Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 30, 2009

Macgregor: Purpose, Method, End-state

Douglas Macgregor is a now retired Colonel of the U.S. Army and one of its few strategic thinkers. (The currently faved COIN folks are mere tactical thinkers.)

Mcgregor just published a provocative piece in the Armed Force Journal arguing against the standard U.S. policy mindset of interventionist wars. Leaving out the ample historic references the gist is this (emph. added):

Despite the seriousness of the present economic crisis, the greatest danger to the future security of the U.S. is Washington’s inclination to impose political solutions with the use of American military power in many parts of the world where Washington’s solutions are unneeded and unsustainable.

After looking at the demise of the British empire after the first world war it did not need to join he concludes:

The lesson is a straightforward one: Will we continue to pursue global hegemony with the use of military power to control and shape development inside other societies? Or will we use our military power to maintain our market-oriented English-speaking republic, a republic that upholds the rule of law, respects the cultures and traditions of people different from ourselves, and trades freely with all nations, but protects its sovereignty, its commerce, its vital strategic interests and its citizens?

Those are either-or questions. The U.S. can not have both. The problem is a too mighty military under direction of too shortsighted politicians:

Far too often, national decision-making has been shaped primarily by the military capability to act, not by a rigorous application of the purpose/method/end-state strategic framework.

Decision-making of this kind explains why Operation Iraqi Freedom never had a coherent strategic design.

Macgregor argues for general conflict avoidance as the best mindset and strategy:

As a declaratory goal of U.S. military strategy, conflict avoidance is not merely a restatement of deterrence or a new affirmation of collective security. It is a policy stance that stems from a decent regard for the interests of others, regardless of how strange and obtuse these interests may seem to Americans. It is an explicit recognition by Washington that no one in Asia, Africa, the Middle East or Latin America wants American troops to police and govern their country, even if American troops are more capable, more honest and provide better security than their own soldiers and police.

How does conflict avoidance work?

First, conflict avoidance requires that America continue to maintain the military power to make a direct assault on U.S. and allied security interests unthinkable and then pursue peaceful relations with the peoples of the world, so the danger of war involving the world’s great military powers is reduced and contained.
Second, conflict avoidance balances the need to make the U.S. secure against the danger of making the rest of the world less so. Instead of defining events around the world as tests of American military strength and national resolve, and rather than dissipating American military resources in remote places to pass these alleged tests, the U.S. should define its role in the world without feeling compelled to demonstrate its military power. Otherwise, the U.S. runs the risk that other states, not the U.S., will dictate America’s strategic agenda.
Third, when the U.S. confronts crises and conflicts, American armed forces should be committed on terms that favor the U.S. where the use of military power can achieve tangible strategic gains for the nation.

On Iraq and Afghanistan:

Treating conflict avoidance as a declared strategic goal should give pause to those in Washington who think counterinsurgency is something American military forces should seek to conduct. For outside powers intervening in other peoples’ countries as we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, so-called counterinsurgency has not been the success story presented to the American people. Making cash payments to buy cooperation from insurgent groups to conceal a failed policy of occupation is a temporary expedient to reduce U.S. casualties, not a permanent solution for stability.

The result of the Bush mindset:

The result is an unnecessarily large defense budget of more than $700 billion and military thinking that seeks to reinvigorate the economically disastrous policies of territorial imperialism. Unchecked, the combination of these misguided policies will increase the likelihood the U.S. follows the path of Britain’s decline in the 20th century.
A strategy of refusing battle that routinely answers the questions of purpose, method and end-state in the conduct of military operations is the best way for the U.S. to avoid following in the footsteps of the British Empire into ruin.

Maybe needless to say, but I agree. Not only as concept for the U.S., but as a general concept for all countries including mine. 

What is your take on it?

Posted by b on March 30, 2009 at 19:31 UTC | Permalink


one of the reasons the soviet armies won against a technically superior germany was that it worked always within three strategic belts - & those belts saved them even in the most perilous situations. the u s on the contrary - for all its overdeteminations of its scholar warriors & their high brow schools - is that they are all essentially pattonian - brutes incapable of real tactical & strategic thinking. sherman's march was not strategy it was a barbarian driven bulldozer. westmoreland a wanker - their strategic thinkers are better suited to the way walmart works & not about how humans wreak war against one another

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Mar 30 2009 19:55 utc | 1

It's hard to disagree with his main theme but his selection of historical examples is fraught with 20/20 hindsight in his interpretations of events. I could probably find just as many contrary quotes of the same events.


Three belts, and the capacity to stretch Axis supply lines to breaking while absorbing the sacrifice of millions. Not something most people want to repeat by choice. By continuing Bush's plans the US may be giving large parts of the world no choice, however. The main problem empires have is that they have to fight many places at once. Any small defeat encourages all its opponents to fight harder.

Posted by: biklett | Mar 30 2009 23:53 utc | 2

Relax b, 'Skull and Bones' Kerry already coached Neo-Ambassador General Eikenberry on the rumplestilkskinian specifics of Obama's 'Afghanistan Pakistan'™ schmeer, and Eikenberry drank the Blue Kool Aid right down, live on C-SPAN:

"If I was characterizing it as 'we will develop,' as opposed to 'we will assist the Afghans develop,' then I would like to stand corrected, because this is about enabling the Afghans to develop governments and rule of law, enabling the Afghans to develop their own security forces, enabling the Afghans to develop a sustainable economy. Those are the three critical components. When they come together, success would be defined then as an Afghan state strong enough to not become an open safe haven for international terrorism."

Success then, is 'not becoming'. Can't get any more mendaciously ditheric than that!

As Senator McCain so ably demonstrated, you present to the world your Opposition to Torture™ by redefining the definition of torture and by moving the cheese. Kerry just wants to make sure the Nuremberg Trials II don't include anyone from the 111th Congress, see, enabling 'Afghanistan Pakistan' into whatever G-d-awful NeoCon wormhole they have in mind for FATA, isn't the same as Israel's blitzkreig on Gaza.


Posted by: Andy Panda | Mar 31 2009 1:57 utc | 3

Hey, b --

D'you think Col. Lang and Macgregor know each other?

D'ya think they do/would get along professionally? Personally?

Just wondering.

Posted by: china_hand2 | Mar 31 2009 2:48 utc | 4

my take is it sounds like the sanest route to reducing tension world wide, and if Obama could use his gift for delivering complete sentences, he might just be able to get the ignorant, crap-fed, entertainment junkies to give up their hard-ons for blowing shit up to acknowledge action movies as foreign policy isn't just psychotic, but suicidally so.

b, i really appreciate this post. for a retired colonel to say this in the Air Force Journal is a little glimmer in an otherwise abysmal situation. the media could chant conflict avoidance and pundit the concept into our frontal lobes if the shareholders chose to do so, but the chances of that happening are pretty slim.

Posted by: Lizard | Mar 31 2009 3:04 utc | 5

"U.S. to send more drug agents to Afghanistan", under the byline "Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services terrorism subcommittee, said the DEA's effort is aimed at crippling the Afghan narcotics networks by driving up the costs of the opium trade," is, of course, not only implausible, but factually absurd. Creating a DEA drug office in Kabul will end up burning $1B a month for Nancy Reaganesque re-choss, and if it destroys a few poppy fields and puts a few "bad guys" in Bagram, will serve only to lower the supply of opium by a micron and increase heroin profits further down the pipeline for the "risk", since there is way, way too much product out there, way too vertical and government protected pipelines west into Iran, and from there, the thread is lost. This is just drug cartels raising prices to keep up with hyperinflation, like Bush-Cheney blowing up Iraq to push oil from below cost to production to $145/bbl. Plus the three armored vehicle caravans and seven troops for every DEA agent to go galumphing around in the dusty outback, another $1B a month, you have to ask, whiskey tango foxtrot are these sierra mike foxtrots thinking, if you can use 'think' in the far pejorative.

"Clinton: 'War on terror' not in our vocabulary", OK, that's their deal, pig latin.
US-way isn't-way a-way errorist-tay ation-nay, and-way e-way on't-day orture-tay!!
What a ucking-fay bunch of imp-lay ick-day enablers-way, and illary-hay included.

Posted by: November Romeo | Mar 31 2009 4:50 utc | 6

B, what the hell's to take?

Other than the reality of history, and the phreakin likelihood of repeated history.

Dude's spot on, and not the first in 4 decades to suggest so.

What's yer point? We KNOW this shit for what it is.

It's been repeated over, and over, and over, again.

And over, and over.

Hell, there are (others) who have been turned over and been done repeatedly long before now.

In the same manner.


Posted by: larue | Mar 31 2009 5:28 utc | 7


What about invasive species? Seeds, not Americans.

Posted by: biklett | Mar 31 2009 6:29 utc | 8

But, but Slothrop says "we" (I just love it when imperailists use the royal we to give legitimavy to their actions) are winning in Iraq.

Slothrop, here is your money quote:

"For outside powers intervening in other peoples’ countries as we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, so-called counterinsurgency has not been the success story presented to the American people. Making cash payments to buy cooperation from insurgent groups to conceal a failed policy of occupation is a temporary expedient to reduce U.S. casualties, not a permanent solution for stability."

How about that victory, Slothrop?!!!

Posted by: ndahi | Mar 31 2009 6:37 utc | 9

The problem is a too mighty military under direction of too shortsighted politicians...

The problem is a State that has completely lost its way, run by - not governed - circles that interlock and mingle in occult ways. The military, the CIA, corporations, the so-called finance industry, elected officials, think tanks, the Israel lobby, the Gvmt. itself (all branches), vested interests (e.g. Big Agri, Big Pharma) all influence each other and try to set policy or strategies that will keep them in place, and benefit themselves, which means plotting, planning in function of very narrow objectives. A certain measure of collaboration is necessary, and this can only take the form of deals - concessions, favors, etc. which create crack-pot compromises, vacillation, indecision, abrupt incomprehensible changes...

The result is that reality disappears down a sink hole and is no longer visible. A typical symptom is rampant, illogical, contradictory, useless bureaucracy. Another is favoring control and authority over consensus, common sense, and the balance of the different powers, as the latter is no longer possible. No superordinate goals can be reached (such as those laid out in the top article.)

Posted by: Tangerine | Mar 31 2009 14:13 utc | 10

Smedley Butler is still with us, and these new "strategic thinkers" merely re-state and update his common-sense ideas.

Also, as with other governmental Orwellian Newspeak, the words counter-insurgency and insurgency as used above are exactly opposite their real meanings. So we should say that countries should not conduct insurgencies in other countries because (1) it's wrong and (2) the counter-insurgents usually win.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Mar 31 2009 17:18 utc | 11

i was thinking of thinking

strategic. i was thinking mostly of rokossovsky & koniev- thinking that came from defeat & in the worst possible circumstanes. r was quite pointed about not wasting life - after all he had spent 4 yours in a kgb prison but his thinking inspires wonder & makes all strategist since seem quite stupid especially the scholars. & you have the genius, the utter genius of tukhachevski and yegorov - who were mimicked by some in the german general staff - but since these giants - they are all small men with small minds.

perhaps again we learn the obvious - that necessity is both the greatest teacher & the bravest innovator

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Mar 31 2009 18:01 utc | 12

b - sorry to derail...can you give us some insight into the tools you're using to find the stories you link? I'm using a combination of Google Reader and Google News Alerts (Yes, all "google-verse apps) to find things of interest, but this is a really good read and only came up in my MoA feed....

Also, you're bi-lingual (German, English) yes?

Oh, and thank you for this post.

Posted by: Jeremiah | Mar 31 2009 18:42 utc | 13

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