Moral decay, civilian bombings & exploiting division: 7 takeaways from Mastriano's writing

Bruce Siwy
Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau

Doug Mastriano once argued that political correctness and moral degeneracy could put America on the path to a "Hitlerian" takeover.

As a student of the Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama, the Pennsylvania state senator and Republican gubernatorial nominee hypothesized a future coup of the U.S. government by a charismatic dictator named Benedict Aurelius who declares martial law, abolishes the Constitution, and uses United Nations and European Union forces to send Americans to "reeducation camps." The fictional narrative was part of a 2002 research report titled "The Civilian Putsch of 2018: Debunking the Myth of a Civil-Military Rift."

Mastriano's campaign habitually shields him from open press interviews and routinely ignores inquiries for comment on even the most benign topics, including for this story. So "Civilian Putsch" — coupled with another 2002 research paper from Mastriano called "Nebuchadnezzar's Sphinx: What Have We Learned From Baghdad's Plan to Take Kuwait?" — represents a rare glimpse into the worldview of the media-averse politician from when he was in his mid-30s.

Here are some of the focal points from these titles. Aspects of the "Civilian Putsch" writing hit mass media earlier this month in an attack ad titled "Strange Ideas" by the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro.

Mastriano

Distaste for moral relativism, political correctness

Those with even a passing interest in Pennsylvania politics understand that Mastriano has not shied from controversy or applying his Christian beliefs to bills in Harrisburg, such as a "heartbeat" abortion policy and barring transgender sports participation. These beliefs are clearly long-held, according to these passages from "The Civilian Putsch of 2018":

  • "Economically, the European Union and China became aggressive rivals against US interests. Domestically, life was bleak with a rampant drug culture, hedonism and a plethora of 'alternate' religions dominating the American youth. We were a people without vision or direction."
  • "The putsch did not occur overnight, but was the culmination of decade old trends. This is the story of a nation that forgot its history, abandoned its roots and worshiped hedonism. In retrospect, it is now amazing how clear the warning signs in the 1990s and early 2000s. But, by the time we realized it, it was too late since the military was no longer in a position to defend the Republic."
  • "We must defend the moral, and time-proven, culture of the force from the assaults placed upon it by political correctness and aberrant sexual conduct. Moral absolutes were the foremost protector of civilian control over the military. When these were compromised, defending the Constitution and the tradition of civilian control was no longer sacred. The blurring of morality was the catalyst that compelled the military leadership to do nothing as our republic was dismantled. Moral relativity, combined with political correctness, eroded unit cohesiveness and undermined moral absolutes."
  • "Like Rome, domestic moral decay and slothfulness proved to be a more formidable adversary than foreign armies. ... Our nation entered a dangerous period in its history in which political ideology trumps what is best for the country. Extremists on both sides of the debate put the United States at risk by tampering with the moral absolutes of the military. These are the foundational traits that provide support to civilian control and foster combat readiness. Undermining the military‘s moral foundation, to further a political agenda, illustrates a lack of understanding of what our nation needs to remain secure."

Theorizes that veterans could lose voting rights

In "Civilian Putsch," Mastriano also opines that the broadly conservative culture of the military is viewed as a threat by "elites" who are pursuing a "larger cultural transformational agenda."

He envisions a future where the American military is eventually stripped of the right to vote, a process that begins with "restrictions and other 'safeguards to avoid fraud." There's irony here because Mastriano himself has introduced bills to restrict voting, such as a ban on no-excuse mail-in ballots, in the name of reducing fraud.

  • "The advocates of political correctness saw this as a threat and compelled the military to adopt and promote moral relativism. Until this occurred, the military was perceived as a dangerous, politically incorrect culture, which stood in the way of a larger cultural transformational agenda."
  • "(The) elites prevailed in their supposition, which equated Republican-Conservatism to partisan-extremists. Officers were indoctrinated to believe that cultural conservatism was dangerous and that they must abandon traditional ideals if they wished to succeed. A litmus test regarding political affiliation and social beliefs soon played a key, albeit unofficial, role in promotions and awards."
  • "It was unthinkable that the defenders of the republic would lose their vote even as, convicted felons were given back their voting rights. The measures initially took the form of restrictions and other 'safeguards' to avoid fraud. However, this developed into concerted efforts to block officers from exercising the right to vote. The 2000 Presidential Election was the catalyst for this movement where the military vote decided the election. Thanks to military absentee ballots, Bush edged out Gore in Florida, securing the Electoral College votes needed for victory. Because of this, efforts were applied to make military voting difficult."
  • "It was initially a 'two-year cooling off period' designed to give time and distance between the officer‘s active service and retired life. This 'cooling off' period was eventually extended to a lifetime prohibition to preserve the republic."

Praise for Reagan, George H.W. Bush

Mastriano details war strategy in "Nebuchadnezzar's Sphinx."

Like most conservatives in the early 2000s, he expresses an admiration for the policies former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

His loyalties appear to have changed, however, as he's become a devoted supporter of ex-President Donald Trump. Though Trump is also a Republican, he's fallen out of mainstream graces. Trump defeated Jeb Bush in the 2016 Republican presidential primary and has been critical of the 2002 invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney have joined others in the GOP's old guard in criticizing Trump over the Jan. 6 riot and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

  • "My thesis diverges with this assessment and suggests that Saddam’s Gulf War strategy was comprehensive, deliberate and potentially fatal to the Coalition. The Coalition prevailed thanks, in part, to the astounding foresight of President Herbert Walker Bush and the fruits of the decade long Reagan military buildup. Nonetheless, in the long-view of history, Desert Storm was the anomaly for Iraq, since it was one of those rare occasions where Saddam was out-foxed. Baghdad may prevail, or extract a high cost from us next time with a similar 'failed strategy' if we do not heed the valuable lessons from our experience and persist in the opinion that he is irrational."
  • "In the end, Saddam’s methodology was tied up in a faulty analogy. He constantly spoke about Vietnam and the similar fate that the US would face in Iraq. However, this rationalization ignored the geographic and political differences of his country."

Comparing Saddam to King Nebuchadnezzar

Mastriano blends Biblical and historical context into his "Nebuchadnezzar's Sphinx" piece by drawing parallels between Hussein and King Nebuchadnezzar. He states that Hussein sought to mimic the old Babylonian king by trampling the Jewish state of Israel.

  • "Nebuchadnezzar was the ancient king of the Babylonian Empire who captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Jewish temple and deported the Jews in 597 BC. Saddam’s dream is similar and includes dominating the region and trampling upon Israel just as Nebuchadnezzar."
  • "In a similar line, there is a connection between the sphinx and Saddam Hussein. In Greek mythology, the sphinx offered the hero Oedipus a riddle. If Oedipus answered the riddle correctly, the sphinx would perish; if Oedipus answered incorrectly, Oedipus would die. That is our dilemma today. Where do we find the answer to the riddle of Saddam Hussein?"

Not shy about civilian casualties

Mastriano showed little aversion to potential war crimes. He said that the U.S. may need to strike military targets embedded among the civilian population in order to win a war with Iraq.

  • "States use four instruments of power to win wars. These are the diplomatic, informational, military and economic (DIME) instruments of power. The outcome of war is only partially settled on the battlefield. How leaders manipulate the DIME plays a central part in determining the degree of victory or success on the battlefield. ... The US has substantial vulnerabilities in the Middle East, which can be exploited by an adept Arab leader shrewdly manipulating his DIME. The primary vulnerabilities include: a lack of permanent and adequate regional bases, casualty aversion and fear of causing excessive civilian casualties while waging a war."
  • "The US is indisposed to shedding civilian blood during time of war. This aversion rose to prominence during the Vietnam War. What the US fears most from civilian casualties is bad press. Mass media dedicates significant time to reporting on the occasional errant US bomb. This loss of 'innocent' life reduces the legitimacy of US action and puts pressure on the coalition to seek a speedy end to the conflict."
  • "Arab reference points are the Crusades, Israel and Western colonialism with Islam combating the West militarily and culturally. We hear much about the atrocities of the Crusades from Islamic scholars, but little on why the Crusades were launched (slaughter of Christian pilgrims, destruction of the Holy Sepulcher) or about the fate of the Christian populations that once existed in lands conquered by Islam. Local rhetoric portrays Muslims as innocent, even today (Although the existence of 1,500 mosques and Islamic centers in the US and the lack of any churches in Saudi Arabia contradicts this concept)."
  • "Baghdad’s policy was to break the Coalition and deter war via blackmail when Westerners in Iraq and Kuwait were used as human shields. They were deployed to Iraqi military installations, poison gas depots, airports, missile sites and nuclear facilities."
  • "Saddam himself spent many nights among the local residents. This US hypersensitivity about civilian casualties is an enormous weakness that Saddam exploited during Desert Storm and will do so again in the next conflict."
  • "To protect the regime, important functions will be located among the masses, near schools and even in mosques. The US needs to understand this and not hesitate to target locations that Saddam is using even if there will be unintended consequences and casualties. This is not to say that the US should intentionally kill innocents. The goal is to keep that at a minimum, but not to hesitate to strike at locals where the regime is hiding. A safe and predictable air campaign will not work in the next war against Saddam Hussein."

Exploiting ethnic, religious division

Another key to Mastriano's Middle East strategy was a divide-and-conquer approach to local populations.

  • "The key is finding vulnerabilities within the regime and exploiting them. For instance, a psychological operation may become successful in inciting domestic turmoil (such as a Kurdish revolt in northern Iraq). The imperative is to prove that the leader is illegitimate since he is an international pariah and a domestic failure by not providing for the basic needs and security of his people."
  • "There is also a large ethnic divide between Sudan’s Arab Muslims and its African Christians, which produced a damaging sectarian based war. Such religious strife is a vulnerability for the US to exploit, if managed shrewdly."
  • "Ethnic and religious differences are the best way to undermine and even oust Saddam Hussein. Our failure to exploit this failing allows Saddam to remain in power. We must use these if we intend to facilitate political change in Iraq."
  • "Saddam remains in power because of our desire to maintain the nation-state status quo. The best way to rid Iraq of Saddam is to undermine his state by using these disenfranchised groups to our advantage. Such an option is what he fears the most since it is the most threatening to his regime. America will find adept fighters and eager volunteers from these groups, who need only clear leadership and direction to succeed in wresting control away from Saddam. This would find ready acceptance in other high threat states, such as Iran, where there are also an abundance of dissatisfied ethnic minorities (Azeri, Baluchi, Kurd, etc).

On Arab alliances, keeping Israel out of Middle East battles

To be successful in military operations, Mastriano said, diplomacy is crucial. He suggested trying to enlist at least one Middle Eastern nation as an ally amid operations in the area. And he also said the U.S. should make sure Israel is not seen as part of the fray.

  • "Each time the US is actively engaged in the region, the same rhetoric is used. The bluster is heartfelt and predictable, which the US must always be ready to preempt. The best method to prevail against such an adversary is to have at least one regional power allied with the US. Such an alliance is crucial in taking the edge off the rhetoric."
  • "Hatred of Israel is the single most unifying factor in the region. Unilateral US action against an Arab state is difficult to justify and even more so if Israel joins in (i.e. retaliatory strike)."
  • "The power of Iraqi Islamic propaganda is so lethal largely because the US does not understand it. It is hard to believe that so many accept outright Iraqi lies especially when so much factual evidence refutes the misinformation. However, many in the region see the US as the aggressor and as the religious enemy."

Bruce Siwy is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania state capital bureau. He can be reached at bsiwy@gannett.com or on Twitter at @BruceSiwy.