Sunday, July 26, 2009

Strategy . . .

To start with I would like to thank those who posted on my preceding strategic theory thread, your comments have started a ball rolling here and this is the first if limited response. Over the years I’ve attempted to create a dialogue on strategic theory and have been assisted by capable interlocutors who may not have agreed with my position, but were patient and thoughtful enough to hear me out. I think we all share the desire to understand the current strategic situation the United States, and the West in general, finds itself in and wish that strategic theory be a clear and capable tool in this regard. Over the years I have benefited from discussions and comments from Andreas Herberg-Rothe, Chris Bassford, Chet Richards, Fitch O’Connell, Thomas Huynh, on Chicagoboyz (where I was part of a roundtable discussion on Clausewitz) and of course from my fellow bloggers here at MilPub.

What I am attempting with this post is to discuss the concept of strategy and contrast it a bit with strategic theory, but focusing more on how our concept of strategy is inseparable (or was) from certain concepts popularized by Clausewitz and others. I’ll attempt to connect this with certain changes that have taken place in US strategy formulation, or rather what passes today for strategy. Finally I’ll put this within a larger perspective of language and how it reflects a specific culture and changes in that culture.

How to start? When we think of the word “strategy” two related activities come to mind, the first planning – usually more long-term - followed by execution.

Webster’s defines strategy as “a plan of action encompassing the methods to be adopted from beginning to end of a task or endeavor, focussing on the general methods; contrasted with tactics, which is a plan for accomplishing subgoals of lesser extent than the primary goal. Thus, a strategy is a plan for winning a war, and a tactic is a plan for winning a battle.” Here we have the contrast of strategy and tactics which is important.

It is important to consider that words do in fact have meanings, contrary to the experiences of the last eight years in the US, that in times past they were considered to actually influence behaviour, that is influence how we acted in a complex world. The US has had, since the Truman Administration, a government body which is specifically tasked with analysing threats, considering policies and formulating strategy as defined above. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are part of this body – The National Security Council - and have no command authority precisely for this reason, they are to advise and provide the military’s role in strategy formulation, especially the connection between political purpose and military aim – more on this below - arguing when necessary that no connection exists, but do not actually command the troops in the field which is left to the civilian commander in chief.

Returning to our definition of strategy, there are still some important points missing, especially if we limit our definition of strategy to the implementation of state policy specifically (as in the NSC) and not just any plan of action.

Some time back on Thomas Huynh’s site a thread on defining strategy in one phrase came up. My definition was “focused adaptation over time in reference to a purpose through methodological theoretical construct” which sounds a bit intimidating and confused, but puts the elements I wished to in place, especially contingency and adaptation. There is also the implied distinction between praxis and theory since the adaptation is conducted “through a theoretical construct”. This need not be the case, one could simply do strategy as in praxis alone as the ancient Greeks saw it when they developed these various concepts: “strategia” being simply the conduct of the “strategos” or army commander. For Clausewitz as well, the military genius operates outside the realm of theory in dealing with the specific character of the conflict in question. Theory provides more a way of looking at the problem and a language for discussing/analyzing it. Here I’m referring to theory as aid to ongoing strategy, not theory as a means of historical analysis, or critique, which is something else altogether.

To tie together and expand on my definition and launch this post properly let’s proceed with a clearer and longer definition/description from Hew Strachan. This article is btw worth a careful read:

Strategy, as opposed to strategic theory, has two principal tasks. The first is to identify the nature of the war at hand. A misidentification is pregnant with consequences: it would be just as mistaken to fight a major war on the assumption that it is a smaller, more limited war, as the other way round. Moreover, what begins as one sort of war can turn into another. Recognising and understanding the nature of a war is a constant interrogative process, and one where strategic theory comes into play, not just something to be undertaken at the outset. The second task, once the nature of a war has been plumbed, is to manage the war and direct it. It is perfectly possible for the policymakers of one belligerent to decide to escalate a war, to make a local conflict into a global one. But neither common sense nor common humanity suggests that that is very sensible.

Strategy and the Limitation of War, 2008

You will notice that this definition sees a very close interplay between strategy and strategic theory, which is by definition here Clausewitzian strategic theory, or more specifically Clausewitz’s general theory of war. The first question deals with the complex and dynamic nature of war, so we require a theory that deals with this nature, defines it in some intelligible and useful way. If we do not see war has having any nature or a whole range of unrelated natures that are subjective and related to cultural proclivities, then strategic theory as an aide to strategy becomes very problematic. In fact strategy as commonly defined, or as approached in Strachan’s quote would not exist.

Strategy in this view concerns a balance of political purpose, military aim and military/political means connected in harmony and blending into one another. Strategy in other words is simply the application of military/political means in support of a military aim which instrumentally provides the situation where the political purpose can be achieved, this is the basic concept behind the establishment of the NSC in the late 1940s. Seen another way strategy works in tactical ways to achieve the means (military victory) for political ends. The goal of tactics is military victory, whereas the goal of strategy is the return to peace with the political purpose fulfilled. Thus strategic theory provides the fundamental elements of strategy, the language of strategy so to speak, defines the various elements and describes how they are related.

Without this strategic theory, strategy becomes simply a wishlist of goals disassociated from the nature of war, or a question of capabilities (or tactics) operating against identified target sets (but in essentially a political vacuum). What this all assumes is the unlimited capability for humans to change not only their physical, but social environment.

Ron Suskind documented this attitude clearly in his article, "Without a Doubt":

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." [my emphasis]

Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: "Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you." When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, "Look, I'm not going to debate it with you."

Here we see that our traditional views of strategy and strategic theory were about limits, about the limits of humans to influence their own environment and how intentions – no matter how noble – could have totally unforeseen consequences. Strategy, going back to its Greek roots was firmly related to the basic tragic nature of human existence. It should also be noted here that for Thucydides, the break down of language, as in the meanings of words, reflected political turmoil (see Chapter 3 of link).

We see that the new concept of strategy is quite different and reflects profound political and cultural changes which have taken place even if they remain unacknowledged.

From what has been presented so far, I can develop a list of assumptions we have from the earlier concept of strategy and what it can tell us about US policy since 2001:

First, war has a complex and dynamic nature that is common to all wars. War is part of political intercourse, politics defined (following Max Weber) as “striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state”. Notice that we can replace “state” with “political community” or even “family” and this definition for politics would still apply. Weber’s definition for power is "the probability that one actor in a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests". Notice, there is a close similarity between “power” and “war” in that war is also defined as imposing our will on the enemy through organized violence. Using a metaphor to explain the subordination of war to politics, if we compare political relations to the weather, war would be violent weather, but not all weather.

Second, and this being a natural result of the first, changes in political conditions provide for changes in the nature of war. Each war is thus going to be unique, but still recognizable in terms of the complex nature that all wars share. Once again it is the assumed existence of this shared nature that makes not only strategy, but strategic theory possible. In addition, if one assumes that the nature of war has changed significantly, look to the changed political conditions between the hostile communities as to the basis for this change. Change can come from other sources – tactics, technology, psychology of specific leaders, new ideas – but will always take place within a specific political context. As Clausewitz tells us, it is within the context of the relationships between political communities that the embryo of war forms.

Third, war commences with the action of the defender. An aggressor achieving his goals without resistance is not war, nor is the aggressor slaughtering unarmed civilians, war starts when the defender resists. The attacker has the positive goal of conquering the defender, imposing his will, whereas the defender need only deny the attack his goal (a negative purpose) in order to win. An insurgency or guerrilla group need no political program beyond the defeat of the occupying force, that is the restoration of the status quo ante (however defined).

Fourth, strategy assumes a close interaction between tactics and strategy, the tactics used being supportive of the achievement of the military aim (military victory) which provides the means for the strategic aim (achievement of the political purpose and the return to peace). Success at the tactical level can lead to strategic success providing that the military aim supports the political purpose, but strategic confusion negates tactical success, while strategic clarity can compensate for tactical inadequacy.

Fifth, since not all politics is war, not all policy can be achieved through military means. Some policy goals are not achievable by military means in any way, rather are subverted and made impossible by the use of organized violence. This is the question for the political leadership to decide, does the political purpose lend itself to a military solution, or is this approach counter-productive? Obviously if the decision for war is based more on interest and opportunity than a threat assessment, this will influence planning. Also if the language used by the strategic culture in question requires a certain structure of discourse - the use of certain terms which may not fit the new political realities will only confuse the issue. The language itself can cease to have meaning.

Sixth, strategy assumes that there is an enemy or opposition which is human and interacts with our side over time, that is war as a conflict of opposing human wills. One cannot wage war against a “method” (Terrorism or Counter-Insurgency) or abstract concepts (Evil). Rather, such rhetoric obscures the actual political purpose and can confuse those tasked with implementing military strategy. Furthermore the character of the attacker's political purpose influences the level of resistance the enemy employs. A limited purpose would call on limited sacrifice, whereas a totally radical purpose, say the redefinition of the enemy's political identity would provoke extreme resistance and would demand of the attacker the dedication of significant moral and physical resources.

Seventh, each war is distinct. A war in one theater of operations must be handled as a separate war regardless of the fact that the same military is involved in both. Conflating regional conflicts into a global struggle confuses the issue and creates links which do not correspond to reality. Notice how this assumption is linked to five above.

And finally, there is a distinction between “war” and “peace”. This goes back to Thomas Hobbes, who in Leviathan saw the human situation as being essentially violent chaos which was only ended by people ceding power to a sovereign who held the monopoly of legitimate violence within the demarcated physical area (which we could refer to as the state). Absent this political entity we have (civil) war, or interstate war should the political entity be in armed conflict with other political entities. So war is not so much the absence of peace, but the absence of order which precedes the establishment of political authority. This would cover political entities which have never been states.



  1. Well we've had political states for thousands of years, and they have done nothing but propagate ever more destructive and violent wars. That is nothing that could acurately be described as order per se.

    Strategic theory is actaully pretty simple methinks.

    1) The only way to solve a problem is to understand it.

    2) No plan without an evaluation, no evaluation without a plan.

    3) The dynamics of a struggle always trend towards equillibrium. If you have an advantage you must use it or lose it. Conversely, if you have a disadvantage you must either repair it or divert the struggle elsewhere.

    One can act intelligently -- 'strategically' -- on a struggle to the extent that one has a rational understanding of the situation.

    It follows that an effective defense is to 'throw sand' in the eyes of the enemy.

    Corrollary: the Bush gang's approach is inherently self-defeating, they began everything by blinding themselves to reality. Their results speak for themselves.

  2. Seydlitz

    Thanks for an excellent piece.

    Part I of response:

    I would only offer that before there is any discourse of strategy and tactics, one must address objectives. The US has, since WWII, all too often had strategy and tactics that were searching for an objective. (Hammers in search of nails) My professors at CGSC and Naval War College, as well as in civilian undergrad, grad and doctoral studies all stated that the first step in formulating ANYTHING is the statement of the objective. I think I learned that also in USMC enlisted training, USMC NCO School, Army Warrant Officer School, Armor Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and a variety of specialty schools (PsyOps, Special Warfare, to mention two) in between. In short, it's not an uncommon or radical idea.

    At the NWC, we looked at strategic National Interests as falling into four general categories: Defense of Homeland, Economic Well Being, Favorable World Order and Promotion of Values. In short, the application of military means would be potential instruments of achieving one or more of these objectives, while (hopefully) not undermining any of them. I wrote my thesis based upon viewing these national interests as a hierarchy of needs, much like the work of Abe Maslow in terms of human needs motivating behavior. Most behavior is directed at satisfying or reducing some sort of need.

    Defense of Homeland is the lowest order need, and Promotion of Values is the highest. As in Maslow's depiction of human behavior, higher order needs do not emerge to motivate behavior until lower order needs are tended to. Thus, a nation under serious military attack is not going to be too concerned with promoting it's values abroad.

    Where we have become confused in the past couple of decades, and particularly during the years of the Bush "manufactured reality" is whether our lowest order need, Defense of Homeland, was really attended to. His goal was to tell us it wasn't, while reality did, in fact, offer a different picture. Thus, by promoting "Terrorism" as an major existential threat to the homeland, he was able influence us to let our Economic Well Being, the World Order (as in or standing and relations in the world community) and our Values go down the toilet.

    I would add to the above the tendency of the right wingers to trivialize to gain advantage. Perhaps the most classic example would be the "You are either with us or against us" pronouncement by GWB. Partaking in an invasion of choice is not so trivial as to be decided solely by who you are "with", at least to many of the nations of the world, who weren't particularly "against" us in any other regard. Further, painting the taking of human life in such simplistic terms only served to alter the world order unfavorably for the US, and for more than just the moment.

    Lastly, I would offer that the NeoCons were motivated by an innate and deep fear of their mortality. A fear so deep that it is in contradiction to the "Christianity" they claim to profess, which holds life on Earth to be the audition for the real and important thing - life eternal. That Muslim radicals were ready and willing to die for their beliefs was a threat beyond comprehension, as there is very little, if anything that the Religious Right seems willing to die for. Willing to kill for, perhaps, but die for is another issue. That 19 guys, armed with box cutters, could kill a couple of thousand people is indeed an existential threat - not to the nation, but to anyone who fears his own death. I will not expand further on this unless asked, and if asked, I will pull no punches, so watch tour toes and/or sensitivities!

    End of Part I

  3. And now Part II:

    Thus, we have the ultimate sociological and political toxic mix. There is no contact with reality, and even more significant, a need to construct an alternate one. There is a myopia that does not think in terms of strategic objectives, just means. The complexities of life and sociopolitical relations are trivialized to black and white. There is a powerful fear of death, and criminals who do not exhibit that same fear.

    Do you wonder why things went so awry? Clausewitzian thinking doesn't stand a chance in the face of the above obstacles. But the, does Clausewitz claim his principals and theories apply to pathological and dysfunctional thinking?


  4. S 89,
    I'd add to your list that war must be rational and thoughtful which means that goals are attainable and worth the expenditure.
    Sometime in 42 Hitler realized that the war was lost but continued the fray without any realistic expectation of success. This is not warfare , it's lunacy. Samo for the present US endeavors that we love to call war.
    ISTM that Hitler and GWB had the same leadership styles.Both believed that their wills would influence the outcome of battles. Both had iron wills but to what purpose?
    All plans are based on assumptions. If these are not reality based then the OPLAN emanating from these fantasies will not be successful. This is just an addition to your thoughts.

  5. Nice discussion of how GWB got us into this mess. The quote from the senior government official essentially admitting that the Bush administration viewed itself as an empire is jaw-dropping, in large part because it didn't cause more fuss at the time.

    Anybody have any views on Obama and whether he can get us back out again? My initial view is that the circumstances that GWB created in Washington are going to keep us mired in regional adventurism until at least 2012.

  6. I would only comment that I suspect that at least a portion of our problem stems from the general trend in egotistic, anecdotal, impulsive and feckless mental exercise - it would be a stretch to call it "thinking" = that passes for reflection and consideration in the 21st Century U.S.

    For several generations we have not been encouraged to think rationally or dispassionately about things. Our common culture has become increasingly celebritized and deracionated. Our news media...well, we all understand the 4th-grade-level talking points that pass for "analysis" in most of our news organs. Our "leaders", emboldened by the sinking level of public engagement and critical thinking, have responded predictably: when your constituents act like "Know-Nothings", you lose nothing if you promote Know-Nothingism, hysteria, stupidity and venality.

    You mention Thucydides; his Pelopponesian War is nothing if not a record of the people of Athens, aided and abetted by a handful of unscrupulous "leaders" who valued power over the public weal, choosing their own foolishness and short-term cupidity over the long-term welfare of their nation.

    Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose..."

  7. Much discussion about strategy and strategic theory misses the central fact that strategy is only meaningful within a frame of reference.

    Thus Aviator's comments about defining objectives is bang on. (of course, there is more to a frame of reference than "just" the objective, but it is a very good start).

    Now, because people often share a frame of reference it goes unstated when discussing strategy. Alas, things can go awry when you thought you were in complete agreement with the other person when in fact, you were discussing two different things.

    You see this relativity showing up in tactics when you try to point out a target to another observer at a different OP. It's hard!

    In the grand scale, you get situations in the cold war where the Americans played poker and the Russians played chess. Perfectly clear signals where badly misinterpreted because the two sides thought they shared a frame of reference when, in fact, they didn't. (or at least not entirely).

  8. Thinkig about my earlier comment in context of seydlitz' post, I should moderate a bit of what I said.

    1. I should not imply that Americans have somehow become stupider in the past 50 years. The history of this country is full of moronic ideas (Prohibition? Slavery?) that gripped both the public and the elites. Still, when you read the public record, the elites who ran the nation were as perfectly capable of dismissing public stupidity as they were to pandering to it when they needed to do the serius business of governing.

    What appears to have changed is, I believe, the effect of television. The pernicious effect of reducing everything to a 15-second clip, the resulting "debate" as competing sound the transcript of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. This was a nation, and a people, more willing to listen and reflect on the actual ideas behind the sound bits, if only to formulate counterarguments to bolster their own, morally untenable position (see, Slavery).

    Now we have a public culture that is, in effect, unable to have a rational, penetrating debate or discussion of "national objectives" as much because the level of our debates has descended to that of an MSNBC call-in poll as because we HAVE no consensus on national objectives.

    2. And the other hugely influential factor is our relative national power. Until 1945 - OK, I'll be willing to push that date back to 1900 or so if you insist - our national objectives were almost exclusively continental and defensive. For the first 50-60 years were needed to defend ourselves from a much larger, more dangerous Britain and France, as well as concentrating our aggression towards the natives of the continent. Midcentury we were occupied by our own civil war and reconstruction. It wasn't until the late 1880s and 1890s that we started looking outward, and from then until WWI our "aggressive" national objectives were pretty simple and easy to formulate strategies for: consolidate American power in the Caribbean and Pacific.

    I note that even then we were capable of mistaking strategy for national policy. We siezed the Philippines not really because we needed the thing, but because our elites wanted a commercial possession and the fool public was in the grip of imperial penis envy and supported them.

    NB: My reading of history is that almost from the moment we grabbed it most sane U.S. politicians were looking for a way to unload the damn thing, that it never turned much in the way of a profit for the U.S., and that piling of the U.S. ossa on the Spanish pelion just helped created the marginally functional klep-oligarchy that is the modern PI.)

    End of part 1)

  9. Part 2:

    But since 1945 we have intermittently committed ourselves to a sort of "spoiling attack" strategy when the more aggressive elements of American society and American leadership have taken control. This inevitably produces our more egregiously boneheaded foreign policy blunders - as well as a few successes, such as our support of the counterinsurgency in Greece in the late Forties.

    Look at the pattern:

    Truman and Eisenhower: essentially defensive overseas, with the overarching "Stop Communism" objective driving strategy. The one large strategic/objectival committment was a defensive coalition war in Korea. Lots of fiddling around in the Caribbean, usually with the effect of propping up some fairly rotten dicatorships. Defensive reconstruction and counter-revolutionary UW in Europe (along with some stupid moves, like encouraging and then betraying Hungarian rebellion in '56).

    Lots of wasted energy trying to prevent the inevitable collapse of the wretched Kuomintang regime in China was well as the beginnings of pointless fiddling in Southeast Asia and Africa because of the inability to distinguish genuine nationalist rebellions againt colonialism from the "global Communist conspiracy".

    (My personal take on the 1945-1960 period is that the single most overlooked but most influential bit of objectival stupidity was the recognition of Israel. If we wanted to endorse the Balfour Declaration we should have given 'em Utah, or made the Brits offer up Suffolk. Just my opinion, mind you.)

    Kennedy-Johnson: The first "activist" postwar phase. Deepening involvement in Vietnam. Completely mishandled Cuba, and then was lucky to avoid great power war over the missiles. More covert and some open military shenanagans in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia. The first real observed post-war confusion of gains versus expense, as we throw blood and treasure after places with no real geopolitical importance to our national interests.

    Nixon-Ford-Carter: Strategic retrenchment in teh wake of the Vietnam debacle. We're still all about supporting our SOBs in this hemisphere, Africa and Asia, but no major geopolitical faux pas. At the end of the Seventies we get caught in our usual "Let's support the bastard because we own him regardless of the long-term prospects" with the Shah and we completely miss the implications of the rise of political Islam (probably due to our initial fuckup with Israel havign made a rational assessment and discussion of Middle East objectives off-limits.).

    Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama: The second "activist" phase, with all sorts of wasteful silliness all over the globe. Lebanon and Libya, Panama, the Gulf (which I include because of our wretched mishandling of our then-client Saddam; April Glaspie should burn in hell for letting the greedy bastard think we didn't care how he settled his dispute with Kuwait), Somalia, and the blowback from 9/11 (the occupation of Afghanistan, Gulf War III and the occupation of Iraq, and the ongoing follies with Iran.). Characterized by our meddling militariyl and politically in places were didn't really care about enough to understand for (mostly) marginal reasons and with marginal returns. The squandering of a hell of a lot of geopolitical capital with little or nothing to show for it except "Who's your Baghdaddy" T-shirts.

    And, sadly, the inability to distinguish tactics from strategy from national objects - whether because of deliberate obfuscation (on the part of the GOP) or simple cluelessness (from pretty much every other stripe of politician) continues.

    And I have little hope for a glimmer of clarity or sanity.

    WASF, guys. Sorry, but there it is.

  10. The USA has not degenerated, in fact, it probably has improved as technology makes its structural flaws harder to hide.

    Also, the size of America's adventures have gotten bigger as America's reach has gotten longer (and harder to hide).

    1812 is a good indication that the USA has a long tradition of wanting to get bigger. Touring the fortifications that the British built in Canada during the 19th century is a good indication that they thought so as well.

    Given that TV has been watched in every nation of the world for many years, you can't blame it for anything specifically American. Either the rot is global, or it wasn't entierly TV's fault.

  11. Ael: I would argue about the degeneration of the U.S. relative to it's founding - you have only to look at the caliber of our political "leadership" relative to the sort of people you could have encountered in the Continental Congress just by throwing a rock at random. But my argument has nothing to do with the U.S. as a nation - rather, the level of our political discourse has sunk as technology makes our political stupidity easier to hide.

    No argument on how our relative power has made our acts - and, therefore, our DUMB acts - harder to hide.

    If you parse my comment closely you'll notice I specifically divided the U.S.'s aggressive ambitions into a pre-1880 and post-1880 mode.

    Prior to the Gilded Age our political aggressions were continental. Since the only real rivals were Britain to the north, Mexico (and its predecessors, France and Spain) to the south and west, and the native tribes everywhere in between, our only real national objectives (and national strategies) were focussed there. I'd argue that the Revolutionary and 1812 invasions of Canada were effectively defensive in nature, designed to remove an enemy salient that threatened our northern border. Notice that we weren't THAT aggressive; we settled on "54.40" and by mid-century the northern border was pretty fixed.

    And the rot is pretty global, frankly. Much of the rest of the world never had the opportunity to rise to the level of political discourse practiced in Western Europe and North America in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. I suspect that it has declined precipitously since then.

    One advantage of poor communication was that the stupidity of the average Joe and Jane was filtered out below the level of national government. Of course, that was the DISadvantage, too. But given the supposed advantages of technology and literacy, you'd have a right to expect a higher level of political literacy, decision-making and engagement than we typically see from the American - and lots of other nations' - publics.

  12. Is it the average Joe and Jane's stupidity? or laziness?

    I think in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the media was more willing to print, verbatim, the contents of bills up for vote. Editors were not as willing to stretch the meaning of any given passage in their own interpretations and analyses. Heck they had all evening to think about it before they started printing. We didn't have Lincoln belch and 5 minutes later a CNN headline describe how rude he was.

    Today we have Drudge and Rush to 'interpret' for us. But have any of the major 'news' outlets actually printed text from the Health Care Reform package being touted of late? Do any of them even have a link to where it can be found?

    It saddens me that a well educated, moderately progressive engineer that I work with still uses Drudge as the first link for news when he takes his lunch break.

    Then again, is the media to be blamed or are they just catering to the wanton stupidity of their audience?

    Now I've done it. My argument's eating its own tail.

    I'll stop it at the audience. Shame on them for not trying to learn... for not thinking through the lies, misrepresentation and deceit. Shame on them for not calling out the liars, con artists, and panderers. Shame on them for shouting vitriol, spite and hate before they even know all the details.

  13. Oh people are just people, now and 200 years ago.

    The biggest problem we have now are DoD and DOJ, both of which need to be thoroughly purged of holdovers from the previous administration, starting with unindicted war-criminals Robert Gates and David Petraeus.

    Talking about strategy is kind of pointless when dealing with folks who have no understanding of it at all. These people are fools. I want to puke every time I hear them bloviating about what a "destabilizing threat" Iran's "nuclear ambitions" are. Pure lying / idiotic BS.

  14. Charles: As bad as the Bushies were and are, the point of talking about national objectives, strategy and tactics is that it should be clear by now that this isn't a question of personalities. Reagan had his Lebanon, Bush pere his Panama, Clinton his Somalia (and, I'd add, Bosnia, except that the Croats did the heavy hitting and smashed the Serbs for us), Bush fils his Afghan occupation and Iraq.

    I don't think it's just a question of the DOJ and the DOD being purged. Obama has put a hell of a lot of good, decent people at the DOJ, and yet we're still acting like the Bushies on secrecy and nonjudicial detention. He's put a lot of good people in at the DOD, and we're still fiddle-fucking around in central Asia.

    I don't think this is something we can fix by replacing people. I think we should be starting to think that there's something really, fundamentally wrong with the way the U.S. government is doing business. I don't know if it's lobbying, or the massive cash and other lucre in the system, the effect of safe districts and partisan gerrymandering, the increasing idiocy of the public and the deterioration of the press, the toxic effect of eight years of authoritarians like Cheney and Bush...or all of the above.

    You can say that "people are people now and 200 years ago", and yet somehow we have managed to get involved in not one but two land wars in Asia as well as gutting the Bill of Rights and all without serious, reasoned debate. The U.S. of the 1800s invaded Mexico and Canada, kept slaves and exterminated Indians...but had, at least, a more vital internal debate about them all that we have.

    That's gotta mean something, and not in a good way.

  15. This thread has developed nicely. It has served as a jump off point for a series of related and astute comments pertaining to the US and strategy/policy formulation.

    A few points to simply clarify my argument:

    First, I'm not really going in to strategic theory much here, rather am attempting to show that our whole concept of strategy is tied to specific concepts associated with Clausewitz. Get rid of Clausewitz, ignore the institutions established to deal with strategy in this way, or consciously subvert the warmaking potential of the country in the pursuit of narrow interests and you end up with something quite different than what we have had in the past.

    Military objective is military aim. This view of strategy (call in grand strategy if you like) is essentially where military action and policy meet. For the military, but not the policy makers, you would have technological, tactical, operational (including logistical) objectives, but the strategic military objective or aim would be that which promoted the achievement of the policy objective (usually military victory). In World War II the military aim was the defeat of the German Army which achieved the political purpose of the overthrow of the Nazi movement/state.

    The link with Thucydides and how language is corrupted and how this reflects a community in political turmoil are of interest and I recommend the chapter I linked to in the post. Also Stachan's article is top notch.

    When would I date the beginning of this trend in US policy formation, or rather corruption of strategy? The 1992 Defense Planning Guidance when we switched from a threat-based national strategy to a capabilities-based one. That was the beginning of the descent down the slipply slope imo. Notice too that the profound policy change to imperial primacy has never been acknowledged although it seems acceptable to the majority of our political elite . . . while the people are kept confused by bait and switch, smoke and mirrors . . . which only indicates another corruption associated with these profound political changes - information itself has become a weapon of war and the people a target of such information operations.

  16. Ambitions are ambitions. Dividing them between "continental" and "overseas" makes a distinction without a difference.

    The British spent an *awful* lot of money building fortifications designed to keep the americans out of Canada. They even build a canal around the shared portion of the St. Lawrence river.

    Canada itself, and our great national project (the railroad) were especially crafted to prevent an american takeover.

    I see it more as a progression. The american elites got used to having a imperial frontier and once they finished gobbling up half a continent (and were stopped by a superpower from gobbling up the other half) they naturally looked overseas.

  17. Two sides of the same coin...the will of the state born by the back of the military...I don't know if I'm keen to that.
    Somehow, when Jefferson and crew were giving us all the early warning signs from way back when to avoid "entangling alliances" and more than likely, "entangling foreign affairs" I wonder if they had Clauswitz in mind?
    Hmm, makes me think.

    And as an Aside, bad we didn't hitch up with the rest of North America...those sweet virgin forests with long slender limbs, lying prose beckoning us to come and ravish her unexplored regions, plumbing for that northern crude that lies beneath her skantily clad mantle...ooh yeah...and to think of her richness just waiting to be sup'd on by someone who knows how to pull it out of her...oh Canada...why do you tempt us so with your siren call?
    Forget Iraq!
    We should have been wooing O'Canada!

  18. Thank you, seydlitz, for this piece. This caught my eye

    It is important to consider that words do in fact have meanings, contrary to the experiences of the last eight years in the US, that in times past they were considered to actually influence behaviour, that is influence how we acted in a complex world.

    as well as the link to Thucydides, which I well remember getting to like and getting used to his way of writing in Greek.

    I don't know how to put this in gracefully, because it's shocking and I'm still naive enough I suppose to be rendered speechless. There's more at the link.

    {START QUOTE}Or listen to the audio [available here] of Phillips' interview with another soldier, Eastridge who recounts his last mission:

    [Eastridge] was the gunner manning the M240 machine gun on a Humvee — a big gun that shoots 600 rounds per minute. He said he was ordered to guard the street while the rest of his platoon searched a house.

    Eastridge said he told his lieutenant he was going to kill people as soon as the officer was out of sight. Then he asked the driver to put some heavy-metal “killin’ music on.”

    His lieutenant laughed and walked off, Eastridge said.

    Families were out playing soccer and barbecuing. Eastridge said he just started shooting. He pumped a long burst of rounds into a big palm tree where a few old men had gathered in the shade.

    People started running. They piled into their cars and sped away. There was a no-driving rule in effect in the neighborhood, so, Eastridge said, he put his cross hairs on every car that moved.

    “All I could think of was car bombs, car bombs, car bombs, and I just kept shooting,” he said.

    Orders came over the radio to cease fire, he said, but he kept yelling, “Negative! Negative!”

    Eastridge said he shot more than 1,700 rounds. When asked how many people he killed, he said, “Not that many. Maybe a dozen.”

    He was court-martialed a short time later on nine counts, including drug possession and disobeying orders. Killing civilians wasn’t one of them.

    For that, he said, he was put on guard duty.

    There is more – and Dave Phillips has the courage to tell us – about the crimes in Iraq and the crimes on homecoming – and the criminality of a military leadership that allows it all. The “Lethal Warriors” are once again deployed, this time to Afghanistan – and we must ask precisely what are they doing there … now.

    For all the accounts I’ve read – and posted – about the constant stream of civilian casualties and war crimes committed in our names, I was still shocked by this report. And I was again reminded of the warning that Laith of the GorillasGuides team wrote not long before he himself was killed:

    You should remember something else. A people and their army who behave like this abroad invariably bring this criminal and brutish behaviour home and turn it against their own people. It is not only revolutions that eat their own. {END QUOTE}

    I've been involved in a discussion of the concept of "Just Wars" with friends on a message board and used a bit of your piece here to make a point.

    I see Clausewitz as an attempt to box in a raging bloodthirsty monster, to use or control it in a rational way to the benefit of nations.

    Can it be done? I don't know, maybe you could discuss this.

    At the MB, I argued that wars may be necessary, but they are not just.


  19. Seydlitz, excellent post, and very astute comments from the crowd. I'm especially struck by the fact that everyone pretty much agrees with me in thinking that finding any rational, definable or defensible U.S. national objectives is akin to the old story about the boy who wanted the pony for XMas. Absent coherent poltical objectives, establishing, defining and refining military objectives doesn't seem worth the effort.

    So far as I can see, the overarching political objectives of the party currently in power in both the executive and the Congress consists of:

    • Taking any and all measures, to include continuing a needless and unwinnable military action in Afghanistan, to convince the American people that their party is serious about national security and is on the job when it comes to keeping the people safe.

    • Convincing the American people that American prestige around the world is being enhanced by their actions.

    • Taking any and all measures, to include providing an ultra soft landing for money men who caused the current recession/depression, to convince the American people that happy days are just around the corner.

    Conversely, it seems as if the sole objective of the "loyal" opposition consists of convincing the American people that the Democrats are unwilling and incapable of achieving positive results. As their story goes, therefore, American prestige can only be harmed by an inept spendthrift administration and congress.

    IMO, each party understands the primary concerns of the American people and is doing whatever it can to convince us that they've got the right answers. They've also both astutely read the American people correctly in that "prestige" seems to be one of our overarching concerns. IOTM one reason why Obama's incoherent health "plan" is in trouble is that not only is it incomprehensible, national health care seems not to be a primary concern of the American people, probably because the overwhelming majority have it and are absolutely clueless about its crushing costs. The Democrats have blown this one.

    Seydlitz, ISTM that Clausewitzian thinking is proving to be passe these days. In the political realm, Machievelli has replaced Clausewitz, because as has been noted, establishing and achieving any coherent national objectives has taken a back seat to achieving party goals. To illustrate how rapidly this has occurred, just think of the number of Republican senators who deserted Richard Nixon publicly during Watergate. Also think of the number of Democrats who supported George Bush after 9/11. That won't happen again, with either party, as they are constituted and led.

    We are all along for the ride. Party politics is nothing new: witness the Civil War and the congress on the eve of WW2. But now it's beyond the pale. Despite the fact that millions of us understand the wisdom of old saws such as "A house divided must fall," and "We must hang together or surely hang separately," it seems we are outweighed by an increasingly fatuous populace that cares only for its own personal safety and otherwise gazing at its own navel. George Bush was the poster child politician for the age: "Don't worry about the war, we'll handle it and make you safe. All you have to do is go shopping." Manna from heaven for most Americans.

    See why Clausewitz doesn't work anymore?

  20. Publius-

    I think you prove my point. Thanks . . .

    I'm not really arguing Clausewitz here - that would be in the next post.

    Here I just wanted to connect our idea of "strategy", be it institutional, or in terms of language, or strategic culture . . . to specific Clausewitzian concepts, that is said concepts offered us or the US government the definition as to what was "strategy".

    If, as I think you are saying, these government institutions are no longer operating, at least in any functional strategic way, then I think we are in agreement . . .

    You look at things like a Clausewitzian Publius.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. But Publius has gotten right to the crux:

    This all about demonstrating that the new administration is "serious" about national security, where "serious" means the Bush administrations criminal idiocy and where the American Public has virtually no understanding of what is or isn't serious and effective.

    In short, Obama is playing a video game. I'm not sure we have a good handle on just exactly what the game is in big picture terms, but I know this much: Robert Gates and his gang of war criminals won't accomplish anything worthwhile.

    When I said PURGE, I meant it: I'd arrest every last holdover in both DOJ and DoD.

  23. Publius,
    My position during the great election was that the Democrats will never deliver universal health care since it's their only carrot and so we printed. They no longer have a base so they create false issues as do the other guys.
    My point is that the dems always promise uhc but never deliver. The repubs always deliver to their base and to hell with the lower and middle class. The big lie of Amie politics is that the dems care about the poor. FALSE- they care about trick f--king them out of their vote. Witness your former savior-Commander O.
    You are absolutely correct that all the DOD players are criminals but then again so are their enablers- the Congress and the voters who allow such activity to be done in our name. This is a national crime.
    S89, This is a picky point but i feel it's important. The US objective in WW2 was not defeat of the German Army but rather the defeat of the German MILITARY FORCES which is a different kettle of fish. Maybe i'm a picky guy but the two different ways of saying it implies two different stategies.
    Chief, I agree we are so f---ed and that doesn't solve the problem, istm that all of us accept this viewpoint. My logical question, and i'm not joking- why don't we just shoot ourselves and get it over with?? I actually see no way out of this mess except complete or a deadly fall from grace. On all levels-personal,local,state and federal and when it happens who will step up to help us? Who will risk their asses doing a coin or nation building or rebuilding effort for the US?
    The sad part is that our leaders have no clue because we the people have none either. We don't elect wise men b/c if you were wise you wouldn't jump in the shitstorm we call politics.
    Obama in my estimation is not any smarter than a good squad leader or maybe let's just say a little Corporal.
    I'm happy that i don't have to sacrifice any children on this altar.
    So much for smelling the flowers and all that stuff that you recommend for me.

  24. To all,
    I'd like to clarify 1 point. IF uhc is ever enacted it'll benefit the Medical Industrial complex and not the average citizen.

  25. I do understand that strategy involves an iterative "decision loop", but does strategy really require a human opponent?

    If so, what do you call what the fire chief does when marshaling his forces against a wild fire?

  26. For any who are bored . . . It's a lot to read and while the concepts are simple, as Charlie says, the management and even understanding of them in actual strategic action/strategy are very difficult.

    Consider that an understanding of the traditional concepts of strategy might be helpful, as in shedding some light on the current US political situation . . . as in the "surge as victory" domestic propaganda/information ops theme.

    Consider this . . .

    ". . . It would take more than a photo-op at the Tomb of the Unknowns to make the nation rethink the Iraq war. Having spent the better part of the Bush era arguing foreign policy with a fury not seen since Vietnam, Americans have settled on a remarkably durable consensus: It was a mistake. We’re winning. Let’s leave.

    Each of these beliefs is contestable. But almost nobody -- right, left or center -- seems to have much interest in debating them. Most conservatives still believe that the invasion of Iraq was just and justified. But it’s clear from several years of polling that they aren’t about to persuade the public. So you’re much more likely to hear them emphasizing the successes of the surge than relitigating the W.M.D. debate.

    Plenty of war-skeptics are unconvinced that Iraq’s recent stabilization will deliver a happy outcome in the long run. But the surge smoothed the way for withdrawal, which is what the war’s critics have wanted all along — so why rock the boat?

    Ross Douthat, 'The War We Like to Forget'"

    Were we really "arguing foreign policy"? Well yea, but more as spectators . . . Douthat assures us though those bad old days are over . . .

    "The fortunes of war have made every American faction look foolish at some point, and modesty is becoming to all sides."

    So, we ALL screwed up? We must be MODEST? In dealing with the NeoCons and their stooges? Howsabout that for forgetting the past and stumbing uncertainly forward, at least until the next stab in the back?

    But it gets even clearer than that, like the Brits say "bloody obvious" . . . in terms of pseudo-strategic spin

    "These twists and turns make Iraq look less like either Vietnam or World War II -- the analogies that politicians and pundits keep closest at hand -- and more like an amalgamation of the Korean War and America’s McKinley-era counterinsurgency in the Philippines. Like Iraq, those were murky, bloody conflicts that generated long-term benefits but enormous short-term costs. Like Iraq, they were wars that Americans were eager to forget about as soon as they were finished."

    Oh, so the Iraq war kinda just happened, we were all wrong, and maybe somehow, something that we have no way of knowing today might come along and we'll say to each other in the distant future, "Bush's war was actually a good idea"? Yea, right. Might sound good to someone who had no idea about strategy . . . one of those deadenders no doubt.

    Each of the wars that Douthat mentioned had a clear political purpose as did the Iraq war. It's basic concepts, unless we have no idea of what strategy entails . . .

    In strategic terms I can show how US policy making institutions, the product of decades of bipartisan endeavor were purposefully degraded and subverted in the set up and conduct of this war. The same can be shown for our intelligence services (as in actual mission and how they were abused under Bush)should anyone wish to bother. Almost all the necessary pieces to these puzzles are in the public domain now. fasteddez? . . . Anyway if any thing we have logical and rational legal arguments for carrying out purges I suppose.

    Iraq is a bust. Worst war for us ever imo, as in terms of long-term consequences. Iran comes out the big winner and no amount of bushshiz is going to change that strategic fact. Iraq has been sent back 50 years. We have a lot to answer for.

  27. Btw, Publius I was using the "gettin a pony" story/metaphor to talk about the subject of this thread to a good friend who follows our blog yesterday afternoon. I think we might be surprised as to who is out there reading us.

    And to those I say, read on.

  28. Ah, a moment of deja vu all over again....

    I've asked this before --- I'll ask again:

    WTF does anyone think we are winning in these idiotic wars on everything in general and nothing in particular?

    Mostly, I'm just embarrassed for my poor country, especailly the Pentagon. What a bunch gutless dumb-asses.

  29. Seydlitz, I suspect I got a little ahead of myself in my post, but I'm kind of with you in using Clausewitz as a frame of reference in these matters. Frankly, it's downright discouraging to even think of the current state of affairs in the U.S. Government in any sort of Clausewitzian context. What I like about Clausewitz is that he's all business and has no room for "gut" instincts, or whatever it is that passes for thinking in our government. IMO, when it comes to strategic thinking or focus in our government, "there is no there there."

    And what this results in is a punitive expedition to Afghanistan in 2001 as retribution for 9/11, followed by eight years of sitting back on our haunches and doing little to finish the job. Why is this? Well, we had to invade Iraq. God knows why, but we just had to do that, even though—as we subsequently learned—it took a massive campaign of lying and deceptive practices on the part of the president and his executive branch. Then we see a quick victory on the battlefield, but that proved to be far short of decisive. Why? Well, shit, we didn't plan for anything after the blitzkrieg. The craven Powell at least said something useful: "you break it, you own it." Pretty simple concept, but clearly beyond the "thinkers" in our government. Six years later, despite our proclamations of success, it's pretty clear the deal is far from sealed.

    The US Government is a fire department. It has no real plan, so it flits willy nilly from conflagration to conflagration attempting to control the fires. Although it promises otherwise, given its lack of will, the government will never be able to totally extinguish any given fire; rather, it merely aims to tamp it down until the current crew of "leaders" is safely out of office. We see this not only in our military activities, but in critical areas such as Medicare and Social Security, where for many years now, the "crises" have been solved only to resurface with a vengeance later.

    Unfortunately, a critical difference between our government as fire department and a traditional fire department is that our government also often houses the arsenists who set the fires. Afghanistan and Iraq are sterling examples. Yes, action was necessary after 9/11, and Afghanistan is where some bad guys were. But now we've totally lost sight of the original mission and are flailing around wasting money and lives. Iraq, of course, was a war of our choice. It never needed to happen. Thousands of lives and trillions of dollars wasted. And then there is the financial crisis. It was the government that loosened the controls and allowed the greedy rich guys free rein. Now the government is trying to put out the fire.

    I go back-and-forth on whether we as a people and our government are teenagers in a state of arrested development, or sclerotic elders in advanced decrepitude. Whichever one chooses, it's clear we're nowhere near what one would like to see in a healthy, middle-aged, responsible adult. We are stupid and we don't even pay our bills. We are feared, not because of our military might, but because of our feckless military acts and recklessness in economic matters. We have turned out to be the stinking dogshit on the heel of humanity.

    I agree with Ranger and I agree with Charly. There is nothing to "win" in these wars and we are the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

    Strategy? Hah!

  30. seydlitz89:
    I understand that it isn't war.
    But is it strategy?

  31. FD: "Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama"

    And that first prat nearly got you all killed (I'd probably have been ok in Australia).

    Google "the Man who saved the World" to realise just how close it became in 1983 (and the CIA, as usual knew nothing about it until much, much later).

    Bush wanted to get you all killed, if Georgia had been a NATO member (as desired by Bush, Chaney, etc) when they invaded S.O., would they really have gone to war with Russia when they came over the border and kicked their silly asses?

    The strategy? Seems like the ongoing national US strategy is suicide. On the plus side, it sorts global warming and overpopulation out, peak oil become much less of an issue, when those who use 75%+ of it are all dead.

    But the concept of a US strategy now is impossible, even within the Military. It is to disparate, with too many competing power groups (oligarches?) to even achieve a true strategy, which requires as its very first principle .... focus.

    And the ability of the US elite to focus is such an alien concept that we might as well believe in the next US 'superplane' .. Thunderbird 2.

    The last real strategy it had was by Roosevelt (Franklin) who adroitly fought 3 wars and won them all. One against the Germans who had a real shot at becoming a hyperpower, one against Japan who was no threat and had been backed into war and one against the British Empire who he managed to destroy economically.

    In one fell swoop, at very little cost he destroyed 3 US competitors .. admittedly at the price of creating another in the USSR, which was not really much of threat until it was forced to become one. Not a bad effort, set the scene for US economic and military dominance for over 40 years. Since then it has been downhill in all dimensions.

    Strategy is the overall plan to complete an achievable goal, initial tactical plans will be made, knowing full well that they will change, plus the (arguably the most important) logistical plans will be drawn up. Tactics will change as often as required but only within the guidelines and aim of the overall plan. And the resources available

    Monty's plan for D-Day is a perfect example. An overall plan (which was actually achieved sooner than planned), with changing tactics as required (such as the storms that took out the US Mulberry and delayed the build up), or when Rommel finally woke up and realised that the British/Canadian effort was a feint to draw German forces onto them to clear the way for the US ones, etc, etc.

    Contrast this with the later 'non-plan' when Eisenhower (probably thinking of future election prospects and needing to compete with Macarthur) then had a 'strategy', that was basically fight everywhere all the time, with no reserves and was also logistically impossible.

    Take another example from example WW2. Alan Brook knew that the Med had to be cleared (both North and South), because it was a logistical block. Without it D-Day was impossible. Because there would not be enough shipping!

    So a strategy is simply an overall plan, that is practically possible (duh), that takes into account logistics (duh again), that lays down some initial tactics but accepts that these will change though they will be confined to the plan's aim. It requires focus and patience.

    Anything else is wet dreams, such as Vietnam or Afghanistan or Lebanon.

  32. Following seydlitz's Douthat, and Charles, for your own good, don't go to this link, teh stoopid is overwhelming.


  33. OldSceptic-

    You seem to be with me on the strategic planning has collapsed argument, but what is all the rest?

    "prat who almost got you all killed"?

    Based on your argument, a Soviet launch officer who didn't pass on the alert because he thought his own equipment might be faulty? . . . How exactly was RR responsible for that?

    Two examples of very successful US strategies post-1945?

    General Matthew Ridgway's superb linking of military aim and political purpose through his series of operations ordered as US commander during the Korean War in 1951 - had he been left in command we may have finished that war by the end of that year - but then too many have watched too much M*A*S*H to see that one. Too bad. A very interesting and controversial leader (google arlington and Ridgway) . . .

    The other is the Cold War in Europe 1945-89 which contrary to the "poor old Stalin was just a misunderstood guy" argument, we came out pretty good on. Not including Southeast Asia, Africa, or Latin America in this mix obviously, but in terms of long-term policy, the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact without a war must be seen as a great political triumph, perhaps the greatest not involving hostilities. Notice I do not necessarily claim that triumph for the US alone, but rather see the US and NATO as enablers . . .

    1989 was very close to the Summer of 1914 in terms of the passion of those times, but this time for a very positive purpose and enabled to succeed. A true political experience enabled through by US policy among other historical trends. Gorbi was hardly foreseeable . . .

    Bush and what followed the 2000 election were radicalism, not "more of the same". Unless people outside the US realize that . . .

  34. bb-

    Your link . . . Worse than I had expected.

  35. Ael-

    Let me answer your question with a question or questions if I may. Look at the structure of my initial post. After the intro, straight to definitions . . . Why do you think it was so important that I define strategy from the first? Does your example fit my definition?

    Why would it be a good idea at this point in time to have a relatively narrow and politically specific definition of strategy?

  36. Publius-

    Agree, it is discouraging to think about our current strategic reality in Clausewitzian terms, but we must at some point return to that type of planning capability or . . .

    You used to call me the pessimist, but I seem to be coming across as more the optimist at this point . . . ;-)>

  37. OldSkeptic, your argument is influenced by your obvious anti-American bias and your British orientation. Odd for an Australian, I think. "Monty's plan for D-Day was actually not Montgomery's plan. Alonng with others, he had input to a plan approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff and implemented by Eisenhower, with "Monty" serving under his command. Despite his press clippings, Montgomery turned out to be not that good a general. Contemporaneous accounts, even from the British, support this. Montgomery never lived up to his reputation after El Alamein.

    Yes, Alan Brook, a fine general, much better than Montgomery, recognized the truth to the Med. But do you think he was the only one? And one might think it's important to acknowledge that Eisenhower was the commander there, as well as the commander for Overlord, and the man who led Allied forces through to Germany's capitulation. We Americans think that's a pretty good resume; apparently, you disagree.

    And why was this dumbass Eisenhower in command? Well, because we'd learned about British generalship in WW1, when, after having watched Douglas Haig decimate an entire generation of British youth in pointless warfare, John Pershing refused to play the game and serve under the English or the French. Pershing won the war for the Euros, while losing far fewer men. That's why he's venerated in this nation.

    And, oh, BTW, there was another theater in WW2. The Pacific war was won by Americans, who developed the strategy and provided the troops. Your country was a prime beneficiary of American blood.

    The Australian troops whom I knew in Vietnam had no problems whatsoever in working with Americans or serving under their command. Never once did I hear any yearning for the good old days of serving under British generals. Maybe they remembered Gallipoli. It's clear you don't.

    Be as anti-American as you want, OldSkeptic. But just get your history straight. Americans have saved the British Empire's bacon in two world wars. And if one looks at Versailles, one realizes that there might not have even been a WW2 had the Brits not been so insistent on bringing Germany to its knees. We went along for the ride then, but we'll never do it again. You say one of Roosevelt's war aims was to eliminate the British Empire as a competitor. That's just horseshit: the U.S. never had to do anything to bring the empire down. You all did a fine job all by yourselves, with stupid wars and foreign overreach.

    Now, if you want to draw parallels between the U.S. and the Brits, have at it. There are far too many similarities to make any thinking American comfortable. We have nothing positive to learn from the Brits; we threw them out of here some 230 years ago. Unfortunately, we seem hell bent on making the same mistakes the late, unlamented British Empire made.

    Seydlitz gave you a couple of prime examples of Americam strategic thought. Who do you think won the Cold War, certainly the prime example of clear-headed and realistic strategic thinking about how to defeat a formidable adversary without resorting to war? Hint: it wasn't the British.

    Bottom line: yeah, we're fucked up, but we'll likely end up muddling through somehow. And there are literally billions of people on this planet who'd better hope we do. Especially the English-speaking minority.

  38. The conversation between Publius and OldSceptic brings up some memories and another couple of movies.

    The movies are ( obviously ) Gallipoli starring Mel Gibson

    and 84 Charing Cross Road

    starring Anne Bancroft as an American who develops a relationship by mail with the denizens of a British bookstore ( at the address title ) headed by Anthony Hopkins. It's set soon after WW2 and if you happen to find it in a video store or Netflix, I'd highly recommend it.

    And if our "Sceptic" is really Australian, with Gallipoli I'm sure he might recommend for us another Oz war movie, Breaker Morant.

    But enough of the remnants of an old post.

    Eisenhower is buried about 90 minutes drive from me in Abilene, Kansas. When I was in Salina, I had a foreign exchange student from Italy, who wanted very much to go to Abilene, to see the man who liberated Europe. This was, oh gee, nearly 20 years ago, and one of my deep regrets was not being able to keep up a correspondence with him.

    Pershing was born in Missouri, to my east, as I discovered from wiki, which notes that he had a grandson who later fought and died in Vietnam. Lincoln, Nebraska, home of my Alma Mater, the U of N., has Pershing Auditorium, where I got to hear Bill Cosby and Peter Paul and Mary. He was present at the groundbreaking for the "Liberty Memorial" in Kansas City, which was some years ago cleaned up and refurbished and is the site for outdoor concerts and other activities, so my younger brother tells me.

    So, though I often complain of living in the Middle of NoWhere, USA, there are bits of history floating around nearby.

    And my apologies to seydlitz, whose last paragraph I overlooked, which answers my question about the "raging monster".


  39. Heh, I love WW2 arguments, which we will return to later. But my real main point was that, based on other posts as well, the US is bad at military strategy (then again so are most places).

    This is actually praise, like we really need more Prussians in the World?

    But once upon a time it was very good at diplomatic/economic strategy .. which in the long run (or even often the short run) is far more important.

    Roosevelt’s strategy to destroy the British Empire (which, by the way I am absolutely no fan of, rather I am far more a fan of the US founders ... so much for my anti-Americanism) was brilliant .. and at that time the US genuinely had no imperial ambitions, rather it supported many liberation movements and really improved freedom.

    The reasoning was quite simple and for a long time very successful. If the US supports an anti-colonial movement, which will probably win, then they would have far better access for economic gains. The US could supply capital, machine tools, etc for a country to developed. As it developed it would buy US consumer items. They got richer, the US got richer. Yes! Free trade! Plus the US was a revolutionary society, born in insurgency against a ‘hyper power’ of the time.

    Not a bad strategy. But that winning strategy slowly started to change. The real turning point, IMHO, was not Vietnam, but Iran. A joint US/UK operation to overthrow a democratic Govt. This was when the US first got into the empire business in the post WW2 world (Hawaii and the Philippines were their first goes).

    Basically, as Churchill always desired, the US became another UK empire builder, "taking up the white man’s burden" (obvious sarcasm here). Didn't save, as he hoped the UK empire, but it did set the US on a disastrous path.

    After that it cascaded, Vietnam, part of the French empire, despite the excellent relations the US had with Ho Chi Min?

    Now imagine of the US had stuck to its historical roots (plus the implied Roosevelt doctrine [which was don't get into anything unless you will definitely win])?

    No Vietnam, Iran as a shining beacon, and very westernised, ME country. A far better economy, respected and actually listened to, the major player in international agreements (law of the sea, mine banning, torture banning, GW agreements, etc, etc, and so etc. Who knows, the dollar might even have managed to be linked to gold as well and still remain a real international currency?

    By trying to be a 'modern' UK the US lost itself and again IMHO needs to get back to its roots again.

    Anyone remember that ridiculous hubris in the late 90's, "a hyper power", "Rome", and more such nonsense .. even at that time the US was dependent on overseas debt.

    Total nonsense, the US people are good makers and the best hustlers, but rubbish at organised warfare (the record speaks for itself .. would you buy an F-22 or a good Boeing or a Caterpillar or an Intel chip).

    And would you ever in your wildest dream get into war under US military leadership, who always lose? Well you would if you were as dumb as Australians these days (once upon a time it was the opposite, your soldiers were under our command) .. but that, as they say, is another argument.

  40. I have to side with OS on the whole "FDR breaks the Empire" deal. I'm reading Rick Atkinson's second volume of the "Army at Dawn" series and he, at least, lays it out pretty much as that. FDR hated the British Empire, thought it was nonsensical to be fighting for freedom only to return the colonies to their imperial masters. I don't think it was accompanied by an intentional effort to bankrupt the Brits (who were doing just fine by themselves), but as far as breaking up the Empire? Yep.

    But I will lock up tight with Publius about the whole "The U.S. can't do strategy" issue. The U.S. has it's head up its geopolitical ass at the moment, but that has a LOT more to do with the failure of our civilian political system than our military skill. We've had our Haigs and Odiernos and Westmorelands, but we've also had our George Marshalls, our Pershings and our Bill Shermans. Before you say that the Americans "always lose", be careful to cherry-pick your eras. We're not the stumblebums you seem to think, providing we stick to doing what we do best. Colonial adventures in Central Asia is not one of them - but, mind you, it didn't really do the British much good, when all was said and done, did it?

  41. FDR's problem with Churchill was that he did not want to shed American blood to help the Brits re-establish their dominance and their colonial fiefdoms. General Marshall and Admiral King agreed and argued continuously for opening the second front in Northern Europe which as we know did not happen til June 44. I am OK with that. Churchill's claim of a "soft underbelly of Festung Europa" turned out to be an opium dream.

  42. I always said 'military strategy' was the US’s weakness, but political/diplomatic/economic, until recent decades, ranged from excellent to superb. Though there had been a clear deterioration over time as the military side steadily dominated the other.

    As long as the US didn't do the military (or ‘intelligence’) thing it often succeeded and in doing so most people benefited (though there were obvious exceptions).

    Lets take the record from WW2:

    The US created the United Nations, including FAO, WHO, etc. The latter 2 organisations have probably saved more lives that were taken in all the wars put together.

    Bretton Woods, though not entirely to Keynes plan was close enough to last 30 years, the fact that we had monetary and currency stability alone rushed in the greatest increase in living standards the World has ever seen across many, many countries. The World Bank and IMF, when they worked as originally designed (not now though) inserted capital and stabilised countries. Just those, created stability. With US capital, cleverly and in many cases freely or nearly freely given wealth blossomed.

    Despite the Cold War the World, as a whole, was remarkably peaceful.

    Then Science and technology, helped by being the 'safe haven' for so many people meant that the US, which again cleverly invested in schools and universities, meant that the US dominated the Nobel prizes and developed technology beyond the imagination of anyone else. Who can forget the Moon landings? But add medicines, plastics, metals, computers, et al, et al.

    And its social/political example, the Civil Rights movement, which inspired whole countries to change in (reasonably) peaceful ways. To aspire to freedom and equality.

    One thing the neo-cons(clowns) had half right was that democracies don’t go to war with each other. Though their idea of changing that was to invade non-democracies … not such a good idea., these things have to evolve over time and most countries go through stages of power sharing, increasing rule of law and partial democracies long before they get there .. as did we (the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand {arguably the first true democracy}, etc, etc).

    Personally I think the US’s proudest moment was the Watergate hearings. Remember that old crust southern Senator grilling White House Staffers? Watching a flawed and ultimately failed President being brought to task democratically and by the Law was another shining example to the World. Other countries copied it, people everywhere wanted this sort of system.

    The US was the de-facto leader, by example, in the World. It won often, not always though of course, by the Moral leadership it demonstrated (this first level in Boyd’s model).

  43. Then it evaporated. Not overnight, bit like Darth Vader, the ‘dark side’ became more and more the chosen route … DESPITE THE FACT THAT JUST ABOUT EVERYTIME IT FAILED (sorry for shouting by you really have to question the brains here). When following the ‘force Luke’ actually won more often that not.

    The rot started early, I personally think the US first started to jump the shark when it overthrew the democratic Iranian Govt. From then on this sort of thing became more and more the accepted strategy. Who can forget Chile, El Salvador, Vietnam of course .. at each stage the brutality became worse. From a (say) 10:1 good to bad ratio the gap steadily closed, 5:1, 2:1, 1:1 then from Iraq and Afghanistan 0:1.

    There was a time when, rightly, the US condemned people to death for torture (like slavery an enduring fact of life for the vast majority of people throughout time). But from the 70’s onwards it ran courses in torture for third world (mostly South American) dictatorships. Dictatorships, especially Kleptocracies, became the model that the US favoured (why I ask?).

    But the past showed its greatest glories and successes, as van Creveld said in his book Fighting Power, the US Army might have been on (equal terms) inferior to the Wehrmacht but:

    “Yet when all is said and done, the fact remains that the American GI did win WW2. He did so moreover, without assaulting, raping and otherwise molesting too many people. Wherever he came – even within Germany itself- he was received with relief, or at any rate without fear. To him no greater tribute than this is conceivable”.
    To be fair he should have added the British Tommy, the Canadians, the South Africans, the New Zealanders, etc, the Poles and the rest of Commonwealth.

    But the Supreme Commander was Eisenhower, and for all his military/tactical failings he was a superb military/political leader, we couldn’t have done it without him .. and he would have crucified any Allied soldiers who did anything like the German Army did .. and everyone knew it.

    And in the end .. that’s real leadership .. and a canny long term strategy.

  44. Uh Mike sorry to contradict you but Admiral King? No he had no interest in the European front, did his very, very best to sabotage it.

    Plus he got thousands of merchant seamen killed by his refusal to implement convoys along the coast of the US .. the U boats called it the 'happy days'.

    You know how many US ships and landing craft were involved in D-Day .. sod all of anything (yes there were some, but not many, it was an almost total Royal Navy operation). King would not let the landing crafts free from the irrelevant US/Japan front.

    That sounds contentious but it was beyond meaningless that war .. Japan was beaten by mid-43 by US submarines (when they finally got torpedos that worked).

    Basically they did to Japan what Germany tried to do to the UK. Cut it off, without food, fuel and other raw materials Japan was dead.

    Yep all those Island hoppings, fire bombings, the Philippines, and the nukes were a compete waste of time, lives and effort.

    Once Australia (which no one cared about*) and India were safe then the Pacific war was a waste of time, Japan was already a deadman walking, just keep up the blockade and wait. How long would the Emperor wait when his people were selling choice cuts of children on the open market?

    Oh how we rewrite the past, I actually had a member of the US/Australian Society say to me that "the North African/Mediterranean campaign was a sideshow", which showed how dumb he was.

    Freeing up the Med meant 2 million tons of shipping was freed up, without which there would have been no D-Day in 44, or 45 or 46 or ...

    No King was a prat (Nimitz was a genius though arguably the US's greatest naval leader and, again arguable, one of the greatest naval leaders in all time).

    * Both Churchill and Roosevelt called Curtin up to 'persuade' him to send Oz troops to other places to fight for the 'Empire' (which Roosevelt was scheming to destroy).

    Curtin, one of my heroes, refused and got the 7th and 9th divisions back (we lost the 8th in that total stuff up Singapore). And fought hard to get some Spitfires sent here to defend our increasingly bombed Northern areas.

    If you can't fight for your own you are not fighting for anything meaningful.

    As for Marshall, as a pure military (as opposed to a logistic or even political/diplomatic where he was excellent, even brilliant) leader .. for another time .. except to say he was worse than useless.

    No, Roosevelt made his own very canny decisions .. your cleverest President by a far, far margin. You, and all of us, were very lucky to have him.

  45. OldSkeptic-

    Quite a set of posts. And thanks to you this is the longest thread so far on MilPub.

    I was thinking about a Strategy II post about the other strategic angles that Bush & Co hopelessly screwed up, but couldn't resist making a very points before the others come round.

    I think your distinction between "military strategy" and "political", "economic" and whatever else is a bit beside the point. The title of the thread is "strategy" which would naturally be composed of exactly those various elements. The question is whether the political purpose of a specific policy was achieved. This could involve war (as in WWII and Korea) or not (the Cold War). "Military strategy" would be a component even if war had not occurred.

    "Democracies don't go to war with each other." I think the verdict is undecided on this one. In 1914 it was popular opinion (as in Central Europe in 1989, but with quite different results) which drove the various governments to adapt a hard line. There was the worry in elite circles that they would not be able to stay ahead of the surging masses that were demonstrating for war. In 1915, after the success of the Gorlice offensive, the Germans offered generous terms to the Russians to quit the war, but the Czar could not even consider such a thing in the face of popular hatred of the Central Powers, that is Russian public opinion. A strong autocrat would have simply done what was in the best interest of the dynasty, which was not to continue the war. The democracies you list are culturally very similiar, so that is perhaps the reason they don't fight each other rather than the fact of them being democracies. Would a democratic India and a democratic Pakistan be more likely to go to war than a democratic India and Pakistan under a dictator? Both having to secure popular support from their publics who are being fired up with calls for "action"?

    As to Iran 1954 being the beginning of the end for the US - Korea, Iran and Vietnam all fit within the backdrop of the Cold War, so can't be separated from it. Iran had a long history of British/Russian involvement. With the Brits pulling out, leaving Iran to its own devices looked much like leaving it to the Sovs, so it was an obvious move for the US at the time. The only alternative outcome that was considered was Iran dominated by the Soviet Union, which would have provided the Russians with access to the Gulf. I agree it was a dirty deal, but the logic of the times was quite different. Having had two world wars within living memory, no one wished to be caught at an unnecessary disadvantage should a third one come about.

    Imo the great turn around in US policy/strategy happened after the Cold War, in 1992 as I have indicated before . . .

  46. Sey, there is a major theme to these posts which I'll later build on .. so it is not just rambling.

    "Democracies don't go to war with each other." is a rough rule of thumb, democracies do go to war with 'brown folk' (a deliberate pejoritive term to illustrate the thinking of them) whether they are democratic or not, all the time.

    Example: the destruction of democracy in Chile was, IMHO a crime of the highest degree, because they were inventing a whole new nation of society and the economy (ref Stafford Beer).

    So the Iran thing was not just a Cold War thing but there was a strong racial theme as well. Democracy is for us, but not for them.

    Take for example Hong Kong. They actually have more (in totality) freedom under Chinese rule than under British rule .. where legally they were peons (and as an aside a poster child for Freidman for the 'perfect society' .. I remember his television series on the BBC).

    You can add the US colonies to this list as well, where the record was .. how shall I say this .. as poor as the UK, French, German, Dutch, etc list, none of which was good for the people of the countries.

    In many cases the 'Cold War' was a disguise for older, racist and impirial ambitions.

  47. Replying, but still working on my 'grand strategy theme'.

    No Iran was the 'jumping the Shark moment' for the US .. a leading indicator for what it did later in many places ... and still is of course, since you US people have just about decided to go to war with them. Well Israel has .. which is the same thing of course .. don't you have any pride at all in your place.

    Bit like Malta deciding UK policy.

    Iran was and is fiercely independent, which we might discover to our cost soon.

    Take an anology, Iran is to the Middle East what Britain is to Europe (without the Empire of course). A separate entity, with interests of course, but its main interests are
    (1) survival in a hostile environment (as a Persian nation and a Shiite one they face endless hostility from Arab Sunni nations (especialy Saudia Arabia)
    (2) Stability around it. After being attacked endless times it wants peace and stability on its borders.

    The US/UK effort of course is a part of their DNA, plus Hussain, our dear friend for so many years (the hypocracy sticks in my throat at times).

    Of course we aided his war on Iran .. and guess where he got his WMD gas supplies from .. you got it .. us. No wonder they were so careful in 92, we knew exactly what he had .. because we gave it to him .. all those US delivery stocks backed up with German production equipment.

    Oh we are a real piece of work in our 'democratic, freedom loving societies' as long as they are not brown or black of course.

    As the UK elite said, just after WW1 and the banning of chemical weapons, 'it does not apply to niggers', then happily gas bombed Iraq and Afghanistan in 1920+.