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By John Helmer, Moscow

It’s novel for a US military institution to publish a report which contradicts its own conclusions, and adds up to evidence instead for the opposite of its proposals. This feat has just been achieved by the Naval Institute Press and Harlan K. Ullman in a book dedicated to the US Naval Academy Class of 1945. The title is Anatomy of Failure, Why America Loses Every War It Starts.

Ullman’s case is that because the US military lacks a “brains-based approach to strategic thinking”, it keeps losing the wars it starts. Ullman isn’t against the US starting wars. What he proposes is that the only brains for winning these wars are his own. Naturally, the London media have clicked their collective heels, saluting Ullman with reviews declaring, among other things, that  “there is not an army in the world that could stand up to the Americans in a fair fight. But winning wars is a different matter”.

In short, the adversaries of the US don’t fight fair. They win by fighting dirty. Americans need to use their brains, er Ullman’s brains, to compensate.

What those brains propose  is a combination of  “extensive knowledge and understanding of the enemy at all levels, brilliance in execution, rapidity, and sufficient control of the environment in all dimensions to impose our will.”

Ullman expands the IMPOSE-OUR-WILL phrase into a warfighting doctrine he claims to have invented himself in 1994. He was sitting, he claims, on a Pentagon committee of retired generals and admirals  he calls by their diminutives – Bud, Fred, Chuck, Tom, Jim and Snuffy.  Ullman says he first called the doctrine “shock and awe”.  But this is Ullman’s selfie, as fake as the photograph on the book’s dust jacket (lead image, left). This is also Ullman’s recapitulation of the old force concentration and mobility doctrines of Julius Caesar, Richard the Lionheart, Napoleon, German blitzkrieg, and Georgy Zhukov

It’s a battlefield idea which,  as the Germans learned on the Soviet Front, doesn’t win wars. The Americans are also learning the same these days on the Syrian,  Ukrainian, Korean and South China Sea fronts where they lack air superiority and on the ground have no better than parity of firepower  with the other side. Ullman and the US Navy have produced this book revealing they still don’t comprehend.   

Ullman is better known in Washington for boots on his own ground, according to the testimony of a local brothel madam who identified him publicly as her client before she was prosecuted and committed suicide. That’s a doctrine of schlock and whore.

Ullman’s book is organized into seven chapters, each dedicated to the mistakes of the president in charge since John Kennedy took office in 1961. In this time frame Ullman particularly dislikes the only US Navy officer who became president, Jimmy Carter; and he’s especially partial to the Hollywood cowboy, Ronald Reagan . He’s uncommonly respectful toward three Harvard armchair strategists – Stanley Hoffmann, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Henry Kissinger.

Left: Jimmy Carter in 1946; centre, Ronald Reagan in 1953; right, Osama bin Laden with Zbigniew Bzrezinski in 1981.  

There are just seven references to Ullman’s sources of evidence on the enemy, all of them American —  three by journalists;  one by a Clinton Administration appointee;  a US general’s ghost-written autobiography;   a British compendium of military data; and another book by Ullman himself. For his own brains approach to each of the wars he analyzes, Ullman refers to no source on the enemy side.  The only foreigner he claims to have known personally was Benazir Bhutto, the ill-fated prime minister of Pakistan. Nothing she may have told him of military strategic value is reported by Ullman – only what he told her.

Ullman provides a great many Big Notes in which he reports himself telling the highest officials of the US state what they should do – advice he subsequently blames them for not taking. Ullman’s big-noting includes Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, President Lyndon Johnson, National Security Advisor Brzezinski, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and a clutch of general staff officers – all failures because they ignored Ullman.

Not an insuperably difficult task considering how much of what Ullman was saying was tautological cliché, such as “personalties count”, “know your enemy”, “seasoned diplomat”, “superior weaponry and technology”. 

Ullman’s analyses of American wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, and Syria are filled with stunning errors of his  “cultural intelligence” – “prerequisite of success” — in place of intelligence.   In reporting the ethnic, religious and tribal balance of Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule, his miscount of the Sunni-Shia balance in the population is colossal. His account of the clashes between US forces and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi during the Reagan years stops at White House and Pentagon newsfeed such as  “Libya’s illegal territorial claims” and Qaddafi’s “foolhardiness”. He compounds this ignorance by repeating the discredited evidence of “Qaddafi’s agents” in the bombing of the Pan American flight at Lockerbie in 1988.  Omitting the story of the last years in power of the Shah of Iran, Ullman claims he and the Pentagon believed in “the threat of the Soviet Union marching south across the Zagros Mountains to capture Iran’s oil assets.”

Because he ignores the role of the Central Intelligence Agency entirely, Ullman claims Yugoslavia just “dissolved”, while in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the mujahideen “metastasized”. The US Army’s practices at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad “sullied the American reputation for ethical behaviour”. 

When something sensible comes out of Ullman’s mouth, his ears seem unable to hear it.  He acknowledges that US faking of enemy attacks have been used to justify many military interventions. Still, he repeats President George Walker Bush’s lie that Saddam had tried to assassinate his father in Kuwait in 1993.  

Ullman warns against over-confidence in US military technology. But after the Russian use of cruise missiles in Syria, he claims “the US Tomahawk cruise missiles were far more effective.”  Ullman reported this after the firing of 59 Tomahawks by two US Navy destroyers at Syrian targets in April of 2017 reached less than half  their targets, disabling none of them. 

Ullman writes that demonizing the enemy defeats the understanding required for effective strategy. The point is obvious, but not so obvious Ullman knows when he’s demonizing himself. Oleg Penkovsky, the GRU colonel caught spying for the US and UK, was tried and executed in May 1963. His execution was by firing squad, according to all Russian sources and the CIA.  But according to Ullman, “one story has it that Penkovsky was thrust alive into a blast furnace”.

Left: Richard Bayfield, a London book importer and publisher of the Bible, being slow-burned to death on the order of the Lord Chancellor Thomas More, in 1531. Right: Oleg Penkovsky’s public confession. For more details, click

Not only are Ullman’s demons obvious. So are his gods, er God. With approval he quotes the well-known US Army counter-insurgency expert, Lieut.Col. John Paul Vann. “I guess God put all the good guys on the other side.” For the US to continue to repeat past failures in Afghanistan Ullman claims to be certain  “unless God or luck intervenes.”  Ullman’s theology is the holy trinity of American exceptionalism – God, Luck, Self.

For a strategist keen to denigrate his superiors for lacking his own knowledge of the enemy, Ullman is unusually self-assured when reporting what “[Nikita] Khrushchev knew” in 1962, in the runup to the Cuban missile crisis; to Ullman, “Khrushchev’s strategic thinking was clear”. Just so, forty years later, “the Russians fully understood”, according to Ullman, “that the United States and NATO had unmatched conventional superiority over Moscow”.

Ullman’s assessment of the Caucasus war of 2008 starts because “Putin set a trap for Georgia that its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, foolishly ignored.” In the Ukraine in 2014, Ullman accepts that “by using social media, including Facebook and Twitter, unimpeachable unclassified evidence of Russian military presence was collected”. A year later, “the Atlantic Council with which I am affiliated,  presented a brilliant demonstration of… incontrovertible proof of the presence of Russian forces in Ukraine.” When on a visit to Moscow in 2016, Ullman reports being told by a Russian official “we cannot trust the United States to do the right thing”, Ullman reports himself as replying that he and his military associates at the Pentagon are more trustworthy than those at the White House or State Department. “Let me urge you,” Ullman quotes himself as advising the Russians, “to seek some sort of military-to-military dialogue or ‘Track II’ [nongovernmental, unofficial diplomacy between influential elites].”

Later, when Ullman’s Track II turns out to be exactly what led to the firing of Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn as President Donald Trump’s national security advisor after three weeks in office, Ullman concludes “Flynn was not a good choice.”  Just weeks after that,  in April 2017, Ullman reports himself as a guest of the Institute for the USA and Canada Studies in Moscow. There he accuses the Russian chief of staff, General Valery Gerasimov,  of having “greatly exaggerated NATO’s military capability… He also wrongly implied that Supreme Allied Commander had the authority to deploy forces and hence [sic] start a war.”

Ullman’s brain-based strategy for dealing with Gerasimov’s mistakes is “providing the Baltic and Black Sea NATO members with a ‘porcupine defense’, one that would badly bloody any attack”; despatch Javelin anti-tank missiles “along with other weapons to stop or kill ‘little green men’ at [sic] the border”; and then “finding new confidence-building measures.”  Ullman’s third brainwave is contradicted by his first two, but he blames this “on virtually all members of Congress [who] see Russia as an adversary, if not an enemy.”  How this could be and Ullman’s fourth brain-wave be true at the same time is a puzzle he doesn’t try to explain. Putin , according to Ullman, “is sweeping the public-relations battlefield.”

Ullman’s final brain-wave is the military application, not of cypher-breaking  of World War II vintage, but cyber warfare of the Google type. “A twenty-first century equivalent of Bletchley Park must be created to employ against our adversaries to understand them better and to use that knowledge to defeat them. This capability can be achieved by exploiting ‘big Data’, social media, the universally available Google Earth, and other public platforms.”

If that sounds like an internet and social media attack on Russia, it is. “The British Army…has already begun. Two brigades – 77 Brigade and 1 ISR (that is, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) – have been formed for this effort. The former is tasked with employing nonkinetic forms of war to achieve military purposes. The latter exploits open and civilian sources of information to gain knowledge.”

For the unit websites, click and here.

Ullman is very firm that the US has made profound mistakes of warmaking strategy because “unfortunately, the ‘What next?’ was never considered.“ But then he ran out of paper at page 242 of his book – that’s before he has time to clarify what will happen if the Russians defend themselves in cyber space and media  and  counterattack. This is a story we already know. And if we are forgetful, there isn’t an American or British newspaper or broadcaster which doesn’t remind us several times a day.

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