The Twilight Struggle: What the Cold War Teaches Us About Great Power Rivalry Today
Hal Brands. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2022. Notes. Index. $32.50.
Reviewed by Steven Wills
In his latest book, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies scholar Dr. Hal Brands delivers an excellent review of the important “wave top” events of the Cold War, the political negotiations throughout the contest and surrounding its end, and lessons from the 20th-century U.S./Soviet system struggle for the 21st-century great power rivalry. The narrative for readers seeking to know how the respective U.S. and Soviet armed forces impacted the outcome of the Cold War, however, is minimal, but with outsized roles offered to the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Net Assessment, the “Second Offset” strategy of the Carter administration, and the effects of defense reorganization reform embodied in the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986.
Brands’ work covers the geopolitical overview of the Cold War from George Kennan’s 1947 “long telegram” to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, including negotiations between President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on German reunification. Ronald Reagan’s transition from Cold War hawk to dedicated peacemaker with the Soviets in the wake of the Able Archer NATO exercise of 1983—which almost convinced the Soviets that the United States would launch a first-strike nuclear attack—also receives fine attention.
This is a solid, compact Cold War history worthy of inclusion in advanced undergraduate and graduate student coursework, as well as a useful volume for the average citizen seeking to understand the political aspects of the Cold War. The lessons for future great power competition are solid, starting from the basic observation that many Americans no longer recognize great power rivalry, as the Cold War’s end is now 30-plus years in their rear-view mirrors. That fact alone suggests the challenges in reeducating both the U.S. governing classes and public on the need for long-term, comprehensive, and, as Brands states, often unsatisfying competition with rivals such as China and Russia.
Brands’ explanation of the military side of the Cold War, however, is much less detailed, often couched within the “nuclear shadow,” and perhaps focuses too much on narratives the Washington civilian defense bureaucracy tells itself when it speaks of the Cold War. The Office of Net Assessment (ONA), for example, gets high marks from Brands for developing asymmetric military competition strategies. Details on how ONA was connected to developing specific service strategies such the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Strategy and 600-ship navy force structure are limited because of the relative scarcity of releasable ONA documents. ONA did not come into existence until 1974, and its long-range effort left it only 16 years to think about competitive strategies until the Cold War’s end.
The Navy had its own ideas on competitive strategy as well, and a November 1990 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy report that reviewed service competitive strategies from 1986 to 1990 noted that only the Navy ranked global competitive strategy concepts as its first priority. Brands does note the usefulness of the Maritime Strategy in threatening, “exposed Soviet lines of communication and territories” as well as the Navy’s ability to threaten the Soviet ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) force and its second strike nuclear capability.
In addition to ONA, the Second Offset strategy concepts of the Carter administration under Defense Secretary Harold Brown also figure prominently in Brands’ assessment of military effectiveness in the later Cold War. Stealth aircraft, precision-guided munitions, and improved sensors would “extend the battlefield deep into the Soviet rear.” This is all factual, but it is worth noting that the Navy developed precision-guided weapons in the form of the Harpoon and Tomahawk cruise missiles during Admiral Elmo Zumwalt’s term as Chief of Naval Operations, and networked communications needed to support their employment were developed a decade prior with Link 11 in the 1960s. Secretary Brown, a former Secretary of the Air Force, and some of his subordinates, such as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Robert Komer, had at times strained relationships with the Navy, and attempts to look at the overall joint product of DoD in
a given presidential administration sometimes overshadows significant service contributions.
Competition between DoD and the Navy in particular leads to another point in Brands’ volume on defense reorganization reform and its contribution to Cold War success. Here the author covers both sides of the defense reorganization debate by noting that while the services from the period of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the 1983 invasion of Grenada had trouble “working as a team” at the operational and tactical levels, competition at the national level of defense budgeting “forced the services to compete and innovate against each other, and helped the Pentagon develop the strategies and forces needed for Cold War rivalry.”
Finally, Brands’ analysis of the post–Cold War era in terms of U.S. attempts to integrate rising competitors such as China rather than turn them into adversaries is an excellent executive summary of the period. The only point lacking is the precipitous decline in U.S. military strength from 1990 to present day. In the case of the Navy, the service has declined from 570 ships in November 1990 to 296 ships as of July 2022. The overall decline in conventional forces and the conventional deterrence they enabled using precision-guided munitions may have emboldened the Russians and the Chinese to compete on a global scale.
The Twilight Struggle is an excellent, comprehensive overview of the Cold War as a geopolitical and system struggle between the U.S./West and Soviet/Warsaw Pact blocs and gets at useful details in a variety of areas of that contest, notably intelligence, technology, and societal aspects. It is light on military details and gives an outsized level of influence to small groups and teams that does not address wider military service efforts at competitive strategy and operational planning. However, despite those critiques, it is a volume worth adding to one’s Cold War library and/or class reading list for the fall semester.
Dr. Wills currently serves as a navalist for the Center for Maritime Strategy at the Navy League of the United States. He is an expert in U.S. Navy strategy and policy and Navy surface warfare programs and platforms.
On Mission: Your Journey to Authentic Leadership
John Buford and Sean Georges. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2022. 288 pp. $28.95.
Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Dillon Fishman, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve
After reading stacks of books over the past four years in a doctoral program on leadership studies, I can attest that many belong in the basement. Sadly, the popular leadership literature and lexicon feature hollow checklists, cliché caricatures, and other oversimplifications that often fail to impress. Despite the abundance of quick fixes, effective and actionable advice proven in practice and widely applicable remains relatively scarce. So why should any Proceedings reader pick up On Mission? Here are three reasons.
First, its authors have the street cred and guts to offer convincing and varied examples about the messiest and most fundamental leadership problem: people. They are two former Marine officers clearly as familiar getting callused hands from pull-ups as they are typing footnotes. Both bring insights from decades of military and civilian leadership, with Buford working in academia and leading Outward Bound expeditions after retiring from the military and Georges attaining an executive role in a large publicly traded corporation after attending the U.S. Naval Academy and serving in the Marine Corps. In Marine lingo, they know how to move, shoot, and communicate.
Credibility shines through their vignettes—not always flattering—that demonstrate the principles of authenticity, responsibility, and service they extol. And because they have reflected intentionally on various hard problems and tricky situations, the authors have synthesized their experience into wisdom. Consequently, they do not shy away from discussing the critical role of emotions in leadership, including caring for and loving your people. Some might object that this is obvious. But anyone who thinks that may suffer from self-delusion. True leadership development, the authors argue persuasively, presents a never-ending journey of continuous learning. Further, the book’s approach
is effective because it avoids softness, sentimentality, or indulgence. The authors strike this balance well by drawing on examples from the breadth of their experience.
Second, it is an apt message for today’s landscape, emphasizing personal responsibility in leadership while honoring the importance of diverse teams. As the title suggests, the book zeros in on how leaders achieve a mission through personal responsibility and mutually beneficial relationships. The book’s 155 references to “servant leaders” who are “authentic” drive home the authors’ message that good leaders must be more than self-promoting, self-interested, and transactional. In an era of increasing cultural relativism and narcissism, with selfies and Tik-Tok videos proliferating, the takeaway is as timely as it is timeless. Most important, the tone and substance strike the right chord, sounding countercultural without becoming dogmatic or strident. In fact, it is a brand that also is the perfect prescription for better military recruitment and retention: offer a personalized leadership challenge, belong to an excellent team, and provide purpose in a mission that matters.
Third, it is practical. Rather than a theoretical or scholarly work, On Mission offers an experiential take with the bias for action and pragmatic application tools and tips you would expect from two Marines. In a sense, it provides a user’s guide for textbook transformational leadership—in which leaders impel others up the hierarchy of values, from mere survival to human growth, bringing change through purposeful, morally inclined action. Helpful questions throughout the chapters afford readers an important opportunity to reflect, discover, and formulate actions to apply the material. The book can easily be used in small groups, squad circles, or out on the deckplates.
On Mission is ideal material for junior leaders looking to deepen and sharpen their repertoire. And given its Marine authors, it would make an excellent complementary sequel to the concise work by four senior Navy officers, Saltwater Leadership, Second Edition, A Primer on Leadership for the Junior Sea-Service Officer (Naval Institute Press, 2021).
Lieutenant Colonel Fishman, a Marine Corps judge advocate, is completing a PhD in leadership studies. He deployed twice to Afghanistan and once on board the USS Tortuga (LSD-46).
Thomas Schueman and Zainullah Zaki. New York: William Morrow, 2022. 336 pp. $26.99.
Reviewed by Captain Erin Meehan, U.S. Navy
In Marine Corps Major Thomas Schueman and Afghan interpreter Zainullah Zaki’s memoir Always Faithful, the comforting warmth of uncompromising devotion unfurls alongside atrocities of war in Afghanistan. Through parallel narratives, Schueman and Zaki use chronological mashups of boyhood restlessness, harrowing combat, and sacrifice during the “Fall of Kabul” in 2021 to convey themes of absurdity, heroism, and fear—all the makings of a gripping war story. A story so intense Saving Private Ryan screenwriter Robert Rodat took on the task of bringing it to the big screen while Schueman reports to his next infantry officer tour and Zaki awaits his immigration results and works construction
After touching reminiscences of both boys turning to men after the attacks of September 11, 2001 (Muslim Pashtun Zaki in Kunar and Christian “son of a hippie cop” Schueman in Chicago), their stories quickly converge into one of like-minded citizens with an urge to fight the terror that touches their homelands. What develops is what the ancient Greek warriors Schueman studied at Georgetown University and later taught at the U.S. Naval Academy would experience as philia—a certain closeness and love that forms in the profession of arms and is particularly strong in battle.
As told through U.S. media outlets, and well-captured within Always Faithful, the rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces left many veterans feeling hopeless when unable to help their Afghan interpreters escape Taliban retribution. Schueman’s crisp, epigrammatic writing vilifies the Taliban and, with a deft apolitical touch, also successfully relates his frustrations with the Afghanistan withdrawal and anguish over Zaki’s family’s peril when they failed to secure visas for years and risked near death in August 2021.
Perhaps no Afghanistan province showcased the Taliban’s effectiveness against coalition forces more than Sangin. Stories of Americans in combat in Sangin circulate widely, but the risk incurred by U.S.-paid Afghan interpreters does not. Zaki’s hero-task on Schueman’s last day in the famously bloody Sangin is just one of the compelling stories in Always Faithful. With Zaki, wide-eyed and unhesitating, beside him, Schueman retrieved a wounded combat engineer while the patrol provided cover fire in a “death blossom.” Schueman thought, “Best-case scenario, I am not leaving Sangin with my legs. Worst-case scenario, I’m gonna be turned into pink mist by a 105 shell.”
As stories of brotherly love and loss continue, Schueman’s own struggle with combat trauma unfolds. One cannot help but be moved by the healing he finds in mentorship from Georgetown University’s English professors such as Dr. Christine So, the platform and camaraderie he finds in the Naval Academy’s English Department, and his audacious quest on social and mainstream media to bring Zaki to safety in 2021.
On the day Schueman and Zaki rescue the engineer in Sangin, ten years before Zak and his family narrowly escape the Taliban, Schueman asks Zaki only one question before the two of them stutter-step through a field of IEDs: “Are you ready to go?” While Always Faithful illustrates combat and its companions, it cannot help but also reflect on the effect of great literature, fatherhood, and how coming-of-age stories tend to be quite similar. By weaving full-bellied heroes’ journeys sparked by September 11 attacks, and the Afghanistan withdrawal 20 years later, Schueman and Zaki provide readers a provocative meditation on courageous human love amid the unfairness of war.
Captain Meehan, currently stationed in Maryland, is a 1999 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and former Naval Academy English Department faculty.
NO GREATER DUTY
Robert Stewart. Waynesville, North Carolina: BQB Publishing, 2022. $17.99.
Reviewed by A. Denis Clift
The separation of right from wrong, integrity, ethics, moral and physical courage, challenges, confrontations, personal and professional decisions—duty and honor—all shape the heart and core of a growing genre of novels about the U.S. Naval Academy. While the plots differ from work to work, the midshipman, his and her mid counterparts, and their superiors always interact in the monumental institution’s encircling code, customs, and conventions.
When the tale is told well—as it is in Robert Stewart’s No Greater Duty—the reading is both excellent and stirring. Midshipman Alex Kramer—highly decorated, prior-enlisted Marine, who arrives on the Yard having saved the lives of three fellow Marines in combat in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Readers then meet his Academy-graduate company officer Lieutenant Tara Marcellus, fresh from three years beneath the waves on the attack submarine USS John Warner. Read on, and enjoy.
Mr. Clift is the Vice President for Planning and Operations at the U.S. Naval Institute.