#10Weeks Chapter 10:



Terrorism is only a tool

With the “War on Terror” we declared war on a TACTIC. We declared war on a METHOD. We may as well have declared a War to Eliminate Ambushes or a War to Eliminate Sniper Fire. I was one of those earliest Warriors on Terror, and I’m equally guilty of having missed the bigger picture during the passionate early years following 9/11. Terrorism can be used byand is used byaggrieved individuals of every nation, faith, and color. We should update the world’s understanding about terrorism: it is far, far more effective and economical to “fight” violent extremism by preventing it.

In this small world, we must realize that our neighbor’s troubles are also our own.
Oscar Arias Sanchez

The primary focus of this book is on reducing conflict and, by extension, terrorism. Terrorism is less an inevitable horror, and more a useful method for effecting some desired change in others. I mentioned earlier that the use of terrorism is an admission of weakness. Because terrorists lack more legitimate means of influence, they settle for violent spectacle. Each of us, by virtue of our birth into the human race, is eminently qualified to understand much about this destructive and despicable behavior. Its origins are firmly rooted in human nature.

I’ve spent years engaged in counterterrorism. In various roles I’ve been tasked with “becoming” our adversary for the purpose of envisioning and advising an effective defense. I’ve studied terrorists with the purpose of understanding them—as a sympathetic insider. Terrorists share one thing in common with every other human being on earth: human nature.

Humans seek a secure, satisfying condition. It’s unnatural, exhausting, and miserable to devote your life to unconscionable violence…unless some other unacceptable imbalance in your life compels it. This refers back to underlying grievances.

We’ll always have some need of combat power, as some adversaries will always threaten violence. But some defensive energy is aimed in the wrong direction. If we can affect the sources of terrorism in proactive ways, we can reduce our dependence (and our expenditures, each of which represents a small victory for the terrorist) on endlessly improved defenses and rising costs for force-based supremacy. We can avoid playing into the hands of enemies like the late Osama bin Laden, who boasted that one of his tactics was to count on the cost of wars to bankrupt the United States.

On the subject of bin Laden, there is no more recognized authority than Peter Bergen, CNN’s National Security Analyst. Author of The Osama bin Laden I Know (Free Press, 2006) and his latest, The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda (Free Press, 2011), Peter is one of the few Western journalists in the world to have interviewed the founder of al Qaeda face-to-face. He provides insights unavailable to purely theoretical analysts of the ugly real world of this group and its former leader. In Holy War, Inc. (Touchstone, 2001) he addressed the issue of actual terrorist motivations:

“Why is bin Laden doing what he is doing? To attempt an answer, we have to refrain from caricature and instead attend to bin Laden’s own statements about why he is at war with the United States….

“Of all the tens of thousands of words that bin Laden has uttered on the public record there are some significant omissions: he does not rail against the pernicious effects of Hollywood movies, or against Madonna’s midriff, or against the pornography protected by the U.S. Constitution….

“Bin Laden is at war with the United States, but his is a political war, justified by his own understanding of Islam, and directed at the symbols and institutions of American power….

“In addition, treating ‘Islam’ as a monolith defies common sense. There are as many Islams as there are Christianities.”

I say Amen to that final observation, especially. My own pastor in a Presbyterian church once told me that not only were other religions—Hinduism; Islam—“cults” and therefore bound for the fiery pit, but that other so-called Christian traditions—Baptist; Methodist—are as well. And not only those, but other Presbyterian branches were similarly wrong-headed and deserved any ultimate punishment as may befall them.

Whether its intent is to restructure a government, repel a foreign force, or acquire some other accommodation, the raw material of terrorism (terror) is merely a method of persuasion; a voice. Some people choose actual words as their voice. Some choose the expression of political power. Some, called terrorists, seek to change an unacceptable situation by force. Behind this choice, in every, single case, is some perceived grievance.

Sometimes the solution to a grievance is within easy reach.  It only requires awareness of the problem; in my hometown, if I see that ten dollars I’ll never miss can relieve the hunger of a family for a day, my options are reduced by compassion—to one.

Recognizing that grievances can sometimes be relieved by simple awareness of the lives of our neighbors brings a responsibility. If we can easily solve stubborn pain points, we should. How many thousands of little needs could be satisfied by redirecting the development costs of one missile system? How many generations of new missile systems, on the other hand, might we need to buy because we disregard little needs?

If we do try, how far might the ripples extend from our best attempts to satisfy little needs? How many others might be inspired to take little steps based on this example? Either choice can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy. Either choice can initiate a cycle of behavior. Isn’t it time we chose little needs first, before new long-range missiles? Time we chose new cycles of help and trust over the cycles of hate and suspicion?

If we address the elephant in the room called “grievance” and discover the keys to reducing misunderstanding and miscommunication; if we reduce the retaliation that springs from a poorly handled today; if we rewrite our future by learning from our past, then how many of our own loved ones might be invisibly spared from that threat in years to come?


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 9: Respect (Guarding killers at Abu Ghraib prison)



Guarding killers at Abu Ghraib prison

I conducted a week’s antiterrorism assessment at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad not long after the prisoner abuse scandal raged through the global media. I was taught a humbling lesson in the value of humble respect.

Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?

@05 CH09 Intl Scenes - Abu Ghraib Saddam murals

Some murals from the walls of the prison’s main chamber; barred cells below massive images of the beloved, murdering dictator 

As in most of the assessment visits we conducted worldwide, my team found many well-intentioned young service members at Abu Ghraib, doing the best they could with the challenge set before them at the military detention center. Soldiers went about their 12-hour work days in the blazing sun, no weekends, for months on end. They put their heads down when the rocket attacks came, and stepped back out to work when the rocket attacks concluded. They faced each day knowing it might be their last…and carried away the broken bodies of their comrades when that time came for them. I recall at least one near fatality among the several IDF (“indirect fire,” or rocket and mortar) events we experienced that week.

As extraordinary as this lifestyle may sound to some readers, it is common for hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers and for millions of others around the world. It’s because of the rigors of their lifestyle, and the callousness you might expect it to engender, that I was especially humbled by a simple lesson of insight shared by one facility guard I interviewed.

Swaggering in my “cammie” uniform, rifle and Trident (SEAL insignia patch), I’d been looking out over The Yard enclosed in triple-strand concertina wire while we talked and staring at the detainees with self-righteous, angry suspicion. Which one had most recently killed one of my own friends? I asked this guard how he could stand to deal with these (my word) “scumbags.”

“I just try to treat them all with respect,” he replied. “Some of these men were detained for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They’re innocent, but it’ll take us several months to confirm that and return them to their families.” He paused. “It’s hard, here, for a woman to try to run the house without her husband.” I deflated a little.

He continued, “Some are absolutely guilty. That guy over there,” he pointed to a smallish, quiet, ordinary-looking individual walking alone in a dishdasha robe, “killed two Americans in an ambush a few days ago. He’s a hard case and nobody else can work with him. But he’s willing to talk with me, and usually does what I ask. I think it’s because I act respectfully toward him.” I deflated the rest of the way.

Respect is sometimes a feeling we get when we admire someone. Like the feeling of “love,” however, this form of respect is an involuntary response and can’t be controlled. Many people had feelings of respect for Hitler, based on his awesome power to destroy. What this guard reminded me, on the other hand, is that the verb “to respect” (like the verb “to love”) is available to us at any time, regardless of our feelings. We can offer respect to anyone, even to an enemy, and this choice can make our jobs, our environment, and even our life easier.

We can’t always know a person’s entire situation. Wait, scratch that. We can’t ever know a person’s entire situation. I might look out into a sandy prison compound enclosed in multiple strands of eviscerating wire and find myself glaring contemptuously at…a florist. Or I might be contempting some young humanitarian, some future democratic leader of his society, whose pleas of innocence sound just too good to be true.

On the other hand, I might in fact be looking straight at an honest-to-goodness, cold blooded killer, someone who recently took the life of one of my comrades. Even in this extreme case, however, I have to examine my own intentions and actual self-interest (remember that term?) and act accordingly. Is demeaning treatment from me likely to build further resistance and thus interfere with my purposes? Is the immediate satisfaction of getting back at someone worth the loss of my long-term goals? Whether my intention is to gain compliance from a prisoner, negotiate a better price with a wily shopkeeper, or simply work out the optimal division of chores around my household, some wise old guy somewhere in history probably said it best when he first declared, “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.”


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 8: Dignity (The ugly American)



The ugly American

International relations, like interpersonal relations, have amazing ups and downs. With the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the situation between the U.S. and this “partner” in the war on terror degraded quickly. It will not remain so, as a glance at the last century (and reconciliation with mortal enemies Japan, Germany, Russia…) will confirm. Here, then, I’ll use citizens of the nation of Pakistan to demonstrate the universal value of basic dignity in peacemaking. 

America is a Nation with a mission – and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs.
We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace—a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman.

George W. Bush

Do you remember the film, “Blackhawk Down” (Revolution Studios, 2001)? Probably.

Do you remember farther back, when the 1993 Mogadishu incident with U.S. Army Rangers and Special Forces troops first occurred, and we lost 18 men, some of whose bodies were desecrated? Possibly.

Do you remember the 24 Pakistani peacekeepers who were massacred in the same town just three months before the “Blackhawk Down” events?

Not bloody likely.

If this equally tragic occurrence sounds unfamiliar, it’s probably not because you are heartless, bigoted or self-absorbed. We tend to notice those things which affect our own. Thus I want to help enlarge the meaning of “our own.” If I am in fact a person, then my own kind includes all people. If we can look beyond skin and wardrobe, we will find much more to agree on and, simultaneously, less to fight about.

I deployed to Somalia on the heels of the horrible deaths and mutilations of our soldiers. We didn’t experience any such combat drama afterward, of course. The U.S. pulled out of Somalia a few weeks later. What I want to emphasize is that even so soon after these two similar battles, we on the ground in Mogadishu were far more aware of the loss of 18 Americans than of those 24 Pakistanis.

Do you know who rolled on into the “Blackhawk Down” battle to conduct a large part of the rescue of our desperate American forces in Mogadishu? Pakistani soldiers.

Fast forward eight years, and you’ll find me conducting reconnaissance to facilitate the invasion of Afghanistan soon after 9/11. Pakistani soldiers were responsible for escorting us and providing security while we conducted our business.

We didn’t come under fire that day. If we had, there is a fair chance some of them would have been wounded or killed defending our lives.

As I entered the U.S. DFAC for dinner at a base in Baghdad one evening, I was met by three large posters on the wall emphasizing the importance of Equal Opportunity. These were produced to express the official policy of the military toward prejudicial behavior.

At the top of each was the title, “Equal Opportunity,” and at the bottom were “DIGNITY and RESPECT” in large, bold, rainbow-colored letters.

One poster gave definitions for the categories of Racial, Gender and Religious discrimination. Below these, it said forcefully, “Not in our Army!”

Once I had made my way to the food line, I had the distinct displeasure of watching an American soldier as he scowled at the Pakistani food server behind the counter and waited petulantly for his order to be followed to the letter. He had three Styrofoam take-out containers and had ordered three different meals for buddies.

It quickly became obvious that this was a real SOB. By SOB, of course, I mean Strategically Off Base. Such SOBs are shining examples of the “ugly American” reputation. They can be big, rude, and with a revolting sense of entitlement when dealing with sometimes smaller, sometimes darker people, for whom English may be a second language. Given the right opportunities, SOBs have an amazing super power: they can sour neutral or even positive attitudes of foreign nationals toward the United States.

This American stared at the server with open contempt. While the flustered man tried to make sense of his complicated instructions, the SOB simply glared, making no effort to clarify the request. Once the server completed the first two meals and hustled off to get a bun for the third, the soldier snatched up two containers and walked away up the line, forcing the server to hasten to catch up.

As the Pakistani man rushed up with this final meal, the SOB just glared at him again and snarled, “I said barbecue sandwich!”

I won’t soon forget that quote. In a movie, it would have been funny; spoken by the guy nobody’s supposed to like who always loses the girl in the end. He said it in a tone a mean child might use with a small dog. The petty comment reminded me of some in the comfortable headquarters staff at war who will bitch that the DFAC’s Baskin-Robbins ice cream server doesn’t have a particular flavor one day…while fellow soldiers at remote outposts grind into a thirty-fourth day with nothing but cold MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat).

After the SOB strutted away, apparently satisfied that he had put that little so-and-so in his place, I apologized to the server for the disgraceful behavior and told him some Americans think they’re kings.

A bomb tech sergeant next to me shook his head and said, “You got that right,” as he watched the SOB stalk off.

Two thoughts:

To the Pakistani soldiers who gave their lives, risked their lives, and protected my life with theirs: Thank you. Shukriya.

To the SOB: Grow up. It doesn’t matter how hard our leadership tries to teach, if you choose not to learn. Bite the bullet on the fear and frustration of war—for your own future benefit. I know how hard it hurts to lose your buddies. Believe me. But try to comprehend that your well-being is tied to that of others. Show some Dignity and Respect—become a participant in our struggle for genuine global security. It will never make things better to abuse more innocent bystanders.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 7: Self-interest (Simple needs)



Simple Needs

Why did you do the first thing you did this morning? My guess is that was driven by a physical urging to head for a certain room of the house. But why did you do the second thing you did? Was it starting the coffee, or the heater, or the television? This was driven by self-interest. Those are obvious examples, but think through to some action less obvious; how about the first thing someone else “made” you do? Did you go to school, work or chores? That would have been based on self-interest, too. You may have wanted to avoid a scolding, or losing a paycheck. Every conscious choice is based on some personally “preferred” outcome, even when we can’t immediately recognize it as preferable. 

Each of us has an opportunity to play a far more apparent role than at first glance,
and to do so individually as well as collectively,
and not to leave such matters to others or to chance alone.
Jonas Salk

                       KILL Powerful Peace @04

Sure, we worked hard, but relaxing later with hummus, Arabic tunes and our own, private hookah bar was ample reward. (Not all examples of self-interest look so much like the shameless self-indulgence pictured here.)

Leafing through an issue of The Counter Terrorist magazine (Security Solutions International, May 2010), I read an excellent piece entitled “Agent of Influence in Undercover Operations.” Bill Majcher wrote that during his decades undercover in law enforcement, gaining the confidence of some of the most unsavory characters on the planet, he always reached his target through that simplest of influence tools: self-interest.

Bam. If you replace Majcher’s agenda of “exploiting human greed for apprehension purposes” with one of “exploring common ground for peacemaking purposes,” you’ll find the overlaid approach to be nearly identical. I’ve spoken with Bill and CT Mag’s Editor Chris Graham about these commonalities.

Understanding motivators is a powerful, universal principle of influence. The Undercover Operations article insists that individuals—all individuals—base all their decisions on self-interest.

Perhaps your mind is blurting out, “Say it isn’t so! What about Mother Teresa?” Well, what about her? I say Mother Teresa was in fact motivated by the deepest of self-interest…as was Adolf Hitler.

Granted, their interests diverged radically. (That’s an understatement.) She was unable to sit by while millions suffered and died. He, on the other hand, was unable to tolerate the peaceful existence of millions. Beneath it all, we find the same driving force: what mattered (self-interest) to these larger than life figures ended up being where they chose to invest their energy. It’s the same for each of us.

The thug who robs a couple on the street is no more selfish than the frightened husband who steps between the thief and his wife. One is selfish enough to steal property at the material and emotional expense of his victims. The other is selfish enough to deny his own well-being in order to protect his lady. He prefers to risk death rather than see her harmed.

In this sense, self-interest is neither good nor bad—do we judge the need to eat as “good” or “bad?”—it simply is what it is. This basic human motivator is a powerful aid in guiding human behavior.

During my recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve witnessed countless examples of self-interest driving otherwise unnatural behaviors. As mentioned previously, some of the roadside bombs that kill and cripple American soldiers are placed by husbands and fathers at the end of their rope. They need money. There is no alternative financial source for basic survival.

Let me repeat that for dramatic effect: there is no alternative financial source for basic survival.

Many of these men do not desire to harm our fighters. Each is simply forced to choose between his son and mine. The answer is clear; the choice is obvious. In the United States and other stable nations, a desperate father can turn to assistance through unemployment insurance, welfare payments, or homeless shelters. For thousands of desperate fathers in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, again—there is no alternative financial source for basic survival.

Try to comprehend what you would be willing to do to ensure your family’s very survival. Now consider what opportunities this gives those of us who have resources. It takes very little to help people who have nothing. If that help deters IEDs or hatreds that blossom into terrorism, isn’t it a pretty good investment?

Consider an example from Michael Yon, former Special Forces soldier, combat journalist, and author of Moment of Truth in Iraq (Richard Vigilante Books, 2008):

“When the compromises negotiated by Petraeus expired, many of the ex-professors and administrators at Mosul University lost their jobs permanently. The retired and disenfranchised military—who had helped keep the growing insurgency at bay—were now told they wouldn’t be part of the new Iraq, in direct contradiction to promises made by commanders on the ground. The most able and dangerous men in the country learned they could not trust American military commanders. Trust, the first and most important hill on the moral high ground, and we had abandoned it. Unable to support their families, cut off from their own country’s future, furious at the new regime that had made them pariahs, these men were an insurgency waiting to happen. They did not wait for long.” [Italics mine]

If we just think ahead a little, such mind-bogglingly negative consequences can be avoided. Anyone reading this should be able to put himself into the shoes of one of the men Michael describes, and easily imagine how he would be impacted by the same circumstances.

Also from Moment of Truth in Iraq: “General Petraeus has pointed out for a long time that there is no purely military solution to the fighting in Iraq.” Sounds a bit like Defense Secretary Gates’ aforementioned, “We cannot kill or capture our way to victory,” right? It’s no coincidence that they both sound like the assertion in Powerful Peace that we have to balance hard and soft powers to have any worthwhile effect.

Now I’m going to jump the tracks just a little to wrap up with another important passage from Michael’s book. Later on in Powerful Peace you’ll read a chapter entitled, “It’s the children, stupid.” Here’s a taste of the same compassion to be found in Moment of Truth in Iraq:

“American soldiers can’t take it when they see a kid get burned. If they are in the neighborhood on a mission and they see a burned kid, they will cancel the mission to get the kid to an American aid station, which, technically, they shouldn’t be doing. But a lot of tough soldiers get weak knee’d when they see a kid in trouble. They’ll shoot insurgents all day and all night and can’t get enough of it, but when they see a kid hurt, they’ll stop and drive off with the kid. Thousands upon thousands of these obviously spontaneous actions had a profound effect on how the Iraqis see us. They knew we did a lot of stupid and overbearing things, even brutal and criminal things at times. But they also could not deny that, on the whole, our people had a heart for them, or at least for their kids. And who couldn’t like Iraqi kids? Practically everywhere the kids loved to see the soldiers, and the soldiers loved to see the kids.”

You may think this is simplistic. It is. To ensure our own best interests, global engagement must include such thinking alongside arms and sanctions. If we absolutely must hate and kill each other over stupid disagreements, let’s at least make sure it’s based on “reasonable” and time-tested animosities…like politics and religion. Let’s do our best to make sure a father is never again killed for being unable to feed his children.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 6: Alternatives (I won’t make my wife a prostitute)



I won’t make my wife a prostitute

What will any man do when faced with a range of unacceptable choices? He’ll select the least lousy option and proceed accordingly. It may be that violent crime is the only game in town. But what if more appealing alternatives could be provided, at little expense to the providers? The reach and reward of generous thinking holds great promise. Like all ASP solutions, this is a Return on Investment that pays the investor in improved personal security. We need to invest in solutions. 

This whole thing sucks, you know?
I mean, it all coulda been avoided so incredibly easy….
To shame a man like that, and back him into a corner;
seems to me that something is out of whack, not someone.
“Jim Palumbo”

The title for this chapter was born during a conversation at the American embassy outpost in Basra, Iraq. It was quoted by an Iraqi friend, the senior cultural advisor to our diplomats there. He was passing me a comment from another friend out in town, a Baswari (Basra resident) who was not—not yet—fighting on the side of the insurgency: “I won’t make my wife a prostitute.”

This Baswari was one of thousands of unemployed Iraqi men, living in pathetic conditions with unemployment several times greater than the U.S. experienced at the height of its recent recession. He needed work, because his family needed food. He told my friend the options were simple: 1) acquire gainful employment; 2) put his wife to work as a hooker; 3) emplace an improvised explosive device (IED, or “roadside bomb”) to earn the freelance insurgent “supporter” rate of $150—and thus feed his family for a month.

On point 1, with nearly 30% unemployment (70% in some areas, and 80% for women), he had no opportunities. On point 2, he had taken a stand. Door number 3 remained the only avenue. If our soldier is killed by the IED he emplaces, what will our response be? Appropriately, we will capture or kill this now-valid enemy “target,” this pitiful actor at the end of his rope, this family’s only possible breadwinner…greatly worsening the situation of a woman and children already in desperate need. Via video feeds, I’ve watched live as men were disintegrated by our costly missiles—adding another expense to this spiraling drama—and wondered at their stories. How many would have fit into this scenario of desperate choices? Final tally in such a tragically unnecessary scenario: one dead American, one dead Iraqi, and two families in two hemispheres torn apart.

The slain bomber’s neighbors will long remember the circumstances in the neighborhood, the fate of this man, and the consequent suffering of his family. The cycle will continue.

For years I’ve written and spoken about the urgent need for individuals and populations with dominant power to look through the eyes of other individuals and populations. More deliberate, more pervasive engagement is a systematic way of reducing conflict on all sides. If this is the era of the “social network,” we should probably put away old patterns of isolation and fear; so many opportunities exist to learn about the Other. Again in the words of Stephen R. Covey (Principle-Centered Leadership, Fireside, 1992):

“If you want to overcome the pull of the past—those powerful restraining forces of habit, custom, and culture—to bring about desired change, count the costs and rally the necessary resources. In the space program, we see that tremendous thrust is needed to clear the powerful pull of the earth’s gravity. So it is with breaking old habits.”

The struggles we prevent can range from passive-aggressive hassles in the workplace, to taking an unwelcome knife in the ribs, to wars between states based on trembling platforms of misinformation, ignorance, paranoia and reaction.

Let me offer just one highly preferable alternative to killing a man who puts out an IED to kill an American to earn $150 to give his daughter some food: if he contracts to not take hostile action against our forces, let’s give him $300 to subsist for one month. That’s right; let’s double his income, giving him a one-time, good-deal payout of $300 to care for his family as he chooses. There’s only one condition; that he not participate in attacks against our forces or his own struggling government. He’ll be made to understand this with crystal clarity: any violation of the agreement will yield radically amplified legal, and perhaps lethal, consequences. With such an agreement, and for the potential gain to all parties, I’d write this check from my own family’s accounts!

In the next month, let’s offer him the same $300—only this time, we’ll attach a string: he has to sit through vocational rehabilitation classes to learn a trade like electrical work. Heaven knows, shattered nations are in desperate need of qualified electricians to begin patching together a safe and reliable infrastructure. The hazards of electrocution, and the certainty of regular electrical failures, are common risks in Iraq.

The third month, let’s attach another string to receive $300: he’ll accompany a master electrician as an apprentice in town, reinforcing the lessons he learned in his classes. His compensation now includes not only double pay for greatly reduced risk, but also the experience for a new career, the self-esteem of providing for his family, the peace of mind of household economic security and the stabilization of his local neighborhood.

(It’s not hard to imagine the shame and anger of men who cannot satisfy their families’ needs. For a vivid illustration of the extremes to which a man may be driven, watch Denzel Washington in John Q (New Line Cinema, 2002). John Q’s friend, Jim, spoke the great line I used as the intro to this chapter. “This whole thing sucks, you know? I mean, it all coulda been avoided so incredibly easy.” Do we really want to be looking back over the next, bloody, intercultural conflict and find ourselves saying the same thing after lives and limbs have been lost?)

The fourth month, and every month afterward, our participant will be required to earn his $300 by working as an instructor-electrician and escorting new apprentices coming up through the same program.

The fifth month, we can begin to split the salary cost, with the host government’s paying half and preparing to assume what is ultimately a domestic responsibility.

Within half a year, starting in month six, the local national government should bear the entire, minimal, cost of these salaries in exchange for improved public power distribution and a reduction in injuries/mishaps caused by faulty wiring. No coalition soldier is killed by the men in this program, because they receive twice the income for a safe and rewarding occupation. Equally important to their families and neighbors, they rediscover self-respect. No wife is pimped, no child is hungry, and the rebuilding of a society is in full swing. We hold the leverage and authority of the original work contract, and his understanding of doubled or tripled punishment for violating it.

The scheme describes an electrician as its subject, but struggling countries have equally urgent needs for masons, plumbers, builders, and more. Reconstructing the infrastructure becomes a growth industry itself, building up a growing network of local economies, made up of service and goods providers, manufacturers, and clients.

How could these costs work out, you ask? Well, according to conservative estimates at the time the subtitle-quote was spoken, the U.S. government alone paid more than ten billion dollars a month to run the war in Iraq. Two years later, the cost in Afghanistan was about the same. If we round that total down for argument’s sake to nine billion, the proposed $300 monthly wage rate could extend to thirty million work-study program participants.

Of course, each country only has about thirty million citizens altogether….

Obviously, we’re not going to stop paying for bombs, bullets and butter. So let’s divert just one thousandth of those nine billion dollars, and begin rebuilding the nation with 30,000 men. Or take just one ten-thousandth (0.01%, or $900,000) and start with “only” 3,000. That’s 3,000 families stabilized, 3,000 potential bombers prevented, and 3,000 fewer chances for our soldier to be torn apart. He will be more likely to return safely to his own beloved family. Imagine where this could take us.

But where would we find less than one million dollars to spare? Well, you could start by cutting out the gourmet ice cream cart at my dining facility (DFAC). My comrades and I will find some way to bravely carry on without creamy delights smothered in luscious toppings. It is a war, after all. And that’s a small personal price to pay to reduce the number of desperate men and buried bombs.

Real, unlimited solutions in the unlimited world of conflict are within reach, if we are willing to use imagination, daring, and the vast reservoir of experience held by security professionals and policy makers who refuse to get back into the box.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 5: Restraint (Cause a Pause)



Cause a Pause

The cycle of harm and loss is nearly unbreakable without deliberate effort. Needless to say, this high-minded ideal can be challenging to practice when bullets, fists or words are still flying. 

I tried to talk with them, but they couldn’t hear me over their RPGs.
Eric Hatter

@03 CH05 BLACKOUT VERSION Charlie 2001 BandW

Our platoon, shortly before 9/11/01. Despite a wide range of interests and capabilities, there was an unbreakable unity of purpose. (Author to right, sans trademark beard.)

I want to share a favorite The Naked Gun (Paramount Pictures, 1988) movie exchange in which the late, great Leslie Nielsen, as Police Lt. Frank Drebin, encounters a thug sent to kill him. The assailant yells, “I have a message for ya from Vincent Ludwig!” and begins firing at Drebin. He continues, “Take that, you lousy cop!”

Frank yells back, “I’m sorry! I can’t hear ya! Don’t fire the gun while you’re talking!”

(By the way, I strongly recommend you rent or buy Naked Gun for an hour and a half of delightful peacemaking…it’s very hard to hate while you’re laughing.)

The opening quote for this chapter is from a comment posted at our blog, PowerfulPeace.Wordpress.com. Eric “Madd” Hatter, a longtime friend and fellow retired SEAL, made the point that some of the concepts in Powerful Peace can seem a little unrealistic. The RPG’s he mentions are the “rocket-propelled grenades” that were fired at him in Iraq. His comment is a facetious reference to my apparent desire to hold hands with terrorists/insurgents and sing Kumbaya.

While on the surface he appears to oppose my position outright, I couldn’t be more pleased to have this counterpoint expressed so succinctly. It’s exactly why frank dialogue is important. “We” (Rob and Eric, or The West and The East, or any other We and They) can begin to understand what we don’t understand about the other by just saying what we think is going on. That opens the exchange of information, which begins to clear up dangerous misunderstandings.

Yes, sometimes you gotta shoot a guy.

The message of Powerful Peace is not to attempt reasoning with an insurgent who is aiming an RPG at me. In that moment, there is only one option if I hope to see kith and kin again. By now you can imagine what it is.

Powerful Peace isn’t “either-or.” Either-or is the enemy of Powerful Peace, because it says such things as, “either you claim my religion—or I can kill you;” “either you’re in my political party—or I can’t respect you.”

“Either you’re with us…or you’re against us.”

In contrast, responsible living is more appropriately an “all,” as in accepting “all options” available for a particular situation. Builders are masters at selecting the right tool for each job. A hammer will drive home a screw, but poorly. And I could probably, eventually, drive in a nail with a screwdriver—but I’d need some aspirin afterward!

I’ll use the dialogue tool to engage the community that breeds the guy that wants to kill me with an RPG. Ultimately, the idea is to engage with communities that don’t yet even have guys that want to kill me with an RPG. For example, I would love to reach a potential “guy with the RPG” while he’s a child, years before his radicalization, and help his family help him become an engineer, a physician, or a musician instead of an insurgent. If changing the entire world is a bridge too far, we can at least nibble around the edges of bitter conflict; one person, family or neighborhood at a time.

As I wrote in an essay entitled “Becoming Your Enemy” in 2005, “The next evolution of terrorist threat mitigation is elimination, before the hateful cause exists, by working with the source.” We have to learn to operate in the “space” referred to by Viktor Frankl and championed by Stephen R. Covey: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom.” (7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press, 1990.) In other words, I can react to others according to old habits and assumptions…or I can try to understand what’s going on, and respond in a manner much more likely to move me toward my true goals.

In military planning we often refer to enemy and friendly groups as Red forces and Blue forces, respectively. Appropriately, a third color is sometimes used to describe those locals resident in a conflict area who are not willingly allied with either faction. This great majority of those among whom an insurgency or war swirls, these moms and dads, kids and grandpas, is called “Green” forces. (Note: sometimes “local nationals”—i.e., Afghans in Afghanistan—are subdivided into White, for neutral civilians, and Green, for official local military or government personnel. Philosophies differ; I prefer to simplify this for ease of reading.)

Green is an interesting selection, considering how other bloody games (viz. rugby) are also fought on a green expanse.

For too long, we have given only passing notice to the human beings suffering amid hostilities. Seeing little more than a burden of humanitarian needs, we have frequently failed to recognize this living backdrop as a key component of our operational success or failure.

Nowadays, however, insightful commanders are changing the paradigm. Major General Mike Flynn, former Deputy Chief of Staff (Intelligence) for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, published a paper entitled “Fixing Intel; A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistanwith the Center for a New American Security (CNAS, 2010).

In this clarion call he declares that we have relied on kinetic (offensive) operations too heavily, neglecting to study and understand the host population. This does not mean we should abandon kinetic capacity. As you’re reading throughout Powerful Peace, you’ll also find in Fixing Intel that the ability to fight and to kill is essential. Yet you will also read about a “…tendency to overemphasize detailed information about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it….”

In other words, the lives and needs and interests of people among whom we are fighting have not been factored in adequately to even support our own best interests.

From that same document, we read the quoted guidance of General Stanley McChrystal, then-commander of ISAF: “The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy.” In my advisory capacity I often point to the fact that Red actors are simply former Green citizens who have crossed into our enemy’s camp. (In some cases, an individual is literally Green by day and Red by night.) And again, this crossing over is always caused by some perceived need or grievance, whether due to economic constraints or a desire for revenge. If we are able to effectively address these, therefore, we stand to gain. Every increase to the ranks of Green forces reduces the Red by one.

Consider the practical effects of this large group on both friendly and enemy efforts: the human aspect of life, or HAL, is a powerful motivator. In difficult situations it can override cultural biases and swing a local population toward either side. On a sports field, the turf stays quietly in place. It stays level. Not so with dynamic, feeling, human terrain.

The “Green forces” human terrain rises up to shelter our enemy when he is the lesser of evils, and it channels us in the right direction when he is not. Our footing is closely connected to and dependent upon its inclination.

The vast, green field is as real, and as necessary, as any other planning factor for our eventual victory in armed conflict…the fact that we just might help save some kids in the process is of course a pretty tasty gravy.

Powerful Peace is apolitical. We can learn to grow beyond blind adherence to ideology. No single party holds a monopoly on making a safer world for all our families. Once a person understands our mutual responsibility to one another and the goodwill it can engender, she can begin to exercise the CAP, that cause-a-pause option, for the greater good of our species and herself. Remember: we don’t have to “like” each other in order to “accept” one another. Every human is a stakeholder, and every one of us is a potential agent of peace.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 4: Smart power (Smarter, not harder)


Smart power

Smarter, not harder

Hate leads to harm leads to loss leads to hate leads to harm leads to loss leads to hate…. This cycle is vicious and persistent. So persistent, in fact, that there can be no “spontaneous solution”no softening of heartswhile shots are still being traded. Reconciliation is hard. Breaking the cycle requires insight and courage and humility; the same rational, compassionate and moral human guidance you will see again and again. We’ll talk much more about “Mind” in the next section, but here’s a primer on “smart power.” 

Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man
as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.
Mohandas Gandhi

On the wall of our traditional Japanese martial art (jujutsu) hall (dojo) hangs a sign:

Avoid rather than check

Check rather than hurt

Hurt rather than maim

And maim rather than kill

For all life is precious and no one has the authority to take it away

As a member of the aforementioned dojo, a retired SEAL, and an advisor to the Department of Defense, I have to speak out for improvements to our “whole of government” campaign for national security and international engagement. We begin by acknowledging that the two are inextricably connected. Counterterrorism itself is all too often relegated to the military and other coercive organizations because the problem is popularly seen as being one of violence. It is not…not entirely. The State Department’s role in countering terrorism should be recognized to be as important as, or more than, military power. Unfortunately, the reality is that we don’t have an optimal balance among American national assets.

The terrorist actor uses violence as a voice and as a means of influence. He manipulates the environment to manipulate minds. The real battlefield is not a horrifying five-second explosive attack, a dramatic five-minute gunfight, or an agonizing five-hour recovery of human remains. The war of terror is for the mind, and this “Long War” is truly a long one…of five years, five decades, or five generations. More importantly, resorting to terrorist behavior is an admission of weakness, because the user does not perceive that he holds any legitimate method of influence.

Most importantly, the extended nature of this long war is a blessing in disguise. Since most humans possess the capacity to learn and to grow, it is possible to convey to even the bitterest rivals that force-on-force problem solving is a self-defeating exercise.

The ultimate source of a threat is not the motivated attacker facing us, but more accurately his distorted thinking—he has come to see our entire family, culture or religion as his enemy. To accomplish real progress with a long view takes courage. Choosing not to fight, wherever and whenever alternatives exist, is courageous; actively reserving our capacity for violence is courageous.  Far from being a display of weakness, this choice is a bold statement of the United States’ and its allies’ deep commitment to full-spectrum global security.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously insisted, “We cannot kill or capture our way to victory.”

Reserving the capacity for force, however, does not mean we abandon, reduce or degrade it. On the contrary, the better we refine our ability to destroy, the more evident our full range of options will be on the world stage. The more apparent our capacity to cause harm, combined with our clearly seen determination to avoid its use, the more credible will be our commitment to preventing violent conflict.

Focused violence is essential to specific situations. The most obvious example is the threat posed by a suicide bomber (PBIED, or personnel-borne IED). Quick, violent action by those threatened means the difference between their life and death and a life-or-death moment for any innocent men, women or children in the vicinity. My friend Sean Mickle remembers perching on a rooftop in Iraq and watching in slow motion as his individual bullets impacted the chest of a VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) driver. This rolling car bomb was hurtling toward the compound housing Sean and his unit of U.S. Marine Corps “Recon” commandos. His wounding the driver resulted in a premature detonation, which may have been caused by a “dead man” switch, triggering the device when the driver’s hand pulled away from the console or steering wheel. This premature detonation probably prevented a small-scale version of the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 220 of their fellow Marines. Sean’s story provides an excellent illustration of necessary violence.

Copious use of this “hard” option may seem efficient and productive. Factoring in the human cost, however, the tool can become inhumane, irresponsible and frustratingly counter-productive. Hard power casually applied can continue to harden all actors until conflict appears irreconcilable. Such a lose-lose proposition is in no one’s best interests.

Conversely, “Soft” power—the term coined by Harvard’s Joseph Nye in 1990—captures the dynamic of leveraging international influence by means of attraction and persuasion through appealing aspects of national culture, values and institutions. “It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” (Soft Power; The Means to Success in World Politics, PublicAffairs, 2004) Consider as just one example Japan, which in past decades embraced select portions of U.S. culture (baseball, poodle skirts, Elvis) and, correspondingly, maintained open channels through which political, military, economic and other sharing flowed for mutual benefit.

Soft power’s conceptual offspring, “smart” power, is the tailored blending of soft (persuasive) and hard (coercive) powers for every specific situation. According to Professor Nye, “Smart power is the combination of the hard power of coercion and payment with the soft power of persuasion and attraction.” (The Future of Power, PublicAffairs, 2011). Nye and co-chair Richard Armitage further explain in the CSIS Commission on Smart Power; A smarter, more secure America (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007):

“Smart power means developing an integrated strategy, resource base, and tool kit to achieve American objectives, drawing on both hard and soft power. It is an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions at all levels to expand American influence and establish the legitimacy of American action. Providing for the global good is central to this effort because it helps America reconcile its overwhelming power with the rest of the world’s interests and values.”

Extending Professor Nye’s international relations theory of smart power to the interpersonal level, I point to the application of smart power as a grassroots approach for local as well as global peacemaking. Simply being more mindful of unintended consequences, and exercising our ability to speak out and act, gives individuals real power to make a difference. Think of this as applied smart power, or ASP, well within the reach of every concerned citizen. And without balancing closer relationships, what hope is there for improved global engagement? Like parents who overcome differences to raise a healthy family, macro-level, external conflict reduction rests on the building blocks of effective internal relationships. Ultimately, as the old hymn goes, “Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.”

I promised to make this a primer, and not an encyclopedic analysis of smart power. Let me keep that promise. Academic discussion never stimulates like real-world examples of a topic anyway, so let’s move on to some stories of friends and foes and failures and successes in applying smart power for balanced peacemaking.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!