While catching up on my reading the other day, I found this paper in the Spring 2009 Naval War College Review (which, due to the turtle pace of bulk mail, arrived here in Oct) to have a few snippets that are aligned with the talk of "strategy" here.
Dr Bookman offers this quote from a 1955 paper written by Herbert Rosinski, a Nazi-era émigré German historian:
"Strategy = the comprehensive direction of power to control situations and areas to attain broad objectives." (page 3 of the .pdf document)
To me, what makes an operation "strategic" is that it meets all of the above criteria. The power must be purposefully directed, it must be comprehensively directed, the direction must be for the purpose of controlling situations and areas, and that control must be for the purpose of attaining broad objectives. (I restate the obvious for the purpose of emphasis.) I would offer that lacking any one of those imperative factors renders an operation non-strategic, or results in what becomes "strategic error".
Note that Bookman offers, "Control—and focus on its implications and ramifications—is the active ingredient of Rosinski’s seminal 1955 contribution; as control’s antithesis he points to a “haphazard series of improvisations.”" (pg 5) I would therefore ask if generally reactionary operations can ever be strategic in their application and outcome?
A third snippet that caught my attention was: Objectives refers to actual, not declaratory, strategy. In a world where public relations has become a function of command often no less important than the classic duties of a general staff, it is all too easy for strategists to let their declaratory strategies edit their real goals. In one limiting case of this kind of error, the “objective” is replaced by a mere slogan—which may be accepted with little analysis within an inner circle of high command as well as circulated among a wider public. (pg 5) Bookman addresses the uselessness of the terms "Victory" and "Defeat" as strategic objectives, as they are, in the larger strategic context, meaningless.
With the above snippets in mind, one might ask exactly what are and or were the situations and areas we sought to control in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to achieve broad objectives, and what were these broad objectives? In short, were these two wars initiated with a less than strategic view or fundamentally flawed by strategic error? Were the situations and areas to be controlled sufficient to achieve a stable geopolitical outcome (i.e. - were the objectives sufficiently broad?) and was the power applied comprehensively directed and sufficient to achieve control?
In terms of the second quote, one need only look at the period following the toppling of the two governments to see a “haphazard series of improvisations" that, as Rosinski says, lead us to understand how this antithesis of control allowed both theaters to fall into chaos. Whether or not history tells us that both nations may be unmanageable, the very lack of serious Phase IV operations ensured that history need not be the driving force. Rather, our lack of strategic vision sealed the deal.
Last of all, is the issue of slogans as strategic objectives. One could easily find sloganeering in the stated objectives of both wars, no less the GWOT. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find significant statements of the control that was to be exercised over specifically identified situations and areas. Yes, we were going to stand up two governments, or help them stand up, but what control can one have over such a situation, especially when we are claiming to allow them to do so by an almost immediate imposition of democracy? Is democracy really subject to control by an external power?
One will also find a mention of the pitfalls of "weapons based strategy". Perhaps all our discussion about COIN could be seen as a "tactics based strategy" discussion. Has the tactic displaced or skewed strategic thinking? Can COIN meet the criteria Rosinski sets out for strategy? Does it provide the comprehensive direction of power to control situations and areas to attain broad objectives, or is it a bit too reactive, and thereby too haphazard and improvisational to rise to strategic effect?
Just food for discussion.