#10Weeks Chapter 48: Commitment (Leaving Iraq)



Leaving Iraq

My most recent return from Iraq marked a bittersweet homecoming. I’d written at this blog from the mixed-up belly of war for more than a year. Odd as it may sound, leaving war and returning to the comforts of home bring strange, uncomfortable feelings to guys like me. If you’ve also been blessed to return from war, you understand.

Instead of expecting to restrain forever the capacity to wage war,
you’ve got to change the attitude of people who control…war-making machines
and who make the decision to use them.
J. William Fulbright

With a few more weeks or days at war, my advice might have still inspired a commander to take a slightly different course; that change might have resulted in one American life saved or one Iraqi child unharmed by a terrorist attack. In the States, I don’t feel such immediate influence on the fight—the potential loss weighs heavy. To bring just one more young husband home would be worth the cost of my entire career. I suspect you would feel the same, if you think about it.

I left good friends who would carry on in the effort for peace and stability for months to follow. As a consultant, I choose when and where I go. As Service members, they go when and where Uncle Sam so dictates. They continued (and continue) to strive there long past my return to the land of Starbucks.

Back in “the world,” I go about business as usual, see friends and family regularly, and get pretty regular sleep. I don’t need to throw myself into the dust by the side of the road because IDF (indirect fire) has exploded a hundred yards from me, as happened in that final week…again.

That attack had only a handful of rockets, but the one closest to me killed a man…again.

In war, I can look into the eyes of the leader who must manage a plan for and respond to such attacks. I can recommend variations to complement our violent action and hear the commander say, “I never thought about it that way.” I can see results unfold over time as conditions ease for the citizenry and worsen for the enemy. That corresponds to a reduction of threat to both our forces and innocent civilians.

Back in the world, I don’t have my eyes, hands and ideas on the problem set so well. I lose the ground truth insight that comes from being, well, on the ground. The palpable hates, hopes and hungers that saturate the very air of Iraq are missing back in Washington. We imagine we grasp what’s going on 6,000 miles away—we don’t. It’s comfortable, back home, and I think these wars take on a status akin to scenery for the real show in America: the economy.

Several of my friends were killed in the 2005 Op Redwing in Afghanistan. I encourage you to read about it in Marcus Luttrell’s book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 (Little, Brown and Company, 2007). Although this tragedy occurred before my Navy retirement, I had already begun my antiterrorism work in DC, away from the SEAL Teams, and I heard about it on the news like everybody else. Unlike everybody else, these were guys with whom I had fought, trained, and laughed. The deeply painful sense that I had abandoned them was intense, as was the irrational conviction that “if only” I had been with that special reconnaissance squad on that mission on that day, things might have turned out differently. I do know better, but it doesn’t reduce the sense of guilt. Marcus and I have talked about this. I dedicated my retirement ceremony to Dan Healy with the words of Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We used to have some great fights on the mats.

Leaving comrades is a difficult thing, even if the destination is delightful. Every veteran has experienced it. Home calls to you; the thought of family and picnics and safety pulls at you…yet looking at those who stay behind makes you reluctant to go. Remember Charlie Sheen’s character flying away at the end of Platoon (MGM, 1986), smiling sadly back at his brothers on the ground. In the war.

Just Google our combat wounded to hear their stories. The most common refrain, even from the amputees, is “Please send me back in, Sir. My boys need me!”

The duty to one’s comrades, developed through shared urgency, is strong. I will never stop trying to make a difference for those in need. There is no “done” for those who are built to serve, at least not until breath itself is done. I’ll strive in DC, back in Iraq and around the world to share and expand these ideas. I believe you will carry some of them, too, and recognize and write some of your own. I look forward to hearing from you—and working with you—on our next project for balanced peacemaking. You’ll read more about how to do that in the Conclusion. We can commit together to continuous awareness and the endless search for peace opportunities. We can devote the strength of our Bodies to making this a way of life. We can exert out Minds to greater creativity, and open our Hearts. We can listen to the guidance from our Souls. We can strive to all be comrades…in Powerful Peace.

So that’s it. Parting is, in fact, such sweet sorrow.

Goodbye, Iraq.

…I’ll see you soon.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and Christmas. 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 signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 47: Proactivity (Co-create your world)



Co-create your world

In one lifetime, at different moments, I’ve been hurt physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. A lot of that hurting, much to my dismay, came in the form of reactionsreactions from others or from the natural environmentto choices I had made. This is the proverbial burnt hand caused by touching a hot stove. Sometimes I had been aware of those potential consequences, and on some occasions I was blissfully ignorant beforehand…most of the time I knew better.
It may be the same with you.

If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.
Maya Angelou

Imagine that I’m standing at the train station for a day trip. Imagine I’m carrying an overcoat, umbrella, satchel and coffee. I’m feeling rushed because I missed the first train, so when the next arrives and the doors slide open I am very eager to board. Another man is also trying to hurry on, beside me.


We’re going to diverge for two possible alternative scenarios and explore the two ways I may choose to literally create my immediate future.

Scenario A: I shoulder past the man trying to board in front of me, successfully winning the right of way to get on first. With a suitably disdainful glance back at my defeated opponent, I ascend the steps and assume my rightful position in a choice seat.

I fail to notice when the $50 ticket slips from my overloaded hand and flutters to the platform….

Scenario B: I begin to board, but hold back in order to make way for this other fellow who’s obviously also in a big hurry. In the moment he realizes I’m weighed down with stuff, he pauses and insists I go ahead. I gratefully proceed up the steps and settle into a good seat.

I fail to notice when the $50 ticket slips from my overloaded hand and flutters to the platform….


Now let’s rejoin our story in progress and examine the possible outcomes of these two choices.

In Scenario A, my fellow traveler happened to notice the ticket fall from my hand. With a malevolent grin, he smoothly kicks my ticket off the platform to be lost on the tracks below. As he passes my seat, his delirious smile makes me seriously wonder about his state of mind.

In Scenario B, my fellow traveler happened to notice the ticket fall from my hand. My new friend snatches up the ticket I dropped and heads straight for me. “Hey, buddy, you dropped this. Better be more careful,” he says with a genuine smile. I’m spared a serious hassle. I might have been charged again, to buy a new ticket on the train; I might not have had the funds available and been removed at the next stop; I might have spilled coffee all over myself in a frantic search of my belongings (heed the voice of experience). These were prevented because I took a moment to be considerate of another.

Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler are co-authors of Connected; How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything you Feel, Think, and Do (Little, Brown and Company, 2009). What impressed me most about Connected is their assertion:

“The great project of the twenty-first century—understanding how the whole of humanity comes to be greater than the sum of its parts—is just beginning. Like an awakening child, the human superorganism is becoming self-aware, and this will surely help us to achieve our goals. But the greatest gift of this awareness will be the sheer joy of self-discovery and the realization that to truly know ourselves, we must first understand how and why we are all connected.”

Although my train platform scenario is a fictitious exercise of imagination, most of us can easily trace out the logic of the outcomes. Many of us can easily recall a real-life example of offensive behavior biting its owner. Maybe we don’t think about this enough, but our choices clearly lead to both short- and long-term consequences, for good or bad. Did I not create the environmental conditions I experienced over those next ten seconds? If I do think about it a little bit more, this silly example can serve as a guide to my behavior in daily life.


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 signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 46: Possibility (Tomorrow in our hands)



Tomorrow in our hands

I hope you’ll indulge a fanciful flight of optimism. I have a fierce belief that we can and will overcome the limits of
today, as generations before us have sometimes done
limits in our ability to trust and risk; limits in our ability to imagine; self-inflicted limits in general. It’s a little-known fact that the U.S. Navy SEAL training program was established on the premise that a man can go ten times further in mind and body than he believes possible. That’s why we don’t swim several hundred yards at a time; we swim several miles. It’s why we don’t do twenty pushups for punishment; we do two hundred.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation
where they will not be judged by the color of their skin,
but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

iraqi kids

Iraqi kids and my fanciful predictions for their future lives: (left to right)
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Famous Comedian, (tallest) Restaurant Owner,
(tiniest) Architect, (looking aside) Ambassador, (center) President of Iraq,
World-Famous Model, Neurosurgeon

I don’t think limit-smashing should be limited (pun intended) to SEAL training. SEALs are just men, and men are just humans. Humans have the capacity to shatter their limits across the board. We forget that visionaries like the Wright brothers were considered crackpots for years while they challenged widely-accepted limits that mankind would never fly. Without the irrepressible determination of a few crackpots, the world would be much different than it is today.

I, for one, will not permit my mind (my thoughts and beliefs) to be reduced. I will believe larger, and larger, and larger to help the material world become as it should be; it should be better than it is right now.

This is so urgent, because I have a difficult confession to make. I’m dying.

…Oops. Sorry. Let me rephrase that: I mean, I will die. We all will. In a way, we’re all dying, all the time. Why don’t we let that tick-tick-tick inspire us to act fully, to “live out loud,” with the time we have left?

As Mel Brooks said, “If Shaw and Einstein couldn’t beat death, what chance have I got? Practically none.”

We all know we’re going to kick the bucket, whether in a few minutes or a few decades. If when I kick that bucket the world isn’t somehow better off because of my little flicker of life, what a tragic waste it will have been.

As you read in this chapter’s opening quote, a great American once said, “I have a dream.” Well, I and many others share that dream. You probably do, too.

It’s high time we followed his example. He knew it was risky to say what he needed to say. He could have stayed home and watched TV that day, instead of going out to say what we needed to hear. He could have stayed home, but he didn’t. He could have stayed home another day, but he didn’t…and he was shot to death for trying to bring all people together.

This single person’s dream energized decades of transformation. How much greater, then, if you and I and everyone else picked up and carried that willingness to dream—and act—according to our most life-producing imagination? Robert Fritz wisely said, “If you limit yourself to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.”

I will not subordinate my dreams and our future to fear and doubt. Dreams are the only part of tomorrow that we own today! The only limits to what might be are those we choose. Since goals pull us toward some version of what we seek, why accept any goal smaller than greatness?


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 signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 45: Opportunity (Civil Affairs)



Civil affairs

My friend Munira El-Bearny is a Kenyan immigrant to the United States and runs a center for newly-arrived refugees through a Department of State program. Munira has a big heart, but she doesn’t take it easy on these families fleeing religious, political or wartime hazards. She likes to say, “We give a hand up, not a handout.” An old American expression reminds us that what is given cheaply is valued cheaply. Beneficiaries need to have some sense of ownershipsome “skin in the game”if they are to appreciate and make the best of second chances.

There’s a whole lot of humanity out there
that the average American will never be able to see.
Rob DuBois

Wittman me Munira cropped

With my friends Executive Director Munira el-Bearny and Congressman Rob Wittman,
at the grand opening of Munira’s IMANI Center for Refugees

This opening quote is the first line of an email I once sent to a colleague in another part of Iraq, who was involved in a Civil Affairs (CA) function. Yes, I know. It’s lame to quote myself. Unfortunately, nobody else had said just what I want to get across here!

CA is the military mission that seeks to care for basic human needs within a host population.  In this case, the civil affairs project involved a classroom in a small village. The team was teaching Iraqi women, aged 25 to 55, to read.

I acquired a photo of this class. I won’t show it to you; I deliberately left it out. Although the photo perfectly illustrates one aspect of hope for this troubled people, and although this particular image is well worth its thousand words…it’s classified. And it’s classified not to protect national secrets, but the students themselves. If identified, any one of these women might have been deliberately punished in town by beating, rape, or even murder—for striving to claim a future for her children—by some brutal, self-imposed local guardian of “decency.” How’s that for mixed messages?

75% of the ladies in this class are widows. Remember, their average age is only 40! Three out of four forty-year-olds have already lost their husbands.  They are individuals of fierce strength and courage, burning with a vision that their children deserve better. They risk as much as any mother could.

Since this photo is so meaningful, and since we can’t print it, I will try to “show you” the picture with words. I will try to help you see the brightness, the dreams, the colors, and one small child shimmering like a jewel in the foreground. I will try to help you see the future plainly visible in the present.

There’s a rich theme of greens throughout. Green is the traditional color of Islam. The cement floor is a mottled green; the visible right and front walls are in two-toned shades of green. Sunlight floods through open windows and reflects from an old, green chalkboard propped up with old, green chairs. There is even a green, two-liter soft drink bottle used to carry drinking water by a lady who cannot afford anything else. With the exception of their faces, the women wear black from head-to-toe. They sit raptly attentive. One stands at the board, chalk in hand, carefully practicing the Arabic letters that can unlock the world for her children.

Staring innocently and shyly at the camera is one tiny girl. This little girl (we’ll call her “Wahida”), as small children tend to do, is leaning back toward her source of certainty—the loving care of her mother, who peers intently at the chalkboard. Except for Wahida’s tragic familiarity with the savage violence and torn bodies of war, she is no different from any American two-year-old. She even has a little pacifier hanging from a little string.

In contrast to the greens of the room and the black shrouds enveloping the mothers, Wahida is an oasis of brightness. Her big brown eyes and short, reddish hair frame a cherubic face. Her orange shorts and blouse dance with pretty flowers and lace; she even has little matching sandals.  Wahida is a fragile symbol of this region’s awesome potential. In another two decades she might be finishing a degree in Economics at Baghdad University, eager to burst forth to take on the world and eternally grateful for the many sacrifices of her tireless mother. Baghdad might then be once again a thriving, bustling center of hope for this part of the world, much like the Tokyo of 1965. These things just might be. It’s not impossible.

I’d like to crassly conclude by quoting again from my email that opened this chapter: “You know where the hope of the world lies? In that beautiful little girl facing the camera. We just have to give her hope, first.”


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 signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 44: Paradox (War is good)

I don’t editorialize on many of these chapters in advance, preferring to let the text introduce itself to you and let you experience it your own way. But I’ll make a brief exception in this case to tell you that this is my favorite, as we accelerate into the final chapters and the conclusion of Powerful Peace…which is really just the beginning of living out the concepts.




War is good

From leaping into action for humanitarian reasons we turn to leaping into action with the necessary intent to destroy. Sometimes the worst we can imagine turns out to be a blessing. A family suffers financial ruin, then finds its true riches come from one another. A tyrant brutalizes his subjects, then (when all other options are exhausted) courageous nations initiate what Washington called that “plague of mankind”war. The paradox of conflict includes also the need to integrate women into the male-dominated culture of war, and the martial artist’s understanding that sensitivity helps us fight better and end war sooner…with less destruction.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
Abraham Maslow

Our dojo, c. 2009: I’m third from right in standing row; also standing, with goatee, is my good friend and very dangerous teacher, Corey Capone; behind the standing boy is Corey’s even more dangerous teacher and the master of our school, George Parulski. Devon Hayden, Corey’s daughter, stands to left; my sons Gabe and Jack kneel/stand to right.

I hope the subtitle hooked you.

It is a true statement. Read through to the end and you’ll see the point.

I’m a retired SEAL, so you can believe this: I’m not squeamish about the readiness and willingness to cause harm. It’s a simple fact of life that there are some in this world who target innocents and won’t choose to stop. They can only be stopped. Someone must be prepared to stop them.

While accepting this cold reality, we need to respect another: governments with the means to stop those who harm innocents have to be conscious of the potential consequences of their use of force. Put another way, the worthy surgeon knows his tremendous power to heal with a knife must be managed with tremendous care, because misuse of his gift may cause injury or even death.

No doubt about it; there’s plenty of room for debate on the question of how much hard power is appropriate. There can be no debate, however, that it’s absurd for innocent bystanders to be hurt as a consequence of our protecting innocent bystanders.

As Maslow said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” I see this one-tool dynamic at work in the behavior of some of my fellow soldiers and in the imaginations of some soldiers’ supporters. To be effective, however, we need as many diverse tools as can possibly be assembled. Most of them are not designed to kill. Many are intended for building up households, neighborhoods or regions.

What I’m trying to say should be pretty obvious: whatever idiocy we adults may choose, the children whose flesh and spirit are torn by our petty struggles deserve to have us fight much, much harder…toward better solutions. Restraint is possible, and careless fighting spawns fighting.

There is another tremendous paradox inherent in conflict. War and violence instinctively stimulate rigid and closed resistance by those threatened…but solutions are most easily discovered through open sensitivity to the root causes of a conflict. War is traditionally the domain of men, and men traditionally reject sensitivity as an acceptable behavior or identification. In discussions on the topic of women and war at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), the New America Foundation (NAF) and other venues, we have reached two conclusions:

Firstly, “women’s” issues in war are unique to females, yet simultaneously universal. Consider the epic tragedy of mass sexual violence waged strategically against a population. The immediate victims are (usually) women and girls…yet the terrorizing effects are often targeted against the men in their lives. Husbands, fathers and brothers of potential or actual rape victims are emotionally damaged along with the emotionally and physically traumatized female victims. These men are often responsible heads of households. They often hide their families or flee with them instead of stepping forward and participating in armed resistance.

I’m humbled to be acquainted with Abigail Disney, filmmaker of the documentaries Pray the Devil Back to Hell and Women, War and Peace. Her work is at once heartbreaking and inspiring. Women—and men—Abby shows us come through as incredibly powerful, courageous and resilient human beings instead of helpless victims.

The other inescapable conclusion on women and war is that males have too long dominated in this arena. Perhaps a better way to say this is that if women had enjoyed a more equal voice in governing the affairs and disputes of state throughout history, there would have been less war.

Three of my other female heroes co-edited the USIP book, Women and War (Endowment of the United States Institute of Peace, 2011). Kathleen Kuehnast, (Director of USIP’s Gender and Peacebuilding Center of Innovation); Chantal de Jonge Oudraat (Director of USIP’s Jennings Randolph Fellowship program); and Helga Hernes (Senior Advisor on women, peace and security issues at Oslo Peace Research Institute) are highly accomplished individually; but in this partnership their results are inspiring. Their active and able cohort on gender issues and war is Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. Gayle is the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (Harper, 2011), the true account of an enterprising Afghan woman, her family and their town under the Taliban.

Abigail, Kathleen, Chantal, Helga and Gayle personify the insight and ability necessary to build powerful peace. While on the subject of gender and conflict, of course, as mentioned in chapter 19, I strongly recommend Half the Sky; Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

The value of sensitivity in conflict won’t surprise those with experience in traditional martial arts. Since my earliest military days I’ve practiced various Japanese and Korean fighting styles, and consider my “home” art to be jujutsu—the hand-to-hand style of the Samurai warriors and parent of today’s karate, judo and aikido. To put it mildly, an insensitive jujutsu-ka, (jujutsu practitioner) is a losing jujutsu-ka. Success depends on maintaining a quiet mind and relaxed body, effectively turning oneself into a living, breathing sensor. The more sensitive a martial artist, the earlier he can perceive an intended threat, respond appropriately, and survive.

I like the description provided by Jonathan Maberry in Ultimate Jujutsu; Principles and Practice (Strider Nolan Publishing, 2002):

“The word Jujutsu may be translated freely as ‘the gentle art,’ but the word ‘gentle’ is often misunderstood, a result of poor translation from centuries ago. A more accurate translation would be, ‘the art of gaining victory by yielding or pliancy.’ Gentleness refers to the art’s approach to self-defense, as well as to the spirit of the warrior. A gentle spirit is one that does not seek to fight, and in modern Jujutsu this is the very core of honor: to fight only in defense, and never through desire, or anger, or hatred.

“The ultimate goal of Jujutsu is not to kill, or even maim. Rather, it is to control a situation so that it never becomes violent. This requires common sense, a balanced ego, courage and a keen knowledge of psychological cause and effect. Sometimes violence is unavoidable, and in those circumstances the Jujutsu-ka has a variety of available defenses depending on the level of threat, from simple non-destructive control techniques to far more severe responses.”

Sounds a bit like Powerful Peace, doesn’t it? Readiness to fight, combined with determined restraint. The pursuit of victory without force.

Sensitivity allows an individual to literally “go with the flow.” Conflict is, at its core, resistance. In jujutsu we happily go with the flow and make full use of an opponent’s resistance energy. If he pushes, I get out of the way and pull. If he pulls away, I push him faster and farther than he intended. This push-pull, pull-push harnesses available energy and magnifies the “resources” (energy and motion) available to accomplish my goal of no longer being in a fight. And flow itself is very important. Stopping and starting not only steal valuable time in a critical situation, but discard the kinetic power of momentum.

One final diversion to reinforce this concept of paradox; with this one, I hope to throw your comfortable mental state and assumptions right to the mat. (That’s jujutsu humor.) My own personal “guru of stress-free productivity” and supporter of Powerful Peace is David Allen, author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life (Viking Adult, 2008). In his original, wildly-successful personal productivity process and book, Getting Things Done (commonly known as “GTD,” Penguin Books, 2001), he points directly at the same concepts as acquired through his own martial arts experience. Here they are applied to management of the self:

“In karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: ‘mind like water.’ Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact….

“Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your e-mail, your staff, your projects, your unread magazines, your thoughts about what you need to do, your children, or your boss will lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a ‘mind like water.’”

David’s simple explanation of the ineffectiveness of reactiveness and imbalance in daily tasks is immediately translatable to the realms of interpersonal and international conflict:

“Reflect for a moment on what it actually might be like if your personal management situation were totally under control, at all levels and at all times. What if you could dedicate fully 100 percent of your attention to whatever was at hand, at your own choosing, with no distraction…?

“It’s a condition of working, doing, and being in which the mind is clear and constructive things are happening. It’s a state that is accessible by everyone, and one that is increasingly needed to deal effectively with the complexity of life in the twenty-first century.”

To me the linkages are obvious between an awareness of gross abuses against women, the martial artist’s appreciation for balance, the management of the self and the practical conflict reduction of Powerful Peace. We humans are far more connected than not. Grasping this connectedness allows us to understand both our real ability to act for positive change and a real sense of responsibility to do so. Being “connected” is so significant to daily life and conflict that another important book has been written under that very title. We’ll come to that closer to the end.

Returning to our original paradox: War is good…but for one thing, and one thing only: establishing a secure peace. As stated in our dojo, “avoid rather than check…for all life is precious and no one has the authority to take it away.” An intolerable wrong like Hitler’s conquest must be confronted, but no healthy person desires a perpetual state of war. A powerful peace does not come about by accident but by deep sacrifice, willingness to seek middle ground, and a reasonable sense of urgency. It results from pouring our souls into the efforts of restraint and considered response…no matter how much we want to kill back.


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 signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 43: Action (Entering Indonesia)



Entering Indonesia

It’s all well and good to talk about “applying” smart power, but what would it look like in practice? This chapter lays out an appeal I published immediately following the devastating Indonesian earthquake of September, 2009.

In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.
We all breathe the same air.
We all cherish our children’s future.
And we are all mortal.
John F. Kennedy

At this blog on October 2, 2009 I posed an argument that the United States should hasten into an aggressive and well-publicized (bear with me – this is a benevolent self-promotion) humanitarian response. I addressed it to the president, departmental secretaries, Congressional representatives and senators, and patriotic Americans everywhere. I said that “the gauntlet has been thrown down by Circumstance. Our honor, obligation, and privilege is to respond in force.”

Samoa, American Samoa, and Indonesia had been devastated by earthquake and tsunami effects. Hundreds lay dead, thousands staggered injured and homeless. I wrote, barely twenty-four hours past the second set of lethal tremors, that “we must seize the gauntlet with fierce determination.”

America has promised the world change. America has promised the world a more balanced, more effective, more human engagement on every front, including in even the harshest realities of terrorism and insurgency. This terrible human tragedy was an excellent opportunity to walk our talk. It was our greatest opportunity to help ourselves.

Again I affirm, for what seems the millionth time: violent conflict is an expression of grievance. Somebody’s mad about something. It may be a perceived wrong, a perceived inequity, or a perceived neglect. The perception may be completely inaccurate, or it may be 100% correct. Getting to the root of fighting means getting to the root of grievance, the only level at which true change can occur. Until that elephant in the room called ‘grievance’ has been acknowledged—most especially by the perceived wrongdoer—we can only expect to escalate in strike and counter-strike.

Those who most strongly oppose the United States and other Western nations see only a partial picture. Like great salesmen, they actively highlight our occasional abuse of power where we’re not needed, and our neglect of power where we are, as proof that we are bad.

Within counterterrorism circles, it is a common observation that Indonesia has the world’s largest national Muslim population. It is also noted that the hostile, anti-U.S. segment of that huge Muslim population is small, per capita. (In fact, four out of five Indonesians polled have reported having an improved opinion of the United States because of earlier tsunami relief efforts.) It makes sense to focus our energy on this massive, influential and receptive-to-influence group in need. Is there a better population, or a better time, to demonstrate our commitment to make the world better? Is there a better way to hamstring Muslim extremist claims that America wishes to wage war on Islam?

I hypothesized: “Somewhere, right now as you read this—not tomorrow; not when we get our act together and mobilize in a few days—a little girl is trapped, terrified, and suffering under the rubble of the building where disaster claimed her. She’s alive…right now. If she is rescued because of our immediate action, the ripples of goodwill and gratitude from her family will flow to our very shores, and splash on anti-Western sentiments in distant lands. If instead of just one, we assist in recovering thousands of endangered men, women and children, the celebration of her story will be magnified thousands of times over.

“If on the other hand we do nothing, or reserve our full capacity in favor of a token gesture…well, her grieving family’s tale may be incorporated into our enemies’ deep reservoir of anecdotal rhetoric that America is a heartless giant.”

This argument urged that we “strike the real enemies: ignorance and misunderstanding.” We should un-cloud the vision of a skeptical world regarding what we know to be America’s genuine golden character.

The argument appropriately addressed Secretary of State Clinton, who had used the expression “smart power” ten times during her confirmation hearing speech. We ought to turn our vast resources against such urgent challenges, beginning the process of healing that begins with broken limbs and extends to international relations and evolved counterterrorism. The ripple effects of our visibly acting in the best interests of global need flow through generations.

I addressed Secretary of Defense Gates as well, saying that we don’t have to have the entire army ready to go, in order to start. “A few are ready now—let’s send them. As recovery efforts grow and more responders are prepared, we can send them. We can establish an adaptive, modular command and control (C2) process to layer in progressive coordination over time.”

Is there risk in such a scenario? I guarantee it. Indonesia has organic terrorist groups. (I use the term “terrorist” carefully, because all too many media outlets do not. We aren’t talking about outgunned resistance forces using IEDs to attack military units. These are actual terrorists, including those in al Qaeda, who actively seek the death and mutilation of harmless families. They use the IED against peaceful markets and houses of worship.

Yes, the risk is significant to our response teams from the U.S. and other nations. In my Red Team work, acting as a terrorist cell to reinforce security programs, I have personally exploited the high emotional value of executing spectacular attacks against unprepared populations. Even if the only victims are a handful of children or medical staff, the subsequent withdrawal of a damaged organization is rewarding and provides excellent propaganda material. Witness the claims of AQ to “defeating” the United States when soldiers are killed. Witness the dramatic shift and retreat from Iraq of Spanish forces following the Madrid train bombings, and the jubilation among the supporters of those murderers. In these cases the IED is a weapon of strategic, not only tactical influence.

Such groups, more focused on perverted ideologies than on the desperate human need of their countrymen, are likely to consider this an opportunity of another sort—to make a name for their movements of corrupted thinking.

Yes, risk is inevitable, but the likelihood of being attacked is low. By virtue of strength in numbers, the broader our rescue mission, the “safer” each responder is individually. Indonesia at that moment represented a macro version of the “bad neighborhood” many cops prefer to avoid…the better cops enter anyway. They answer the call to serve and protect, and in so doing they hold back the spread of chaos and suffering.

I ended that (unheeded) appeal for applying smart power with a challenge: “Are we ready to be the America of this world’s dreams? That little girl’s waiting.”


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 signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 42 Humanity (Fighting fighting)



Fighting fighting

Once it’s possible to perceive one’s similar characteristicsone’s shared humanitywith another, the base is laid for common ground…and reduced grounds for conflict.

I felt everyone else was a lot smarter.
I worried about my physical and mental inadequacies….
Just a few days before some of these were rising young executives.
Some were farmers, some were salesman, drifters, blue-collar workers.
A few days before they had been many things.
But at the induction center [we] were all alike….
I discovered people are alike in many, many more ways than they are different.
I discovered the other fellow is pretty much like me.
He likes good food, he misses his family and friends,
he wants to get ahead, he has problems, he wants to relax.
Quoted by David J. Schwartz

Does any of this not make sense? The above passage from The Magic of Thinking Big (Fireside, 1959) demonstrates how simple it can be to begin understanding humans from divergent backgrounds; how simple it is to discover common ground with strangers and their societies.

In contrast, and as introduced in chapter 5, Fixing Intel; A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan (CNAS, 2010) was published about five decades later by Major General Mike Flynn while he was the senior military intelligence officer in Afghanistan. I’ve quoted this paper many times, because like some other commanders he is demonstrating the principles of Powerful Peace in real time. We cannot succeed through relying solely on “kinetic” operations, with which many military leaders are most comfortable.

This evening I read a portion of the opening quote to my wife and explained (as she’s endured countless times before) that this universal human experience is a cornerstone of ASP thinking as a means of reducing conflict and improving security. “Three billion men,” I droned on, “want basically the very same things from life. Each wants to have a little fun, hang out with buddies, make a living….”

She added, “He wants to be accepted.”

He wants to be accepted.

See, that’s why I try to never write anything without consulting her first. Her practical insight puts me on topic like a laser pointer. But what else would you expect from the world’s most gifted (and compassionate) special education professional?

We all want to be accepted. The desire for acceptance is a driving factor in every choice to affiliate, whether among the Boy Scouts or the Crips. If you’re an Afghan man who sees the Taliban as the only game in town, where else would you find your affiliation (not to mention your necessary paycheck)?

Critics of applied smart power often label the attempt to understand motivations as being “touchy-feely.” Some misconstrue that it means we can hold hands and sing Kumbaya with enemies. It is anything but touchy-feely. Never forget that ASP is based on leveraging the best balance of coercion and persuasion, or hard and soft power, for each situation. If a suicide bomber is approaching our ECP (entry control point, or “base gate”), my only appropriate response is the hard power of a bullet between his eyes. He won’t change his mind at this late date…so I’ll have to reconfigure his mind for him.

The difference between uselessly touchy-feely and an urgently needed soft power of understanding is being recognized by commanders downrange and back in the Pentagon. Mike Flynn and his Fixing Intel co-authors illustrate vividly our available resources to understand the population:

“This vast and underappreciated body of information, almost all of which is unclassified, admittedly offers few clues about where to find insurgents, but it does provide elements of even greater strategic importance—a map for leveraging popular support and marginalizing the insurgency itself.”

In other words, if the (social, economic, security) health of a population is increased, the disease of insurgency (which relies on those imbalanced factors, or unhealthy tissues) is reduced. This is basic preventive medicine.

During one assessment I conducted around Afghanistan, I asked a young bookseller in Kandahar how the Taliban, one of the world’s best examples of a worst way to govern human beings, could possibly hold their own against the unprecedented military might of the Coalition. He replied immediately, “Because men don’t have jobs.” This wise young man went on to tell me that in some damaged communities, the Taliban have been able to forcibly recruit one man from every household—under threat of murder.

We can reduce the support base for our enemy by better relating to his society. When locals understand that we understand them, it eliminates some of his “home court advantage.” This is especially true when he is already violating local customs and mores. If all else fails, an improved understanding of the enemy’s cultural situation can help us better go where he desires to go…and more effectively stop him with hard power actions. We can learn to see through his eyes, as I have done in my work to emulate terrorists. This helps us kill him better, when that course is absolutely necessary—right between the eyes.

And conflict is certainly not limited to war. Again, in the boardroom, bedroom, or battlefield, misunderstanding leads to unnecessary fighting, destruction and retaliation. Understanding, then, is the medicine for the malady of conflict. It is readily at hand—understanding even grows naturally in the wild—but it is all too infrequently administered.


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 signed hard copy, or load up on gift bundles in time for Christmas? Click here for hard copies!