  Major Tremblay, however, fashioned a plan of attack based on the notion of “operating inside the OODA loop,” where relative numbers are much less relevant.

Chuck Spinney picks up the story:

Major Tremblay did not know Colonel Boyd but has been aware of his briefings since he was a 2nd Lieutenant at the Marine Corps Basic School. He is the only officer I know who has studied and applied Colonel Boyd’s ideas in a premeditated way in designing and leading a combat operation. His reinforced company level attack on the Taliban was a stunning success and based on radio intercepts, it became clear he penetrated his adversary’s OODA loops and collapsed the opposing units into confusion and disorder, exactly as Boyd predicted.  His thesis does not discuss this operation.

I’ve uploaded Major Tremblay’s recently completed master’s thesis (517 KB PDF). It’s a brilliant piece of work. Quoting Chuck, again:

P.J. Tremblay’s thesis aims to clarify what is perhaps the single most misunderstood aspect of Boyd’s theory of interacting OODA loops: the confusion of absolute speed with relative quickness, particularly as it applies to agility in Orientation and Re-Orientation. Tremblay’s aim is to improve the Marine Corps training curriculum by clarifying Boyd’s ideas and laying out a way to better incorporate them in progressively more comprehensive ways at each level in the Marine Corps’ educational system, from the lowest to the highest level.

PJ’s thesis is a case study in the kind of intellectual development and stimulation that John Boyd was trying to achieve by leaving the Marine Corps Research Center with the complete archive of his briefings and note. Boyd, an honorary Marine, would say, “Semper Fi, PJ.”

Chuck has posted the complete introduction to Maj. Tremblay’s thesis on his blog.

Is Microsoft done?

The main lesson [new tech firms] will draw is that it was too protective, for too long, of its main franchise, which led it to ignore threats that eventually became unignorable.

So The Economist wrote in its April 4 piece, “Microsoft at middle age — opening windows” (pp. 59-60).

It’s a common analysis, but is it fair?

The Economist summarizes its case: From the mid-1990s until Steve Ballmer retired last year, “Everything Microsoft did had to strengthen Windows, to make it ever more crushingly dominant.” Readers familiar with Boyd’s organizational climate will recognize a Schwerpunkt.

The Economist claims that “many of the company’s best innovations were killed because of this ‘strategy tax.'”

On the other hand, because they were killed, it’s impossible to know whether they would have been “best.”  Rather than engage in alternative histories, let’s look to the future.  Has this strategy locked Microsoft into a fading platform, dooming it to share the fates of other once-towering technological giants like Kodak, Xerox, and Polaroid? I don’t think so. Continue reading