The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H106 H107 War, Strategy and Politics — Book Review

Distinguished U.S. Marine Corps General (ret.) Zinni argues that the key to the U.S. military’s success in battle lies in a combination of strategic decisions and actions that occur off the battlefield and often before the battle begins. Zinni illustrates his primer on the basics of formulating national strategy with examples taken from more than 50 years of military and national security experience. His full-bore critique of presidential administrations is organized chronologically from Kennedy to Obama. In the course of his analysis, Zinni names names and makes some bold and controversial assertions (for example, the U.S. has been too quick to use military force in the past and most civilian politicians are not knowledgeable enough to make correct decisions regarding war or strategy without professional advice). He offers several solutions to the issues he raises, including the creation of a professional, civilian-led national security corps, and a complete legislative reorganization of the military’s administrative departments to force “whole of government” strategic approaches to solving problems of national security. Zinni insightfully criticizes the decision-making process behind our national strategy and makes recommendations worthy of consideration.

October 14, 2015 - Posted by | books, H100 | , , , , , ,


  1. There is indeed a requirement to adopt a whole-of-government approach to solving problems of national security. This is because security issues are increasingly complex and can span multiple government agencies. However, there are many “ways” to achieve this “end” and Gen Zinni’s proposed structural solution is just one “way”. An alternative “way” include the current formal and informal coordinating measures to synchronize actions of multiple government agencies in the area of national security.

    In my view, it is extreme to shift from the current “way” of coordination to Gen Zinni’s proposal of a national security corps. A hybrid solution is one where only selected “talent” is rotated across multiple national security agencies to develop broad-based experience. This is envisioned as a system of developing future leaders for the different national security agencies. Future national security leadership with such broad-based experience would then have a more intimate understanding of the intricacies of each agency and hence would be better positioned to coordinate and develop whole-of-government solutions.

    Comment by Luke Goh, SG 19B | November 13, 2015

  2. The changing nature of war requires an overhaul of the legislative and executive national security framework. State actors such as Russia, Iran, and China increasingly turn to proxy forces to achieve national security objectives. The dissolution of cheap technology increases the lethality and communications of non-state and proxy-states undermining weak and poorly governed spaces across the globe. These environments fall somewhere between the Cold War war-or-peace legal construct that still guides U.S. policy makers, and hinders quick responses to ambiguous problems that fall between diplomacy, international law enforcement, and war. Due to the current framework, conflicts rooted in underlying symptoms of poor governance and failing civil security too often result in DoD responses to what should be whole of government problems.

    In order to effectively respond to the ambiguities in the current operating environment, I agree that JIIM partners need a new national security framework, but a new civilian national security corps may be unnecessary. Less draconian measures may prove to be equally successful, like empowering the establishment of Joint Interagency Task Forces (JIATFs) at lower echelons for country and region specific problems (O-5 and O-6 level), mandating joint assignments earlier in careers across all national security agencies, and incentivizing broadening and interagency assignments. The past fourteen years of war has seen significant improvements in joint and interagency cooperation during war. This next task is employing that cooperation effectively in a legal environment outside a declared theater of war.

    Comment by Kyle Johnston | November 30, 2015

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