Editor’s note: The following column is adapted from a speech delivered by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at the National Defense University on December 14, 2016.
I want to start by thanking the National Defense University. This is an extraordinarily important institution. You’ll see why as I go through this. The greatest challenge we face is not money. The greatest challenge we face is thinking. This is one of the places assigned the responsibility for thinking. It was no accident that Admiral Nimitz said after World War II, there was no major problem in the Pacific, that they had not war-gamed at the Naval War College. It’s no accident that Eisenhower graduated first in his class at Leavenworth, and ended up as a senior planner, and then as the Commander of all allied forces in Europe.
These were people who understood that thinking things through really mattered. Curtis Lemay told me the greatest contribution that he made to World War II, was that he had gone to the new Air Corps Command and Staff College in Montgomery, and had learned how to write a five paragraph field order. He got these huge complicated messages from 8th Air Force when he arrived as a Commander of a Wing in England, and he would rewrite them into the appropriate form, send it back and say, is this what you meant to send me? After about six weeks, 8th Air Force began issuing the new model. These things, they seem trivial, but the most successful security systems have constant processes of evolution, which require thought. The hardest is to evolve without defeat.
Admiral Fisher, developed the Dreadnought in 1906,at a point where the Royal Navy was the most powerful navy in the world. With that technological revolution he block obsolesced all of their capital ships. It was an enormous act of courage based on his understanding of the emerging technologies.
With that as background, what I’m going to talk to you about is based on 58 years looking at national security. I started in 1958. My dad was a career soldier who spent 27 years in the Infantry. When I was a freshman in high school, we were stationed in Orlean, France, and I went to the battlefield of Verdun with my Dad, stayed with an Army friend of his. Verdun is the largest battle in the western front, in World War I. About 600,000 French and German soldiers were killed in a nine month period. If you’ve not visited, it’s a remarkable sight. It’s still amazing and sobering.
We toured this great battlefield for three days, and then spent the evenings with my father’s friend, who had been drafted in 1941, sent to the Philippines, served on the Bataan Death March, spent three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp. His health was basically broken. The Army gave him a sinecure, and so he would retire as a Captain because they gave him something to do.
The experience for a young kid, of looking at the cost of war all day, and then listening to the cost of defeat in the evenings, was very sobering. I was going to be either a vertebrate paleontologist, or a zoo director. This visit jarred me. A few weeks later, the French Paratroopers came back from Algiers, from Algeria, and replaced the French 4th Republic, and called Charles De Gaulle back from Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, He created the 5th Republic, which is today the longest serving non-monarchical government in French history.
Following that, we were shipped from Orlean to Stuttgart, in July, 1958. We arrived the week of the first Berlin crisis when the U.S. Army went into Lebanon with tactical nuclear weapons offshore. All of that convinced me in the summer of 58, that this stuff’s real. My wife, Callista, this morning sent me a series of pictures of Aleppo before the war. I wrote her back and I said, that’s why I do this. I decided in August of 1958 that I had three assignments. What does the country have to do to survive? How would you explain it so the American people would give you permission to do it? If they gave you permission, how would you implement it? That’s essentially what I have worked on now for 58 years. This speech is, in some ways, the culmination of that.
I want to start by suggesting to you that you should think about November the 8th as a potential watershed. We don’t know for sure yet that it’s watershed, but the odds are pretty high. It’s a watershed in the choice of Trump, he’s the only person ever, in American history to win the Presidency without ever holding a public office, or being a General in the military. No one else has ever done this. He did it against 16 Republican candidates of whom at least seven or eight were first class. He did it against the elite media, and he did it against the presumed next president, who had a billion dollars in her campaign.
One thing I recommend all of you, since Mao Zedong said that, “War is politics with blood, and politics is war without blood”, Trump’s worth studying. What is it that he did? What is it that he understood? If you look at his Cabinet, it leans towards the watershed idea.
The idea that Trump would say, let’s have General Jim Mattis as Secretary of Defense, that means you have to get the first waiver in 57 years. General Marshall was waved in 1950, during the Korean War. Nobody else has been.
Then Trump would pivot and say, General Kelly is actually, far and away, the best person to be Homeland Security because of his time at Southern Command and his capacity as a person, so let’s put a second General officer in the cabinet.
Then Trump said let’s have General Flynn as the Director of National Security, the National Security Advisor. By the way, Americans don’t mind this because at a time when 75 percent of Americans believe that there’s widespread corruption in government, the most respected institution is the military.
If you ask Americans would you rather have three Generals or three lawyers? The country will overwhelmingly prefer three Generals.
Then you look at the rest of Trump’s Cabinet, and what you see is somebody who is quite prepared to follow his own instincts. For those of you who want to understand Trump, I strongly recommend two books by Trump. The Art of the Deal, which was very educational, and was written while he was on the way up as a young man in the 1980s. It was a New York Times Best Seller for a year, and then The Art of the Comeback, which was written in the 1990’s after he had almost gone broke, and had to rebuild. Those two books give you a sense of the person who is now going to be President of the United States.
Trumpism is a new concept.
I gave a talk at the Heritage Foundation yesterday, which you can find online at http://www.gingrichproductions.com/2016/12/the-principles-of-trumpism/ if you want to see it. Trumpism has some characteristics.
I just wrote a small e-book called Electing Trump, and by the way technology, and this is an example of breakthroughs. The technology now exists that we could say to our interns two weeks ago, would you go back and review everything I wrote in the last two years, put together the stuff that makes sense. The interns did all this. We then packaged it, put it up, and had it published online in 48 hours. Compare that to the normal publishing cycle.
In the spring I’m going to publish Understanding Trump, because his approach is so different it needs to be studied as a remarkably powerful and effective system for breaking out of the ideological gridlock which has kept America trapped in a cycle of destructive politics.
There are occasionally Presidents who transcend the norm. Obviously, Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Reagan. These are people where you can say literally, the world is different after they’ve been here, whereas there’s lots of Presidents where the world’s sort of the same after they’ve been there.
I think Trump is worth looking at as a potentially transcendent figure. What does Trumpism mean? First thing it means is, get the best. I’m hoping that the National Security Establishment will think about these principles. Trump is very prepared to find what’s the best product, this is why he’s raising Cain about the F-35, and Air Force One. He’s not at all convinced that they’re good deals.
You’ll see him negotiate very toughly. He built really big things and he built them so they’re really pretty. Go look at Trump Tower. He’s also very ruthless about getting good service, and getting good construction. What people never understood in this city is, he is not a financier. He’s a builder. One of the articles I recommend to all of you, that you must read, Google, “Intellectual Yet Idiot”, IYI, by Nassim Taleb who wrote The Black Swan.
Taleb says one of the reasons people are so dissatisfied worldwide, is that at least 40 percent of our governing elite are people who are very good at writing essays, and taking tests, which gets them into elite schools where they study under professors who are very good at writing essays and taking tests, and then they do well because they’re writing essays and taking tests, and they then get a job at the New York Times, or the Supreme Court, or in the bureaucracy. They’re prestigious people because they write essays and take tests. Taleb goes on to say, the problem they have is they don’t know anything. They could write a brilliant essay on how to fix a tire. If you said to them, that’s terrific, my car has a flat, they would not have a clue how you actually fix the tire, but they could write about it, because they’re people whose specialty is knowing about things, rather than knowing things.
It’s worth your reading, first of all, because it’ll explain many of the people you deal with that you think are idiots, and you wonder how could they be this stupid? Taleb is telling you, yes, they are. It’s a very helpful way to start thinking about this. There are an amazing number of people, because the government bureaucracies have grown so big, that we now, you know, if you went back to Eisenhower’s generation, the number of people who actually were going through places like Leavenworth was very small. They could all actually write. They could actually think, which is a precursor to writing. A very small number of people did an amazing amount of effective work. We’ve now replaced them with committees of 60, of whom 40 know nothing. The forty that ask really dumb questions, and because they know nothing, they object to the people who have actually done something.
This is particularly true in the American military bureaucracy including huge numbers of civilians right now. You have people who’ve been in Iraq and they’ve been in Afghanistan, and they’ve been in combat, dealing with people who have done none of that, and the people who have done none of that think they have the authority to question the people who have actually done it. You try to explain reality to them and they go, no, it can’t be like that. Let me explain to you what it’s really like, because I saw this movie once.
I could fit in this system by claiming I’m an expert on Somalia, I’ve seen “Black Hawk Down” three times. I feel comfortable I can tell you about Somalia. In fact, I wrote two novels about terrorism which included Somalia. At least I knew they were novels, I didn’t think they were reality.
Think about this notion, that part of what Trumpism is about is applying Taleb’s model of, intellectual yet idiot. A good case study is Trump’s skepticism about consultants. Jeb Bush raised $110 million dollars, and had one delegate. Trump kept wondering why he was paying these, intellectual yet idiots, to run his campaign. It never occurred to Trump to hire people who were truly stupid to run a campaign, so Trump ran his own campaign. People said, well he doesn’t know anything. This is the guy who, The Apprentice was the number one TV show in the country, he’d been on the air 13 years, but they thought he didn’t know anything.
He had the most popular tie in the country. He ran a $10 billion dollar empire, but of course, he didn’t know anything. He made Miss Universe a success. They said, yeah, but what do you really know about the voters? Well, he knew that they were consumers. What does he know about consumers? Branding matters. What did he say from day one? Let’s Make America Great Again. If you’re on the left that’s a frightening concept, but if you are a normal, everyday, blue collar American, the kind of people who built Trump’s buildings, you thought, yeah, I like the idea of making America great again, so then they bought a hat. The hat didn’t say Trump. It said, Make America Great Again.
He went around the country, and he figured out, this is how you appeal to people. Start with the idea that using common sense, if I can get this through to the Pentagon, this will be one of the greatest revolutions in military affairs you’ve ever seen. My argument with all of you is, it’s not about money. It’s about thinking. I’ll give you an example. The Pentagon was built in 1943. The year I was born. It was built to house 31,000 people, to wage global war, using manual typewriters with carbon paper. Beetle Smith, as Secretary to chief of Staff George Marshall, used to run drills with his staff to see how fast they could find documents in the files, so that they could meet General Marshall’s request in the quickest possible time, manually.
What’s the exchange rate between filing cabinets with carbon paper, and manual typewriters, and the iPad, and smartphone I carry with me all day? What would you guess? Ten to one? Twenty to one? Closing on infinity? Therefore, I propose, as a symbol, that we develop a plan that turns the Pentagon into a triangle. At least 40 percent of the current bureaucracy has to be superfluous. Literally. What does that cost? It means you have committees who think their job is to be important by asking stupid questions, and they have the power to then slow down everything while people answer the stupid questions, which will allow them to write a report that goes to a different committee, which wonders what that report really means, so they ask for another report about the report, and then you wonder how you get to the F-35.
Am I missing something here? Large scale change, we got to a light division because the Chief of Staff of the Army said you can have 508 Aircraft and no more. You’ve got to redesign the division to fit 508. If Secretary Mattis goes in and says, we’re going to reform and modernize the Pentagon into a triangle, that would be transformational. You could either share the space with other Federal offices, or you could create a terrific museum of war. I mean, 40 percent of the Pentagon would be a great tourist trap. I mean this literally. This is like Goldwater–Nichols when we first started talking about jointness, and all the services opposed it.
You have to get it in your head. The current system is broken. It is obsolete, so don’t try to fix it. Try to replace it. Trumpism also means they use modern technology. Trump has 25 million people on Twitter and Facebook. His great realization, which occurred around October of 2015, you can actually reach all these people for free. He decides on Tuesday, let’s do a rally in Tampa. They email, and Tweet, and Facebook, everybody in Florida that’s in their list, and says, hi, I’m going to be in Tampa on Friday at 5 o’clock, and 20,000 people show up.
The other candidates are all buying TV ads. He’s showing up at a mass rally, which is covered live on television. He then has 20,000 people with smartphones who take his picture. They all send it out on Facebook and Instagram. If you figure 40 people per person, a 20,000 person rally, is an 800,000 person system, about twice the size of MSNBC. For free. There’s no exchange rate you can create that makes sense. It’s like trying to compare Polish cavalry and the Wehrmacht in 1939. These are totally different exchange rates.
Trump also understands that you have to be on permanent offense. If you look at the Wehrmacht, the Army of Northern Virginia, and the Israeli Army, they all have the same doctrine. If you are surprised, one third of your forces go into defense, two thirds go on counterattack. You never give up the initiative. That’s Trump. Trump’s core model is, you hit me, I hit back, and I hit harder than you hit. He learned it in the New York media when he was a business man. He’s on permanent offense. He gets up in the morning figuring out, how am I going to stay on offense? He understands that the media has to chase rabbits, so he gives them rabbits to chase, because if he doesn’t give them rabbits to chase, they’ll invent a rabbit.
If you were to go back, for the last two weeks, and look at how many stories there were about Mitt Romney, and say to yourself, do you think Trump minded that the media was fascinated by whether or not Mitt Romney would be Secretary of State? He bought two weeks of non coverage because he gave them junk they could talk about, and the media has to talk about something. The simpler and more stupid it is, the easier it is for them to do it. He doesn’t try to give them lectures that are complicated, because they can’t cover it. He just releases a rabbit, often by tweet, and the media goes trotting after it happily.
You want to be on permanent offense. You also want to dominate by saturation. There’s a remarkable parallelism. If you study the planning for Normandy, Eisenhower had concluded that you could not afford to be pushed off the beach, that this was the one great opportunity to liberate Europe, and that we would not have the nerve to try again if it failed. Eisenhower had led several landings by then, in North Africa, Sicily, Italy. If you look at the planning for Normandy, it is this, only an American system at it’s peak could have done this. The whole model was, we will throw so many people ashore, on the first 24 hours, that it will be physically impossible for the Germans to drive us off the beach. That’s why he lands airborne divisions, even though he’s told they’re going to take enormous, horrendous casualties. The warning by the British Air Command was, they could lose as many as 70 percent of the paratroopers before they ever landed.
He said, we have to do it, because if you saturate, the other team can’t win. To some extent, Grant did this in front of Richmond, although it happened despite his best efforts to outmaneuver Lee. Grant didn’t want to do it, but he did it. Take that model of saturation and apply it to politics and giverning.
What is the perfect Trump day? You wake up in the morning knowing you have this new technology, so you tweet. Then you watch Morning Joe, and you call in. Then you call into Fox & Friends. Then you think about doing, maybe a 10 a.m. press thing. Having now saturated all morning, you start thinking about, maybe a huge rally, and then after the rally you’ll do an hour with Sean Hannity. In the course of that one day, you get $30 million dollars worth of free media. Your opponents are all holding fundraisers to raise money to buy TV ads. They are being drowned and don’t even know it. The political press reports you aren’t raising enough money to be competitive.
It got to a point that it verged on the absurd. How many of you saw him the night of the Florida Primary, when he explained Trump Steak, Trump Water, and Trump Wine? Did anybody here see this? This was a very, very interesting, very important technological thing. Callista and I were fascinated. We know Trump. We first talked about his running for President with him in January of 2015. Now here he is having won the Florida primary and he is taunting the media. He’s won Florida, and won by a big margin. He knows he’s going to be the nominee. He’s trying to see how long can he draw them out. He was also answering Romney’s charge that he wasn’t really a business man, and he said, well I’ve got Trump Steaks, I’ve got Trump Wine, I’ve got Trump Water, of course I’m a business man. I’ve got Trump Magazine, plus I’ve got 15 golf courses, et cetera. He’s also testing the new media. They can’t leave him.
I would have thought this was theoretically impossible. After about 30 minutes of Trump, Hillary Clinton starts to talk, because she’s won the Democratic Primary. Not a single network goes to Hillary, for a practical reason. In the age of you sitting there with your handheld and changing channels, every single person will switch to Trump. The networks know this. They know what’s happening with the rating. Literally, every 12 minutes. All of them are trapped in what is truly a maniacally stupid presentation, but because he’s not a stupid man, you have to ask yourself, what is he doing? Again, this has very direct national security implications. He is dominating by saturation. The other candidates get no air to breathe.
No matter how clever they are, they’re going to drown in a world of Trump media domination just as the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe had no possibility of stopping Normandy. You can war game Normandy 100 times, and as long as you get Eisenhower’s correlation of forces, you’d take more casualties, but you’ll always end up on the beach. That’s the sort of thing Trump was doing, and he was doing it very consciously. He looks like he’s casual, because he’s worked his whole life with blue collar workers, building buildings. Looking casual actually increases his effectiveness, but he’s a long way from being casual.
He also used common sense in developing things. One example, you can be elegant, if you look at it, the way in which we misdirected the Germans to keep their armored forces away from Normandy was a really elegant small piece of Normandy planning. Here’s elegance in campaigning. The Trump team thinks they have a shot at winning Wisconsin. The Democrats don’t think Trump has a shot at winning Wisconsin. They are certain that Trump can’t win Wisconsin. Trump wants to emphasize, for southwestern Wisconsin why the Trump supporters should turn out. Then Republican National Committee Chairman, now Chief of Staff to the President elect, Reince Priebus, who’s from Wisconsin, knows if they go into Milwaukee, that will send Democrats the signal they think Wisconsin’s in play, and Hillary will go into Milwaukee. If it’s a head to head fight, she has a fair chance of winning.
Instead they go to Minneapolis. You can go back and Google this. They go to Minneapolis, and every news center says, this is really stupid. They’re not going to carry Minnesota. Why are they wasting their time going to Minnesota? Well, it turns out Twin Cities television covers southwestern Wisconsin. They were in Wisconsin from Minnesota, so no Democrat noticed they were competing, and they carried Wisconsin, which nobody expected three days out, four days out, except Priebus, and Senator Johnson, and Speaker Paul Ryan, and Governor Scott Walker, and, of course, Donald Trump. Again, it’s an example, when you watch the surface activity, there’s a lot more going on here. A lot of it’s very thought out in ways that I think we don’t understand and we’re not ready for.
Given all that, let me talk about how I think it applies to where we are. I want to start with the idea of a watershed. I think it’s the most important thing for the system to learn. If this is really a watershed then, you need to think differently. One of the books I always recommend is Peter Drucker’s Effective Executive, which if you’ve not read it, buy it in paperback, underline it, reread it once a year until you thoroughly understand it. It’s only 168 pages. Drucker, who was the best management writer in the 20th century had as one of his ground rules was, if you weren’t already doing it, would you start? If the answer is no, why are you still doing it? If you went through every process, bureaucracy, regulation, in the Defense Department, and the State Department, and the intelligence community, and at the NSC, and at OMB, and you asked that question, my guess is 30 to 40 percent of what we’re currently doing would disappear.
Start with this notion. If you’re truly at a watershed, what Trump’s going to lack, is a positive, doable, implementable change, on a scale large enough to make a real difference. No President can get that to happen. They can encourage it. They can arouse it. They can support it. They don’t have time to think it. No President does. Which is why people like FDR relied on people like Admiral King, and George Catlett Marshall, and Hap Arnold. Political leaders could pay for it and reinforce it, but they could not have invented the Army Air Corps.
The key is, I think we need new thinking, much more than we need more money. You really have to think about what are our challenges, and this is my answer for you to think about. One, I think we need a new Presidential daily brief. Trump is being hammered because he said it’s fairly stupid, but the truth is, without having seen it, I’ll bet you the President’s daily brief is stupid. I’ll bet it repeats the same things over and over again. It tells you things you don’t need to know if you’re President. I went through this as a member of Congress. I would come in, in the early 80’s they would brief us on Lebanon, and because I was an eager person, I had a PhD in history, and I was trying to learn all this stuff, early on I tried memorizing Lebanese factions. Who was the leader of each faction? There are like 40 factions, and they changed, so I get them all memorized and they have new ones.
After a while I stipulated, there are factions. What’s part two? You go through this. Operationally, you need to know a lot, if you’re going to go operate in Lebanon. The President doesn’t necessarily need to know what you know, and yet there’s a tendency for the bureaucracy to force upward, levels of detail that don’t matter while missing things that do matter. Whether it’s the Presidential daily brief, the core reality is, we today, play bunch-ball. ISIS shows up, we suddenly spend lots, the number of hours we spend at the National Command level on ISIS is stupid. If we had focused on Guadalcanal at the National Command level, the way we focus on ISIS, we’d never have gotten through World War II. It’s worth studying World War II, because the Anglo-American Coalition is probably the best fought war in history, because we’re arguing all the time with each other. It’s very intellectual. The Americans have to have a better argument than the British to have an allocation of resources, or a decision about what we’re doing.
In World War Two we thought globally. We thought about things that really mattered. For example, the number of oil tankers available. Absolutely critical. The number of freight ships that were available in early ’42. It was absolutely the most critical single thing in the entire world. That was worth focusing on, until you solved it, and then you didn’t look at it again, because it didn’t matter anymore, because it was done. What is the system? And I want to show you in a second how complicated this is. We need a new system that allows us to be informed, to understand the information, to make decisions, and to coordinate, and in some cases command. Although we need a lot more coordination, and a lot less command, because of the complexity of the systems we’re running. We don’t have that capability today.
We’re not capable today, of dealing with the world as it exists. One of my battle cries is, no more bunch-ball. If you see the system starting to migrate towards a passion about one topic, it’s almost certainly wrong, unless a nuclear weapon goes off or something, but below losing a city, we don’t want bunch-ball. You want to figure out who are you delegating that to, what’s their assignment, and report back.
I think that there are four zones of new thinking we need. One is country threats. The second is transnational global threats. The third is new technologies, and the fourth is new complexities. I’m going to give you a little on each, and then we’ll take questions. First, country threats. Probably the most dangerous country in the world is North Korea, although I would argue that if Pakistan at some point begins to fall apart, then Pakistan becomes the most dangerous country, because it has a lot more nuclear weapons than North Korea. Russia is a complexity, and to some extent a competitor. I’m not sure that it’s a threat. Iran I think, is a threat, because of the ideological nature of the regime, and the fact that even the Obama Administration admits it’s the largest funder of state terrorism in the world.
I think you have to look at things like the Mexican cartels as very serious transnational threats. I also think you have to look at the general Middle East. I would also say that Venezuela is something that ought to be on the national security list. Venezuela is one of the great under covered stories that’s happening. Venezuela’s disintegrating. That’s something we should be paying attention to. The general Middle East will be a chaotic area that requires us to be absorbed for a very long time. The two highest value potential competitors, of course are China, and Russia, because they’re large enough, they have big enough systems, they have the capability to compete with us at a level that probably there’s not a third competitor. India might be someday, but it doesn’t seem to fit the Indian inclinations. Clearly, with both China and Russia, you have countries that are coherent, capable of projecting power, and capable of being genuine competitors. That’s the geographic side.
Second, I think we have to look at transnational problems. Islamic supremacism is one that’s characterized, and again, this is one of those places where, if you spend your entire career memorizing Al Qaeda, and then ISIS occurred, and then you had to decide whether Boko Haram was really part of it, just because they meet with other terrorists regularly, and their first base camp was called Afghanistan in honor of the Taliban, you start going around the world. There are very few specialists who could list for you, all the different sub groups that could broadly be called Islamic Supremacism. That whole zone is clearly a threat.
I would argue that our current model of COIN, of counterinsurgency is totally inadequate, because it doesn’t provide for a sufficiently vigorous replacement. When you get to security, in a place like Iraq, if you don’t figure out a way to grow a very vigorous replacement system, it will eventually be destroyed. The same thing is a grave danger in Afghanistan. The Taliban is a much more vigorous self-regenerating system, than is the Afghan Government. COIN the model we’ve currently developed that I think is completely inadequate to compete, because it’s a crowding out question. Which system crowds out which?
I first got sobered about this in 2002, when Callista and I took a vacation in Ireland, and I began looking at the Irish rebellion, and the relatively small number of people rebelling against the British Empire, and how unbelievably hard it was to cope with them from 1916 on. You look at that and you say okay, now you take a place where you have several million people in rebellion? Defeating that is way more than our current doctrines ….make no provision for winning contests on that scale.
In terms of third, are new technologies. Cyber obviously. Electromagnetic pulse, where I recommend my co-author and good friend, Bill Fortune’s book, One Second After, if you want to understand electromagnetic pulse is the largest, single threat to our civilization. It’s absurd how little we spend on coping with it, because if you harden enough it’s not a threat, but if you don’t harden enough, and we get hit with an electromagnetic pulse, your civilization collapses. I would argue that space is an area where we have methodically, almost with genius, allowed bureaucracy to avoid success.
The combination of the Air Force’s parochialism and NASA’s bureaucracy, we are now at least 25 years behind where we should be. I wrote a book in 1984, called Window of Opportunity, and if you go back and take the chapter on space, which was basically written by NASA scientists who were under 35. Congressman Bob Walker, eventually the head of the Hiuse Science Committee, and I. Walker had a series of dinners with scientists under 35. We developed what you could achieve in space if you were serious. Everything in that chapter in 1984 is still doable. Only entrepreneurial people like Elon Musk have any notion of doing them, Bezos and Musk, and their parallels.
The billionaires may get us into space despite the bureaucrats, both the Air Force bureaucrats, and the NASA bureaucrats. Space is an area, and by the way, once you’re serious about space, and I thought it was very interesting in General Kelly’s announcement that he was taking over Homeland Security. He specifically talked about getting rid of political correctness. It’s only a one paragraph statement, and he talks specifically about political correctness. You take political correctness out of thinking about space, you’ll militarize space in the morning. Imagine that we, in 1903, we had said, it’s inappropriate to have weapons in airplanes. That lasts until there’s a real war. That’s where we are with space right now.
The other thing about technology we’ve got to really look at, I think, is the, you have robotics, you have 3D printing and a variety of things. Robotics could become really, a big deal. There’s a little article this morning that yesterday, for the first time ever, Google had a blind person riding around Austin, Texas in a car, with nobody else in the car. We’re not far from the edge of a robotized battlefield. If you design a tank with no people in it, how tall does the tank have to be? You really get to very, very different models.
Again, what you’ll find is in almost every case, the great bureaucracies go, well, we’re not really there yet. You’ve got to break out of studies and go to building things, and then put them out, take them to Fort Irwin, or somewhere and test them. If they annihilate your force, you’ve got to accept the annihilation. Just like the rise of the submarine, the rise of the aircraft carrier, both of which threatened battleships.
There’s a terrific small book by Colonel Johnson, called Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers, it’s a study of technology and change in the 30’s and 40’s, and the resistance of the bureaucracies. It has one of my all time favorite stories.
The Germans have swept through Poland. They’ve swept through France. It’s the summer of 1940. George Marshall is Chief of Staff, calls in the Head of Cavalry, and says, “You’ve seen all this happening, what are you going to do about it?” And the Chief of Cavalry says, “Yes, we’ve studied it very carefully. We understand what the Germans did, and we understand why Polish cavalry failed. We believe this requires the development of trucks that can carry horses close to the edge of the battlefield so they will be fresh, and we think that’s the key” and Marshall says, “Really? That’s fascinating. This has been a most helpful meeting.” The guy leaves, he calls in Beetle Smith, who was the Secretary at the time. He says, “I want you to retire him as of noon, and abolish the post of Commandant of Cavalry”. We forget, one of the reason we fought World War II so well. Marshall was cutting out people ruthlessly, particularly if they were intellectuals but idiots.
You have to look at San Diego with the Navy, and seen little robots running around. Then I’ve also ridden in a Google car. I’d be very curious if there’s a plan anywhere in the system right now, to build a robotic system to fight us, and to see who wins. What do we learn from it?
The other zone is what I would call complexities. Hybrid warfare, which the Russians are pioneering. You look at what’s happening in eastern Ukraine. It’s a very sobering non war, non peace application of a combination of psychological warfare, and military power, with massive propaganda. The rise of social media. You cannot explain terrorism in the United States without social media. We have no models currently, for winning the fight over social media.
Then there is the rise of law-fare. What are you legally allowed to do. We have allowed lawyers to trap us so stupidly. I look back and wonder how Lincoln would have cut through all this in the Civil War, which he would have.
If you look at the rules of engagement, and this, and what we’re allowed to think, and what we’re allowed to say, and all this stuff, one of the things the Trump Administration should try to do, and I’m very encouraged that their Cabinet has no lawyers, except for the Attorney General who kind of has to be a lawyer. It’ll be interesting to watch. You’re going to have Cabinet meetings with people who actually are practical, common sense, want to get something done, and don’t realize all the things they’re not allowed to do. They’re also very sophisticated people, who hire really good lawyers. They hire the kind of lawyers who’d figure out how to do it, not how to not do it. It’ll be interesting to see if they have the guts to take on the entire legal framework that has risen with law-fare.
My final thoughts for you, one, new thinking is more important that more money. Two, bureaucratic courage is harder than battlefield courage, because in a battlefield, your team is mostly with you, and you know who the other team is, and in bureaucratic fights you’re not sure who’s with you and who isn’t. You go back and look at people, it’s very hard to be a real change agent, in peacetime. The model of leadership, which I learned from the Training and Doctrine Command of the Army, is listen, learn, help, and lead, in that order. I recommend it to all of you, and faced with challenges on this scale, the technique we developed in the 16 year campaign to create a majority, is cheerful persistence. You get up in the morning. You know it’s all screwed up. I’ve always been cheerful, because basically in my heart, I am a four year old that knows that there’s a cookie somewhere, and my job is to go around all day until I find it. I’m endlessly energetic, looking for the cookie.
I recommend that kind of persistence because of what the Shy Meyer, Chief of Staff of the Army,taught me, I went to see him as a freshman. He was, I think the youngest Chief of Staff for the Army at the time. I said, “You’ve really risen rapidly, and you’ve done well. What are the secrets?” He said, “I have two principles. One, every quarter, find an intersection with ideas and go stand there. Whether its Brookings, or the American Enterprise Institute, or CSI. I don’t care where it is, but just go somewhere outside your normal behavior, and for three days listen to people, because it’ll stretch your mind. It’ll get you thinking differently.” He said, “Second” and this changed my life, he said, “All large systems are lakes of mediocrity in which there are islands of excellence, If you can identify the islands, and build invisible bridges between them, the lake will never notice, and you can get amazing things done. The minute the bridge becomes visible, the lake will climb on it and destroy it.” That was the heart of the technique I used. I learned that lesson in 1979, and it’s the heart of the technique I’ve used ever since.
It’s part of why I come and do Capstone all the time. Capstone is an island of excellence in which, for a brief period, rising general officers are allowed to think, and aren’t just busy pushing paper. Being with them for that brief time is enormously helpful. I’ve done it, I think 25 years or some absurd length of time.
I’m thrilled to be here. I think what you’re doing is central to the survival of freedom. I am thrilled to be here with our many allies, and associated countries. I’m looking forward to your questions. The gentleman right there raised his hand so fast. He has to be first.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q. You’ve spoken a lot about the President-Elect, and his ability to appeal to the American people, and his skill at branding. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on his ability to engage in foreign relations, particularly when we think about some comments he’s made regarding the NATO alliance, the relationship with China, and the One China policy, and the call to Taiwan. Just some thoughts on that please, sir.
A: I think, first of all, it’s useful to remember that he has property in the middle east. He has property in Scotland. He has property in Panama. He does business all around the world. In fact, he’s not in any way an isolationist. He’s a very relentless defender of the United States. I talked recently to 3,000 Canadians before the election, and this was at the Monk Debates in Toronto. They had voted, 86 to 14 for Hillary over Trump before the debate started. We were so brilliant by the way, we got them down to 80, 20. We moved six per cent of the audience. That is when you need cheerful persistence.
I started my talk by saying, “Look, if I were Canadian, I’d be nervous. Trump is a relentlessly pro American, who is going to change the terms of the game.” So he’s going to say to NATO, pay the minimum amount. Exactly like he deals with suppliers. He’s going to say, don’t come and tell me you’re glad we’re going to defend you. This is an alliance, we’re going to defend each other. Some of the countries, as you know, do pay the full amount, but they ain’t many. By the way this was a complaint I heard from President George W. Bush. It’s a complaint I heard from Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. It was not like this was a sudden overnight thing, it’s just he was public about it, and very aggressive.
Second, what’s NATO’s purpose? NATO was a 1949 anti-Soviet defense coalition. I think frankly, that’s one of our challenges. I am not automatically hostile to Russia, and I’m not automatically hostile to Putin. I think Putin is a thug. I think he’s exactly what a KGB trained person would be like. When George Bush looked in his eyes and saw his soul, I wondered what Bush was thinking. One of the great training things of the KGB is to get rid of the soul, keep the eyes. I am no more offended by him than I would be offended by a Kodiak bear. He is who he is, and now how do you manage that process? We’ve done a terrible job. We’ve often offended the Russians, absolutely unnecessarily, in our arrogance, and frankly because we have too many people who are Cold War experts in our national security system.
I faced a painful reality. I’d spent from 1958 to 1991, working on the Soviet Empire. I’d gone out with the Army. I’d gone out with the Navy. I had pretty good sense of Soviet military doctrine. I, at one time, tried to write a novel, which Tom Clancy did write, called, “Red Storm Rising”. I did not write it. I went on to win a Congressional seat, but that was my consolation prize. All of a sudden in December of 1991, they quit. Do you realize how challenging that was? A third of my intellectual capital, for my entire lifetime, was the Soviet Union, and they left.
The difference between me, and a lot of people who are still anti-Soviet is, I gave up. I said, okay, I’ve got to learn a new game. It’s this very complex work we’re now in. One of the weaknesses that the Bush Administration had, was they had too many anti-Soviet people. They were engaging with Putin as though it was the Soviet Empire. It’s not the Soviet Empire. It’s an important country. It’s a dangerous country because it has five or six thousand nuclear weapons. It’s a country with a tradition that almost no American understands. We talk about sanctions. You have to read about Stalingrad and Leningrad, and say to yourself, tell me what it is you think you’re going to do with sanctions for a people who endured that level of pain.
As one Russian said to me, “We thought it was a great decade. We knew it wouldn’t last. Now we’re back to being Russians”.
You really have to deal with the world as it is nit as theorists imagine it.
I think the fact that Trump went for Tillerson to be Secretary of State tells you something. The fact that he went for General Mattis tells you something. He’s going to have very sophisticated people around him. He’s also sending a signal to the Chinese, which I think is very fair. I was actually swapping emails with a friend of mine who really understands China much better than I do. He was reminding me, once again, that in Beijing this whole problem of One China is central to their identity.
I wrote back a very simple message, which is also something Trump has said. You want to collaborate, or you want to compete? If you’re going to build islands with no one else’s approval, and you’re going to set up air security zones over contested islands, with no one else’s approval, and you’re going to devalue the Yuan with nobody else’s approval, don’t come and tell us what we’re allowed to do. If we happen to hit one of your hotspots, fine. You think they’re going to go to war over Taiwan? They might, if Taiwan declared its independence. They won’t if Trump just accepts a phone call. Plus, Trump’s other point. We sell billions of dollars of weapons to Taiwan while refusing to take a phone call. Well, which is it?
I am absolutely for defending the territorial integrity of Taiwan as a free country, as long as we also remind the Taiwanese every morning, they can’t declare independence. That’s the balancing act. I think the Chinese need to understand, when the Director of National Intelligence staff said this year that the Chinese last year, stole 460 billion dollars in intellectual property, that the DNI’s estimate, I think the Chinese are going to face some very tough negotiations, and they ought to get used to it. I think we’re not going to tolerate being run over, and we’re not going to tolerate being lied to and cheated. If that makes some people unhappy, fine. I think a certain amount of reassertion of American interest is legitimate.
Q: Hi. I heard your comments last night about development, and I think there are definitely opportunities for us to shift the reconstruction model we’ve been stuck at, at USAID. You also talked about rethinking COIN. How can you do both when aid is fundamentally going to be part of any kind of good governance rule of law, that we’ve been taught here, is essential to economic growth?
A: First of all, it’s a great question. You’ve gone right to the core of rethinking. I gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in 2002 on why the State Department had to be totally overhauled. A good example is reconstruction. If you go back, and play Afghanistan from a different angle, you would bring in National Guard Engineer Battalions, every one you could mobilize, and you would build roads everywhere you could, as fast as you could. We got so hung up on who’s going to pay for what, and how’s it going to be organized. You go back and look at it, it makes you want to cry. Why is it that the Wahhabis do not want roads in northwest Pakistan? It’s the end of their world. It makes terrorism much harder to sustain.
Fred Starr at John’s Hopkins, wrote a paper in 2002 on the idea of a north, south strategy where you consciously build so many roads through Afghanistan to the central Asia, that you created waves of traffic, which meant you had to create waves of gas stations, which meant people actually had jobs, which meant you were breaking up the isolation. I am not for aid, first of all, I’m totally in favor of emergency aid after hurricanes, et cetera. Second, I am for aid if it is a polite method of paying for an air base, or some other thing we want. That’s actually a form of rent. That’s government to government, because that’s the nature of the deal. Third, I am for massive economic development everywhere on the planet, and by the way, the people that fight you the most often are the local oligarchs who are making money out of the closed system.
If you look at why is Haiti not developed? More than enough money has gone into Haiti to develop Haiti. You can’t develop Haiti right now because the elites don’t want it developed. It’ll break their control. Why is it, in Africa there are countries that do not go to modern telecommunications? Well, because there are powerful local families making money off of highly rationed, inadequate communication system. I went to the World Bank, and I said, why is this going on? They said, well, because the local folks don’t want change. I would say, we want to be in the business of really effective implementation. We want State and AID to be a part of a coordinated national strategy.
I once got the Pentagon to actually build a metrics room for the Iraq war. This came out of Moneyball, and the use of metrics. They went along and humored me. They built a metrics room. They went over to State, and they said to State, we’re building this metrics system, we’d like you to be a part of it. The answer was, we don’t do metrics. We do process. Metrics would be measurable. We’re not going to be measured. Period. It was amazing to watch. I would argue, you want to integrate state and USAID into an effective ongoing system. By the way, in terms of using foreign aid to build things, you probably just got the best president you could ever have. Trump knows how to build things. He knows how to get them done.
I was going to tell you, one quick story, and then we’re out of time, unfortunately. If you read The Art of the Deal, my favorite story that really got me intrigued with Trump. The Wollman Skating Rink, which you can see at Central Park, was broken, and by broken, I mean the machinery would not make ice. As all of you know, a skating rink without ice is not very productive. The city of New York spent six years, and 13 million dollars trying to get it fixed, and went to a very sophisticated, remarkable technologically advanced system, who’s only disadvantage was it didn’t work. Trump’s offices and home look out over the Wollman Skating Rink. He finally got so pissed off that he began taunting Mayor Koch in the media. Koch finally said, “All right, we’re going to give you six months and three million dollars. Fix it.” And in his book, it’s a wonderful moment, in his book he says, “Now that I was in charge, I realized I don’t know anything about fixing skating rinks”.
Follow this, and apply this to the Pentagon, or the State Department. trump said” I thought to myself, who does skating rinks? I thought, Canadians. So we found the best skating rink company in Canada. “They flew in. They came over and said, “This is so dumb. It’s embarrassing”. They fixed it in three months, for two and a half million dollars. Here’s the test, which you’ll see me writing about and talking about. You go to the Congressional Budget Office, or OMB, and you say I want you to score building a wall using the Wollman Skating Rink. I want you to score the new Air Force One using the Wollman Skating Rink. I want you to score the F-35 using the Wollman Skating Rink. What I mean by that, you have a ruthless, entrepreneurial frugality that applies common sense, insists on getting the job done, cuts through the red tape. How cheaply and how fast can you get things done?
I’m going to say this at an infrastructure conference later on today, that we should have a trillion dollars in effective infrastructure for about 400 billion dollars in federal spending, because we should apply the Wollman Skating Rink. By the way, the Ferry Point Park Golf Course is an even better story where, in the Bronx, they now have a golf course that neither Giuliani nor Bloomberg could get done, so they gave it to Trump and said, would you just do this? Took him 18 months. Trump is going to arrive in Washington and he’s going to discover this huge mountain of precedent, bureaucracy, lawyers, and congressional law that’s going to block him. The most fascinating part of the Trump Administration will be the first six months, because he’s assembled a group of very smart, very tough people.
My guess is Secretary Mattis will be able to figure out more ways to get the Pentagon to work, despite the regulations, than any civilian Secretary could ever do. The same thing will happen with Secretary John Kelly at Homeland Security. I think you look at the other people he’s bringing in, these are all tough people. These are not guys who inherited 100 million dollars from Grandpa. These are guys who have gotten to be very successful because they clawed their way up. They make very good deals, and they’re very tough. They’ll collide with Washington and we’ll know in a year or two who’s winning.
Q: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I appreciate your comments on the things that we need to be doing here, and the new thinking. You’ve already made references to some of the challenges that we face, but you’ve talked about Ronald Reagan, when he was President, and his, or maybe it was your theory, the antelope and chipmunk theory. I was wondering if you could explain to those of us who are not familiar with that, what that means, and then also talk about what are the three big antelopes that maybe Donald Trump should be worried about.
A: By the way, it ended up being an antelope and rabbit when it was explained by the Prime Minister of Australia, because they don’t have any chipmunks. Okay, this is actually, I’m going to end with this because I think this is really a great way to frame all of you to think about this. It’s partly my story, but it partly comes from talking to Secretary of State George Shultz. I campaigned with Reagan in the 70’s. I worked with Reagan in the 80’s, so I had a fair notion of how he operated. It’s technically as a hyper-carnivore. Lions, leopards, et cetera. Lions cannot afford to hunt chipmunks, because even if they catch them, they starve to death, so they use up too much energy to hunt down chipmunks. They have to find antelope and zebras. Reagan was psychologically a lion, and so he knew that he had to build his Presidency around antelopes. This is vital because lots of CEOs and lots of Presidents think if they get 212 chipmunks, that they’ve won. No, they lost.
Reagan had to have some antelope, because he couldn’t otherwise be who Reagan wanted to be, which was a historic figure. He had three antelope. Defeat the Soviet Empire. Rebuild the American economy. Renew belief in American civic culture, make us proud to be American again. Those were his three antelope. He’d get up in the morning, he’d say, now what is it I’m doing? Oh yeah, I’m defeating the Soviet Empire, I’m regrowing the American economy, and I’m renewing belief in being an American. He’d walk into the oval office, and a chipmunk would run in. We get $10 billion dollar federal chipmunks. Reagan was really a disciplined, pleasant guy, and so he would listen, and the chipmunk would explain the problem, and Reagan would say, you are a terrific chipmunk. Have you met Jim Baker?
Baker, as Chief of Staff, became the largest chipmunk collector in the world. Reagan didn’t pay any attention, he didn’t care. He once met the Secretary of HUD, at a reception, introduced himself to his own Secretary of HUD, and people thought it was a sign Reagan was stupid. No, he knew he had a Secretary of HUD, because he knew if he didn’t have one that Jim Baker would get him one. It was not a problem. Let me give you an example though, because people thought this meant he was aloof and distant. No, no. He was unbelievably careful in three areas. Defeating the Soviet Empire. Regrowing the American economy. Renewing belief in being an American.
I’ll give you one example, which George Shultz shared with me. Reagan in 1967, as Governor of California, visited Berlin. As a throwaway line he said, “That wall sure is ugly. They ought to tear it down”. Twenty years later, having been reelected carrying 49 states, Reagan’s going back to Berlin. He writes the line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. Sends it over as part of his Berlin speech, and the editor at the State Department takes it out. It comes back over to the White House. Reagan writes it in a second time. It goes over to the State Department, and State takes it out again. It goes back to the White House. Reagan, this is Shultz telling the story, Reagan picks up the phone, calls the Secretary of State, says, “Georgie, you need to explain to your editor, I am the President. He is not.” It stays in.
They get to Berlin, and at breakfast that morning, every member of his Senior Staff begs him to take it out. The CIA thinks the wall is going to last 30 or 40 more years. You’re going to look silly. It’s going to irritate Gorbachev with no benefit. Reagan politely listens to all of them. He says, “It stays in”. The wall fell two years later. I tell you that story because, when you figure out what the antelope are, it’s legitimate to go right down to the most basic. If it’s chipmunk, it’s legitimate to ignore totally. Obviously, if something gets you fired, it ceases to be a chipmunk. At that point it’s a survival antelope until you get rid of it. Okay.
As for Trump, this is a very, very good question, and I’ll have to think about it for a while. I think his first antelope has to be the economy. If we’re growing at seven, eight, nine percent, first of all it solves all of our budget problems. It solves our entitlement problems. People feel good. If they feel good, he’ll get reelected, and this has got to be, it’s a legitimate part of a free society for the elected official to behave in such a way that they get reelected. It’s just like McDonald’s doing well enough that you go back for another meal. Presidents who tell you they’re not worried about reelection frankly, aren’t doing their job. They should serve the people well enough that they get reelected. That’s got to be job one.
I think his second antelope, and we have not talked about this, I think his second antelope is actually draining the swamp. I think draining the swamp means you’ve got to pass civil service reform, and it means you’ve got to clean out the bureaucracy, and the lawyers, and all the stuff that makes it impossible to manage government. The American people deserve a government which is lean, effective, affordable, and gets the job done. Having a large, expensive, cumbersome system that can’t function, is not a substitute. This will be a much bigger fight than they realize, and it will be much more central to their survival across the board for everything, whether it’s National Security, or it’s economics, or it’s education. Getting this done will be a huge problem.
I think the third is actually the zone you all operate in. One of the amazing things about Reagan, is he’s really very careful about the use of military force. He’s very cautious. When we got into trouble in Lebanon, we pulled out. We didn’t pile on, because it wasn’t central to what he was doing, and because he understood that it could absorb you endlessly. He had a very aggressive, grand strategy. He was very willing to have two million people march in Germany, or in France, or in England, against him during the whole period of the nuclear freeze, because he understood that was part of a grand strategy of defeating the Soviet Empire. He was really careful not to have a general war. I think Trump in that sense, I’ll close this, but I think it’s a really interesting, it’s one of the reasons I think he’s actually a real leader.
I called him during the South Carolina Primary. He had gotten into a fight with George W. Bush over the Iraq War, and I said, “Would you explain to me”, since Bush was still at 84 percent approval among Republicans in South Carolina, “Why you think it makes sense to be in a fight with him?” He said, “You know, I honestly believe that the war did not work. I honestly believe we lost thousands of young folks, and we had thousand more wounded, and we spent trillions of dollars, and somebody ought to have the guts to say, this is not what we ought to be doing”. You can agree or disagree with his logic, but the kind of courage, in the middle of a primary campaign, that says look I’m going to tell you what I honestly believe, even though I know 80 percent of you love the guy who did it, and then you’ve got to decide if you want me or not, but I’m not going to lie to you about it.
The fact is people of South Carolina said, we really love George Bush, and we really think you’re right. He carried South Carolina by a landslide. I think, he’s got to think through, and the question earlier about China, he’s got to think through, how do you make America great again? How do you aggressively represent American interests, and do so without getting into wars, and without destroying our alliances?
If they can pull that off, and they’re assembling a pretty smart team, Tillerson is very smart. Mattis is very smart. These meeting are going to be really interesting. They’re all going to understand. Mattis, who is a great warrior, doesn’t like wars, which is good. What you want are warriors who are prepared to fight, but who don’t need to fight. I think that probably those are his three antelopes, but if you have better ideas, send me a note. Now I’m going to be on an antelope search.
Newt Gingrich, a Republican, was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. He is the author of the new novel “Treason” (Center Street, October 11) and co-author, with his wife Callista Gingrich, of “Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation’s History and Future” (Center Street, May 17, 2016).