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Producing Military Genius. A Letter To The Next President.

Can the American military select and produce leadership capable of winning? Sports teams ironically illustrate what the military forgot: The best players should always be selected from a diverse population after a performance-based selection process.

The NFL’s combine is a great example. While this performance-based screener doesn’t always predict the best performers, it’s hard imagining NFL owners only picking players based on subjective recommendations from college coaches or the external needs for inclusion. It’s also hard imagining ownership not firing a coach with a consistent losing record.

Why are sports teams inherently better at designing a system for screening and selecting performance when outcomes for predictive failures do not result in the death of young talent entrusted by America’s mothers and fathers?

Noteworthy that in the current American military system, other than influence from the President, Congress, and politically appointed secretaries within the defense department, the American people are relegated to military leaders internally produced within a nepotistic system.

American military leaders have many good qualities, but their aggregate shortfalls in courage and performance are well documented since the creation of the post World War II national security model. Recent sensational examples, like Benghazi or Afghanistan aside, the military’s inability to achieve political objectives in Vietnam, Beirut, Somalia, Kosovo, Libya, Iraq, or Syria should clearly indicate a team needing new leadership.

In any other business model, consistent failure would result in new leadership, but this has not been the case for the American military. Consequently, problems have festered for so long that simply changing out top level military leaders no longer fixes the military’s foundational problems.

Fundamentally changing how the military system produces leaders must be explored by the next presidential administration.

The American military is influenced by many historical literary works, but none more important than Clausewitz’s book On War. In the chapter on military genius, Clausewitz described military leaders’ need for courage:

“Courage is of two kinds: courage in the face of personal danger, and the courage to accept responsibility, either before the tribunal of some outside power or before the court of one’s own conscience.” (p101 paret ed)

Unfortunately, Clausewitz specifically stated he would not explore the second quality, moral courage, in his book. Yet, despite Clausewitz’s reluctance to explore moral courage, and its implications on military leadership, he goes on to stress,

“If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this feint light wherever it may lead.” (p102)

Based on the American military’s fixation on Clausewitz’s book as a guide, it’s perhaps not surprising that the book never details systemic influence on moral courage. Clausewitz himself didn’t understand, or didn’t care to explore, a military system’s influence on leadership quality and military performance. Said succinctly, there can be no military genius if the system never allows it.

The current military system degrades moral courage over time. It compels subordinates to please superiors for high subjective evaluations, many times at the expense of performance and honesty. This people pleasing system is further weakened by a need for fairness, inclusion, and timecard punching over performance. The next President must dramatically reshuffle this entire process.

A needed shock to the dying system would be a warfighting performance screener determining continued service and advancement. Debating diversity and inclusion would no longer be required if advancement was purely performance based. The next President should force all general officers to compete in a wargame competition.

Talented field grade officers should also be pulled into the competition, defying the old time-based system. The first round of losers should be sent home to retirement. The subsequent rounds should determine the most prestigious positions for America’s general officers.

The details of the competition would no doubt be heavily debated. No artificial competition would perfectly replicate the requirements of a general officer in war. But ultimately any warfighting competition illustrating performance is better than the current system. Currently leaders ascend to positions based on a variety of reasons other than warfighting performance.

It is also worth noting that the term “general” officer literally denotes that an officers’ background is irrelevant. These officers theoretically are generalists possessing a warfighting ability superior to all others. A “general” officer is someone graduating from military apprenticeship by demonstrating mastery in all aspects of military warfare. However, reality demonstrates that America’s general officers are selected for an infinite number of reasons other than warfighting performance.

The need for inclusion and fairness affects all things. General Tod Wolters, an Air Force general, and the European Combatant Commander when Russia invaded Ukraine, perfectly illustrates the point. It’s hard imagining General Wolters as one of the seven best American military commanders capable of applying lethal pressure in pursuit of political objectives. It’s easily identifiable that General Wolters received a global command where war wasn’t anticipated so that the Air Force was equally represented in the combatant command structure. If a person argues General Wolters was a top ten nationally ranked warfighting generalist, then build a performance competition and prove it.

The American people and junior service members cannot expect military leadership embracing the proposed reforms. Asking current military leaders to acknowledge the system’s shortfalls would marginalize their own leadership ascension while simultaneously threatening their individual power accumulation. Compelling release of current military leaders’ power strangle cannot be done without strong political leadership breaking the grasp.

If military leaders ascend to positions of power based on performance, in critical moments, they will more likely rely on instincts rather than antiquated rules or opinions. This instinct, screened by performance, is the feint light of truth expected by the American people. If a people pleasing system degrades moral courage, a performance-based system strengthens moral courage.

In the current antiquated military system, leaders are conditioned to patiently wait, please superiors, and respect fairness over talent. Unfortunately, this type of leader is far more likely to fold than fight. While Clausewitz may not have fully explored the need for a performance based military system, or what that meant in terms of moral courage, he clearly understood the critical nature of moral courage in military leadership. Can the American military system, pulling from a large, diverse, and talented American population, produce senior leaders of a higher quality? Yes.

But it will require that the next President demonstrate a courage and performance currently missing from America’s senior military leadership. The next President should create a performance-based evaluation for all general officers. He should identify military genius in a warfighting scenario, and then pick candidates based on needs. Once the new leadership moves up and into place, positive changes to military culture will follow.

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Jon Stephens
Jon Stephens
Jan 27, 2023

Your recommendation re. military leadership selection/revisions concurrently apply to the FBI. Leadership selection protocol/evaluation must be revised to embrace/encourage/reward those who exhibit courage and accountability. If not, mission failure is guaranteed. I will never forgive our leadership for failing to achieve victory in Iraq and their disgraceful Afghan surrender. Failure of military, FBI and DOJ leadership/management must be challenged and replaced with those who put America first, while serving with Fidelity, Bravery and for God's sake, Integrity.

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You can thank obama for that. The first thing he did, was to fire all the warriors, ass kickers and actual leaders, in not just the military, but in every government agency, and replaced them with yes men, and women, and ass kisseers that put career, over mission..and what followed you see today..


You bring up a great points, the issue I see:

Civilians have no clue on military careers and rise to power. Even the civilians in DOD leadership are clueless to the process in “General” selection. The mystery of “grooming” is a foreign and unknown concept to our civilian counterparts, especially since it’s not “results” focused (winning wars).

How can the next POTUS try to emplace a new promotion system, if even his advisors have no clue how broke the current process is? Will politicians back up such a revolutionary concept, seeing that this concept could potentially apply to their careers = “results” focused?

We have young leadership in congress that have served and hopefully have seen the lack of accountability,…


well, that’s a gut punch - or I hope an eye opener… No one likes to be told they are a failure - or weak - or irrelevant - Especially Americans..(sorry, did I say something wrong?!). But when it matters, when a member of the United States Military is the only one standing in front of you (us!) - the fact that they actually will give their all - matters. Those that lead them should stand to that same level. What’s on their collar is just a technicality. Love and respect to those that stood up, stepped forward, and said ‘I Will’..!


I love the analysis Stu. I’m from a long line of family that has served since the French and Indian war. I take pride in our military and our country. We are starting to get some more military guys in there, Eli Crane is one to watch, a good conservative and former seal and business owner. He owns bottle breacher. He is gonna be deep in the muck for awhile just trying to feel his way around all that political garbage in DC. Anyway, you’re much more recent then me and I was only in for a year min the eighties, I’m good at forecasting though with an accumulation of all my life experiences. I see this going really …


Ray Lipp
Ray Lipp
Jan 26, 2023

Remove Biden from office for treason with violation of the USA constitution for illegal immigration and getting the USA in ww3 with the Soviet union. My dad fought in ww2 on the uss Fitch so we could be free not prisoners with in our own country.



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