Applying Gen. McMaster’s 4 Fallacies of Future Wars to Political Campaigns
General H. R. McMaster was recently selected to be President Trump’s National Security Advisor. Long before he achieved this station, he was well known within the military as an effective commander and strategist.
Herbert Raymond “H.R.” McMaster gained notoriety early in his career as a Tank Troop Commander during Operation Desert Storm. His Troop’s actions at the Battle of 73 Easting became legendary, as they decimated a significantly larger force without a single loss.
Episode 66 of The Jocko Podcast provides an in depth look at the Battle of 73 Easting and McMaster’s 4 Fallacies, which are the focus of this blog.
McMaster’s 4 Fallacies
In October of 2014, Gen. McMaster published a journal article in the Small Wars Journal, “Discussing the Continuities of War and the Future of Warfare.” His goal was to illuminate and contest 4 deadly fallacies in warfare.
In addition to being dangerous in war, their corollaries can be devastating in politics. Below, we review each of the 4 fallacies and examine how they might apply to future political campaigns.
The Vampire Fallacy
Concepts with catchy titles […] promised fast, cheap and efficient victories in future war. Those who argued that these concepts were inconsistent with the nature of war were dismissed as wedded to old thinking. Technology would make the next war fundamentally different from all that went before it. […] This fallacy neglects war’s uncertainty based mainly on interactions with determined and elusive enemies.
Campaigns are hard work and every opportunity to make them easier is welcome. But the last decade’s incredible advances in technology and social media have deceived many into believing that the nature of campaigns has changed. Many believe that the campaigns of the future will be exclusively ruled by technology, not focused on personal contact.
Wunderkinds and their app or widget that will guarantee electoral victory abound. As McMaster says, this idea, ‘neglects [a campaign’s] uncertainty based mainly on the interactions with determined and elusive enemies.’ Technology is an incredible resource and you should leverage it heavily in your campaign, but technology itself isn’t going to win your race.
Out-working and out-witting your opponent are still the only reliable ways to achieve victory.
The Zero-Dark-Thirty Fallacy
The zero-dark-thirty fallacy, like the vampire fallacy, elevates an important military capability, raiding, to the level of a defense strategy. […] Raids, because they are operations of short duration, limited purpose and planned withdrawal, are often unable to effect the human and political drivers of armed conflict or make progress toward achieving sustainable outcomes consistent with vital interests.
Blitzes or ‘raids’ of any kind may augment the vital activities of a campaign but should never be seen as prime elements of strategy. “Money bombs,” “Sign blitzes,” and “Volunteer Strike Forces” are often thrown about as key elements of a campaigns strategy. They seek to overwhelm their opposition and make a definitive statement. When adding to an effective, sustained effort, such activities can prove quite valuable. However, too many campaigns try to use them in an attempt to make up for all the things they have NOT been doing.
Consistent, purposeful execution of your plan will do much more than sporadic detonations of frenetic activity.
The Marlin Perkins Fallacy
In the 1960’s on Sunday nights, families with young children gathered to watch two television shows, the Wonderful World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. The host for Wild Kingdom was Marlin Perkins. Marlin Perkins would introduce the topic of the show, often a dangerous animal, and provide commentary throughout. But Mr. Perkins would rarely place himself in a dangerous situation. He usually left close contact with the wildlife to his assistant, Jim fowler. In the Marlin Perkins Fallacy, the US assumes the role of Perkins and relies on proxy forces in the role of Jim fowler to do the fighting on land. […] The political and human dimensions of war often create what economists and political scientists call principle-agent problems.
It can be convenient to outsource campaign functions, to a group or vendor, but you cannot assume, no matter how trustworthy or well-compensated, that they will act with the same fervor and drive that you do.
Hiring vendors and delegating responsibility is a critical activity of any successful campaign. The Candidate can’t do everything so they must hand off responsibility. You must enforce accountability and align incentives when this occurs.
Don’t blindly outsource important campaign functions and assume they’ll be done to your satisfaction.
The RSVP Fallacy
The RSVP fallacy solves the problem of future war by opting out of armed conflict, or certain forms of armed conflict. The problem is that this fallacy does not give due consideration to enemies in wars or adversaries in between wars. As Leon Trotsky said, “you may not be interested in war but war is interested in you.”
If you are unable or unwilling to run a fully armed campaign, you will embolden your opponents and you will lose the opportunity to hold any initiative. This principle can be applied to opposition research, fundraising, paid voter contact, and so many other areas.
Just because you would prefer not to dial-for-dollars or pay for researchers to comb through your opponents past doesn’t mean it’s something you can just forget about.
There are often right ways and wrong ways to implement campaign strategies, but ceding significant spheres of the campaign without contest is a sucker’s bet.
Remember the Past. Anticipate the Future.
Believing future or current campaigns will be fundamentally different than those of the past requires us to assume a fundamental change in their nature. Whatever changes the internet may provide in message delivery or targeting, the nature of humans, and therefore the campaigns to persuade them, remains static.