By Gary Goldman,
Before the COVID pandemic struck, the world was already on course to leap into a new form of MADness, we just didn’t know it. So writes Harlan Ullman in The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation. Ullman’s latest work is sure to be an intriguing bestseller and tentpole book that becomes a reference for the next few decades. The Fifth Horseman has been recommended for Harvard University’s Samuel Huntington Award for the best book on national security in 2021. This is Harvard’s most prestigious award for books on national security.
As Ullman writes, the previous MAD – Mutual Assured Destruction – held the world together in a tenuous yet resilient dance of death and kept a diverse America unified. The fact that two superpowers, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had the capability of annihilating each other with their nuclear stockpiles kept both powers in check. That MADness kept the world rational. The rise of nuclear China, though communist like the USSR, did not alter the underlying equation. MAD ensured that neither power would preemptively launch against the other, and kept the world in a tense balance. That MAD also provided a rallying point for America itself, and a clear purpose and vision for its place in the world as the shield defending human freedom. Even the tragedy of Vietnam could tear at the nation’s fabric, but it could not tear it apart.
That balance is gone now with the dissolution of the USSR, Ullman writes, and with it the old MAD order was swept away and now a new MAD is replacing it. Mutual Assured Destruction has become Massive Attacks of Disruption. The rational order is now chaos. The United States is now beset with internal strife, rising crime, the heinously powerful opioid fentanyl flooding in and killing hundreds of thousands, toxic ideologies of extreme left and right that have overtaken academia and culture and chip away at America’s very foundation and values, and then COVID hit the world and America with a force that put its economy on edge and set its people against each other. This new MAD – Massive Attacks of Disruption – provides few if any rallying points for leaders to bring Americans together, and no vision for Americans ourselves to see as purpose-drivers for our nation. And in any case, too many American leaders see too much personal and political profit in division, not real unity.
Ullman’s thesis is clear, stark, and disturbing: The new MAD is a deeply disrupting series of events and situations that together pose an existential threat to the American Consitution, our view of our place in the world, and therefore our future. It’s a threat unlike any other we have ever faced, at once softer in power but far more insidious in design. The new MAD isn’t an arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at us from a foreign land or foreign armies invading our allies, necessarily, it’s a series of events beyond our or anyone else’s control combined with ideologies that poison our politics and keep us at each other’s throats. In these circumstances, we see the enemy, and it’s not just Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s threatened destruction of Taiwan’s republic – it’s also how we react and respond to these events and others including chaos at home and a viral pandemic killing millions worldwide.
Ullman isn’t new to the geopolitics game. He has seen it all. From his time skippering a swift boat in and off the coasts of Vietnam, to warning President Bill Clinton that continuing to expand NATO would eventually lead to serious issues with Russia, to warning President George W. Bush that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, to trying to persuade President Barack Obama to focus on the threats emanating from Pakistan, Ullman has been in the field of armed combat and inside the war rooms where decisions are deliberated and made, telling the truth to leaders who sometimes wanted to hear it, but more often did not. America may not want to hear what he has to say now, but we must.
The Fifth Horseman comes from a place of both academic knowledge at the very top at America’s most senior military institutions, the National War College in Washington and the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, to real field experience with bullets flying.
In The Fifth Horseman, Ullman lays out the present and prescribes actions that can guard our future. The shortages and inflation we face now are just small tastes of the disorder to come unless we change course. The divisions we face now pale in comparison to the chasms that may soon engulf us. Ultimately The Fifth Horseman is a warning: While America surely faces threats from Moscow and Beijing and other corners, its most pressing threat is in the form of chaos, disruption, division – and massive, wrenching disruption at home. This is a book both Joe Biden and his Republican rivals, indeed anyone in a national leadership position, must read. Donald Trump might have been reelected had this book been published before the 2020 elections, and had he read it.
Gary S. Goldman is the nationally recognized host of “Business, Politics, & Lifestyles” a weekly talk show airing on WPRO Providence RI. Learn more at garyonbpl.com.Tags: Commentary
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