Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The Marines on warfare, intelligence, close air support and Maslow

The June issue of the Marine Corps Gazette offers a nice representative slice of the Corps and the U.S. military eight years into the 9/11 era. Some of the eternal verities are mixed with observations from contemporary events. “The nature of warfare remains unchanged,” states a nice far subhed on page 12. It is possible ...

584932_090615_maslow2.jpg
584932_090615_maslow2.jpg






The June issue of the Marine Corps Gazette offers a nice representative slice of the Corps and the U.S. military eight years into the 9/11 era. Some of the eternal verities are mixed with observations from contemporary events.

  • “The nature of warfare remains unchanged,” states a nice far subhed on page 12. It is possible that this phrase appears at least once in each issue of the Gazette. Really, they should just make it the magazine’s motto. It is a key point of Marine Corps culture that technology changes but that warfare doesn’t, because it is fundamentally about people, not about machines. Hence derivative phrases such as “In the Marines we don’t man the equipment, we equip the man.”
  • “IN YOUR WORLD FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION,” states a dumbass Panasonic advertisement on the facing page. I don’t blame this page on the Marines, of course. But the claim made here is becoming one of my pet peeves. Actually, failure is an option, and the sooner we recognize that, the better decisions we are likely to make in avoiding it. 
  • The magazine bounces back with a good article about having an intelligence cell at the company level. I was pleased to see this because I’ve noticed in Iraq that good units have such cells, whether formally mandated by higher headquarters or informally cobbled together by a perceptive company commander who recognized the need and made it happen. “If a battalion is operating in a distributed environment the companies will never be satisfied with the level of battalion-level intelligence support,” observe Lt. Col. Morgan Mann and Capt. Michael Driscoll. They also point out that company-level intelligence cells are best staffed by Marines who display “Curiosity, ‘street smarts,’ and effective written and oral communication” skills. They also point to one of the eternal verities: “Every patrol needs to be debriefed.”
  • Another key tenet of Marine culture is invoked in a discussion of the new F-35 that argues that the Marines are the only service that provides good fixed-wing close air support. (At least, that is what I think is meant by the sentence, “It was ironic that the Marine Corps was the only Service in the world that still practiced the ‘tactical air force’ model perfected in WWII.”)

Of course, no contemporary military discussion would be complete without a nod to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. In the letters section, Lt. Col. Stuart Harness discusses Maslow and counterinsurgency:

Maslow’s hierarchy was never meant to be a counterinsurgency theory prescribing a methodical approach starting at the bottom of the pyramid. The main failure was not a flawed understanding or misapplication of Maslow’s theory but a failure to comprehend the nonkinetic effects of our own actions. Simply put, we achieved when we stopped alienating the tribes and incorporated them into our counterinsurgency efforts.”

(Full disclosure: When I was a child, Professor Maslow took me canoeing on the Charles River at party thrown by the Brandeis University psychology department. I also have a vague memory that he had a dog named Chumley, but I am reaching back nearly five decades. Anyway, perhaps this is why these days I seek self-actualization in whitewater kayaking and hanging out with Labrador Retrievers.)  

breezedebris/flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.