Sunday, June 14, 2009

Strategic Cavalry?

All new blogs develop their own specific lists of topics. I think "Strategic Cavalry" should be one for MilPub . . . Why, because it sounds kinda cool and puts together a rather novel concept which I suspect that those posting here all share . . .

So I start my first post on this blog, one dealing with an application of strategic theory which is one of my passions. Besides being a teacher and dabbling in strategic theory applied to education, I also teach strategic theory to students who might find it of interest. Some day I'd like to do nothing else but write about theory, but that particular day is far off.

To start off, strategically speaking usable and actionable information provided through theory and interaction in a social environment exists. So why not model it?

All you need is the best model available which is Clausewitzian strategic theory, specifically his general theory of war. We're still waiting for the 4GW guys to come up with the second best (and btw I enjoy throughly trashing such dubious and confusing notions/pipe dreams as 4GW -aka Cheney's art of war-, 5GW, 6GW, Global Guerr . . . , anyway you get the idea).

War comes down to politics, without that it makes no sense, has no basis outside of vague anthropology which gets us nowhere. Politics includes (ir)rational policy and the effect of confused national politics (various factions/powerful intersts opposing each other during a war), that is both what got us into Afghanistan and Iraq and what keeps us there. The problem with all the 2nd place wannabe theories of strategy is that they never get beyond the tactical, always focus on warfare, but not war, that is how the military instrument by way of the military aim is expected to provide the means for the accomplishment of the political purpose against a living entity which resists over time. None of those promoting the second best theory can even articulate convincingly what our political purposes even are, let alone how to achieve them through military means. Clausewitz accomplishes this - in theoretical terms by way of the general theory - and is the basis for classic strategic thought, which is unfortunately in decline today.

Now we can define strategy in this matter, that is dealing with the planning and implementation of policy of nation states, or we can use the same concept to deal with policy planning and implementation of any political community. Your family for instance is a political community, with politics defined as the struggle (both opposed and unopposed) of dividing and implementing power/resources within that community. In the end all political power rests on the potential use of force/violence to implement it, and how this implementation is perceived by those at the receiving end is "legitimacy" (following Max Weber now). Doubt me? Well perhaps if you've never had a spanking as a child, but I'm talking about families in general, as human social collectives. So strategy - in this very broad sense - can guide a country or a family as well as all social communities in between. Consider here how for instance John Boyd's OODA loop is a model for decision making for all strategic communities. Recall too that Boyd's strategic view (which I find compatible with Clausewitz in spite of what 4GW contends) sees prosperity, survivability and harmony as the (rational) goal of all social groups.

I'm not quite through with "strategy" yet, but let's talk now about the second concept of "Strategic Cavalry". Cavalry today is essentially tank troops with a reconnaissance function, they retain the title of "cavalry" for historic and morale purposes, but are nothing like cavalry in the historic sense. The reason for this is that cavalry is essentially organically and socially constructed. The rider interacting with his horse, using his senses for situational awareness, protecting himself with small arms, operating as a group, are all the essence of cavalry. Take those away and you have something quite different. The reason that outside of limited use in some anti-partisan/partisan actions on the Eastern Front in World War II, cavalry hasn't had much utility at the tactical level over the last 60 odd years is that modern weaponry can "outreach" the human scale of movement/interaction that is basic to cavalry. So the illustrious 7th Cavalry (or the descendants of Bedford Forrest's CSA cavalry) of today ride in tanks, in order to avoid extinction. Simple as that.

The role of traditional cavalry is shock action, strategic (but usually operational/tactical) mobility, reconnaissance and communication in support of the commander's intent. I am stressing here the reconnaissance and communication functions exclusively, although admit that shock action and mobility (like in a bar fight) definitely have their place. This arm, cavalry, takes in and modifies many human attributes and transforms them into a machine, a social machine of rapid movement and destruction. For the commander of such a human machine, genius as well, if his troops are lucky enough to enjoy it. Due to the nature of the arm (a cavalry officer never really stops unless recalled) a leader of cavalry can acheive strategic effect, at least theoretically. Strategic effect defined as the possibility of achieving/influencing a decision at the highest or decisive level of the confrontation. Finally the worse thing that cavalry can do is operate on unproven assumptions or be smug and too self-assured as to what lies ahead. The nature of the environment they operate is chaotic, ever changing, fluid and full of surprises, a virtual graveyard for dubious assumptions (and those who held them). So if we use "cavalry" as a metaphor we can use it to describe a group of like-equipped individuals operating under the restricted conditions of cavalry for strategic goals at the lowest level of political community, that is the family or clan, or blog in this case.

What I am stressing here also indicates a personal connection, since cavalry is basically Humint or Human intelligence, or information gleened from human sources/through human observation. Humint is my military intel background, as in back in the bad ole days in West Berlin before and after the Wall came down.

What makes "strategic cavalry" a real concept is strategic theory. Strategic theory is simply to plan for (in a Clausewitzian fashion) the potential use of force among or within political communities. War is the application of organized violent force for the achievement of policy aims. A strategist commanding the army in the field would come up with the best military application to achieve the political purpose. Few ever become strategists, which does not displace the need for strategic theory. In fact in a democracy, strategic theory has a very important place: insuring the sequence of policy formulation and implementation, military planning and critical analysis (which by nature is retrospective) thus providing for "rational" policy implementation and accountability.

So what exactly is "Strategic cavalry"?

First my assumptions: cavalry needs more than one. Cavalaryman or Cavalrywoman is singular, but two makes Cavalry. Second, it all comes down once again to your own instincts. Cavalry's good at that too. What do your senses tell you? How do you react when you notice that those around you share the same instincts? Form a group/blog . . . as we have done here. Third, we all hear that storm a coming. And it's going to be a real hammer. Finally, its about perseption, intuition, knowing stuff by looking people in the eye, watching them speak, looking at their hands, knowing their language and culture, comparing what they say with their actions over time. This leading to analysis or simply judgement. Judging, oh dare I say the word!, judging people's actions in line with what they say and then exposing them as shameless hypocrites should the situation warrant. This would include telling emperors they have no clothes, that scared bonds have been ravished, that the innocent have been abused and worse, and lies spun for corrupt ends, in short rationally and with thoughtful argument speaking truth to power, while hopefully avoiding complacency or smug igorance. Something sadly in short supply on the internet.

I further assume that my fellow contributors share all these views.

Which is why I'm home posting on this blog.

Strategic Cavalry is all about avoiding as best we can, those we can, the storms, and taking advantage of good weather . . . for ours and those like us in spirit with the goal of harmony, prosperity and survival for our families, groups, communities, states and nation as a whole, starting at a basic level and slowly broadening our scope, at least in theory. Stratetgic cavalry would designate posts which touch on this type of subject.

As means of autobiographical introduction I left the US to "fight" the Cold War in 1984. Set off for Berlin to get myself an intel job, that is employed as a military intelligence officer in a civilian capacity. That was the plan since first of all I had to learn German, and where better to do that. After an interesting and surprisingly short period of time, I was successful and from the mid 80s to the mid 90s I had a front row seat as far as overt strategic Humint collection went. Berlin, until the end was of course an Allied collection effort so I worked closely with every overt Allied collection entity in the city at that time. During the first half of my military intelligence career I served as a German language interrogator and during the second as a collection ops officer. As ops officer I supervised and trained US Army interrogators to actual conditions, the chaotic result of a changing world. More military intelligence than military background, I volunteered with 18 as a Marine Corps Reservist the same month Saigon fell. Six years later I was commissioned and served one tour in the Marine Corps on active duty.

Politically, I'm a small town Southern conservative who has been shocked by the events of the last eight years.

May we band together and share our thoughts and feelings, ever atune to the situation yet to befall us.


  1. seydlitz,
    You always make feel like I'm back in my old history class days, absorbing the lecture, letting my mind construct the lecture in a huge moasaic of historic progression and how it applies not to just the immediate past, but to any era; And then suddenly I'm slapped with a realization, "oh sh*t! I need to be taking notes!" because the final is the next class meeting.
    I often find my head in the past, only to be slapped back to reality that I should be aware of the present.
    Thats what I like about you keep me here in the present.

  2. I feel the same as Sheerakhan.

    Reading one of your essays reminds me of a Humanities class that I took in College. It was taught by a very dedicated group of professors who started talking the moment they hit the door and kept speaking until five minutes after the end of the class. Heaven help you if you missed a day!

    It was by far the single most difficult class that I have ever taken and was also the most valuable and rewarding class as well.

  3. Honest Abe said, "better to close your mouth and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt." That's really good advice but there's a lot of good advice that I judged wrong and failed to take. Good judgment comes from experience -- and of course experience comes from bad judgment. So here I go...

    Cannot offensive warfare be viewed as nothing more than a form of organized theft? Cannot even defensive warfare be viewed as an organized response of the same form, where booty and reparations replace the loss-by-thievery and/or destruction dissuades the attacker from trying it again?

    It seems to me that many wars can be be fit (ok, maybe contorted) into this model. E.g., the East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, Germany and iebensraum, the South removing vast resources from the control of the North, colonial expansion, empire-building, and military response (perhaps "irregular") to economic depredation,real or perceived.

    This model makes the imposition of political will a side-effect of war, rather than a strategic goal. And it makes strategy (call it meta-strategy) the selection of a target for theft, as well as the ways and means of making the theft stick.

    And that moves strategy down a level, to the military actions that support and implement the goals of meta-strategy.

    Obviously the proximate casus belli may appear to be something entirely different (affront to national pride, religious persecution, etc.), but isn't the bottom line always economics?

    I look forward to getting beaten about the head and shoulders on this one.



  4. Greetings gentlemen-

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Specifically JP-

    "This model makes the imposition of political will a side-effect of war, rather than a strategic goal. And it makes strategy (call it meta-strategy) the selection of a target for theft, as well as the ways and means of making the theft stick.

    And that moves strategy down a level, to the military actions that support and implement the goals of meta-strategy."

    Useless model imo. What specifically is the difference between war and brigandage? Or if you rather, what makes Jesse distinct from Ché?

  5. Seydlitz, I never even pretend to know what the hell you're talking about. But I will say you always present it well, so I'm going to assume YOU know what you're talking about. Regardless of my personal failings, I'm very glad to see you on board here, my man. You always make my day.

    I'm going to have to mull your "strategic cavalry" idea over a bit before I sign up. Sounds good, but with you, one never knows.

    And I'm also going to make just one observation about Clausewitz, which is going to lead back to you. From what I've seen over the past several years, ain't many in our government or military who understand the old Prussian (did you know that Prussians are actually Polish?) any better than I do. The current infatuation with COIN has pretty much sealed the deal, IMO. We're making a broad new commitment to Afghanistan and God knows what other hell hole in a certain part of the world without having any real grand strategy. Tactics as dreamed up by the COIN crowd are now driving our entire government.

    It seems the best anyone in our government can come up with is: "gotta beat them turrists over there before they come here and hide under our beds." Omitted from any discussion is what seems glaringly obvious to me: given the state of the world in 2009, small bands of bad guys can be based anywhere. The thought that bad guys might even shave off their beards and melt into a western populace seems beyond the grasp of the deep thinkers now in charge.

    What would Clausewitz say about a nation betting the farm that the terrorist threat facing the nation is all neatly wrapped up in one region and goes by the name "Taliban"? What would Clausewitz say about the whole idea of killing one's youth, exhausting one's military and depleting precious and expensive military stores in order to chase terrorists around the world?

    I'd hoped for better from the Obama Administration, but it seems the president needs to prove he's just as tough as the last guy.

    BTW, Seydlitz, here's the dirty little secret about Clausewitz: it's not that important that generals know him, but it's vital that politicians do. Countless young and old officers have stayed up late wrestling with his theorems over the years; no politicians have.

    JP, you need to develop the idea of offensive warfare being organized theft a bit, although the ground has been plowed before. War is always about economics, unless of course you happen to be an American in the 21st century, when you're not quite sure what your wars are about, and where your leaders pretend that funds spent on war are different than funds spent on, say, you and your family.

    Someday I'm going to write something about the bizarro land most Americans and their political leaders inhabit. History's verdict on the good old USA ain't going to be kind.

  6. Publius-

    Thanks for the kind words. Follow completely what you have to say about COIN. Btw, what's your take on abumuq?

    As to what Clausewitz would say? The answer to most of your questions would be imo that the present reality could be seen as a reflection of objective domestic political conditions in the US.

    The rotten nature of our policy is a result of the decay of our political system. There is no indication that the government actually follows any coherent strategic policy, or has since 2001. Do our military capabilities correspond to the actual threat, advertised as "existential" in any way? Would not a military actually geared to fight an existential "GWOT" look quite different?

    Consider why it's not.

  7. JP: I'd argue that wars, when fought for rational reasons, are usually about economics.

    A "victorious" war that leaves a nation or a group poorer and less powerful is obviously a failure, prima facie. Obviously, most outfits don't start wars expecting to lose, or expecting that victory will impoverish them. Clausewitz point out that one problem with war is that, once begun, it begins to warp the political objectives and reasons that initiated it; things like "sunk costs", the sort of arguments you heard about how we had to stay in Iraq or waste the sacrifice of the dead guys, as if casualties were a determinant of victory.

    One other problem is that people are notoriously bad about guessing the odds and outcomes in wars, and emotions and ignorance and a thousand other idiocies get in people's way when analyzing the costs and benefits of clubbing their neighbor on the back of the head to covet his ox and his wife. Or whatever.

    As Publius points out, this latest round of wars don't even have BAD reasons behind them, really. The punitive expedition to Afghanistan was over six years ago, and Iraq was a fool's errand from the start; the notion that an undermanned foreign invader whose motives were muddled and whose public was tricked and lied into the war to begin with would be able to unfuck the post-Ottoman, pre-Westphalian tribal kleptocracy that was (and is) Iraq in less than geologic time was the sort of thing only comprehensible to Paul Wolfowitz during the depth of his late-night sessions on the toilet after too much Rumplemintz and spicy chicken burritos.

  8. FDChief-

    Thoughtful response. Agree as to how the duration and interaction of war influence the political purpose. As to "war usually being about economics" . . . who decides on the economic goals of the war? Those interests with the most political power/access to that power? Riding roughshod as they do over other economic interests that find the war not in their interest?

    So is it one of those "Chicken or the egg" circular arguments - what came first the market or the state? Not really imo since the market is a product of the state, of the ability of the state to provide a certain measure of stability/predictability in which markets can operate. The study of economics was originally national economics, which is how Adam Smith looked at it, although he had a healthy distrust of the potential abuse of state power and disliked "corporations".

    I suppose it also comes down to how we define "the market"? As the provision of resources and services for a political/economic community or as simply profit making and advantage taking?

    China today seems to have retained this symbiotic relationship between the state and their economy, whereas our economic interests (which are quite different than US economic interests in the past) are more the nature of parasites on the state, with state policy reflecting their own narrow interests to the detriment of the nation state as a whole. Once again our situation reflects the rotten state of our political system.

    As to "Westphalian state", you must have known I would say something . . . Anyway I always read this term as arguing van Creveld, which may not have even been your intention, but I'll shoot anyway. Creveld makes a distinction between the rulers and the ruled, and the apparatus of rule which he refers to as "the state". It is the apparatus which is "dying" in his view, but he fails to articulate what will take its place or how exaclty the rulers are expected to rule without an apparatus? Imo, a hopelessly flawed concept. . .

  9. Nicely constructed, Prof. seydlitz!

    Just as a writer marshalls the verbal troops, cavalry or infantry, into paragraphical blocks, defining their purposes, filling the ranks, and then sending them off into battle, you have established raison for our d'etre!

    Feinting and cover has also been part of the traditional role of cavalry, and at times the physical shock of violence took second place to simply giving your opponent a view of a strong force of your military suddenly appearing and looking into his back pocket. And also, especially in the early phalanxes of the Greek city states, cavalry was hardly anything more that a quick reaction force to counter threats to the infantry from the wings and to run down and slice and dice the poor enemy footsloggers after the phalanx broke the enemy's line.

    And I appreciated your mention of the Amazonian component here, although I would strongly hope that any female contingent here would refrain from following the mythic procedure which gave the Amazon her tribal name. It has always puzzled me that, while Amazons were usually described as cavalry, in recorded battle they fought on foot and invariably lost.

    Stay on the horses, ladies! Most likely they were very good troops, as Penthesilea nearly defeated Achilles without using weaponry.

    As for the causes of war, one point that has intrigued me was the possibility that Hitler's prime purpose to begin WW 2 was revenge for what Germany suffered through during and after WW 1. I believe I heard or read that Dubya went after Iraq because they tried to kill his dad.



  10. basilbeast-

    Thanks again for the kind works. Not a professor, but a teacher, my arguments stand or fall based on their own merits I would hope.

    Feigning, demonstrations, various types of Maskirovka are all traditional tasks of cavalry as you mention.

    Actually, I would be interested in your and anyone else's response to the question I addressed in my response to Publius above as to a military actually geared to fight the GWOT would look quite different than what we actually have. Theoretically the military instrument should reflect the "subjective" policy of the military community they represent rather than the "objective" political characteristics/dysfunctions of that community.

  11. Hi Seydlitz,

    Is an economic model of war useless? Perhaps. But perhaps we are talking about different kinds of models. In a sense, everything in the human mind is a model, because it is at some remove from reality. In other words, the map (model) is not the territory (reality).

    Bear with me a second. The usefulness of a model is in its explanatory and predictive power. Models can be formal or informal, the former being more useful because it is less ambiguous and therefore less subject to misinterpretation.

    A formal model would specify the key indicators that drive a process (in these case warmaking and warfighting), as well the metrics and the measurement techniques with which these metrics are evaluated. Thus a useful model has key indicators, their measurement, and the processes/logic from which results (actions) can be derived.

    Typically, a model's usefulness is tested against historical data. If it accurately predicts the outcomes that actually happened, it is reasonable to hope that the model will make accurate predictions from new data.

    Since neither of our "models" is constructed in this way, neither has been tested against historical data, and neither one makes predictions, they aren't models at all in the sense described above.

    Now, it may well be that warfare is simply too complex to model -- due to the inherent chaotic and non-linear processes to which you and FDChief alluded. But I suspect that an economic-based model would be more likely to produce usable information (that is, information that would inform and support decisions) because it is more abstract. But it is certainly possible that an economic model cannot be created either, for similar reasons.

    So how much of Clausewitzian "model" has been tested against reality -- in the form of historical data? What accurate predictions has it made? It seems to me that Clausewitz, and Sun Tsu as well, have simply assembled a set of empirical "best practices" that seem to work more often than not, given a very limited set of initial conditions.

    As for the general theory of war, how may mid-19th century general theories have remained unchanged until now? Even Clausewitz modified his general theory with the inclusion of "limited war." How did/does Clausewitzian thought explain the significant change in warfare after the proliferation of nuclear weapons? (I think an economics explains that rather well -- you can't win and you can't even break even when nukes are unleashed.)

    Finally, to address some of the examples presented. The difference between Che and Jesse (James right? Not Jackson...) is that Che grew from the soil of Batiste's economic repression, and the resulting communist revolution. Che then tried (however ham-handedly) to spread revolution to other Central/South American countries that he believed suffered from the same opression.

    In contrast, Jesse James robbed banks and trains because, in the words of Willy Sutton, that's where they keep the money. In his wildest dreams, he didn't hope to overthrow any governments.

    Oh, and the reasons for war with Iraq. Yah, they were terrible reasons, but I suspect that Bush/Cheney's actual reason for the invasion was staving off US economic turmoil by ensuring a couple of decade's worth of reliable oil supplies.



  12. JP-

    There's actually a good bit separating us as I think you'll see. Clausewitz's general theory is what all wars (as opposed to warfare) have in common. The emphasis is thus on the moral, rather than the material factors. It is the material factors that make all wars unique, whereas it is the moral factors which link them.

    Strategic theory as such is retrospective, that is the general theory can explain what happened after the fact but due to the complexity of war the predicative value of the general theory is very limited. That is why I find notions like 4GW and the like "pseudo-strategic theory" since they attempt to predict what will happen in the non-linear social interaction of war, which due to its complexity isn't going to happen. That is why Andreas Herberg-Rothe refers to the general theory as "Clausewitz's puzzle". In short I think all wars can be analyzed after the fact in terms of the general theory.

    I refer to the general theory as a "model". Would most other Clausewitzians? I don't know, they might take issue with that, but to me the general theory also provides us with the political model of war, which I think Herberg-Rothe would agree with . . . I'll have to ask him actually.

    Herfried Münkler has written a very interesting book entitled, "The New Wars" in which he attempts to provide an economic model for war, but his model is very different than what I've seen alluded to here, or anywhere else for that matter. Also what you presented seemed to ignore blatantly the political which I would say any theorist does at his own disadvantage, because it always comes back to bite you in the . . .

    One could argue that the Romans fought most of their wars in effect as slave raids. Yet, to remain in power, to retain the slave economy that drove the Empire, they needed a steady supply of slaves since the system was prone to a high degree of "wastage". So were these wars economic or political? If it has to do with retaining the status quo, the powers that be in power, how can it not be political?

    In terms of the general theory we include the economy within the "objective" elements of the political, so, as I attempted to point out above, I think we're talking apples and apples here, that is the economic interests are tied quite closely to the political.

    Which is not the same as brigandage . . . which you never addressed.

    So what about Jesse and Ché? Obviously not Jackson, but maybe it wasn't as obvious as I thought. Yes, Jesse James, who considered himself a patriot fighting for a cause, robbing those banks and trains . . .

    There's a book entitled "Jesse James, the Last Rebel of the Civil War" which describes this view quite well.

    So the real difference between Jesse and Ché? Jesse was unable to break out of the catagory of brigand and robber due to the lack of success of his political goals, whereas Ché was successful enough to be regarded as a "revolutionary", rather than a terrorist or a brigand. . . Had Ché not left Argentina, or gone to Bolivia before Cuba if would be a case of Ché who? I would also point out that Stalin began is political career planning bank robberies. What makes the difference as to Jesse and Ché, or Stalin for that matter, is politics . . .

  13. Hi Seydlitz,

    I suspect our "models" have more in common than not, and our different viewpoints are more a matter of semantics than actuality. Or at least our different views provide a way to analyze the subject in complementary ways.

    For example, you talk about the political aspect of warfare, and that is certainly an important consideration. The difference between your view and mine is that I'm suggesting that economics is a primary mover, while politics is a econdary one. Where you see politics, I see policy.

    In other words, politics is the means obtaining power, whereas policy is that which can be implemented with the power that has been obtained. So I'm suggesting that politics and policy are improperly coupled -- in other words, political power is necessary, but not sufficient, for explaining warfare.

    To use your example of the Roman's slavery-driven economy, it was political power that allowed the creation of legions and the roads to let them move freely. But it was policy that utilized that power to achieve Rome's economic goals of constant expansion (for tribute and resources, including slaves). And while Rome certainly used politics to divide the northern european tribes and other disorganized enemies -- the goal, or the policy, if you will, was to bolster Rome's security,not to gain political ascendency. And I see strategy as the way this security policy was implemented.

    And I do thank you for explaining that current strategic analysis is retrospective in nature.
    But I would point out that hindsight is usually 20/20 -- and this is what I meant by looking
    at this kind of retrospective approach as a way to identify "best practices." "Best practices"
    are always subject to change, and it seems to me that in this context, the list of best practices is modified either by trial-and-error for new practices, or by removing old practices when they are shown to have failed (e.g., under new or unexpected conditions).

    In the case of Che and Jesse, I thought I addressed that question, even though I didn't use the term 'brigandage.' Che was driven by economic concerns (repression), and he used (or
    tried to use) political machinations in support of a policy to change that situation. Sure, both Stalin and Jesse robbed banks, but Stalin used those ill-gotten economic resources to implement a policy of gaining political power, which in turn enabled him to implement other policies, both economic and political. Jesse was a brigand who was in it for the money. Do you really think his goal was to overthrow the US government?

    Anyway, I thank you for an illuminating discussion. Indeed it looks like a chicken-and-egg problem, but it could also be characterized as a synergystic relationship, in which policy
    drives politics and vice versa. But it still seems to me that economics is often the trigger for both -- and therefore it deserves a prominent place in any theory of warfare.

    I'll go back and sit quietly in my armchair now, but I'm still very interested in your thoughts on these matters.



  14. JP-

    We're further apart than you think.

    Reflect on Jesse and Ché . . .