Medical Tuesday Blog
Andrew Marshall – The Pentagon’s longest-serving Strategist
The Pentagon’s longest-serving strategist, for more than four decades, died on March 26th, aged 97
AT THE HEART of many a large and ambitious empire sits one man who is not the ruler, though the ruler often listens to him; and who runs no department, though his faithful followers are found all through government. He is rarely seen in public, publishes very little, avoids journalists, sits silently through meetings, and yet steers the country. For more than four decades, America’s version of this inscrutable figure was Andrew Marshall.
He looked the part, small and benign, with a bald dome of a head, wire-rimmed glasses and a bureaucrat’s bland suit. He also inhabited the part, hidden behind thick buzzer-locked doors in the innermost A ring of the Pentagon in an office buttressed with papers and books on every branch of knowledge. There from 1973 he ran the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), a tiny independent think-tank whose remit was to compare the capabilities of the United States and its enemies in weaponry, troop training, efficiency, spending, deployment, planning, decision-making, readiness and any other point of variance. These painstaking assessments, highly classified, sparingly distributed and compiled at a rate of only six a decade, gave America as much detail about its adversaries as could be had. Then it could plan how to counter them.
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ONA, as he set it up and ran it (originally at Henry Kissinger’s request and in the NSC, but the Department of Defence was a much neater fit) was not a problem-solving place for times of crisis. Like him, it took the long view. Ten years ahead was his preferred span, with many longer backward reflections, influenced by his lifelong love of Toynbee’s “A Study of History”, to see how states amassed power and how, often foolishly, they lost it. He was no futurist, a word he disliked, since the non-rationality of humans, especially in war, made prediction impossible; if people wanted their fortune told, they should visit a gypsy. And his office was not there to give answers, offer bland-bunkum analysis or follow Pentagon fads, but to ask the right questions and provide true information. After that, there was only so much stupidity one man could prevent. . .
Appropriately for one so hidden, he revealed almost nothing about his private life: his love of French food and sports, a first marriage that had lasted longer than his time in the Pentagon, and a flat in Alexandria even more piled with good reading than his office in the A ring. Among all those books and papers, however, there was no laptop or iPad; e-mails were read to him, and he never went on the internet. For him the world of strategic threats was tactile and physical, a matter of geography and the clash of forces. Cyberwarfare, of which he knew nothing, he left to the equally unknown master who, he hoped, would follow him.
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