The role of strategic theory is to interrogate (especially recent) military history and more broadly attempts to use military force in instrumental/policy-connected ways. Intelligence interrogation is an art, and another word for a dialogue, but under controlled conditions. In the case of strategic theory, the controlled conditions are the historical record which consists of facts, figures, sequences, relations . . . So anyone who thinks it's simply faddish to criticize recent military actions misses the whole point and probably doesn't understand what strategic theory is, which of course is not my problem.
So what to bring up? On a recent thread, FD Chief brought up the confusion between operations and strategy. This has been discussed much recently and in my view, the most coherently by Hew Strachan. But then I like just about everything Professor Strachan writes, so maybe I'm partial. He's also a Clausewitzian thinker . . .
Other possible topics abound. What of the confusion of the basic two types of strategy as presented by Hans Delbrück a century ago, that being the distinction between a strategy of attrition and that of annihilation? Too often policy makers and military commanders think in terms of one while operating in an actual environment of the other, assuming that "total military success" is actually attainable given their limited commitment/unlimited goals and that victory leads inevitably to policy success . . . A strategy of annihilation requires very specific political and strategic conditions and even then requires a deft diplomacy to pull off in terms of gaining the intended political purpose.
So, could talk about that, but not today . . .
Let's open with a quote from the master strategic theorist Alexandre Svechin writing in the early 1920s:
The Crusade . . . The errors of German foreign policy had a grave effect on German strategy. The diplomats needed to have a clear idea of the strategic tail which was an extension of the foreign policy they created. The nature and shortcomings of foreign policy are naturally transmitted to strategy. The irrational, mystical nature of politics, which led to the first crusades at the beginning of our millennium, engendered the irrational, anti positive strategy of the crusaders. Ranke was sad that Frederick Barbarossa did not first seize the Balkan peninsula for a A German operational base before going into Asia. But this kind of movement forward, from phase to phase, expending the lives of entire generations and systematically broadening one's cultural, economic and operation base, is quite the opposite of what we understand a crusade to be. The fate of the crusaders was to have their tracks lost in the ocean of ground they covered in the same way that all traces of a ship are lost at sea.
The thinking of a true politician, like a strategist not only avoids any mysticism but it is firmly rooted in reality; from this his fantasy grows, and his creation determined solely by the building material provided by reality. A certain amount of mysticism was characteristic of the German leadership in the World War. In early 1915, in German political circles there were lively discussions of the desirable 'orientation' of German attacks - i.e. against 'democratic' France of Tsarist Russia. Ludendorff supported the Russian orientation and received energetic support from the Social Democrats. Falkenhayen supported a Western orientation, allowing for an offensive against Russia with only limited aims. In fact, the more setbacks the Tsarist government suffered, the more impossible it was for Russia to conclude a separate peace. Ultimately, the anti-Russian orientation triumphed because of the unpopularity of Tsarist Russia among the Social Democrats and left-wing bourgeoisie. The German campaign on the Russian front in 1915 resembled Don Quixote's actions and was moreover politically criminal because it placed the life of the German nation at risk. A contrast to this anticipated approach of the German Social Democrats, who classified their enemies on the basis of their sympathies rather their implacability, is offered by the policies of the Fascist Mussolini, who established diplomatic and trade relations with the Soviet Union, actions far from any kind of mysticism and guided by actual benefits without mixing sympathies and business. Strategy, p 134
Let's make a distinction between "fantasy" that is here thinking politically in mystical terms, and "imagination" which would be based on a realistic appraisal of the political situation. A political elite obsessed with fantasy and fantastic notions of their own power, exceptionalism, righteousness and infallibility is going to be ripe to engage in all manner of "crusades" without ever being clear as to the astrategic nature of their actions. I would go so far to say that such behavior is that of a political elite lurching towards collapse.