Seven Deadly Scenarios can be read and enjoyed almost as a collection of near future science fiction stories, though unlike sci-fi writers, who typically unveil the imagined course of future events elliptically, piece by piece, thus to keep the reader puzzling, author Andrew Krepinevich attacks the shape of things to come straight on, and the implied test is persuasiveness, not literary or entertainment value. Anyone who delights in scaring friends, family, and internet acquaintances with prophecies of doom will therefore want to order a copy, but Krepinevich, a longtime defense insider, wants to reach people who have more serious uses for such material. In this respect it’s possible that he succeeds too well as a writer, and is more likely to induce dread, resignation, or denial, where he means to motivate policymakers and citizens to demand better preparation and planning – that is, better leadership.
Each deadly scenario puts the American military and national command authority in disastrously untenable situations just a few to several years from now, and each would be world-historical (not in a good way):
- collapse in Pakistan involving the U.S. in a nuclearized and Islamicized regional war
- politically and economically de-stabilizing pandemic plague
- a series of nuclear attacks in the American homeland brought off by an effectively unidentifiable (and therefore un-targetable) sponsor
- a 1914-like Middle East outbreak of war, centered on Israel
- Chinese moves on Taiwan forcing a choice between global war and the loss of the Pacific Rim (and more)
- systematic Islamist assault on global resource and supply chains leading to economic catastrophe
- civil war in an abandoned Iraq leading to a re-alignment in the Gulf: the U.S. on the outside; China, Russia, and Iran on the inside
In short, 7 American catastrophes – and each entailing blows not just to our abstract “interests,” but to the very concrete counterparts of those interests: our lives and our way of life.
Now consider further that there’s nothing preventing two or more of these or similar scenarios arising concurrently. Indeed, there’s good reason to suspect that each such crisis may increase the likelihood of others, leading to and in turn being accelerated by the simultaneous exhaustion of American resources, will, and credibility.
If, for instance, the Chinese have an itch for Taiwan, how much more likely are they to make a move when we’re already stretched to our limits with war and nuclear terror well off to the left on the map, and when we’re already devastated by global economic sabotage? Or if China moves first on Taiwan, wouldn’t that be a perfect time for Islamists to escalate subversion in Iraq and Pakistan, confront Israel, and assault off- and inshore oil facilities and container mega-ships? And it must be said that there are other potential major and minor threats – some of them more purely economic, some of them merely familiar and therefore addressed if not truly mastered by current military doctrine and deployments – that may also feed or be fed by the slew of cyber-subversions, area denials, global double-crosses, terrorist depredations, and acts of sabotage that pop up repeatedly and all across Krepinevich’s narratives.
We could spin up chain reactions and “mother of storms” scenarios all day: As Neil Young once sang, “It’s a wonder tall trees ain’t laying down.”
Krepinevich himself might consider such speculation a gross misuse of his work. He’d like to see a modernized, permanent version of Eisenhower’s Planning Board integrated into the contemporary military and fully resourced. He’d probably like to see much larger investments in a range of anti-missile, special forces, deep strike, cyberwarfare, and other capacities. And I think he’d like to see our real world Defense Secretary, who receives a couple of uncomplimentary mentions, get his head on completely straight about what he’s publicly dismissed as “next war-itis.”
In short, Krepinevich advocates prudent investments, not apocalyptic proclamations. In his forward, he presents a scenario composed in the late 1990s, describing a war and counterinsurgency difficulties in Iran, in order to make a key point: A useful scenario neither needs nor attempts to foretell the future. Having addressed the limitations in planning, equipment, and doctrine that eventually come to plague his fictional warriors on the eastern side of the Gulf ca. 2016 would likely have helped a decade earlier when real world warriors were fighting just one country over in either direction.
Well, sure, but the thing is: His Iran scenario still mostly makes sense – so make that Eight Deadly scenarios. Or take a step back and you’re facing One Great Big Deadly Scenario made up of major and minor sub-scenarios – and you may be feeling like fictional Defense Secretary Summers, reacting to President Reynolds’ temporizing response to terrorist nukes going off in American cities:
The country is now at war, [Summers] says, against a group of states and nonstate entities that are practicing a form of ambiguous aggression against the United States. The United States can attempt to sue for some kind of peace, although with whom he hasn’t a clue; or it can accept the fact that it is at war – a war that has already caused more damage to the American homeland in a few weeks than all of World War II – and mobilize its full resources to defeat its enemies. Summers declares that he has no interest in negotiation; he is interested only in the total cooperation of these rogue states, and their capitulation to American demands for unfettered access, so that they may avoid “their complete and utter destruction.” It is time for the nation to mobilize its resources to fight the war that has been waged against it ever since radical Islamists seized the first American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran over thirty years ago.
To state the obvious, there are more than a few Americans who not too long ago were already on board with the above – well before the destruction of downtown San Antonio, Chicago, San Diego, and Boston.
As for Krepinevich, if he’s not ready to call for anything remotely resembling full mobilization for global war, it’s less clear whether, in his heart, he believes a complete strategic re-orientation, implying a very different national leadership style than the American political system has been producing, is necessary. Still, whatever he himself believes, the one factor that ties his scenarios together is that Presidents Reynolds, Simmons, Dickson, Collingwood and so on all tend to resemble President Merkin Muffley (now there was a scenario), flailing with outmoded sanities against realized insanity.
Under a Muffley Administration, it probably wouldn’t matter much whether the Pentagon had three times as many SpecForces operatives to call upon, five times as many anti-missile systems, a 6000-ship blue and green water navy, and a $50 Billion Planning Board budget: Our committed adversaries – and the larger circles of spoilers, opportunists, and passive supporters – would with good reason fear us too little, and know the world is far too small for us to remain insulated, yet always too big to be fully defended.
That one’s easy. After each incident terminate the most likely couple of suspects promptly and with extreme prejudice. If the attacks continue after only four or five or ten incidents all of the possible suspects will be gone and the resultant dust in the atmosphere will solve global warming for decades.
But I think several of the suspects down the list from the first couple of eliminatees will help solve the problem if we made a hasty mistake with the first retaliation.