Monday, November 29, 2010


Persistent is a word we should all be very familiar with.
Persistence in Excellence is always a good thing, even though it is not a low hanging fruit easily grabbed...:::cough:::Oakland-Raiders:::cough:::

Persistent is something a college student should be familiar with because it is the primary factor that keeps them going back to lecture hall to study a subject that is more for a wage than their primary passion...:::cough:::myself:::cough:::

Persistent is something to be admired when a runner finishes a marathon even though their body is screaming at them, "What the hell are we doing?!?"...:::cough:::my-wife:::cough:::

And there is the kind of persistence we can all do with out...say, a cough, a runny nose, or more seriously, A FREAKING OBVIOUS INSURRECTION THAT ISN'T LETTING UP NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE MILITARY AND THE GOVERMENT CLICK THEIR HEALS TOGETHER AND WISH UPON THE NORTH STAR!!!

Sorry, had to get that off my here is the key graf...

"The incident is the latest in a series of killings of NATO troops by Afghan security forces and demonstrates the risks involved in the intense effort to recruit and field tens of thousands of new Afghan soldiers and police officers. U.S. and Afghan officials have regularly said they do not believe insurgent infiltration is widespread in the Afghan security forces, but these killings have persisted."

We recruit, and for some unknown reason that no one can fathom why, Afghani police officers are routinely opening up on American Soldiers for...oh don't why...let's explore...
"WOW, did you see that Sarge, Omar just greased six of our guys...what do you make of that?"
"Well Private, I'm not sure, perhaps it is one of those intangible things that is above our pay-grade. Lets continue to be run of the mill drones, and I'm sure the Officers and the gov's will get to it after they're done humping the oil can."

Persisted means persistence, means continuing at a steady pace regardless of outcome...holy shit, how can we be so freaking stupid????
How I ask?
When it is a one time thing, and it never happens again, yes, we can call that a rare event hardly worht noting, but when it becomes a routine's time not to say, "do not believe insurgent infiltration is widespread in the Afghan security forces" because you look stupid next to the facts contradicting you.
The US Military better start saying, "look, we have a problem here, and that problem is that the Afghan police force has been penetrated by hostiles."
Progress begins with honestly looking at the situation, and calling a spade a spade. The Afghan national police have been penetrated and many of it's officers turned, or were plants to begin with.
But saying it's not widespread when the facts scream "LIAR!"...thats a big neon sign saying, "We're hiding the truth of how utterly fucked up it is here."

When "Strategy" Is Not Strategy . . .

If you wish to follow this post entirely, you'll have to read, or be roughly familiar with a series of recent posts on strategy. Following Admiral JC Wylie's challenge, I'm attempting here to initiate a dynamic in terms of strategy discussion with the view of developing in time a general theory of strategy . . .

This is a follow up to an earlier post, which concerned Admiral JC Wylie's classic Military Strategy of 1967. That post in turn - as is normal among those who write about this type of stuff - got a mention from Zenpundit. Zen had found himself in strong agreement with my definition of strategy, as a necessary element of a larger theory of strategy:

Focused adaptation of divergent sources of power assisted by control over time in pursuit of a political purpose through methodological theoretical construct (strategic theory) with the aim of creating strategic effect/a strategic dynamic greater than the sum of the individual power sources. For the strong political community, strategy can be an option, for the weak it is a necessity.

Please refer to my above post for my reasons for emphasizing this very specific and limited definition of "strategy".

The actual subject of Zen's post was in part this post from Kings of War. In "Is Politics the Enemy of Strategy?" the Faceless Bureaucrat argues that "politics" being the larger range of social activity that war operates within makes avoiding political "interference" impossible. This was well known to Clausewitz as well btw:

when people talk, as they often do, about harmful political influence on the management of war, they are not really saying what they mean. Their quarrel should be with the policy itself, not with its influence. If the policy is right - that is, successful - any intentional effect is has on the conduct of the war can only be to the good. If it has the opposite effect the policy itself is wrong.
On War, Book VIII, Chapter 6

OK, you follow me so far probably, but why the picture of the Trojan Horse? I'll get to that . . .

But first, this comment I made on Zen's post, in response to the KoW post above:
If the "war of choice" in question is so hamstrung - or rather becomes so hamstrung - by domestic political considerations, maybe that’s a good reason not to get involved in such a conflict in the first place . . . I would add that both Afghanistan and Iraq were more than just "wars of choice", they were essentially unlimited wars since we overthrew the governments in question and took over responsibility for their replacements, ensuring a long-term and open-ended commitment which obviously we were not really interested in fulfilling . . . or am I reading it wrong? Also I would argue that Bush’s war in Iraq didn’t really involve any "strategy" at all, at least as how I have defined it on the post you link. "Politics" loves a strategic vacuum . . .

The "war of choice" refers to actually two wars: Afghanistan and Iraq. In both we, or rather Bush/US government at the time decided to incur unlimited benefits/costs in regards to these two conflicts. In both, as in with our demand of unconditional surrender in 1943, we had taken on responsibility for establishing the follow-on government of (by us) defeated states. Germany in 1943, Japan in 1945, followed by Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. These are all such by-war-created-new-government states the US has taken on in our history, with the exception of perhaps the Philippines in 1899-1949 . . .

So, both wars of choice were taken on in a rather cavalier fashion since our leaders at the time thought of themselves as "history's actors", or as reflected in a quote by Paul Bremer to US State Department officials in 2003, "All you people know about is history - we are making history, we are making the future." What gave us this role and ability, was who "we were" in the eyes of the actors themselves and the amount of raw power at our disposal.

Enter the Trojan Horse. At the time that Homer's Iliad opens the Greeks have been fighting to overthrow Troy for ten years. The "strategy" they had followed relied simply on the personalities involved (especially the heroes like Achilles, Ajax and others) and the use of raw force to physically annihilate/subdue the Trojans. From the point of view of this post, there was actually no strategy at all, simply "history's actors" using brute force to attain their goal. The result was potential defeat or at the least stalemate which for the Greeks was the same thing. With their hopes sinking, the Greeks in desperation try instead to draw upon other sources of power at their disposal to create a strategic dynamic which will play to Trojan weaknesses and allow the Greeks to militarily defeat Troy. Personalities do not enter in to it, by now Achilles is dead, and force will not be used until the last moment and then very effectively. What we have here is a transition from a plan using raw force wielded by "history's actors" to a strategy using a wide range of sources of power with the intention of creating strategic effect far beyond the sum total of the inputed elements. We can look at the two (use of raw force & strategy) also in terms of linearity/non-linearity, with raw force as more linear and strategy as more non-linear in their effects.

One could argue, that this was not a strategy at all, but simply a ruse (thanks FDChief), but that would be forgetting my definition above. The intention is to use a wide range of power to achieve strategic effect. The idea of using a wooden horse to trick the Trojans was a ruse, but that would have hardly worked on its own. What was required was a strategy using a wide range of power available to the Greeks, in this case the intercession of the various gods in support of the Greeks in addition to the distraction of the various gods in support of the Trojans. If you recall, the Trojans were divided as to how to proceed with the horse. The Trojan priest Laocoön threw a spear into the horse to show that it had nothing to do with the gods and that the Trojans would be better off setting it ablaze. But the gods intervene here and Laocoön and his sons are killed by giant snakes sent by Athena. Obviously the unfortunate priest of Neptune had angered the gods by throwing that spear, but was that actually the case? The Greeks had also left behind a spy, Sinon, who feigned opposition to the Greeks, and told the right version of events to the Trojans.

We see here a very clear distinction between the tactical nature of a ruse, and the strategic nature of the effect of the overall Greek strategy. The fact that the political purpose was the same in the case of the use of personality and force and in the use of strategy does not matter, since strategy is not an end in itself, but a means.

What was key for this strategy to work was excellent intelligence, a clear view of how the enemy would react to the situation and clear political goals which could be achieved through military action, that is the destruction/looting of Troy, not the establishment of a new Trojan state controlled by the Greeks.

Compare the Greek experience before Troy with America's recent wars of choice and the similarities are clear. It was not a bad strategy, or too many strategies that got us to the situation we are in now in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but no strategy at all in the terms I have defined it. Instead was an assumption of American exceptionalism linked with reliance on a great use of force. Understanding of the area or its history were discounted since both the exceptionalism of being history's actors and the nature of our tremendous available force would sweep all before us. This was tied as well to notions in regards to the "magic of the market", especially in regards to post-invasion Iraq. Paul Bremer was instrumental as head of the CPA in instituting a whole series of sweeping laws which reflected neo-liberal ideological assumptions. Contrary to many critics, there was a plan, as Naomi Klein described it, "to lay out as much honey as possible, then sit back and wait for the flies", that is the "market" or rather US corporate interests to come in and turn everything around.

Sound familiar? It should, since that is the same rhetoric we have heard in regards to the current financial crisis: "just wait for the market to do its magic". That is the current political situation in the US has fundamentally affected the nature of not only how we approach our wars and our inability to identify the limits of military power, but also many serious problems at home. Notions of American exceptionalism - unquestioningly promoted by those with the most to gain from the current situation - are used to explain away what should be indicators of crisis: lower life expectancy, lower educational results, increasing gap between what is left of our middle class and the working classes and those at the top. It is of particular interest that the recently triumphant GOP is using this very notion of exceptionalism to once again bamboozle the American people, as if we have learned nothing from the last nine years . . .

The inability to think in strategic terms not only limits our military/economic/political effectiveness abroad, but endangers our social/political existence at home.


Thanks for the comments on this post. As we can see it was a good interaction and some of the comments added to clarify specific points.

There are two points I would like to make. First, the narrow definition of strategy I have proposed is illustrated well by the history of the Trojan War. The lack of strategy and the use of strategy show the clear distinctions between the two. Strategy is a force multiplier. But it need not be present to create strategic effect, since if the targeted population does not resist, or cannot resist effectively, the stronger side can impose their will by force alone. I think Al has made a good argument in regards to the Morgenthau Plan being a strategy, albeit a poor one. Still, given the lack of resistance from the German people, it need not have been a strategy in order to have succeeded. Force alone would have sufficed.

Second, let's look again at Wylie's quote that I added in the comments, that being: "I would suggest that a primary fault in the last war in Europe was that we brilliantly fought and implemented what turned out to be an obscure, contradictory, and finally nonexistent strategic end. Peace, in and of itself, is not necessarily a proper objective . . .p15".

To understand this we have to go back to Wylie's very broad definition of strategy: "A plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment."

Wylie's saying that we can judge a strategy in terms of both its purpose and the means used and come up with quite different conclusions. The means for instance can be applied effectively, while the purpose itself might not be achieved in the way it was intended. It's when you put both together that you get the full picture and that may indeed be mixed.

There is also another element in judging the effectiveness of a particular strategy that is implied by this quote. Wylie was writing over 20 years after the fact. In 1945 what looked like a resounding success looked more like still success, but with missed opportunities 20 years later. The way that a particular strategy plays out over time can vary much. Consider how the First Gulf War of 1990-91 is perceived today, or compare how it was perceived in 2003 with how it was seen in mid 1991.

As Clausewitz wrote in the first chapter of Book I of On War, In War the result is never final.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Spy vs. Spy: Beaver State Fathead Edition

So it turns out that I now know a total of something like a dozen people who were in Pioneer Square in downtown Portland when this fucking idiot thought he was committing an act of guerilla violence.

The following couple of days my Facebook page was littered with posts to the effect of "OMG! I was there! Thank you, FBI!" and appended with comments praising God and the solder (or FBI agent) whom we adore.

Perhaps it was because I hadn't the slightest interest is watching the lights go on a big fir tree so I was at home playing Jenga. Or perhaps its because I'm a nasty, cynical SOB by nature. But you'll excuse me if I beg off the universal congratulations to my government for catching the next Khalid Sheik Mohammad.

Because from what I understand;

1. This idiot did everything but wander around Corvallis wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Osama and the legend "I'm With Stupid".

2. Ignoring the First Rule of Internet Hookups ("The chance that the hot sixteen-year-old soliciting for no-holds-barred wild monkey sex over the Internet is actually either a vice cop trolling for morons or a 42-year-old pervert looking to get you to post pictures of your pecker approaches unity the longer you keep searching the Net for loli-porn") the idiot splattered the Web with his jihadi spam until the FBI was unable to continue to ignore him.

3. The feds then:
a. contacted Mohamud in a June 2010 e-mail under the guise of being a jihadi.
b. met with the guy multiple times, where he pushed them to help him with his nefarious plans. Supposedly the agents "cautioned Mohamud several times about the seriousness of his plan, noting that there would be many people, including children, at the event"
c. pretended to help him with logistics, including "assembling" the bomb and testing a smaller version somewhere in backass Lincoln County, Oregon.
d. appeared in a video with him to record his "mission statement".
e. picked up Mohamud to travel to Portland to finalize details of the attack.
f. set him in the seat of his bomb-van with several fake drums of pretend explosives in the back (which the idiot failed to check, proving that he was a no-go at the first performance test of walking-while-breathing, "You need to be smarter than your equipment") which he dropped off near the tree-lighting spot
g. let him make the detonating phone call - twice - and then busted him.

So excuse me if I'm not celebrating the takedown of the greatest criminal mastermind since Professor Moriarty. This moron Mohamud sounds like he might have spent the next five years in his bedroom playing the jihadi version of "Call of Duty" and eating cheetos if the FBI hadn't pretty much handed him the color-by-numbers handbook for would-be jihadi truck bombers. This wasn't fucking Tim McVeigh. This wasn't even your basic Palestinian pay-for-kaboom suicide bomber. This was a fucking idiot who didn't have the basic common sense to check the equipment his suddenly confiding new "friends" procured, engineered, assembled, transported, and emplaced for him.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad this guy didn't kill anyone. I'm GLAD he is a fucking idiot.

But I'm reading the skittish Facebook responses from the people who were in the square that evening, and wondering what will happen the next time someone proposes some sort of additional security theatre, or profiling the Somali immigrant community, or loosening the entrapment laws, or some other sort of exchange of liberty for "security".

And, of course, demands that all response to the nose-led idiot be based on panic fear and reflexive condemnation rather than skepticism and the Rule of Law.

Or, even better, turns into lynch mob counter-terror and attacks on American muslims because...well...because, y'know, they're terrists!

Because if the study of history and politics has taught me anything, it has taught me that there is no practical limit to the damage to a society that the society can do to itself when prodded by a single idiot.

Update 11/28 p.m.: Greenwald has more, including the vexing details that the FBI 1) may not have actual evidence that the moron chose his moron path and was not entrapped in some form, 2) paid him as part of smoothing his path to Pioneer Square, and that 3) "Here we find one of the great mysteries in American political culture: that the U.S. Government dispatches its military all over the world -- invading, occupying, and bombing multiple Muslim countries -- torturing them, imprisoning them without charges, shooting them up at checkpoints, sending remote-controlled drones to explode their homes, imposing sanctions that starve hundreds of thousands of children to death -- and Americans are then baffled when some Muslims -- an amazingly small percentage -- harbor anger and vengeance at them and want to return the violence. And here we also find the greatest myth in American political discourse: that engaging in all of that military aggression somehow constitutes Staying Safe and combating Terrorism -- rather than doing more than any single other cause to provoke, sustain and fuel Terrorism."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Jukebox: 16 тонн Edition

Posted without further comment.(h/t to Lawyers, Guns & Money)

Friday Fails

Happy Post Thanksgiving everyone, I hope your day was better than mine. I "Failed" in my pie making by forgetting to put sugar into my pumpkin was more of a "side dish" than pie, though my wife says maple syrup may salvage this one.
Ah well, it was busy yesterday so I'm laughing it off, and moving on to today.

This one has been around on the net for a bit, so I was looking for a different pic to actually highlight the issue of designations, but this pic seemed the more popular one. So here you go, this weeks Friday Fail.

What's the opposite of "Miracle"?

Just a brief note to celebrate our latest victory over the Soviets; "(o)n Friday, the U.S.-led coalition will have been fighting in this South Asian country for as long as the Soviets did in their humbling attempt to build up a socialist state."U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S...


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Man Who Wasn't There; A Cautionary Tale

As I was walking up the stairI met a man who wasn't therehe wasn't there again todayI wish, I wish he'd stay away“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”
Now it is not good for the Christian's health to hustle the Aryan
For the Christian riles, and the Aryan smiles and he weareth the
Christian down;
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of
the late deceased,And the epitaph drear: "A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Listen to Mama Odie

My little girl has a passionate affair with the Disney cartoon "The Princess and the Frog."

And one of the characters she likes best is the oddball voodoo queen, Mama Odie. Now little Miss is four, so what she likes about the character is her oddities and the way she whacks things with her pet snake.

They're easily amused at four.

But Mama Odie's big musical number (this IS a Disney cartoon, after all; we're still stuck in the 1957 time-warp) is all about the title characters' having to figure out not what they want but what they need.

Now Jason over at Armchair Generalist has a nice post up emphasizing the same thing, only to our own Frog Prince, SecDef Gates. Jason says:
"There are two ways to build a national military strategy. You can start with an open-ended set of defense goals without considering resource caps, list everything you want to do, and then count up the cost of all the missions and programs, submit it to the White House OMB and send it to Congress, see what you get. Then when you get the bill, start cutting from the bottom of the list for what you didn't get funds, and then go to Congress and ask for more money.
Or you can acknowledge that you have a resource cap before developing that strategy, and you deliberately set one's defense goals for modernization, operations, and personnel costs to fit the proposed budget, submit that to the White House OMB and tell Congress that you're going to do less than what you used to do. Then go to Congress when there's an unplanned need for funds based on an emergency situation. Basically, you develop a military posture that you can afford, one that is in scale to domestic priorities, but that's difficult to do when you have a strategy that's based on global international involvement."
That's a choice even a four-year-old can figure out. There's things you want. And there's things you can afford. And if you chase the former past the boundaries of the latter you will end up a very, very sorry child indeed.

However Jason notes that there is one teensy, weensy little problem with a sensible, sane, feasable, fiscally reasonably national security budget: "Of course, the Republicans won't allow this."

Which is why almost all of the GOP - and a large portion of the people across the aisle, I should add - would lose on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader".

Because they're not even smarter than a four-year-old.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Fails

I was gone Mountain Man last Friday up in the west of Redbluff last week guys, so I missed presenting you my usual odd sense of humor. Today, is no different. For your amusement.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Terrorism -- That's the Ticket

Dilma Rousseff as leader of Brazillian terrrorist group,
Palmares Revolutionary Armed Vanguard [VAR Palmares]

Rousseff being received by Obama

The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive
his deception, the one who lies with sincerity

--Andre Gide

Are right and wrong convertible terms,
dependent upon popular opinion?
--William Lloyd Garrison

Laws control the lesser man.

Right conduct controls the greater one

--Chinese Proverb


The United States wants it known we are tough on terrorists. We don't negotiate; we hunt them down and eliminate them. They can run, but they can't hide. Yadda yadda.

Except when we choose to fete them at the White House, as in the case of Gerry Adams, Yassir Arafat and Menacham Begin.
Of course, these terrorists did not target U.S. citizens, so they are o.k. The latest in this tradition is the new president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, except she did target a U.S. citizen, a soldier, for murder.

Ms. Rousseff was recently treated to a warm glad-handing by President Obama, but Rousseff was a terrorist and bank robber in the 1960's and 70's. She also planned the murder of American Army Captain Charles Chandler on December 10, 1968, an act accomplished in cold blood in front of his wife and child. Rousseff is a nasty piece of work, but 42 years later she navigates the halls of Washington at our President's bidding.

Why was she not arrested and tried for this crime, which has no statute of limitations? Instead, The U.S. Attorney General, the State Department and President all preferred to treat Rousseff as an honored guest. This shows that terrorists sometimes triumph and rise to the top of the political hierarchy.

The lesson here is that the future leaders of Afghanistan and Iraq will come from the ranks of those people we call terrorists,
those to whom we deny rights -- they will be lionized as standing up to the capitalist occupiers.
As with Rousseff in Brazil,
the populations of these countries will repudiate their puppet leaders and go their own way. This is only right as democracy demands this behavior. Democracy emanates from the people and not the tip of a foreign bayonet.

As for Rousseff, if the Phony War on Terror
(PWOT ©) were a real, global war, she would be treated as the criminal she is. If she remains in Brazil, fine, as the U.S. has no jurisdiction in foreign nations, but the moment she stepped on U.S. soil she should have been arrested and tried for the 1968 murder of a U.S. soldier.

It is sad that we prosecute figures like Khadr while treating Rousseff as a VIP.
All terrorists are not treated equally, for if they were, she would be in a cell in Gitmo awaiting trial for her crime.

What makes Rousseff's case different from that of Omar Khadr?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hot for Teacher II: Hakkaa päälle

I usually run from op-ed pieces recommending "solutions" to the "education problem" like a vampire from sunlight or a priest from a pedophilia investigation, but this article was inescapable, being as it was on the front page (above the fold) of the opinion section of my local paper.

The idea that there's a hidden key somewhere (typically Finland) that will unlock the education door and make American schools something more like the shiny, happy ideals we see in Heritage Foundation fliers and pedagogical conference brochures seems almost unkillable. Somehow our nation always seems to be At Risk; at risk of failing, at risk of falling behind those regimented Europeans and cunning Asians unless we do X. Y. and Z, at risk of economic and intellectual desuetude unless we Do Something Brilliant Now.

What's the latest flavor of brilliance?

Apparently it resides in Finland. That's where they train only the "best" students to be teachers. This is our authors' notion, while they recommend somehow magically ensuring that the number of teachers trained matches the teaching jobs available to avoid the current oversupply of discouraged teachers. Let's pay them handsomely, too, finding all those tax dollars' special secret place where the voters have hidden them, and with it we'll also somehow make all schools safe, intellectually challenging places to work. Oh, yeah, then we'll find even more money to evaluate and mentor these outstanding teachers thoroughly, and finally we'll make word"teacher" the semantic and social equivalent of "investment banker" or "major league baseball benchwarmer" resulting in all sorts of public love and respect for teachers.

What could be wrong with that?

Well, nothing, of course. If teaching were like trial law, biomedical research, or writing computer code. You'd jack the pay scale, jigger the working conditions a tittle, and the Stanford and Cornell grads would come shouting in.

But teaching is nothing like these sorts of technical professions. Teaching is, fundamentally, a mixture of performance art and artisanal craft with technical knowledge thrown in on top. The skills to do it well are almost entirely personal, and the ability to teach well is highly reliant on the quick development of people skill.

And, what's more, as a teacher you're working with the Great Unwashed, the Average American; many of them will come to your classroom raised on television and video games, short of attention, patience, and ingenuity, trained to expect learning to be "fun", often poorly literate and numerate, impatient with being told that their "effort" is inconsequential and that they will not be rewarded for mediocrity.

I know, because I went from being a professional scientist to a teacher and back again.

As a registered geologist I was presented with a suite of challenging and often innovative tasks to solve in company with other professionals whom I respected and who listened to me with respect. I worked closely with my peers, my supervisors, and the clients, who acknowledged me as the subject matter expert that they were paying well for an opinion. I was able to maintain a stable family life and a fulfilling work life.

As a teacher I spent the vast majority of my day with adolescents who typically considered me an mildly entertaining irrelevance at best and an irritating nuisance at worst. I barely saw my peers and my supervisors were almost invisible. My workday consisted of attempting to introduce the most fundamental aspects of my profession to an audience that generally considered the subject (when they considered it at all) an obstacle to their social lives. I had to spend a hell of a lot of my time dealing with personal issues of people whose lives had been utterly fucked up for years prior to my encounter with them. For which time I was paid roughly half of what I made previously.

I did teach some great students, and agree that with good students teaching is among the most rewarding of tasks. But I also spent a ton of time on "classroom management" - in a setting with gave me a tenth of the tools I had had as a drill sergeant while expecting me to accomplish twice the instruction.

And possibly the worst part was the parents; many of whom didn't care or didn't know what their children were doing. many of whom were manifestly overwhelmed by their children, almost all of whom were struggling desperately under loads of work, family, debt, and a crippling lack of time and intellectual resource.

So the notion that somehow we can just wave a magic policy/money wand and make every public school Saddle River Country Day School?

Well...I think the key here is to look at the examples used in the article.

South Korea

All of them relatively tiny, homogeneous, intensely urbanized and highly urbane polities, typically with cultures that emphasize unity, conformity, hard work and achievement. You might as well start making plans for American public schools in urban Detroit, Seattle, and Los Angeles by looking at the systems currently working so well in Grosse Pointe, Scarsdale, and Beverly Hills.

Of course the educational systems in Finland, Singapore, and South Korea work well.

Given the starting points, you'd have to be a thermonuclear-grade moron to fuck them up. I'm just guessing here, but I highly suspect that it has as much to do with the qualities of the Finns, Singaporeans, and South Koreans in the classroms as it does with picking teachers from the top 25% of the ACT and putting scented piss-pucks in the boys bathrooms.
(True fact: the boys bathrooms in the high school I taught in stank like year-old piss. One of my classes started with the idea of raising money to put those disk-shaped odor absorbers in the urinals to help make the bogs a little less nasty, assuming that the lack of pucks was a budget problem. We were informed that, no, the practice had been intentionally halted because of the number of times the pucks had been stuffed into toilets and plugged them up.

Think about that for a moment; what sort of human fishes in a public urinal for a piss-soaked disk to then shove into a public toilet.

Okay, here's the real bottom line.

In 1965 the Coleman Report identified economic class as the single largest factor in predicting academic achievement.

That conclusion has never been refuted.

If you take a look at "failing" schools identified by the NCLB, most of them are in urban or rural poor areas. It's the same here in Portland; our "good" schools are in the parts of town that look like Finland or Scarsdale (wealthy, white) - Grant, Lincoln, Wilson. The marginal ones - Madison, Franklin, Cleveland - are in the browner, more marginal parts of town. The "failing" ones - Roosevelt here in our NoPo and Jefferson - are in the hood, either Hispanic as up here or black in the case of Jefferson. This despite a PPS policy that has been in place for years to encourage the better teachers to choose the tougher schools.

They don't - no one would. Because an American classroom in a tough neighborhood is never going to look like Singapore. Or Sweden. Or fucking Finland.

In fact, I'm going to now suggest a goddamn federal law banning on any educational nostrums, prescriptions, seminars, or on-line classes that mention the fucking word "Finland". Or "Singapore". You want to suggest a fix for education? Take something more like us or go to jail, dammit.

I suggest Brazil, maybe.

And this "education problem" isn't going away any other way, either. Income disparity in the U.S. is rising, and the percentage of people falling behind is growing, at a rate we haven't seen since the end of WW2. And the current political climate makes the notion of raising tax money to help the schools where the new underclasses will be warehoused somewhere south of unlikely and a quarter to "ain't ever gonna happen".

So, sorry, boys. I agree we can do better with our schools - though I will argue that they're not as bad as they're made to be, given the available cash and the human timber we're starting with. I won't argue that there needs to be better teacher training, testing, and mentoring, either.

But it doesn't have as much to do with finding the academic superstars as it does the great actors, improvisational standups, skilled craftsmen, and savants. I can teach math to a great teacher - I can't teach a great mathematician how to teach.

And let's face it - there's no way in hell the teacher training schools will cut back their numbers and the American public ain't gonna vote the money you'd need for all this stuff, anyway. Your little piece was a nice dream. But it was a dream.

And dreaming of Finland isn't going to solve our problems. Hell, dreaming of Finland isn't even going to lead you to the right problems.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans' Day 2010

From a non-veteran, it's been a pleasure knowing you all. :)

I'm linking to this site, 'cause it has a cool pop-up flag picture.

An UpDate, Veteran(s) Story(ies)


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Fellow Marines

To my fellow Marines, Happy Birthday!

And to all my Comrades in Arms of the other Services, may tomorrow be a good Veterans Day for us all.

Our country may be screwed up, but overall, Life is GOOD!!

Live long and prosper...........


Monday, November 8, 2010

Unusual Statement from a Candidate for Office!

She said she plans to listen to Alaskans "and hopefully you will recognize that I'm using intellect and judgment (and) while we may disagree on the final vote you will at least acknowledge that I gave due consideration."

Full story here.

Whether or not Ms. Murkowski is elected, the above was surely refreshing. Doesn't yet give me great hope for the future (takes more than one to legislate), but still a pleasant item to read with my morning coffee.

No wonder Sarah Barracuda opposed her.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sign the Petition to get Keith Olbermann back

Go sign the petition ASAP.

His voice is an important weapon in the continuing wars against the absolute toxic and silly shit the deranged so-called conservative media is spewing.

Heard the latest about the $2oo million and entire fleet the Obama's are using to make a state visit to India?

Whether or not you favor his style of news and commentary, his is a valuable source of trustworthy information about our world. I challenge anyone to attack his honesty in reporting the news.

It's time we get his back, after he's had ours for so long.

Go sign the thing.

"Olbermann has admitted that he gave $2,400, the maximum individual donation, to KY-Sen candidate Jack Conway, and Reps. Raul Grijalva (AZ-07) and Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-08). Conway ended up losing to Rand Paul; Grijalva won his unexpectedly tight race, and Giffords looks to be holding on, though the race has not been called. Olbermann said in a statement, “I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns, nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level.”

NBC News has an ethics policy in place that bars its personnel from making political contributions without the approval of Steve Capus, the president of the news division. “Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

However, this policy doesn’t look to have been broadly applied. Atrios finds a number of contributions to Republican candidates made by Pat Buchanan, who is a paid political analyst for MSNBC. They have a right to make such a policy, but it ought to be carried out on anyone who violates it.

For his part, as recently as 2008, Olbermann explained that he doesn’t vote as a symbolic gesture to maintain his objectivity as a journalist. He elaborated on this to Portfolio Magazine, saying, “I know it’s very idiosyncratic, but I would feel just a little hesitation, just a little drag on the airflow, if I went to criticize somebody, especially a president, for whom I had voted. It is driven by the same thing that used to make me keep my distance from the athletes I covered. I don’t want anything, even that tiny bit of symbolic connection, to stand in between me and my responsibility to be analytical and critical.”

Friday Fail's

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Towards a General Theory of Strategy: A Review of Admiral JC Wylie's "Military Strategy"

In 1967 US Navy Rear Admiral Joseph C. Wylie published a book entitled, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control. Why write a book on strategy? Because according to Wylie, "strategy, which so clearly affects the course of society, is such a disorganized, undisciplined intellectual activity. And I believe this state of affairs might be improved" (Military Strategy, p 1). While strategy is and was important, Wylie acknowledged that a general theory of strategy could never guarantee strategic success, but would rather be a "stable and orderly point of departure from which we might proceed to the specific facts at hand in devising, in carry out, and later criticizing a strategy for a particular purpose" (p 2). Or more simply a general theory of strategy would aide the strategist in framing his/her thinking, but not act as a guide as to what to do in any specific instance. The reason for this being the "inherently disorderly", "novel" and "inherently unpredictable" situations faced within "vast social and technological revolutions" would make an actual guide to strategy impossible. The most that could be achieved would be a limited, but at the same time very useful general theory. Wylie comes to theory by way of an interesting history: A war hero, and a practitioner of surface naval warfare - his actions during the Guadalcanal campaign were significant for future Navy success - he saw theory in a very practical way.

At the same time, Wylie considered his "speculations on strategic theory" valid, but the real reason for the book, the "next step", was to "induce someone else either to refine and amend what I offer, or to purpose something different and better" (p 2). In regards to this challenge, Wylie wrote in his postscript 22 years later that, "As far as I know, no one has ever paid any attention to it. I don't know whether this is because it is so clear and obviously valid that no one needs to, or because it is of no use at all. I suspect it could be the latter, but I really do not know." (p 96).

In the mainstream literature of strategic theory/thought, Wylie either gets a quick mention or is ignored. In Colin Gray's Modern Strategy, which is probably the best and most widely accepted general reference of strategic thought, Gray refers to Wylie's "modest little book" as "by far the best of the 'successor' works considered here . . . the best book of general theory on war and strategy to appear for more than a century" (Gray, pp 86-87). Outside of a quick mention of "control" Gray makes no other comments in regards to Wylie here. The other current "classic" of strategy (possible 'successors' to Clausewitz in Gray's formulation) is Edward Luttwak's Strategy which makes no mention of Wylie. Nor does for instance, Peter Paret as editor's Makers of Modern Strategy or (perhaps unsurprisingly) the highly influential polemic of Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War.

How can this be? If Wylie's is the best book of this kind "to appear for than a century", then why so little comment? Why has no one up to now (and Wylie was unaware of anyone coming forward as of 1989) attempted "either to refine and amend what I offer, or to purpose something different and better"? In reading the book it is clear that Wylie is attempting to create a dialogue - even a dialectic - and get people thinking about strategy, but this unfortunately (for every student of strategic theory since 1967) has never been attempted, let alone set in motion, in any noticeable way.

So, it is about time that someone - even a lowly Clausewitzian such as myself - take Admiral Wylie up on his challenge and offer to "refine and amend" what he has thoughtfully introduced as a possible general theory of strategy. This is essentially a first draft of my attempt and while somewhat limited brings out and questions some very important aspects of Wylie's approach. I think a Clausewitzian perspective particularly suited for this. At times this review may seem too critical to some or perhaps not critical enough for others, the ideas and view are my own. My response is done in the same spirit as Wylie's original and with the acknowledgment that his is probably the best book of its type written by an American author in the 20th Century.

I will introduce and discuss six specific areas of Wylie's book. The first regards the nature of strategy itself including his view of what strategy should be able to accomplish and the nature of strategic theory. Second is his actual definition of strategy and some of the assumptions behind it. Third is the methods of studying strategy including his comments on cumulative and sequential strategies. The fourth is one aspect of his commentary in regards to Mao, and the fifth pertains to his second assumption in regards to "control over the enemy" and the final point regards his overall view of a general theory of strategy which ties all the points together.

One of Wylie's most valid points is that military and naval officers who command and plan our military operations use certain patterns of thought which are essentially strategic without even them being aware of it:

An idea is a very powerful thing, and political ideas or religious ideas or economic ideas have always affected and often controlled the courses of man's destinies. That we understand and accept. So also have strategic ideas influenced or controlled man's destinies, but too few men, including the men who had them, have recognized the controlling strategic concepts and theories hidden behind the glamor or the stench or the vivid, active drama of the war itself.(page 9)

Not only that, but a soldier, a sailor and an airman look at the same operation in very different ways, the airman especially "stands apart in basic principle from them both". For this reason Wylie sees a general theory of strategy necessary in order to bring these different perspectives together in a way that makes sense of the whole: "what is necessary is that the whole of the thing, all of war, be studied" (p 12). The project he takes on is daunting in that "the intellectual framework is not clearly defined, and its vocabulary is almost non-existent" (p 11).

Still Wylie has a clear view as to how this appreciation of theory could develop:
I do not mean that admirals and generals and majors and ensigns, or Congressmen or journalists or civil officials of government, should all take a year's leave of absence and turn themselves into strategic theorists. The continuing evolution and refinement of the theories should be a task for the scholars, not for the practicing military men. I do believe, however, that the men who control of influence strategy should recognize that the theories do exist, should appreciate that the theories do in fact influence the strategic mind at work whether those minds realize it or not, and should understand the general conceptual framework within which they and their colleagues actually practice their professions. (pp 30-31)

This leads us to the second point which is best introduced by the definition of strategy that Wylie prefers:
A plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment.

This definition is not limited to war or even strategy, and can pertain to both individuals and collectives, which brings forth a problem as I will mention. Wylie goes on to point out the importance of what he calls dichotomous thinking, that is retaining in mind both the purpose and the system of measures in terms of strategy. Usually dichotomous thinking is defined in terms of "black and white" or "binary thinking", but Wylie I think is meaning more the ability to think continuously and simultaneously in both terms of purpose and process.

The problem with the definition being too wide, that being able to cover both individuals and collectives first comes up on that same page when he attempts to deal with "morality":
It should be recognized at the outset of this discussion that a strategy has no moral quality of its own. It is inherently neither good nor evil; it is always normative or concerned with values. The morality of a strategy can only be measured in terms of the cultural value judgments of the critics. Brilliant measures may be applied for 'evil' ends; or dull, unimaginative, or completely inadequate plans may be adopted in hopes of reaching the most praiseworthy goals. (p 15)

He goes on to mention that strategy takes place in a sort of "moral climate" which may influence both acceptance of purpose and the application of means.

The morality Wylie discusses is exclusively that of the individual faced with a possible moral dilemma, which no doubt takes place, but is that the only moral aspect? Hardly, since we are after all dealing with political communities in various states of association, disassociation or open conflict. Group "morality" is something quite a part from that of the individual since as groups, especially political communities require coercion to exist. At some level all political communities are held together by the coercion exercised by the leading elite interests of the community in question. Today the usual means of exercising this power to coerce is through the entity of the state. The policies of these political communities reflect the interests of those holding the power, not necessarily those of the community as a whole: the old saying, "Rich man's war, poor man's fight" reflects a basic truth. Since we are dealing with politics, individual morality usually comes to terms with the interests of the group in order to remain part of that group during crisis. No one wishes to be labeled a "traitor". Once the purpose has been defined in terms of the survival of the political community, and it is in the best interest of the controlling factions to present it exactly this way, the chosen means become almost always acceptable. Acting in political groupings, people can be led to do all manner of things, that as individuals they would find morally reprehensible and impossible to commit.

It is not only in dealing with moral standards, that the problem of conflating the individual with the collective comes up. What is easy for an individual is sometimes difficult or impossible for a group to achieve and vice versa. Groups have quite different dynamics and are prone to whole different levels of friction and stress that individuals can avoid. While "strategy" in the broadest sense can be done by individuals for their own goals, in my view such an inclusive definition as part of a general theory of strategy is needlessly confusing. Our limited definition must pertain only to collectives. In fact such definitions referring to individuals would necessarily be reserved to solely "tactics".

Notice here that the notion of "strategically-empowered individuals" is actually defined. Individuals such as Gavrilo Princip who assassinated the Austrian Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in 1914, who obviously achieved strategic effect, would have been nothing but a common murderer without the political element, without the legitimacy of acting as a member of the Serbian political community. Too often today, I get the impression that what seems to count is the size of the explosion, not political purpose or even existence of a political community behind the act. Without the "strategic element" namely the political community, such acts of violence by individuals are simply crimes, no matter the scale of the damage. Equating large explosions with war unquestioningly is a fools' game, because the political elements/interests undoubtedly exist, and are possibly hidden. War always requires at least two sides.

With these points in mind I introduce my own definition of strategy as a comparison: Focused adaptation of divergent sources of power assisted by control over time in pursuit of a political purpose through methodological theoretical construct (strategic theory) with the aim of creating strategic effect/a strategic dynamic greater than the sum of the individual power sources. For the strong political community, strategy can be an option, for the weak it is a necessity.

Returning now for the third point, Wylie lists the different methods of studying strategy. The first he equates naturally enough with Clausewitz and describes it as "attitudinal descriptions of war-phases or strategy phases" which offers no hope for "either penetrating analysis or for practical application in the strategic planning process" (p 17). He also laments that this "method is, necessarily, post hoc - it comes after the event in retrospect" (p 18). Essentially Clausewitz, in this case, is reduced to using a set of military terms without any larger context. It is interesting here that Wylie in his attempt to formulate a general theory of strategy is unable to recognize that Clausewitz in his operational studies is relying on a general theory of war, a theory which could provide the basis for Wylie's own wider theory of strategy. Wylie even introduces this approach at the end of chapter Two, but never links it with Clausewitz. Add this to his discussion of the cumulative and sequential strategies of war (which he credits to Dr. Herbert Rosinski) and the failure becomes complete. Rosinski of course was familiar with Clausewitz's general theory and On War's Book VIII, Chapter 3A that introduces the sequential and cumulative views of strategy, but he was not necessarily very clear in getting his ideas across - That is I blame the teacher (Rosinski) more than the student (Wylie). Refer to Christopher Bassford's Clausewitz in English, pp 86-89 for my reasons. As far as being "post hoc" I can only agree, "guilty as charged", but there is more to this which I will pick up on again below.

There is one last point I would like to make in regards to sequential and cumulative strategies. One does not replace the other for Clausewitz, they are two views of war from two different sources:
The first of these two views of war [sequential] derives its validity from the nature of the subject; the second [cumulative], from its actual history. Countless cases have occurred where a small advantage could be gained without an onerous condition being attached to it. The more the element of violence is moderated, the commoner these cases will be; but just as absolute war has never in fact been achieved, so we will never find a war in which the second concept is so prevalent that the first can be disregarded altogether. If we postulate the first of the two concepts, it necessarily follows from the start that every war must be conceived as a single whole, and that with his first move the general must already have a clear idea of the goal on which all lines are to converge. If we postulate the second concept, we will find it legitimate to pursue minor advantages for their own sake and leave the future to itself.
Since both these concepts lead to results, theory cannot dispense with either. Theory makes this distinction in the application of the two concepts: all action must be based on the former, since it is the fundamental concept; the latter can be used only as a modification justified by circumstances. On War, BK VIII, Ch 3A

So the original concept was more of perspective and Wylie's more of distinct strategies, but in 1967 Wylie was closer to the Clausewitzian view and in 1989 farther away, thinking in his postscript that advanced technology could provide quantitative proof of cumulative strategic effect. This in turn is very close to what Thomas Schelling describes as "limited coercive punishment" in the US bombing campaign of North Vietnam in 1965. There too it was thought that steadily increasing punishment of the civilian infrastructure could cause the North Vietnamese government to yield (See Arms and Influence, pp 170-76). In conclusion, sequential strategies should remain the dominate approach, but cumulative strategies can support them and even be crucial to success, however both take place within a political, read non-quantitative, context.

The second method of studying strategy is in terms of "certain Principles of War" which are "clear and simple lasting truths". JFC Fuller was a great believer of course in this approach and in his own list of principles. This is a standard way that militaries communicate doctrine, but as Wylie points out, "no one that I know of has ever discussed the very practical matter of how the principles are used to generate a strategy" (p 19). It comes down to a "sort of amiable and well-intentioned intellectual anarchy" ( p 20).

The third method of studying strategy Wylie mentions is the "more sophisticated approach to strategic studies . . . by a deliberate broadening of . . . horizons in study of social matters that have an inevitably close relationship to military action. It includes studies in such fields as political factors impinging on military strategy, economic factors, social factors, and so on". While this approach is promising, it will not "bear directly on the subjects of strategic patterns of thought and is not, of itself, an intellectual tool for better analysis of these patterns".

Ironically the last method Wylie introduces is that of "analysis on a conceptual or theoretical foundation" which is not "yet commonly recognized" and holds "some promise" (p 21). The other method he introduces is "analysis by operational pattern".

In Chapter Five, Wylie provides an overview of the various existing theories which he lists as Maritime, Air Theory, Continental Theory, and the Mao Theory. He provides an excellent discussion of the first two, but seems to falter a bit on the second two. The Continental theory is essentially Clausewitz's art of Napoleonic warfare supplanted by some good doses of Jomini and others, whereas Mao's theory for Wylie is almost the complete opposite of that of Clausewitz. Here we see the distinction between Clausewitz's general theory of war and his art of Napoleonic warfare, and yes Mao is quite different from Napoleon, but he is very close to the reaction to Napoleon of which Clausewitz was a part and is best illustrated by On War's Bk VI, Ch 26, "The People in Arms". Seeing Mao as the "anti-Clausewitz" needlessly and falsely confuses the issue, since Mao had read On War and taught it, argued for the continued relevance of Clausewitzian thought after Stalin has dismissed his theories and always retained a Clausewitzian view of the nature of war. Overall this chapter has many interesting insights into the various theories, but with significant blind spots as well.

In Chapter Seven, Wylie lists his assumptions underlying a general theory of strategy. This is a very important step since it is necessary to not only articulate these assumptions as comprehensively as possible, but to share them with your audience. Often enough, political interests can be unmasked, or to the contrary, hidden, by (un)stated assumptions in regards to strategic choices/policy. Wylie lists four basic assumptions which provide a framework and basis for his approach.

The second is the one with which I take particular issue: the aim of war is some measure of control over the enemy. I take issue on this assumption for two reasons. The first is the use of the word "control" which I think has strategic theory applications, but not in regards to our relationship with the enemy. We control "systems" which may assist (or even inhibit) our use of power over the enemy. "Control" implies that we can gain such a level of dominance over our strategic/political adversary that we can make them our slaves or robots and operate/force them to serve our aims. "Control" is not really a social reality and does not reflect the flexibility that "power" does. Power in the Weberian sense is a much better term than control, and Wylie himself was not sure of the utility of his term ("I have used the word 'control' since I can't find a better . . ." p 97). In fact if we think of power ("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") that is in Weberian terms, we see that being a "probability" power could range from just above 0% to almost 100%, and that it is a social relationship: one person alone would have no power since he or she would have nobody over whom to exercise it, but at the same time that person could still "control" a whole host of "systems", enjoying the semblance of "power", and still lose a conflict. That is "control" can be seen as a replacement for "power", but in reality be counter-productive to to exercising real power. Also since we are dealing with a theory of strategy, it would have to cover all sorts of associations, disassociations and conflicts. Do we actually control our allies or neutrals, not to mention enemies, or do we exercise a range of power (be it "hard", "soft" or "smart") in relation to them?

My second reason is Wylie's rejection of "war is a continuation of policy" argument, which he does not direct at Clausewitz, but at "his inaccurate interpretors". Fair enough, but the quote does put war within the realm of politics where it clearly belongs and indicates the subordination of the military to the political which is a necessary assumption for war planning and waging. "War for a non-aggressor nation is actually a nearly complete collapse of policy"? War according to Clausewitz is initiated when the defender resists, so war is the reaction by the non-aggressor to his or her own failed policy, since the aggressor would sooner get what they wish without resistance. The sequence of events remains and that sequence is political. War also being an interaction would have to encompass both sides theoretically. Wylie by replacing the political connection with his assumption of control hopelessly blurs the political connections and implies that control of systems will guarantee victory, which is his unstated assumption. I would add that this control lends itself to quantitative measurement and those may provide certain metrics, which are in reality meaningless to the attainment of the actual political purpose ("body counts" for example).

The final point I will make in this post concerns Wylie's overall view of his general theory of strategy. In Chapter Eight he starts with this:
At this stage of the argument we find ourselves with four ideas relating to war and war strategy - that there will be war, that the aim of war is some measure of control, that the pattern of war is not predictable, and that the ultimate tool of control in war is the man on the scene with a gun (p 74)

The problem with "control" I have already gone into, but it does not stop there since "control" is also used to describe the final arbitrator of war and conflict, "the man on the scene with a gun". While this is a useful metaphor for highlighting the primacy of land-based power in achieving a decision, it contains once again this notion of "control" which presents a false absolute picture of what has been achieved. The "man with a gun" does not really "control", he occupies certain areas but not all areas, he exerts power, but he does not control the locals, who still have the option to resist as we have seen repeatedly since 2001. A political settlement of some form, Clausewitz's end of strategy in other words, which is the return to peace with the political purpose achieved, remains the strategic goal of war, not control which is unachievable.

He sees the British strategic theorist and military historian Basil Liddell Hart as the example to follow in regards to a general theory of strategy, but makes many of the same errors that Hart made. Hart talks of a theory of strategy in his famous book, Strategy, but quickly goes into war strategy. Wylie does the same. While both imply that strategy must encompass far more than war, neither spend much time going into these non-conflict areas. In fact Wylie seems unaware of many of the questionable aspects of Hart's approach. Refer to John J. Mearsheimer's Liddell Hart and the Weight of History, pp 84-98 who effectively takes Hart's theory of the indirect approach apart.

In conclusion, Admiral Wylie produced a very important work which was meant to spark a debate on the subject of a general strategic theory. He was very much a sailor and looked at war from that perspective, which was one of his insights. His experiences as the US Navy's "first Combat Information Center" in action during World War II undoubtedly influenced his views on strategy and his selection of the term "control". While some of his insights are very useful he failed to understand the nature of Clausewitzian theory and like some many of his contempories, fell for the simplistic approach of Basil Liddell Hart. His original goal of establishing a general theory of strategy remains simply a goal and little follow-up has been attempted since he published his short book in 1967. Perhaps this post may spark a renewed interest in the work of this true American patriot.


Perhaps the easiest way of understanding what Wylie hoped to achieve and how he links so well with other Clausewitzian theorists is to compare him to Moltke:


[Policy uses war for the attainment of its goals; it works decisively at the beginning and the end of war, so that indeed policy reserves for itself the right to increase its demands or to be satisfied with a lesser success.

In this uncertainty, strategy must always direct its endeavors toward the highest aim attainable with available means. Strategy thus works best for the goals of policy, but in its actions is fully independent of policy]

Strategy is a system of expedients; it is more than a mere scholarly discipline. It is the translation of knowledge to practical life, the improvement of the original leading thought in accordance with continually changing situations. It is the art of acting under the pressure of the most difficult conditions.
Strategy is the application of sound human sense to the conduct of war; its teachings go little beyond the first requirements of common sense. Its value lies entirely in concrete application. The main point is correctly to estimate at each moment the changing situation and then to do the simplest and most natural things with firmness and caution. Thus war becomes an art - an art, of course, which is served by many sciences.
In war, as in art, we find no universal forms; in neither can a rule take the place of talent.
General theories, and the resulting rules and systems, therefore cannot possibly have practical value in strategy. Strategy is not constituted like abstract scholarly disciplines. The latter have their firm and definite truths upon which one can build and from which one can go farther . . .
General von Clausewitz, on the other hand, says: "Strategy is the employment of battle to gain the ends of war" and as a matter of fact, strategy furnishes tactics with the means of battle and assures probability of victory by directing the movements of the armies and bringing them together on the battlefield. On the other hand, strategy reaps the fruits of success of each battle and makes the new arrangements based thereon. In the face of tactical victory the demands of strategy become silent. These demands attach themselves to the new situation. Strategy must keep the means that tactics require in readiness at the proper time and place. (emphasis mine)

Daniel J. Hughes, Moltke on the Art of War, 1993, pp 44-5 & 124-5

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Dean of Washington Rules

One of the primary U.S. history tropes can be summarized as "WW2 pulled the U.S. out of the Depression".

This is usually taken as a just a kind of fact. But (appropriately enough) on the weekend of Halloween the very-very-serious pundit David Broder actually used it as a template for the recovery from the Great Recession. What we needed to drag the U.S. economy from the economic doldrums of 2010 is...(wait for it)...

War with Iran.Now as far as this goes it is probably factually correct; government spending does help stimulate an economy caught in a depression cycle. People are employed in war production, they spend, generating orders for consumer goods, which in turn ramps up civilian manufacture, etcetera. All of this is acceptable Econ101.

Assuming you're willing to order a side of dead Iranian women and kiddies with that.

Dean Baker over at the CEPR does a perfectly good job of taking down the Dean for eliding that it has nothing to do with war - it's government spending that does the trick;
"Yes, that's right, all the forms of stimulus spending that Broder derided so much because they add to the deficit will increase GDP and generate jobs just like the war that Broder is advocating."
but it's worth pausing for a moment to consider this entire conversation.

David Broder, a man widely heard, widely "respected", vastly influential, is actually arguing that in order to help reduce your country's fiscal difficulties you embark on a course of action very likely to bring pain, fear, misery, wounding or death to themand themand these girlsand this entire group in order to kill the man in the middle and those like him.Oh, and as a "benefit" from a plan to reduce our nation's economic woes.

Now you might think that in a sane world, a place where proposing massive death and suffering for selfish economic purposes, in a part of the world where similar military adventures have led to lingering, pointless low-intensity wars, radically polarized, hostile populations, enormous economic dislocation and political dysfunction was considered inapt at best and monstrously inhuman at worst, that such a man suggesting such a thing would result in universal revulsion and violent condemnation.

You might think that such a man suggesting such a thing would have to flee, have to hide from plain sight for fear of being brutally assaulted for suggesting that those men, women and children deserved to die because U.S. unemployment is running a little high.

You might think that decent, humane Americans of all political stripes and categories would unite in reviling and rejecting such a vile scheme as worthy only of the worst villains of literature and the movies.

You might think that.

But you'd be wrong.