Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Total War Doctrine Masquerading as Strategic Theory?

Strategic theory is undergoing a certain revival at the moment. Given the ambiguous results of George W Bush's (and now Barack Obama's) continuing wars against terror there is seemingly a need to make sense of the current strategic confusion. A good first step in this regard would be to make clear distinctions between strategic theory and doctrine, and between the study of war and the study of warfare. First off, strategic theory is about the use of power in political relationships, which can include the use of the military instrument. If you are dealing with a general theory of war, as in Clausewitz's general theory, you accept that the nature of war - as being a remarkable trinity of irrational passion, chance and its subordination of politics/policy - remains essentially unchanged but highly complex. While the theoretical framework of the general theory is able to contain the tensions of this complex interaction of violent interests, due to this same complexity, strategic theory is of very limited predictive value. The interaction is simply too complex to predict since so much is contingent based on not only material, moral and time factors but also information asymmetries. In fact advances in Clausewitzian strategic theory - be it Clausewitz, or those who have followed his approach - Goltz, Svechin, Mao, Galuga, Schelling, R. Smith - are all retrospective, that is based on military history after the fact with an attempt to offer some understanding of the state of strategy in their own times. This of course assumes that the changing political relationships will usher in changes in the art of war and the theorist in question may be concerning him or herself with past conditions, thus unaware that they are dealing with a new epoch.

Here we see the distinction between the study of "war" and the study of "warfare". War remains the same and a general theory may apply, whereas warfare is specific to the time and interaction in question. Each of the theorists I mention above - -including Clausewitz - dealt with both in their analyses, many times quoting Clausewitz or assuming a general theory foundation and then developing their own specific "art of warfare" based on military history/personal experience for their own epochs. It is this art of warfare for the particular epoch which in turn supplies the basis for military doctrine. My copy of JCS Pub 1 defines doctrine as "Fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application."

So to recap my distinctions in terms of strategic theory, we have the general theory which applies to all wars and we have the "art of warfare" of a particular epoch, both of which are retrospective in nature and of only limited predictive value. On the other hand we have Doctrine - the actual operational military guidelines - may be based on an art of warfare, or not, but the general theory of war would only exist in terms of "basic principles" (or essentially truisms) due to their highly abstract and general nature. The real distinction however is that doctrine provides a guide for present and future action, whereas strategic theory (both the "war" and "warfare" variants) does not.

The importance of these distinctions is obvious, I would hope. The idea for this post came to me slowly as a result of a series of posts made concerning first US politics and later the Afghan War. Recently a blog-friend of mine, Lexington Green, created a stir with a post he made over at Chicagoboyz:
The Glenn Beck rally is confusing people. Why? He is aiming far beyond what most people consider to be the goalposts. Using Boyd’s continuum for war: Material, Intellectual, Moral. Analogously for political change: Elections, Institutions, Culture.

Beck sees correctly that the Conservative movement had only limited success because it was good at level 1, for a while, weak on level 2, and barely touched level 3. Talk Radio and the Tea Party are level 3 phenomena, popular outbreaks, which are blowing back into politics.

Someone who asks what the rally has to do with the 2010 election is missing the point. Beck is building solidarity and cultural confidence in America, its Constitution, its military heritage, its freedom. This is a vision that is despised by the people who have long held the commanding heights of the culture. But is obviously alive and kicking . . . Political and policy choices rest on a foundation of philosophy, culture, self-image, ideals, religion. Change the foundation, and the rest will flow from that. Defeat the enemy on that plane, and any merely tactical defeat will always be reversible.

Please read the whole post to get an idea of the tone. Green repeatedly uses the language of warfare to describe the essence of what Beck is supposedly attempting to do.

In a follow-on post Green describes the two sides in question:
Today’s tools favor our side in this struggle, which I am calling the Insurgency.

The Insurgency is based on individual freedom, autonomous decision-making, spontaneous order, voluntary association, open-mindedness, adaptiveness, transparency, networks rather than hierarchies. It is at bottom a fun loving and joyful and open spirit. In many cases this is based on religious faith. (I raise my hand.) In others it is based on love of human potential and creativeness, or other positive factors. This model works. And it works better and better with the tools of today and tomorrow.

The Opposition is based on the outdated legacy systems of the Industrial Era. It is based on assembly lines, bureaucracies, railway timetables, rationing, coercive and rule-bound action, mandatory schedules, forcing people into niches and categories, stripping them of autonomy, and turning people into petty little beasts subject to political control. That is the vision of the Opposition: People standing in line, people asking permission, people filling out forms, people without cars, without money in their pockets, who need a political favor to get anything done. It is based on nostalgia for the old-time “Big Unit” America that worked tolerably well in its day, the period roughly 1900-1950. (Michael Barone wrote about this recently.) But a system of centralized control that barely worked in its heyday is utterly unsuited to the world of today. It is increasingly falling on its face. Our institutions no longer work, because they are ill-suited to who we are, what we need, and where we want to go.

Notice that the two sides are very human in the initial post, "us and them", whereas in the second the "opposition" is re-introduced as an out-dated attitude lurching towards the dustbin of history. The fact that our "military heritage", the military industrial complex behind it, and in fact the whole national security state are part of opposing "Big Unit" America is masked by the moral certitude that Green displays.

This certitude comes out even clearer in his concluding post on the Afghan War roundtable discussion that I participated in at Chicago Boyz:
I. Moral Clarity

I am posting this on September 11, 2010. We attacked the Taliban regime because they supported and granted havens to America’s enemies. That initial invasion was just.

The Taliban are one of the most vicious and evil enemies America’s soldiers have ever faced. Killing them is just. Our soldiers are on the correct side of the moral equation in this struggle. The Taliban murdered hundreds of thousands of people in the decade they controlled Afghanistan. Destroying their rule was a just cause. Destroying them forever may be beyond our power. But it would be worth doing if it could be done at tolerable cost.

No one else mentioned this moral dimension except me, in the post that began the Roundtable. And I only did so in an update, after an email exchange with our friend Nate, who is actually serving over there.

Whatever the wisdom of our strategy, whatever the outcome of our effort, whatever the ultimate fate of Afghanistan, the enemy was mightily worth killing. Our warriors can have pride in their effort and their cause.

If anyone digs back in 40 years and considers the moral issue, that will still be the correct conclusion.

So, once again, this moral dimension, this moral element "of Boyd's continuum of war", described here as "clarity" and obviously an objective fact since for our side it is morally right to kill (even all) the enemy, who are evil. Just as in US politics the insurgency - under the supposed leadership of Glenn Beck - operates with the same moral advantage against the Big-Unit "enemy". Where exactly does this concept originate? Is it the thought of John Boyd or something closer to a religious belief?

Since Frans Osinga's Science, Strategy and War, The Strategic Theory of John Boyd is considered by the Boydians as the best author on explaining Boyd, I refer to him:

Boyd also adopted [JFC] Fuller's concept of the three spheres of war - the physical, the mental and the moral dimension, using this idea to structure his argument and develop three modes of conflict. Respectively, these spheres dealt with destruction of the enemy's physical strength (fighting power), disorganization of his mental processes (thinking power), and disintegration of his moral will to resist (staying power). . . Central to his argument is the notion that paralysis should be the aim in war and that the mental and moral dimensions should be the prime target of a military operation. page 32.

Three kinds of conflict. Based on the 'panorama' of military history, Boyd argues that one can imagine three kinds of human conflict:
Attrition warfare
Maneuver warfare
Moral warfare.
In Moral warfare the aim is to [quoting Boyd], "destroy the moral bonds that permit an organic whole to exist". pp 166 & 171

To start this is only the first critique of Osinga/Boyd (assuming his interpretation of Boyd is valid), nothing near a last word on my part. In fact I think a full Clausewitzian review of Osinga's book would be quite intensive and critical.

Here I am only interested in bringing up this concept of Fuller's moral sphere, which Boyd expands into a strategic element (pp 209-17). It is interesting to note that in the Fuller book that Osinga quotes there is no mention of this moral sphere. To find that, one has to go back to Fuller's Foundations of the Science of War of 1926. In chapter VII of that book, "the Moral Sphere of War", Fuller starts off by praising Clausewitz and quoting from Book 3, Chapter 3, of On War. It is also clear that for Fuller, following Clausewitz, these spheres concern the tactical and operational levels, that is the Fighting Forces, not the strategic level at all. They are tied very closely with military leadership, but are not to be confused with political leadership where quite different circumstances apply. Thus Fuller's concept of the moral existing as a link between will and action (which Osinga repeats) concerns soldiers operating under orders in war, not to entire populations during wartime or political crisis. In fact, Osinga compounds the confusion by having Fuller maintain, "The physical epoch had come to an end; the moral epoch was dawning. There was no longer a need to literally destroy the enemy's armies in the field. . . Paralysis and collapse were central themes." (page 32).

I have not been able to find Fuller maintaining this "dawning epoch of the moral" and suspect that Fuller is referring to the mental element or "mind warfare". Also when Fuller does speak of a possible moral sphere at the strategic level he refers naturally enough to WWI propaganda:
The strangle-hold of the blockade created a fertile soil sowing the seeds of propaganda, and not - not excepting the American Civil War - in no previous war was it so virulent and vile . . . The reason was that, in times past war was waged to change the enemy's policy, and not to change his government - the policy maker. Its aim was to change the government's mind, and should the government be overthrown, there would be no stable authority to negotiate a peace with. the world was then still sane, and the idea of creating a social anarchy in an enemy's country would have been considered contrary to common sense. The Conduct of War, p 179

So following Fuller, a "dawning epoch of the moral" would mean far bloodier and extensive wars, not ones less destructive. In fact as he warns in Chapter XII of the same book, the distinction between war and peace would be lost.

Now, consider Boyd's three kinds of war. Only the first, attrition war, covers limited wars or wars of limited objectives. The aim is the enemy's will to resist and thus compel him to negotiate, while he remains more or less intact. That is the kind most disparaged by Boyd's followers - attrition war - is also the most common in history and also characterizes the less bloody wars. For Boyd the aim of both maneuver and moral war is the enemy's collapse, that is total victory. Which would leave the victor attempting to pick up the pieces of the enemy state, which is hardly going to be a bloodless outcome, as witnessed by recent US military experience.

Finally, at the strategic level - Osinga puts this under "A Moral Design for Grand Strategy":
If the previous argument is accepted [Boyd's concept of moral isolation], it follows that for designing grand strategy the name of the game is to 'use moral leverage to amplify our spirit and strength as well as expose the flaws of competing or adversary systems, all the while influencing the uncommitted, potential adversaries and current adversaries so that they are drawn toward our success' Put another way, 'one should preserve or build-up moral authority while compromising that of our adversaries in order to pump-up our resolve, drain away adversaries' resolve, and attract them as well as others to our cause and way of life . . . p 215-16

For Boyd, this moral authority has an objective quality. Played the right way it is possible to convince any enemy population in wartime that it is not their own side, but the enemy who has their best interests at heart leading of course to political collapse. I suppose in Boyd's "strategic" universe, influenced as it is by Heisenberg and Gödel, such could be possible, but in strategic theory? Are there any such incidents in military history?

Another result of this approach is that this quest/drive for moral authority permeates all levels of strategy, the professed political purpose and achieving moral dominance requires continuous action at the operational and tactical levels.

In addition, information itself - how else is a nation at war to convince the enemy of their superior cause? - becomes a weapon of war. I would wonder if not the rise of influence of Boyd's ideas have not gone hand in hand with recent attempts at domestic information operations by the Pentagon. In other words, under a Clausewitzian system, propaganda would be the responsibility of the state alone, that is of the political authorities, whereas with Boyd's new moral epoch it is the responsibility of the military as well?

My conclusion in regards to Lexington Green's posts? I think he is following closely a Boydian perspective in all three posts that I quoted. The assumption of a objective or clarified moral element - assumed moral authority - is in line with Boyd as I understand Osinga to present him. The problem is much deeper in that Boyd's approach is not what Clausewitzians understand as strategic theory, which is actually the same definition that Osinga uses (pp 13-14). Boyd's moral assumptions belong to the realm of faith, not strategic theory. My intention here is simply to point that out.

Finally, strategic theory, especially of the Boydian type, is not very applicable to current domestic political analysis for several reasons. First, strategic theory concerns the use of power with the possible use of violence/coercion. The Western idea of representative government deals, not with potential violence, but with workable political solutions, that is compromise and consensus. Even if you don't mean "enemy" when you say "enemy" it still comes out the same way. Second, the assumption of moral authority is dubious especially in terms of politics. One side is painted black while the other paints itself white, whereas the reality is all gray. Of course this level of hostility on both sides could reflect the actual situation within the political community - in which we are dealing with more the nature of a war than of a political disagreement. In that case we perhaps need a clear strategic view now more than ever . . .

Postscript 1: As to Fuller's "new epoch" . . .

Armies are conservative organizations ; they adapt themselves slowly to new environments, and especially to new mental surroundings. To-day a new epoch of war is dawning, and we are surrounded by a veritable fog of new ideas. We must neither accept them as they stand nor pass them by, but we must examine them and test out their values.What are they, and what changes do they foretell? If armies are to be endowed with anew means of movement, then most of the existing offensive and protective means of waging war will be changed. As the three physical elements of war change their present values, so must our present conception of war-the expression and value of the mental elements - change with them and not only with them, but we must foresee these changes. If mentally we cannot keep pace with the changes in the physical elements of war-the changes in weapons, movement, and protection-then our strategy and tactics will remain obsolete ; that is to say, they will not enable us to express the principles of war when once again we are called upon to apply them. We shall go to war as we did in 1914 - under a misconception. If fortune favours us on the battlefields, we shall learn from the changed nature of these elements most costly lessons.If our luck be out, or if our adversary be mentally superior to ourselves, we shall be annihilated, because whilst in 1914 we misjudged weapons-weapons which could be countered by the use of trenches-in the next war we shall have misjudged movement, which has rightly been called " the soul of war." Fuller, 1926


  1. Hmmm.

    Not sure where you're going with this, seydlitz.

    Your inclusion of the Green piece suggests that you're characterizing the current Red-vs-Blue conflict as form of war. While I agree that the U.S. in 2010 has issues distinguishing between "war" and "warfare" - the entire "GWOT" seems to me to hinge on NOT looking at the overall geopolitical situation in central Asia instead of tightlining on the tactical notion that "the enemy was mightily worth killing", which ISTM is the single stupidest rationale for war I have ever heard - Green is just doing what every factional apologist since Cain has done, casting his faction as Good, their enemies as Bad and the struggle as an epochal contest of Light vs. Dark. Thats not "war as a continuation of politics", that's just factional politics. The Antifederalists wrote stuff like this about the Federalists, the slavery apologists about the abolitionists. We've been here before. Most of us just don't remember it because we grew up with the mid-century dip in polarization. Green is just a feature of the return of conservative, nativist, libertarian factionalism that went away for a while, in many parts of the U.S., after the general discredit of the John Birch-type of conservatism in the Goldwater-to-Reagan lull. We've always had some of it in some form in this country. This is just old wine in a new bottle.

    And ISTM that Green saying that this is War, in itself, doesn't make his culture clash a "strategy", theoretic or otherwise. Its just a worldview, no different in its purpose from the worldview of Green's "Opposition" (that see themselves as part of a nation-state based on collective effort for collective good that arose largely because of the punitive effects of the unfettered capitalism of the 19th Century and Green's faction as purblind, selfish fools being manipulated by those 19th Century-style magnates) in legitimizing their excesses and comforting their travails.

    So perhaps I'm just a dumbass enlisted man. What does the Tea Party's campaign platform have to do with revising U.S. geopolitical strategy, or with the study of strategic theory in general?

  2. Hi Chief-

    My point is that Lex is using his Boydian analytical perspective to comment on both US politics and the morality of the Afghan war, which is questionable in my view, but seemingly in line with Boyd, as I show.

    So, from my Clausewitzian perspective, don't call anything that claims to identify objective "moral authority" "strategic theory" as Osinga's book, which is the common reference, does . . . rather it is part of a larger "belief" system.

    A Weltanschauung or world view is of course ideological by definition. Haven't we seen enough of attempting to claim that one political ideology is "morally superior" to another?

  3. Ah. OK.

    So I guess what I take from this (what I'm interpreting you to be saying) is that the "moral conservatives", Tea Partiers, Beckites, whatever you want to call the sort of nativist, libertarian-ish, religiously strict constructionist people that inhabit Green's "insurgency" and a certain faction of the American right, are drawing this wide compass of moral struggle (drawing from Boyd's construct of the moral dimension of war) and mistakenly drawing into it the tactical-through-grand-strategic techniques of anti-Islamist warfare ranging from COIN to CT to whatever the tactics-de-jour happen to be, yes?

    I would only argue that almost every faction in every society finds a way to argue that their side is morally superior. Who the hell outside of the Evil Emperor in Star Wars deliberately identifies themselves as the Bad Guy? In fact, I always get a chuckle when I hear American Christian conservatives like Green talk about how the heinous evil of the Talibs justify killing them all and letting God know His own; I suspect that shy a few beards and ham sandwiches that they and the devout Talibs would get on like a house afire agreeing that death was only too good for their enemies!

    Not that I'm doing a Markos Moulitsas. There is no equivalence here other than that both sides are convinced of their Absolute Good and their enemies' Absolute Evil.

  4. Chief-

    My first reaction is to stay clear of the political angle on this one. I just came back from a trip to the States and I know a lot of friends and kinfolk who would tend to agree with Lex . . . so no talk of any wars.

    Don't want to talk about the religious side either.

    So, I'm only arguing theory here, or specifically what strategic theory is and what it is not.

    But please feel free to develop your train of thought . . . particularly on Moulitsas . . .

  5. But I think that if you try and analyze this without roping in both the political and religious elements you'll end up chasing your tail.

    I would argue that the point of the whole Green piece - and, by inference, the faction that Green represents - is that it is almost PURELY the moral, religious, and social superiority of American society (at least as typified by the faction Green & Co. represent) that justifies the extermination of the brutes. The "strategy" is immaterial, the cold calculation of "national interest" embarrassingly petty. It is because of the moral rightness of the Crusade Against Islamic Extremism that the occasional errors; screwing the balance of power in the Gulf towards Iran, destabilizing Iraq, canoodling around trying to make Afghanistan into New Canaan with more goats, playing tag with the various despots, warlords, drug dealers and who the hell else knows what in central Asia, wiretaps, torture, secret prisons...they don't matter. Nothing matters except the moral rightness of the crusade

    So I would argue that the is no real analysis, Boydean or otherwise, in what motivates this faction. They are convinced, for internal reasons, that they are fighting the War for Civilization and therefore no amount of blood and treasure spent in the hustings of Asia is wasted.

    As far as Moulitsas goes, I think he's being pilloried for silly reasons. He's not an analyst, not an objective reporter. He's a polemicist and his enemy is the conservative, especially the religious Right. So he's doped up a facile book comparing the obvious similarities - and there ARE similarities - between the conservative Christian Right and the conservative Islamic Right. It doesn't really add to the discussion of the issue any more than the observation that since Tom Selleck had a moustache and President Garfield had a moustache that Selleck is Garfield and Garfield is Selleck.

    But he's making an argument, and to expect him NOT to use rhetorical tricks is not more sensible than to expect Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh not to use rhetorical tricks to disguise the weaknesses and enhance the strengths of their arguments.

  6. For one to claim "moral superiority", there must be another moral stance to use in comparison. The fraud of the religious right is that they must have an identified "evil" to oppose in order to paint themselves as the "Good". By their very semantic system, were they to "succeed" in annihilating all those that deserved being killed, they would cease to be "Good", as they only seem to understand "Good" in a comparative sense.

    This type of worldview, to me, is nothing but the old religious "conversion by the sword", except most of those promoting the conversions purposefully avoid being the one who takes the risk of wielding the actual sword.

  7. Chief-

    "But I think that if you try and analyze this without roping in both the political and religious elements you'll end up chasing your tail."

    I'm not attempting to take in the big picture here, since that is too much for me at least to understand at one go, and I'm kinda inside the box, not outside it. So, I go with what I know which is a certain school of strategic theory and attempt to show a pretty significant and influential element in Boyd's thought that seemingly leads many astray. Lexington Green provides three recent posts where this element plays the leading role, but these are not the only examples. In fact the whole recent discussion on grand strategy which was carried on among several of the bigger name strategy bloggers also featured this element . . . so I'm hunting "big game" from this perspective, although highly specific and limited from yours . . .


    Any comment on the Boyd's concept of "moral authority" from your social science perspective?


    May I propose a little thought experiment? It's not really much of a detour and might provide us with some interesting comparisons. Both MLK's and Glenn Beck's rallies took place at the Lincoln memorial. Consider Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, which I consider perhaps the best ever made. It's very short, yet consider what it tells us about war, the two sides in a particular war, and the believer's relationship to God?

  8. A lot to chew on there Seydlitz. Need to mull it over a bit.

  9. Syedlitz: Any comment on the Boyd's concept of "moral authority" from your social science perspective?

    From a social science perspective, moral authority is a cultural/societal issue. Culture A will not ascribe "authority" to the same source as Culture B. While the source of cultural (moral) values tends to arise from internal motivation, very often, as would be the case here, those values are often claimed as "universal", and thus, should be self evident, ascribed to some external principle and accepted by all. Even though a culture's moral values, as "advertised", may change (e.g.- slavery) over time, they were indeed considered immutable when originally held to the converse. Yet, cultures continue to consider current moral values to be immutable, even though history shows that many values once held in the past are currently held as immoral.

    For all intents and purposes, as long as a given moral code generally "works" for a culture, why would they want to admit moral inferiority and change? Hell, slavery of black people was abolished 145 years ago, and there are still plenty of Americans who have not adopted the underlying moral values of the Emancipation.

    In our culture, as in many others, WHO is seen to be "right" is often much more important than WHAT is actually right. And, if "might makes right", the result is predictable. As long a culture feels the need to defend its values by imposing them on other cultures, we will face this moral superiority crap.

  10. Al-

    Agree, and what I find truly objectionable is when notions of moral superiority take on the trappings of strategic theory . . .

    Wylie in his book on strategy says that the soldier is going to look on war different from the sailor and different from the airman. Could Boyd's view be too much that of the airman? Assuming too much that is going on down on the ground?

  11. Back in my Naval War College days, we were presented with four basic categories of national interests that could involve military action as a tool of politics:

    1. Defense of homeland
    2. Economic well being
    3. Favorable world order
    4. Promotion of values

    Was interesting to see who really thought #4 was the cat's meow and why. Well, maybe more scary than interesting!

  12. "...a pretty significant and influential element in Boyd's thought that seemingly leads many astray."

    My point is that I think its the other way round. I think that the Greenites (to use the author as a trashbag term for those who share his opinions) aren't coming to this position through a study of Boyd. They're not being led astray; they're starting out from a position of moral authority, as they see it, and from there the military and policy choices that follow approximate what you or I would make if we were Boydeans.

  13. Chief-

    I think there is a bit of "chicken or egg" element here. When one believes they are morally superior they use the available tools to express same, however immoral it may really be. Creating and/or identifying a tool for the promotion of values results in complicity.

    BTW, I would add that our NWC professor did not endorse the use of warfare to promote values. Some classmates did, however.

  14. Al: If you see the GWOT as an existential struggle between the Christian West and the Muslim Middle East - I'm not saying it is, but if that's your worldview - than the solution to #1 is a change in Muslim #4. That was the whole point, if I remember, of much of the neoconservative/Christian conservative argument for the occupation of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq; that these places were the heart of darkness, the bottle that contained the evil Islamic genie, and that to be physically safe we had to remake them in our Western image.

    I'm not saying that I agree with that, but I can see how, if you truly believe the "moral" basis of the situation that the "physical" (geopolitical, military) actions proceeding from it follow on logically. Like I'm saying to seydlitz - I think what's going on here isn't a problem of confusion between Clausewitzean strategic theory and Boydean moral theory. I think it's a case of a faction that believes that the causus belli is primarily one of moral and social conflict - modernist West versus medievalist Islam - leading to geopolitical decisions that resemble what a secular analyist would do if (s)he were a disciple of Boyd.

    So, in effect, trying to expose the errors of Boydean thought won't make a difference. It's not that these guys are going wrong because they have the wrong map. It's that they're starting our from a completely different place - their #4 is your NWC #1.

  15. "BTW, I would add that our NWC professor did not endorse the use of warfare to promote values. Some classmates did, however."

    Bill James once wrote that every chess match is a silent argument between two people's interpretation of the strategy of the game. I would suggest that most, if not all wars, are noisy arguments between groups about what constitutes "The Good". I believe the the "good" is that you sell me petroleum cheap. You disagree. So I invade you to prove I'm right.

    And to justify my acts I proclaim my own decency, your depravity, and the benefits from my bringing you around to my way of thinking.

    It's a nasty, cynical game, but lots of people and nations have and are playing it.

    But to me the crucial element is genuine national interest AND do-ability. ISTM that the notion that we could change the values of the Muslim Middle East through violent action vastly underestimated the scope of the task and overestimated our military and political resources.

  16. Chief-

    "So, in effect, trying to expose the errors of Boydean thought won't make a difference."

    Perhaps not in terms of a sequential approach, but rather in terms of a cumulative one . . . ;

    Besides given our current strategic confusion, strategic thinking is pretty much impossible since our assumptions and goals make no strategic sense. This is one of Andrew Bacevich's points in Washington Rules btw . . . so anything to help create a clearer picture helps, thus a cumulative and very specific approach.

  17. Btw, Lex has posted his response to my post . . . but he doesn't seem to understand what my post is about . . .

    oh, and Chief he mentioned your "Greenite" term and suggested an appropriate song to go along with it . . .

  18. No offense, Seydlitz89, but you are not understanding Lex's post, or perhaps, Lex, whom I know personally well enough to guarantee that an unlimited religious war in Central Asia against the heathen was about the furthest thing from his mind. Conflating Lex's post on politics with Boydian ideas of strategy to argue against Boyd as a strategist simply muddies the waters for anyone not deeply versed in a)Politics b) Boyd and C) Clausewitz.

    Tell you what, if you and/or other Clausewitzians with whom you feel comfortable, ever post that comprehensive critique of Science, Strategy and War, I'll send it on to Frans and ask him to comment. That would be more productive in terms of getting to the subject that you really wish to discuss.

  19. Hi Zen-

    No offense taken or meant. This is a pretty low-key post on our little blog, which you linked to it as a recommended read so maybe you didn't understand it either. The title is not an attack on Lex and neither is the context since I conclude that he is in fact following the particular perspective in question as I see it.

    Lex was the one who "conflated politics with Boydian ideas of strategy", not me. That was in the first post I linked, the "penetrating analysis" of Glenn Beck's rally "Using Boyd’s continuum for war: Material, Intellectual, Moral." In my post I point out the problems with doing that btw.

    That's only part of what I'm interested in though. What I find fascinating is this pattern of assuming the moral as the highest form of warfare, that is actually operating at a moral level of strategy. Along with this concept of moral authority and its use and what assumptions spring from that.

    So, I not interested in Glenn Beck, or US politics or the Afghan war on this thread, only strategic theory. In this case what has seemingly become part of Boyd's legacy . . .

    Your offer to get some of us in contact with Dr. Osinga is very kind and would have to await a good bit of collaborative effort, so would necessarily be a long term plan.

  20. "...strategic thinking is pretty much impossible since our assumptions and goals make no strategic sense."

    But that's what I'm trying to say; that if you START from the place your man Green is starting from, that is:

    1. We (the Christian, republican West) are morally and socially superior, and

    2. This had provoked a combination of envy and hatred from the Islamic, despotic/theocratic East) that

    3. Resulted in a spectacularly successful terrorist attack on us, then

    4. The only way to be 100% safe from future attacks is to remake the social and moral tenor of the Middle East to eliminate such people as OBL and his sympathizers. And the best way to do this is

    5. Militarily subdue the places that these people use to hide in and stage out of by conventional means, since we have a vastly superior conventional military force.

    You can make a prima facie case for invading and occupying portions of the Middle East.

    I would say that this cascade of assumptions and goals is mistaken, but you can't say it "makes no sense".

    It does, if you accept as a givens that

    a) we were attacked not for our policies but for our principles [i.e. it was because of Playboy, fair elections, women's sufferage and gay marriage instead of sixty-odd years of one-sided support for Israel and the House of Saud, invasions of Lebanon, coups in Iran, etc, etc...] and

    b) the raggedy-assed band of Islamic fanatics with OBL T-shirts and autographed Korans are an existential threat up there with Hitler's legions, the Imperial Japanese Navy, Soviet nuclear weaponry and Admiral Cochrane burning the White House.

  21. So my point is - Mr. Green and his fellow travelers feel they have a VERY clear picture; "Destroying (Taliban) rule was a just cause. Destroying them forever may be beyond our power. But it would be worth doing if it could be done at tolerable cost.

    Whatever the wisdom of our strategy, whatever the outcome of our effort, whatever the ultimate fate of Afghanistan, the enemy was mightily worth killing. Our warriors can have pride in their effort and their cause."

    But Pol Pot's Cambodeans were worth killing. So were Amin's Ugandans. Pinochet's Chileans. Kim's Koreans. The Hutu militias of Rwanda. We chose not to do this killing because the costs outweighed the benefits to the American people.

    But Green appears to believe that morally just killing is always good, regardless of its effect on the national interest. You can't argue with that logic. It's like finding someone burning their own house down to get the rats out. Someone who will do that is not going to be dissuaded by argument, cumulative or otherwise. I would argue that it's not about strategic theory, Boydean, Clauswitzean or other; it's about faith, belief, whatever you want to call it. They really believe that it's better to burn down the house than to suffer the rats to live.

  22. FDChief's last paragraph above captures it totally. Since it is about faith, belief or "values", it is not subject to logical discourse. It is an internalized issue and it's highly improbable that such beliefs will be altered unless there is an overwhelming experience that does so. Faith and/or values need to be considered immutable and eternal, or they aren't faith or values. Thus the danger of many manifestations of moral superiority.

    Trying to reconcile Clauswitzian strategic thought with various moral codes simply cannot be done. The former is open to easily adapting the new data, the later is not.

  23. Interesting discussion over at Chicago Boyz on this topic . . .

    Here, good points made and we seem to be close to one of my final points on the initial post:

    "Boyd's moral assumptions belong to the realm of faith, not strategic theory. My intention here is simply to point that out."

    By opening the moral sphere - actually seen as the dominate sphere, subjective morality becomes the guiding light of strategy. For an example of what I mean we have John Robb, who some of you like a lot . . .

    "Victory in 4GW warfare is won in the moral sphere. The aim of 4GW is to destroy the moral bonds that allows the organic whole to exist -- cohesion. This is done by reinforcing the following (according to Boyd): . . ."

    Robb quotes Boyd on 4GW, whereas Boyd, according to Osinga is talking strategic theory, even a general theory of war. The way a stronger side would defeat a weaker - in the material sense - is through moral authority, fighting moral war at all levels of strategy (including domestic propaganda). This is the link between what has become of strategic theory (Boyd's legacy, intentional or otherwise) and the moral confusion you both mention . . . there is a strategic theory link and Green's three posts are adequate examples of it. That's my argument.

    Where's Andy anyway?

  24. "The way a stronger side would defeat a weaker - in the material sense - is through moral authority, fighting moral war at all levels of strategy (including domestic propaganda)."

    Wieviele Divisionen hat den Papst?

  25. "The way a stronger side would defeat a weaker - in the material sense - is through moral authority, fighting moral war at all levels of strategy (including domestic propaganda)."

    I'd argue that, historically, this is horseshit until the 19th Century. The way a stronger side defeated a weaker was by beating the living piss out of them and plowing salt into the soil. Since the histories are written by the victor the "moral authority" of the two sides becomes moot when the defeated side is consumed. Only in certain circumstances and relatively recently have the vanquished (Southern Americans, Boers, post-WW1 Germany, etc) been allowed to retain a robust "Lost Cause" narrative.

    I'd argue that the "moral authority" argument is attributable only the other way around in the view of the 4GW theorists. Their thesis is that it's that that makes 4GW "unwinnable" for the stronger side. Beat up the little guy and you look like a bullying thug, fail to crush him and you look like a hapless giant. It's only when you lose the "moral authority", become domestic criminals like the Provos or gonzo killers like the LTTE, that you can be crushed without mercy or without sympathy preventing the crushing.

    Instead, I'd argue that Green's arguments are the standard press releases that any fighting power will prepare to explain why firebombing enemy cities is OK because the enemy is really, REALLY bad and their women and kiddies have to die, too, so the world can be made safe for Democracy. The fact that sometimes the arguments are more-or-less accurate doesn't make them true; you can be pretty depraved and still be less-depraved than your adversary...

  26. Chief-

    "you can be pretty depraved and still be less-depraved than your adversary... "

    Really nice.

    Jesus, we got a great blog, don't we? Drinks on the house! Well at least for the next six hours in six hours . . . given the reality of the Internet . . . and me being in Europe.

    Gimme your order and speak your mind . . .

  27. Here's a nice article by MAJ Niel Smith that details how "moral authority" - and just about every other silver bullet touted as a solution to pesky rebellion problems - is just part of a hell of a complex picture. The LTTE made some mistakes - he mentions especially the corruption and failure to provide aid after the 2004 tsunami - and the Sri Lankan government cleverly coopted some Tamils to form an alternative to the LTTE that helped them lose their "moral authority". But he points out that the Sri Lankans themselves seem to have constructed a narrative that contains some strategic conclusions that are not borne out by the record.

    And that's the thing that gets me about the Greenite side of this argument.

    Saying "The Talibs were evil and were were right to kill them" is about as applicable to the question of where our national interest lies, where, how, and how much blood and treasure should be allocated to foreign policy problems as saying "Angelina Jolie is totally hot and I really have the right to sleep with her" has to how much time and effort I should devote to the Jolie Doinking Project (even eliding what whould happen if Mrs. Chief had a part in the discussion...).

  28. Of all the articles I wished I had been smart enough to bookmark, I truly regret not doing so with one about the Right Wing using the "Battle against Evil" as a major defining factor. It traced the concept from Joe McCarthy forward, culminating in the GWB administration and much of Congress wrapping themselves totally in it.

    In short, the notion is that "Good" is simply the opposition to "Evil", and from this springs the need for such folks to have an "Evil" to oppose in order to be "Good". The greater the perceived magnitude of the "Evil" and/or more strident the steps taken to oppose "Evil", the higher the "Good". Thus, killing the absolutely "Evil" Taliban is indeed a great and mighty "Good". What is unsettling is that without an "Evil" to oppose, these folks have no self identity as "Good", and thus "Evil" hunting is a must. Remember that totally "Evil" Bill Clinton and all the horrible immoral deeds he was supposed to have done? Had the Soviet Union not fallen, he probably could have enjoyed his BJs in relative tranquility. Even thought the Talibs were in full swing at the time, they weren't a clear and present enough danger to provide a sufficiently "Evil" foe to allow Bill to be left alone.

    To me, "Good" can exist on it's own, and doing serious "Good" often requires a measure of self-sacrifice. I truly think these mutts would not see a high order of "Good" in the life of Mother Theresa. It's relatively easy to promote the killing of the "Evil" Taliban when you are not called to make the slightest self sacrifice, such as paying any additional tax or being required to risk your own life or that of your offspring to get the job done. It's a hell of a lot more difficult to commit your life to basic poverty while personally caring for the least among us.

    The truly sad thing is that a lot of folks have been led to think they are "Good" by allowing and/or supporting these mindless crusades against "Evil", while their neighbors go hungry or without the means for basic health care.

  29. You guys aren't very thristy . . . but then we all work here.

    Al, agree, "Good" is not the opposite of "Evil", rather that requires "Holiness", another ideal type religious concept.

    Chief, agree with the Jolie analogy, it's all about the feeling the observe has for his own position in regards to the object. Total control, ability to manipulate, use, destroy, all due to the assumption of moral "power" . . .

  30. Seydlitz,

    I'm around, just trying to catch up with all the posts and comments amid a busy week. There's a lot to think about and frankly a lot of it is above me. I don't know the first thing about Boyd's strategic theory and strategic theory in general is an area where I suffer a significant ignorance-based handicap.

    I'll try to comment more extensively later, but for now it seems to me that you and Lex are on different planes and talking past each other.

  31. Andy-

    Yes, agree. Don't feel under any pressure to respond, but as always I do value your - actually everyones' - input.

    It was fun and I got something out of the exchange, if only in how difficult in can be to discuss strategic theory . . .

    But then this came out of the whole thing as well . . .