The Terrorist Dilemma: A Talk to West Point Cadets

I was recently invited by Jarret Brachman, professor and head of research at West Point’s Center of Combating Terrorism, to give a talk to his students in the department. Below is a transcription of the talk itself, which was given on November 13, 2007. In the days to come I will detail the response of students and teachers, the questions that came up, my impressions of West Point and of the students I met there, as well as talks with other members of the department. All in all, it was a great experience. Professor Brachman is an expert on Al

Only the Dull and Stupid Fight Head-on: Some Strategic Thoughts

Reading and watching the news lately has inspired a few strategic tidbits I would like to share. Force them off the negative: It is always easier to argue from the negative side–criticizing other people’s actions, dissecting their motives, etc. And that is why most people will opt for this. If they had to describe a positive vision of what they want in the world, or how they would accomplish a particular task, this would open them up to all kinds of attacks and criticisms. It takes effort and thought to establish a positive position. It takes less effort to work

In Praise of the Bad Guy

In Pimp by Iceberg Slim, almost the entire book is devoted to his life on the streets, to learning the game of pimping and mastering it. Then comes a riveting account of his time in prison, and finally, at the end, a fiery denunciation of his wasted years as a pimp. This moralizing ending has largely been ignored. Instead, the book has become a manual for how to be the ultimate pimp. In his other books, it is the con artist, the gang leader and hustler who holds our attention and draws our sympathy. We become absorbed in reading about

Experiments in Strategic Wisdom, Profiles in Stupidity – A Last Look at Russia

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the Russia essays. I am a contrarian by nature. When I hear anyone espouse an idea or a belief, my mind immediately floats to the opposite. “Perhaps what you are saying is in fact not true at all. I could see it from the opposite side, and so I will try it out.” I don’t know where this trait comes from; it is my form of mental warfare. I do it with my own ideas as well. Its value lies in making me test out opinions and never accept what others

Russian Politics Through the Looking Glass

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Russia essays. Several days into my trip, I had a meeting with Vladmir Zhirinovsky, one of the most famous, infamous Russian politicians of the past twenty years. In 1990 he founded the Liberal Democrat Party (LDPR), the first real independent political opposition to the Communists. In the 1993 parliamentary elections, the LDPR gained about 23% of the vote. Zhirinovsky had positioned himself as a kind of Huey Long of Russian politics, with a comic touch. He once promised to give out free vodka to one and all if he were elected president.

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The Future Empire

Read Part 1 of the Russia essays. On the thirteen hour flight from Los Angeles to Moscow last month, I ignored the various entertainments that Aeroflot was offering, and concentrated on two things: finishing a book I had started on Russian history (Russia: The Once and Future Empire, by Philip Longworth) and looking out the window at the strange and impressive sights. In the history book, I had arrived at the 20th century and the catalog of tragedy and catastrophe (compacted into a few hundred pages) was almost too much to take. First there was the story of the Russian

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Russia and Power

Almost everyone is drawn somehow to the exotic, whatever is most different to what they know. It is the root of many a seduction. In California, where I grew up, the exotic was mostly represented by Asia. In the 1970s, this meant dabbling in yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, the I Ching, etc. I would develop an interest in things Asian much later in life. For me, what was most exotic was Russia. It began with my first Dostoyevsky novel (he remains my favorite writer to this day). The characters in his novels contained these powerful contradictions; they would say something and

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Angles, Hustlers And Suckers

I forgot something important that you must remember until you go six feet under…. There are only two kinds of people in the whole wide world, grifters and suckers…. [With suckers,] let their stupid brains stay asleep in their chump world. Keep your own brain honed to razor sharpness in the secret world of con. –Iceberg Slim A few years ago, to help my mind get over the grind of the WAR book, I bought a pool table. After a hard day’s work, I would settle into the game of pool and make myself completely focus on the green felt,

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OODA and You

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at a company convention in southern California. This company has offices worldwide, is very successful in its line of work, but on the horizon are some dangers. They brought me in to address those dangers. The specifics here do not matter much, only to say that, like a lot of companies that were successful in the 80s and on up to the present, they have come to rely upon a particular business model that is part circumstance and part design. Loosely put, their upper-tier employees operate more like entrepreneurs, each one out

Hugo Chavez

In 1984, I spent several months in Nicaragua, trying to write several articles on the war between the U.S.-backed contras and the Sandinistas. I had been ostensibly sent there by the magazine Mother Jones, but the article–on Americans living there and working for the Sandinistas–was never published, for reasons I cannot remember. In any event, the experience was incredibly memorable, an endless series of eye-opening adventures. I went there with an open mind, but left with a depressing impression, as if history were a kind of revolving door in which we are all trapped. What I mean is the following:

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