The Relentless Pursuit of America

By Rob Lively

Rob Lively retired after 28 years of military service, as the Command Sergeants Major of a Special Missions Unit within The United States Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. As an experienced and proven leader, Rob has operated and led teams and organizations in the most demanding, diverse, and challenging environments. Rob was able to lead and influence from the tactical to the strategic and do so across the boundaries that often exist between services, militaries, agencies, and countries. Rob culminated his Army service at the highest enlisted rank and in the most competitive noncommissioned officer position, retiring as Command Sergeants Major (senior enlisted leader) for the Army’s most elite unit. Rob upheld an accomplished and decorated military career where he performed and led in the most dangerous and active war zones. As a geopolitical subject matter expert, he regularly briefed and provided recommendations to the U.S. Government’s most senior military and political leadership while also cultivating critical relationships with foreign, civilian, and military leaders in support of U.S. national security objectives. Rob currently translates his many life and leadership lessons from the US Military in his new career as the President of TRX Elite where he leads a diverse team that delivers human performance strategies and solutions in support of government, military and the first responder population as well as the veterans from each of those communities. Rob is married to his wife Kathy of 31 years and they have two daughters, Kayla and Carly who are successful professionals in New York and Denver respectfully.

By Debra Richardson

Debra Richardson serves as a communications strategist within the Department of Defense.

Rob Lively retired after 28 years of military service, as the Command Sergeants Major of a Special Missions Unit within The United States Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Debra Richardson serves as a communications strategist within the Department of Defense

OPINION — We fought for our freedom as a country.  We crafted a set of founding documents that aligned with a set of ideals rather than an allegiance to a king or monarch.  We survived a civil war.  We rebounded from a catastrophic depression.  We saved the world from fascism and defended against international terrorism.  Yet, even after all of this, the U.S. remains myopic and is today, a far cry from the global powerhouse once revered and feared.  Our vulnerable underbelly has been exposed.

Today, we face hybrid warfare, spurned by a surge in disinformation, cyberattacks, and political warfare. Unpredictable economic trends, a global race to acquire COVID vaccines, and the ubiquity of widespread civil violence have forced a reprioritization to bolster domestic security. Against a backdrop of stalled peace negotiations in Afghanistan, heightened tensions with Iran, U.S. backed regime change in Venezuela now complicated by a crumpling economy, the anticipated withdrawal of troops from Iraq, continued unrest in Syria and a global challenge to defeat ISIS; these domestic crises present an unprecedented challenge.  The world has changed.  The international “playing field” has become more even than at any other time in history.  The comfort and security of our friendly neighbors and oceanic boundaries have become less comfortable and secure.

The storming of the U.S. capitol and a rise in violent hate crimes are only two of many issues setting America on a glide path to becoming a failed state.  But the U.S. has the luxury of predicting this failure, albeit specific details of such a collapse remain unknown, the downfall of America has never been more real.  Is it possible that the US could collapse in a violent and spectacular fashion like the Soviet Union did just 30 years ago?

History teaches us that the human factor is without question the most prominent failure in any failed state.  Despite foreshadowing from the global pandemic and a two-decades long decline in international achievement, the geopolitical implications do not have to remain ominous. America can handle these crises, near-simultaneously – both domestic and abroad, and come out singing in a ticker tape parade if Americans, each and every one, perform at their potential.  Individual Americans who relentlessly pursue “America” is and always have been our decisive advantage.

Rome failed from within. Over the past year, we’ve seen how quickly misinformation can set the conditions that drive calls for mass hysteria and violence. The era of disinformation for sale and deliberate spreads of misinformation for mal intent are threats to national security. America cannot secure itself from existential threats while being continually distracted by the irresponsible actions of its citizens.

So, where do we go from here?

The federal government is a large, complex organization that is vulnerable to mismanagement, undue influence and extended time frames for proactive and reactive legislation. The first step must be to address the crisis of public confidence. A recent Pew Research study showed that 75% of respondents believe Americans’ trust in the federal government has been shrinking over time. While in line with much of the democratic world and as evidenced by radical changes in Greece, Spain and Cyprus, political trust is lower today than it was three decades ago in established democracies. The effect of diminished trust leads to lower rates of civil compliance, risk-averse businesses, delayed innovation, and ineffective governance.  This decline in trust is likely due to several factors, including authoritarian regimes taking advantage of U.S. domestic distractions to spread mis- and disinformation.

The second step must be to defend against disinformation campaigns. Many have called for an interagency task force to merge the innovative practices within U.S. civilian and military organizations. The belated realization that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential elections is indicative of a slow approach to combat and defend against hostile propaganda. The mal intent behind the spread of inaccurate information and political subversion attempts to discredit democratic values must be met with action, to include regulatory tools to account and expose foreign state propagandists. Government sanctions, such as those used against the 13 individuals and three organizations involved in interfering with the 2016 election process are useful. It is ultimately impossible to combat disinformation campaigns if public trust in government institutions isn’t restored and only if freedom of speech and expression remain respected and protected.

No single person, not even the President of the United States of America can manipulate or divide 330 million Americans.  Only those Americans who are NOT striving to perform at their individual potential can make themselves a victim of that level of control.  Americans have been accepting counter-value behavior from our leaders and each other in the digital world and we have all watched it culminate and fester in a manner we would never accept in our physical world. To be clear, we are creating our own dilemma by behaving, acting, and discussing at a level that is far below us.  Americans are domestically creating our own national security risk.

In America we find our strength and security in each other, first and foremost as Americans.  You have a seat at the table.  This is not for someone else to do.  Acknowledge misinformation and see it for what it is.  Social media has given you the power of the pen.  You now have an unprecedented responsibility to understand, research, read and be smart on what you’re sharing. Put down your phone and have a calm, kneecap-to-kneecap conversation. It’s no longer enough to simply be an idle bystander.  The survival of our Nation as we know it depends on what is and always has been, the decisive advantage in America; Americans and their relentless pursuit of “America”.

Have a national security-related opinion to share?  Drop an email to [email protected].  Don’t forget to include your bio.


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