National Security Experts


Michael Vlahos

Biography provided by participant

Michael Vlahos is Professor of Strategy at the United States Naval War College. He is the author of Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Change, an analysis of how war -- as sacred ritual -- shapes collective identity, and what it means in culture to be human. His career includes service in the Navy, the CIA, Johns Hopkins SAIS and the State Department. An historian-anthropologist of war, he focuses on the relationships between civilizations, and the creative syncretism that is at the heart of change in history. He appears and posts on The Huffington Post, the National Journal and the John Batchelor Radio program (WABC).

Recent Responses

December 12, 2011 06:30 AM

[These are my views, and mine alone!]

“We are a nation at war” — a truth ratified by legal fiat now in US Code. But what is this war? So many attest that this is no longer war as we were taught to recognize, like fighting Nazis — state-against-state, force-on-force — but rather a war against non-state actors, armed groups, or, colloquially, “bad guys.” Can a nation be at war against a bunch of bad guys?

Yet so many in Government solemnly declare this to be our 21st century war, where, unlike wars past, intelligence operations adopting law enforcement tactics will be most effective. We are past Patton and his tanks, and we even leave straight-leg infantry behind. We have, so they tell us, entered a realm best addressed by the sweet cookie dough mix of CIA+SWAT.

Of course, US law enforcement agencies have always done their own intelligence, and US intelligence agencies have acted abroad (at least until recently) in law enforcement mode.

But the traditional core activity-space fo

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November 21, 2011 09:51 AM

I like Kevin Baron’s question, phrased like an old Stars and Stripes pro. I especially relish his use of the verb “to pivot.” It packs a bunch of insight into a single word.

Yes, the Defense World is pivoting — because the Defense World is paradigmatically dependent on seeking and finding an accommodating, codependent adversary. America’s modern “military-industrial complex” is a majestic enterprise, existentially Borg-morphed into necessary mind-meld with a cohabiting “enemy.”

Call this our emotional-lien — from the Latin ligare, to bind — or elsewise the ligature, the binding thread, of our own military’s contemporary identity.

Bottomline: We need an enemy — not to fight, but to make us whole in who we are and in what we have come to expect for our lifestyle.

And lifestyle needs a lifeline: Hence after a decade of maundering sleepwalking in the 1990s we found our electric-rapier métier the day after 9-11. How well I remember the lost Clinton d

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August 29, 2011 11:34 AM

Western intervention in Libya represents the first military enterprise after the 9-11 War, and thus shows us a bit of the emerging framework of how it will be done in future. Libya is primarily a European (and Italian) colonial legacy. France, Spain, and Italy have strong residual interests in North Africa, and intervention was probably inevitable. The compelling interest can be compared to (the former) Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Libya is as close to Italy as Yugoslavia is to Germany, and hence clearly within the European economic and strategic orbit. Successful intervention permits Europe, and Mediterranean Europe especially, to show how it still has the strength and determination to defend its economic and strategic integrity. The effort was probably not sufficient to impress an aggressive Russia — and here Germany's absence is telling — but it is nonetheless a better representation of European will than inaction.

The neo-colonial dimension — however sotto voce — should not be elided. Ghaddafi was a colonial successor king, and so represents a fo

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April 11, 2011 10:02 AM

In the Obama administration, Robert Gates has acted less as Secretary of Defense and more as president of an increasingly separate and autonomous realm within the United States. Is this simply a consequence of weak presidential Defense authority and and a lack of confidence in its war leadership? Or has this become a genetic failing of Democratic administrations — an hereditary condition caused by Republicans' successful appropriation of War and Defense enterprises?

Democrats may feel their Defense anemia acutely, yet the emerging DOD "presidency" represents a broad secular trend. Over several decades the Defense World has become a powerful political player in Washington, to the point where it is effectively insulated from both congressional and executive policy. Moreover since the introduction of the All-Volunteer Force military societies have evolved into increasingly separate and insulated sub-cultures within American life. Finally, ten years of war and its bitter politics has effectively denied Media, Congress and the Presidency permi

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January 5, 2011 01:22 PM

History tells us rivals often make the most productive partners. Here’s why:

· It’s just you and me, Baby. If the rivals happen to be the two biggest states, societies, and enterprises in the system, then everyone else has to scramble to choose sides — and become sidekicks. A big positive for the PARVALS (Must I spell this out?). Just look at the early Cold War: Great powers like Britain and France and China reduced to supporting actors.

· How do they become supporting actors? Simple: They are outmatched by the primary reality set up by the parvals. The parvals, you see, are not equal. One is clearly the senior, and one the junior. This apparent status differential is important, because it establishes a condition of competition without argument. The surface vitality of there-could-be-conflict forces all others to deal with this, and presto! It becomes the predominant new system dynamic. How well this worked for both Americans and Soviets!

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September 16, 2010 03:05 PM

START is like the procession of Cardinals (once Senators) in medieval Rome: Yet it is a contemporary ritual marking the eternal authority of nuclear weapons in human consciousness and their embedded standing in national identity.

It should have died. We for a blissful moment thought it had died: Soviet fall and Cold War’s end promised divine dispensation in our jubilant pronouncements that the millennium had arrived — erasing all cares of what had gone before. We thought it was over: More the fool, we.

To truly understand the full hold of nuclear weapons on us we must go back to former times. We must pullback from our rapture in the zeitgeist — meaning, all the neuralgias of today’s various policy conversations.

Back then it was like this: Atomic weapons owned by their original masters — the US and the USSR — were the bedrock iconography of world authority. Only two could rule, and rule they did. They dominated and drove that authority in the pursuit of their unacknowledged co-dominion. They loved it, and we ce

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August 13, 2010 11:18 AM

What’s Wrong With The QDR?

What’s Wrong With The Independent Panel?

“The QDR in Perspective: Meeting America’s National Security Needs in the 21st Century” is a curious document.

It declares itself to be not only “independent” but also critical of the Quadrennial Review process: “The natural tendency of bureaucracy is to plan short term, operate from the top down, think within existing parameters, and affirm the correctness of existing plans and programs of record.”

Bravo! Keep telling it like it is!

“This is exactly what happened to the QDR process. Instead of … long term analysis [that might] challenge preexisting thinking, the QDRs became … justifications of … established decisions and plans. The latest QDR continues the trend of the last 15 years. It is a wartime QDR … responding to the threats … and winning the wars in which America is now engaged.”

[In contrast we will] “assess the long term threats fac

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July 12, 2010 10:13 AM

The American religion puts its faith in Divine Progress. But we now begin to look like ancient Greeks and Romans who looked backward to a lost Golden Age. Consider Jack Kennedy and James Bond: 1962, Dr. No.

Granite-gray three-button suits, Bronzoni silk ties, very thin, unfiltered cigarettes, and selbtlade pistolen, caliber very small. A missile crisis over Cuba, averted by JFK, and another atomic incident averted by Bond — and Honey Ryder — who emerged into our consciousness like Venus arising, borne on ocean shell.

Contrast Ursula Andress to today’s Rossiya Face book Baby Doll, and we have our aperture to loss — determinedly pointing rearward to untouchable Golden Age.

Keystone Cops, Ham ‘n-eggers, “The Gang That Couldn&rsquo

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June 16, 2010 10:55 AM

The last of the Roman blockbusters of the 1960s was also the most interesting politically. The “Fall of the Roman Empire” was designed as an allegory of us, and released in the year Lyndon Johnson so passionately ramped up our stake in Vietnam.

This gorgeous (if tendentious) production was not simply about its cavalcade of stars — Alec Guinness, James Mason, Omar Sharif, Stephen Boyd, Christopher Plummer, and a Sophia Loren decked out in the most bodacious furs that ever graced the 2nd century. It was not simply about a complete recreation in marble of the Roman forum, or battle scenes with over 8000 soldiers on a Spanish plain.

This movie was a paean to US world leadership — to our modern Pax Americana. Even our then-Dean of History, Will Durant, helped with the screenplay.

The key scene comes early. The Stoic philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness) has been laboring for 12 years in the conifer-wilderness of Barbaricum, holding off the Marcomanni and Quadi (just as R

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June 8, 2010 09:59 AM

The Mavi Marmara incident reveals the inner dynamics of a Muslim World in search of restoration — and the intense competition to fulfill this deep promise

This is language that we have not heard since the time of Gamal Abdul Nasser.” Thus wrote the influential chief editor of Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, referring to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fiery response to the Israeli assault on the Gaza flotilla – adding that such “manly” positions and rhetoric had “disappeared from the dictionaries of our Arab leaders (since the demise of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser).” He lamented, “Arab regimes now represent the only friends left to Israel.” (From the CSM, here)

What is Renovatio? Simply, it is a national revival that takes the form of a restoration: Where t

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