The New Rules of War – A Book Review

The New Rules of War: Victory in The Age of Durable Disorder (© 2019) is a book written by a Harvard-trained scholar. You can verify that fact by the amount of footnotes in the back of the book. 

But don’t let that stop you! This is a book for anyone interested in the history of war—and the changes in the way wars are conducted in the Twenty First Century.

Sean McFate brings this book to life by telling numerous stories from history, starting as far back as centuries before the Bible, and leading up to the present.

The stories Sean tells to support his views of ancient and modern of warfare are also drawn from virtually every geographic area of the globe—even the oft-ignored Central Asian “istans,” i.e., Kurdistan and Turkistan, and Uzbekistan. [“stan” meaning ‘land’ in Persian]

Many of these examples of ancient and modern warfare are from Sean’s own experiences from serving in the U.S. Army and later as a leader of mercenaries for several years. 

As you’d expect, this book critiques the traditional notions of warfare held by many other experts on war, and it suggests new ways of waging war in the 21st century and beyond. 

A novel idea early on in the book is the suggestion for creating a new version of the French Foreign Legion in the U.S. and other countries waging war. (pages 98-102). This is just one of a host of ideas tied to Sean’s new ten rules for [modern] war.

However the thing that I liked best in his book is that as a scholar, Sean makes many distinctions between words we commonly use to describe ancient and modern warfare. Most of all the two terms I’ve been writing about in several recent posts. 

Dark Money

For example, in Chapter 8, Sean talks about Narco wars among cartels in Mexico and elsewhere in the world. McFate distinguishes the differences among; Narco wars, street gang drug wars, conventional wars, religious sect wars, ethnic wars, genocidal wars, and private wars that involve mercenaries.

He describes Narco cartels as “regional superpowers” (p. 177) who control not only areas within countries, but also may control individual countries and even areas within multiple adjacent countries.

Sean covers the economics of private wars where there are private actors who employ mercenaries. This includes one actual private “actor,” Mia Farrow, who once explored hiring mercenaries to save victims of genocide.

McFate compares these private wars to a “souk,” an Arabic open market, warning that only experienced people should bargain in this market

Sean goes on in Chapter 8, There Will Be Wars Without States” to critique private wars (on pages 185-193) by using a demand and supply side economic analysis.

On the demand side McFate lists the tactics that those who hire mercenaries use to gain their own advantage. On the supply side he lists different tactics that mercenaries use to gain advantage for themselves.

Of course, in each market transaction wherever mercenaries are hired, [often using dark money] each actor uses different tactics as they all try to maximize their own self-interest in their deal. 

And now, I want to return to Chapter 7 of The New Rules of War to discuss words I’ve long sought to define.

In Chapter 7, “New Types of World Powers Will Rule,”Sean disambiguates between a “deep state” and a “conspiracy” (pp. 158-169). This is an certainly an issue that’s really up for a lot of us right now.

The Deep State 

As you may have noticed on the lower right sidebar of Brucenomics’ home page, I’ve recently written a long series of posts about Dark Money and the Deep State. I’ve defined “Dark Money” for this series, but I was unable to define “Deep State”. 

Sean defines deep states this way “…deep states are real, but they are not ‘conspiracies’.” (p. 159) [Nor are they ‘collusion’ ‘cooperation’ or other words being bandied about these days.]

Here is a short list of the some differences McFate sees between deep states and conspirators:

(1) Conspiracies seek to undermine the system, while members of deep states seek to hijack the system [from within]

(2) Conspiracies are composed of radical individuals, while deep states are [within] institutions [using those institutions to serve themselves]

(3) Conspiracies hide in the shadows, while deep states operate in the open [protected by laws and institutions.]

(4) When caught doing something wrong, members of of the deep start are fired; conspirators are often jailed or killed.

(5) The time frame for conspiracies is short, usually months or years. Deep states think in terms of decades and centuries.

Sean points to a deep state in the U.S. first named in the 1950’s by President Dwight Eisenhower as the “military-industrial complex”. This deep state has long manipulated other parts of the government for its own purposes. (p. 166)

McFate cites the F-35 fighter plane as the latest military-industiral boondogle. The F-35 is the most expensive plane built to date, costing billions of dollars, but it has never been flown in war and probably will never be used in the future because modern wars are fought in a different way now. (pgs. 43-47).

I’m aware that cost overruns by the military are not just a modern trend. Decades ago I sat in an auditorium listening to U.S. generals discuss ways they manipulate Congress for funding their own pet projects.

Back in 1968 I also knew that President Nixon lied when he went on television and claimed the military was not active in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. And of course later under President Reagan there was the Iran Contra scandal coverup.

However, to me our military does not appear to have to reached anywhere near the level of corruption, self-enrichment, and disregard of people’s rights and American laws that the present Executive branch of our federal government has managed to bring about over that past two and half years.

All these things I listed above are problems that McFate claims are hallmarks of a deep state.

Other government institutions of power that Sean names as common sites of a deep state that may be found in a nation are: secret police, intelligence services; law enforcement agencies, and the judiciary. (p. 181). But that’s as far as he goes.

My Views on Our Deep State

What I see now as the deep state in America is that wealthy libertarians on the far Right and their allies in the United States (and Austria), began at least seventy years ago as a conspiracy that funneled dark money via their charitable foundations for decades to create a new political deep state within all levels of our government.

The extreme right-wing libertarian crusade I’ve written my Dark Money series of posts about on Brucenomics, has now grown into a deep state that controls nearly all levels of our government. This includes parts of all three branches of our federal government.

This libertarian deep state within our government has every intention of completely overthrowing our laws, rights, and traditional American values, while the Trump administration simply flaunts any laws it doesn’t like and/or goes to court.

McFate’s book notes that members of a deep state often come together because they all have similar self-interests—usually to gain money and power.

This is what I think has happened now in the United States. After growing stronger for decades, three different forces have intersected to create the ‘perfect storm’:

(1) Russia’s use of modern warfare tactics to disrupt and disempower the U.S. government; (2) the concerted extreme right-wing libertarian political campaign funded by wealthy Republican libertarian billionaires like the Kochs and DeVoses via their charitable foundations; and (3) the more recent election of our “newly rich” President, Donald Trump, and his band of revolving-door associates who have been hijacking the Executive branch for their own corrupt purposes and self-interests.

You may not agree with me, and you many not like some things Sean McFate proposes in The New Rules of War. But Sean’s book is launching a long-delayed conversation that we really need to have right now in this country—

Because, clearly, we are already deep into a new kind of warfare for the future of our country, as well as of the destiny of our world.

Authors Note: I’ve inserted page numbers into this post because the index is quite professional—as far as it goes. Unfortunately, this index only goes half as far as it should, omitting many important topics and page references. If you want to refer back to parts of the book I suggest you also record page numbers of topics you’re interested as you read it.