Best Defense

Hey, General McMaster: Does your strategy canon have space for works by women, Asians or Africans?

Our new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s reading list is interesting, but it entirely lacks works by women, or non-Westerners, for that matter.

US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster looks on as US President Donald Trump announces him as his national security adviser at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on February 20, 2017. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster looks on as US President Donald Trump announces him as his national security adviser at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on February 20, 2017. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Heather Hurlburt
Best Defense guest respondent

Our new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s reading list is interesting, but it entirely lacks works by women, or non-Westerners, for that matter.

What might McMasterites miss out on? Lots. As it happens it is women who, in recent years, have given us some of the most insightful, and most unsparing, looks at the recent transformations, successes and failures of U.S. military strategy and political decisionmaking. Here is a sampling of what the general seems to have missed:

— If you want a comprehensive history of strategy, you would do well to start with Beatrice Heuser, who considers two thousand years of Western military thinking in her magisterial The Evolution of Strategy.

— Perhaps current events are making you want to dive into World War I, certainly one of the western strategist’s top three juicy targets? The study of its beginnings still regarded as among the best, and in print for 55 years, was written for laypeople by a laywoman, Barbara Tuchman — The Guns of August. Or you wonder what this “network thing” is all about, in which case you should check out Anne-Marie Slaughter’s forthcoming The Chessboard and the Web. (She’s my boss, btw, but Tom also kind of works for her.)

— Nadia Schadlow examines how we succeed or fail to turn military victory into political success in her brand-new War and the Art of Governance.

— Janine Davidson’s Lifting the Fog of Peace: How Americans Learned to Fight Modern War puts the post-9/11 transformation of our armed forces into strategic and political context.

— Rosa Brooks’ How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything now seems to anticipate the moment in which we look to military leaders such as McMaster to rescue our civilian policymaking structures.

–Speaking of civilian policymaking, Doris Kearns Godwin’s Team of Rivals is now such a cliché for presidents that it might be wise for military leaders to understand its portrait of wartime decision-making as well.

Want to dig into the particular developments that are shifting the strategic calculus of the U.S. and its adversaries? There are women authors for that too:

— Antonia Chayes’ Borderless Wars looks at how war changes when fought against non-state entities – and how that changes us.

— On technology, Kim Zetter goes beyond the facts of the Stuxnet virus to consider the strategic choices behind its use, and the consequences for the future of cyber and conventional conflict, in Countdown to Zero Day. In The Future of Violence, Ben Wittes and Gabriella Blum suggest that core democratic values exist in “hostile symbiosis.”

— Now is an excellent moment to pick up Samantha Power’s A Problem from Hell, or read it again — as a study of security decision-making in one Administration (Clinton), the source of reaction in a second (Bush 43), and the foundation of a worldview and its own equal and opposite reaction in a third (Obama).

— For more generalized theory about the domestic politics of using force, Elizabeth Saunders is your must-read – in books and regularly-updated writings.

— On the vexed question of civil-military relations, Warriors and Citizens, an edited volume published last year showcased a challenging range of perspectives from male and female authors and its two editors: Kori Schake and the then-retired General Jim Mattis. Rachel Maddow’s Drift is an excellently-constructed, under-appreciated exploration of related themes – with the added benefit of complexifying attitudes on how left and right are “supposed” to think about our military.

Bewildered? Overwhelmed by choice? Think you only want to read “the classics?” Fair enough. Keep making your choices based on review essays and recommendations, as I’ve done here. Just make sure that the people making the recommendations have some diversity of life experience, outlook, source of expertise. The people fighting, declaring and paying for America’s wars do.

A final note: I haven’t even begun here to consider the question of non-white and non-Western authors. Start with Sun Tzu — here’s a particularly painless version. Read some Asia hands’ distillation of Chinese strategic thinking. And ask your favorite publications to offer more review essays on how our global partners and adversaries are thinking about strategy.

Heather Hurlburt, a veteran of Congress, the State Department, and the White House, runs the New Models of Policy Change project at New America.

Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola