Once viewed by some as a “rising star” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, historian Jeremi Suri announced in early May that he was leaving Madison to pursue his fame and fortune at the University of Texas-Austin.
With him went the fortunes of the short-lived and now deceased UW-Madison Grand Strategy Program (GSP), which he founded and headed as one part of a broader network of strategic studies programs currently underway on select campuses elsewhere.
The UW GSP, formally launched two years ago, opened a new era of direct military and national security state involvement at Madison. Over a year’s in-depth look at the now-defunct project – including emails and other documents obtained via the Wisconsin Open Records Law – has provided a glimpse into the goings-on at one university in a network increasingly enmeshed in preparations for a “Long War” for US global power in the 21st century.
Back to the Future
The University of Wisconsin-Madison was once a storied center of opposition to war and militarism, especially during the Vietnam War era.
Wishing to bury that past, the now-dead homepage for the UW-Madison GSP stated that the project, while dedicated to instruction in the “grand strategy intellectual discipline,” the teaching of strategic thinking, also represented, ” … a new collaboration between the military and academic worlds and a means of overcoming the divisiveness and political polarization that have characterized the relationship since the Vietnam conflict….”
The UW Grand Strategy Program was initiated in 2008-2009. Never a standalone venture, the program under Suri, the now well situated and well connected foreign policy maven, was linked from the start to a nationally networked campus effort designed to train future generations of “academic warriors,” providing intellectual support, expertise and justification for the “Long War,” that project currently underway to secure and maintain US global supremacy well into the future.
Suri’s story stands as a case study of this new breed, and the network to which it belongs.
Suri From the Fringe to the Top?
Many were certainly surprised when the widely heralded UW “rising star” unexpectedly announced in mid-May 2011 that he was leaving Madison for Austin. He had regularly stated how committed he was to the UW and how much he loved Madison, that it had become his “home.”
Explaining his decision to leave, he mentioned as the reasons for his exodus the low morale at the university, divisive “attack politics” on and off campus, and his dismay over the ongoing fiscal assault on the University of Wisconsin system by Gov. Scott Walker. Ultimately, a salary-doubling appointment at UT-Austin proved to be an offer he could not refuse.
His decision to leave Madison also may have had more to do with a desire to make history rather than write it, and a drive to be close to power, inspired in part, perhaps, by a close identification with the subject of his second book, Henry Kissinger.
In the acknowledgements of his recently published book, “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama,” he explained how, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, he was “no longer comfortable leaving the application of history to others; that he was no longer “satisfied to separate study of the past from policy making in the present.”
As the affable, photogenic public face and ambitious articulate promoter for the GSP and related undertakings, Suri became the media’s UW-Madison “go-to guy” and “expert,” ever ready to offer up opinion and recommend policy suggestions on a full gambit of international concerns ranging from Russia, across the Middle East and Africa, to Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea and China.
He readily offered his thoughts on domestic issues, as well, and became a leading champion of the “New Badger Partnership,” the stalled plan forwarded by the now-departed UW chancellor Biddy Martin to sever the Madison campus from the rest of the state university system and further privatize it.
Certainly prolific, Suri penned a cascade of scholarly and popular articles, regular blog pieces and several books, including a well-regarded study on the global impact of the 1960s protest movements, a Kissinger biography and a recently released selective study of US “nation-building,” as a “uniquely American creed … part of American DNA.”
It was at Ohio University, where he earned his masters degree in history in 1996, that Suri first studied with the central figure among today’s grand strategist academics and key architect of Yale University’s Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, the conservative “dean of cold war historians,” John Lewis Gaddis.
Both Suri and Gaddis left for Yale at approximately the same time in 1996-97, where Suri began his doctoral studies under global historian Paul Kennedy, also a co-founder of Yale’s strategic studies program and its first director. Arriving shortly thereafter, Gaddis became an endowed professor of cold war history and grand strategy while continuing as a Suri mentor.
Gaddis established himself as the major rightward critic of the 1960s left “revisionist” foreign policy historians, the influential Wisconsin School of Diplomatic History headed by William Appleman Williams at UW-Madison.
Williams and his students examined “empire as a way of life” and challenged the then-ruling consensus on the benevolence of American globalism and interventionism abroad. With Suri’s arrival, the study of US foreign policy took an ironic rightward turn in a history department long known for its dissenting scholarship.
In April 2008, Suri began working to pull together a number of campus associates, including faculty and administrators and well-placed representatives from the university’s nonprofit funding giants, the University of Wisconsin Foundation and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).
The informal network became the “UW-Madison JASONs,” (PDF) named after the national consortium of campus-based scientists, still in existence, which has worked on various classified projects for the Department of Defense (DoD) and other federal agencies since 1960. (The name JASON is thought to be not an acronym, but a reference by the original JASON group to a character from Greek mythology.)
Setting about ” … [T]o tackle problems of significant societal importance at the state, national and/or international levels,” the group’s initiators organized a kickoff luncheon on October 7, 2008, to recruit additional members. At that meeting, Suri emphasized “the importance of creating and sustaining the right social and intellectual space” needed to forward the group’s ideas and overall objective to reshape the university.
The former UW chancellor John Wiley, certainly the older, more experienced hand, voiced some caution. “We should also consider the types of opposition we might see to our results …[W]here [hard] scientific results are usually accepted, policy proposals from humanities and social science [sic] may receive more pushback.”
Suri then introduced global strategy as a “potential area for JASON investigation” and described the strategic studies program already underway at Yale as an example to emulate. A general discussion of how such a program might look at Wisconsin ensued.
At that same meeting, Suri informed those present that he knew of a Milwaukee businessman by the name of Sheldon Lubar who could possibly serve as a funding source. Unmentioned, in the meeting notes, at least, was the fact that Lubar just happened to be a business associate of the Yale GSP’s major backers and a former associate of The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Milwaukee-based funding source of numerous archconservative efforts.
Suri had already begun assembling a strategic studies working group during the late summer of 2008. That team was headed by his new graduate student, the recently retired Navy captain, Scott Mobley.
Already in his early fifties when he enrolled as a Suri doctoral student in September 2008, Mobley officially began that same month as the coordinator for the UW-Madison JASONs and the GSP.
Mobley started out in the US Navy in 1974, graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1978, and earned an MA in national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, in 1987, upon completion of his thesis, “Beyond the Black Box: An Assessment of Strategic War Gaming.” Following years of duty abroad, in September 2005 he became commanding officer of UW Madison’s Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, where he taught naval science until April 2008.
Mobley began his unadvertised joint appointment with funds paid through WARF, by way of the Morgridge Institute for Research, the UW-based private, nonprofit biomedical research institute. His funding as a Morgridge research fellow received same-day approval after Suri sent off an email to his JASONs associate Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of WARF and chairman of the Institute.
Suri thanked Gulbrandsen for his assistance by promising that, “We will make certain this investment pays large returns around campus!!” He informed Mobley of the “great news,” declaring that, “I am … confident that we will have a lasting impact on the university and our nation as a whole.” He told his new aide, “Now we are going to change the world … For the better!”
Support From the Troops?
Funding remained an ongoing concern for the program before its formal launch. At the JASONs’ March 2009, meeting, Mobley presented a “vision” for the development of a certificate program in international strategic studies for “military officers and government officials” to be offered entirely online as a step toward the creation of a masters degree program.
He spoke of plans then underway for an online summer pilot grand strategy course “to test the waters, [to] see what kind of interest there is in the military.” Suri added that the hope was to make the online effort broad in scope, multidisciplinary, “not just a military topic” but “holistic,” since the “former dominance” of the United States was not what it had been and, therefore, there was a need to study different forms of power.
Suri then pointed out that an accredited degree program was important since military personnel would then be covered by the GI Bill, that otherwise funding would have to be found. The long-term viability of the GSP came to hinge on DoD money.
Together, the initial core group created an eight-week pilot course for the summer of 2009 which included on-campus, undergraduate-level lectures and an exclusive online option for “military, business and other adult students.” Mobley worked to redesign a noncredit online course already offered by Suri to mold it into something appealing to the military.
“In its earlier incarnations, the class was about foreign policy,” Mobley stated in an interview. “We altered its focus to center on strategy, in addition to policy – that is, to how the country exercises material, human, and cultural power to help achieve its long-term objectives.”
Suri’s “History of US Grand Strategy since 1901” examined such topics as national power, territorial acquisition, market penetration, warfare, racial subjugation and class conflict, among others. That first online course had 29 enrolled, 22 of whom were reserve and active-duty military officers serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and were recruited with Mobley’s assistance.
As Suri explained it, “The idea of the [summer course] was to give military officers a firmer historical grounding in the kinds of issues they are confronting every day – cultural differences, counterinsurgency, nation-building.”
Encouraged by the response to their first attempt, the Grand Strategy planners added another course on “Problems in American Foreign Policy,” taught by the political science department’s Jon Pevehouse in the summer of 2010.
With three online courses planned for the following summer session, Suri and company pitched a proposal for an accredited online “Capstone Certificate in Strategic Studies” to the UW-Madison administration in late 2010.
Submitted at a time of deepening reductions in the amounts of state support for the university, the proposal primarily laid out an economic argument – the potential of bringing in a relatively untapped source of Pentagon revenues based upon perceived demands for grand strategy courses and projected dollars per credit, per enrollee. The proposal spoke of an untapped potential “market” of at least 9,000 officers (PDF).
Capstone and the Major
Mobley, Suri and company did more than create “distance learning” grad courses for junior officers. Through the late summer and early fall of 2009, an advisory team of UW JASONs began working with the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the Army’s warfare planning center at Fort Monroe, Virginia. The interdepartmental group of “expert advisors” volunteered to assess the “Capstone Concept,” the project then underway to revise the Army’s longer-range warfare guidelines in light of lessons drawn from Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel’s 2006 experience in South Lebanon.
In addition to Suri and Mobley, that initial team included the JASONs’ co-founder, cyber security expert Paul Barford, the nuclear engineering professor Paul Wilson, and others such as Wiley, described to the TRADOC officers as a “frequent consultant for intelligence agencies and various military technology groups.”
The entire project took shape with the direct assistance of the history department’s newly hired military historian, recently retired Army Maj. John Hall, last stationed as a researcher at TRADOC’s Future Warfare Division.
Hall had worked under the command of highly acclaimed warrior intellectual and Iraq War strategist, then Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster. The idea for involving a UW-Madison team to review the capstone project came about when Hall sent an email invite to have McMaster come speak at Madison. Declining, McMaster asked if parties at the UW would be willing to conduct an informal review of the plan.
Initially recommended by a history department search committee headed by Suri, Hall had been hired the previous spring. A West Point graduate with 15 years’ experience as an infantry officer, three years’ teaching experience at the Military Academy and expertise in the study of counterinsurgency, he completed an Army-supported history PhD at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill while continuing in the service.
In his recommendation to the department, Suri stated that Hall “was going to help us think about the past and make it more relevant to the future,” and the new military man “was rethinking basic concepts like the American way of war, total war and counterinsurgency.” Suri found the major’s “background as a historian and his work in future warfare issues … completely complementary.”
The former Army Ranger hit the ground running. Acting above and beyond his first semester’s call to professorial duties, he served as the ongoing liaison for his TRADOC colleagues (PDF)and the JASONs capstone group. The Madison team met on four occasions to review and comment on a draft of the main document forwarded to Hall from Virginia and for which he provided the initial overview.
Then at the last minute, a Madison meeting scheduled for October 22, 2009, between officers from TRADOC and the UW-Madison participants had to be postponed as military higher-ups accelerated the timeline for the project. But that did not end the JASONs/TRADOC collaboration, (PDF) as parties on both ends looked toward future joint efforts.
Barely situated at Madison but clearly already a part of the JASONs/Grand Strategy team, Hall also wrote McMaster of “an interest in growing our grand strategy program in a number of directions.” He asked for the brigadier’s thoughts on how to develop something “akin to Harvard’s Strategist Program,” a joint Army-Kennedy School of Government masters degree program offering coursework in strategic planning to captains returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Major also asked his former commander’s thoughts on “creating an SSC-level fellowship opportunity” – the Army’s Senior Service College Fellowship Program through which the Pentagon funds courses at outside institutions otherwise unavailable or inaccessible to active-duty personnel.
It was Hall, and not Suri, who used his connections to bring the high-powered warrior intellectual and counterinsurgency expert Peter Mansoor to Madison in May 2011. The career army officer cum endowed military historian and imperial think-tanker at Ohio State University was the founding director of the USArmy and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center at Fort Leavenworth, and helped edit the highly touted Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24.
Mansoor also served as executive officer to Iraq occupation commander Gen. David Petraeus. Working with a team known as the “Petraeus Guys,” which included McMaster, he became a key architect of the Iraq counterinsurgency strategy known as the “surge.”
Emailing Mansoor on a familiar, first-name basis as “Pete” beginning in September 2010, Hall set the stage to have Mansoor speak in Madison before a public audience at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and to a more exclusive GSP gathering. By that time clearly an important GSP asset, Hall’s name also appeared on the UW JASONs roster in 2010.
Grand Strategy With Strings
In September 2008, some 20 younger historians and political scientists from around the country gathered at an unpublicized location, a private club nearby Yale.
The participants, carefully chosen by the university’s GSP directors, had been invited to meet with the New York financial management mogul, “man of the right,” promoter and practitioner of “strategic” and “venture philanthropy,” and well-heeled patron of the neoconservative movement, Roger Hertog.
Hertog told the Yale gathering that he was willing to spend up to $10 million to fund scholars interested in inaugurating grand strategy programs at their respective campuses. Requesting short proposals from the professors-on-the-rise detailing how they would use his seed money, he urged them to think about how to connect their projects with others around the country to leverage their collective impact. The subsequent GSPs and allied programs, among them what would become the grand strategy program at Wisconsin, evolved with his assistance.
The Big Man on Campus
In late October 2009, Hertog flew aboard his private jet to Madison, a stopover on his way to the formal launching ceremony of the UW-Madison GSP, held at the Milwaukee Art Museum. He paid a visit to Suri’s Grand Strategy seminar and met with a “select JASONs group” including Mobley, Hall and others before being driven to Milwaukee.
Introducing the Milwaukee affair was University of Wisconsin Foundation board member Lubar. Lubar welcomed Martin, who was still chancellor at the time. Martin praised the new UW program and lauded its founder’s achievements, then brought up Suri, the man of the hour, to deliver the evening’s keynote “Lubar Lecture.”
How Hertog’s Money Was Spent
Hertog provided an initial two-year $200,000 “start-up” fund for the Madison program. That seed money assisted officers taking the following summer’s online courses “especially suited for the needs and interests of US military personnel.”
Since the online pilots were not part of an accredited degree or certificate program, those participating in them could not receive support from the Pentagon. As Mobley would put it later, “Without Roger Hertog’s support, we would not have been able to bring in … military officers.” He went on to inform potential military applicants that some “limited financial aid” was available, and so-called “Hertog Fellowships” allowed service members to take selected GSP courses at no cost during the 2010 summer session.
Prior to the establishment of the first online pilot and starting before the formal launch of the UW GSP, Hertog funds also were used to bring a number of national security warrior academics to Madison as part of a Hertog Distinguished Visitor’s Series. Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac, who have been described as the “foremost writers on counter-insurgency in the Middle East today,” appeared in March, 2009 as Hertog Visitors at a University Club luncheon.
Suri associate and fellow grand strategist Francis Gavin gave a Hertog talk to a select audience at another luncheon in September of the same year. Director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, Suri’s future destination at Texas, Gavin spoke on a list of national security concerns.
Another Hertog speaker, William J. Olson, professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, spoke on intelligence reform, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and drug-control issues.
Hertog’s money also went toward an “emergent international crisis” simulation modeled after the exercises being held as part of Yale’s GSP.
UW-Madison’s first “Grand Strategy Workshop” took place November 6-7, 2009, under the auspices of the JASONs ISS (its name for the program before the formal launch) and the GSP. It brought together some three dozen graduate and advanced undergraduate students, a number of UW-Madison faculty and outside guests, including six military officers recruited by Mobley from the participants in Suri’s earlier online summer course.
Undergrad teams role-playing as staff members to the National Security Council (NSC) were asked to prepare two sets of policy recommendations based upon hypothetical “strategic situation briefs” – one on possible national responses following the attacks of 9/11, and a second on foreign policy options to be presented to president-elect Obama’s transition team.
The planning and actual content for the workshop was carried out by Mobley and Hall, with input from others.
To kick off the event, Suri arranged an appearance and talk by the high-powered strategic planner and former adviser to the NSC, Peter Feaver, head of the American Grand Strategy Program at Duke University and director of the prestigious Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS). Feaver spoke to the group on “Bridging the Gap Between Scholarship and International Policy-Making.”
Each undergrad team was assigned “mentors,” some brought in with expenses covered by Hertog money, to guide them in their tasks.
Among the advisers was Marc Belson, already on board as a UW-Madison history graduate student. His LinkedIn page lists him as a “Permanent Military Professor Fellow at [the] University of Wisconsin-Madison,” a former Naval Flight Officer, and a Graduate of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (“Topgun”).
Another “mentor” and summer online GSP student, George Dryden, worked as a civilian security adviser for the DoD and as “Senior Strategist at HQ Department of the Army” at the Pentagon. He went to Afghanistan in 2010 as part of a senior advisory team assisting the Afghan Ministry of Defense and subsequently recommended other candidates for the GSP’s online courses.
From 2002-2005, Dryden worked as a senior manager at Decisive Analytics Corporation of Arlington, Virginia, an employee-owned engineering company with contracts to the US intelligence community, the Missile Defense Agency, and the DoD. He and Belson subsequently appeared on the JASONs roster, with their affiliation listed simply as “Department of the Army.”
Perhaps the most interesting of the workshop “mentors,” at least for those about whom some details are known, was Eric Rotzoll, a military man with intelligence community connections.
As a deputy commander of a “provincial reconstruction team” (PRT) in Zabul Province, Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005, he planned and led civil affairs operations in support of counterinsurgency in the region. From 2006 to 2010, he worked as an “all source analyst” for Defense Department intelligence subcontractor Northrop Grumman. Still with the military at that time, he also served from July 2008 to July 2009 as a Human Terrain Team (HTT) leader in Afghanistan.
The HTTs, ostensibly comprising privately contracted civilian anthropologists and other social scientists, have been assigned to each Army brigade in Iraq and Afghanistan since late 2005. Armed on patrol, such “academic embeds” have worked to provide cultural and social “human intelligence,” or “Humint,” on various “locals” as part of the counterinsurgency effort in both countries.
In January, 2009, an embedded journalist moving with an HTT unit on the ground in Afghanistan identified Rotzoll as “the man in charge” and “a former analyst for the CIA….” No mere enlisted man, but an academically trained intelligence warrior, Rotzoll apparently brought a particular added expertise to the “Grand Strategy Workshop.” His name also subsequently appeared on the UW JASONs roster for 2009-2010, his affiliation listed simply as “US Army.”
A second Grand Strategy “strategic workshop” took place April 1-3, 2011, not long before Suri’s announced departure and the subsequent demise of the Madison venture. The featured guest at the exercise was Suri’s former Yale strategic studies classmate, Jeffrey “Jeb” Nadaner.
Finishing his history PhD program at Yale in 2002, Nadaner became a senior speechwriter for then-secretary of state Colin Powell and a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff. In 2004, he worked on the “war on terrorism strategy” as a special assistant to Donald Rumsfeld’s undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith.
A strategic planning specialist, Nadaner then went on to become deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations. Switching to the private sector in 2008, he became director of strategy at the nation’s top defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, where he now sits as director of national security innovation.
The strategic workshops in some ways came to exemplify the UW GSP. The military mentors used in the exercises typified the kind of student that the JASONs “strategic studies collaborative” and Suri’s team were hoping to attract in the future.
But plans for an expanded interdepartmental distance education program offering a “Capstone Certificate in Strategic Studies,” and resultant Pentagon-paid tuitions, seemed to stall just as Roger Hertog’s two-year funding period for the GSP drew to a close.
The now-defunct GSP at Wisconsin provided but a glimpse into the workings of an increasingly militarized research university, which is but one of many similar programs wedded to the national security state and its imperial projects. That broader matrix of power will continue to evolve and proliferate despite the demise of a particular initiative or the exit of any individual player.
What remained certain, regardless of Suri’s exit and the demise of the UW GSP, was the reality that the University would continue to pin its future on remaining a major research institution, a decreasingly public and increasingly corporatized international player wedded to the national security state and its imperial projects.
Underlying the UW-Madison GSP venture and left unstated was a deep concern that the campus might once again become a center of opposition to war and intervention and university complicity in such. The concern of those who inaugurated the effort at Madison is that the specter of “divisiveness” and “polarization” haunting Madison since the 1970s could rise again, engendering real pushback against such military influence at this former home to dissent and antiwar efforts.
Because some of the primary source material gathered in this article was obtained via the Wisconsin Open Records Law, the materials are available upon request.