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.