Hew Strachan may be an expert on World War I, but the Oxford University professor isn't stuck in the past. He has emerged as one of the world's preeminent thinkers on the character of modern warfare at a time when governments are confronting a host of new realities, from drones to cyberattacks to asymmetrical warfare. And he has the ear of top U.S. military officials. Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, is one of many to call himself one of Strachan's students.
Strachan would tell you that war hasn't changed as much as we may think because states are still the primary actors in conflict. But, perhaps more than any other military scholar, he has pressed civilian leaders to think deeply about how they articulate strategy, while urging military leaders to wrestle with their role in implementing it. He argues that since the 1980s, the U.S. Army has had an ever freer hand in running America's wars, while opting out all but entirely from the crucial policy debates on whether and in what way to use military force. Conflict, Strachan writes, became "a policy-free zone, in which military expertise was unfettered and where armies reasserted their authority over war's conduct." Unsurprisingly, he thinks this is what led to disastrously unsound strategy post-9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq, like the dramatic 2010 firing of Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, which Strachan says stemmed from the general's frustration over a lack of political guidance from the capital. And he has lacerated Barack Obama's administration for sending mixed messages to Afghans and Americans alike, citing its failure to understand that in modern warfare, communications are strategy. Reflecting on the war on terror in late 2011, Strachan made an observation that could equally apply to many of today's conflicts: "The paradox of having wars with big objectives, at least in declaratory terms, but only being ready to use limited means and limited levels of mobilization to fight them, puts you in a pretty confused place."Reading list: The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, by Thomas E. Ricks; And the Land Lay Still, by James Robertson; War from the Ground Up, by Emile Simpson. Best idea: Reintroducing the idea of victory in counterinsurgency. Worst idea: Bombing Iran. American decline or American renewal? Decline unless the U.S. recognizes the need for renewal. More Europe or less? Less. To tweet or not to tweet? Not to tweet.
Husain Haqqani and Farahnaz Ispahani have spent their careers fighting the slow-motion radicalization of Pakistan -- even as it became increasingly obvious that the deck was stacked against them. The husband and wife, now in self-imposed exile in the United States, were two of Islamabad's most prominent interlocutors with Washington as jihadists spread throughout Pakistan's tribal areas and Osama bin Laden was discovered a mile away from the country's version of West Point. Now, after a career defending Pakistan's deeply unpopular ties to the United States, Haqqani is beginning to think it's time for a geopolitical divorce.
"If in 65 years, you haven't been able to find sufficient common ground to live together, and you had three separations and four reaffirmations of marriage, then maybe the better way is to find friendship outside of the marital bond," Haqqani, a scholar of the Pakistani military, said in August. Ispahani, meanwhile, has tried to push Pakistan toward a frank discussion of its internal demons. The real struggle in Pakistan, she wrote this year, is "the systematic elimination" of anyone who stands up to the country's generals, who have created "a militarized Islamist state." She found out what standing up to them means in Pakistan's parliament, where she was a leading voice calling for the repeal of the country's notorious blasphemy laws -- an explosive cause that has cost several of Pakistan's leading liberal politicians their lives at the hands of Islamist killers.
Their outspokenness has had its own cost: Haqqani was forced to resign as Pakistan's ambassador to Washington and was hauled before a Pakistani court over allegations that he had sought U.S. help to head off a possible military coup, while Ispahani was stripped of her seat in parliament, ostensibly because she holds dual U.S.-Pakistani nationality. Instead of convincing Washington to rush to their aid, however, they're trying to convince Pakistanis that their true struggles can't be won by burning American flags. As Ispahani tweeted recently: "Stop blaming the world -- look inside."
HAQQANI Reading list: Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson; The Dictator's Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy, by William J. Dobson; The World America Made, by Robert Kagan. Best idea: Containment of totalitarian Islamism. Worst idea: Leading from behind. American decline or American renewal? American renewal. More Europe or less? More Europe. To tweet or not to tweet? Tweet, but only meaningfully and with purpose.
ISPAHANI Reading list: Ideas of a Nation, by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad; Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide, by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea; Realizing Human Rights: Moving from Inspiration to Impact, edited by Samantha Power and Graham Allison. Best idea: Using social media to defeat the overwhelming presence of jihadi extremists on social media. Worst idea: Not intervening in Syria immediately with the backing of the international community. American decline or American renewal? American renewal. More Europe or less? Europe with all its issues is still a more reliable partner than any others. Will prevent a resurgent Russia. To tweet or not to tweet? Always tweet. So many ideas emerge; so many conversations with ordinary people, intellectuals, and voiceless groups happen on Twitter and only on Twitter.