Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grand Strategy: Inherent Tensions

This is a follow-on post to my earlier one concerning JFC Fuller's original concept of 1923. The military historian Professor Hew Strachan has published an article on grand strategy entitled, Strategy and Contingency. It is his usual high level of insight combined with thoughtful historical analysis, and worth a careful read. I think this subject very current given the level of turmoil in the world today directed particularly at the US and US policies.
What I am attempting with this post is to introduce some of Strachan's insights along with some of Fuller's original concept of "grand strategy". This placed within a post Cold War historical context, but especially since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. That is a hybrid concept of grand strategy: that is my own (hopefully adequate) synthesis of Fuller's original concept with Strachan's insights along with some thoughts and comments of my own. What this will indicate is that we have become prisoners of not only our ideological assumptions, but also our political dysfunctions. The two interact, precluding any worthwhile analysis at the policy level.
Let's start with a recap of Fuller's concept of grand strategy. This is laid out in Fuller's own detailed style in his The Reformation of War from 1923. Fuller starts with a pyramid of military forces comprising land, sea and air forces which together constitute "a very complex and unstable organization", in all force results from the integration of all three, so a political community could still extert force without air or naval forces, although this application of force would be of a more limited scope. The base of this pyramid rests on "the moral of the civil population and the commercial and industrial resources at their disposal". Fuller likens this base to "fire" with the military forces being "earth", the naval forces "water" and the air forces "air". These four elements together produce a fifth which Fuller describes as the "national will to exist" and "the driving force of all military activities". This "national will to exist" includes an ideological component including the soldierly virtues present in society ("integrity, honour, justice and courage"). I would include with this something that Fuller assumes, that being best described as the German term Opferbereitschaft, or the willingness of the individual to sacrifice themselves in the interest of the political community. Fuller concludes, "This control and direction of the will to win and all the means whereby this will may be expressed I will call grand strategy."
Before getting to what Hew Strachan has to say, let me point out one more very important point - for Fuller, this grand strategy is contingent. The totality of moral and material elements exerts force which is then resisted by the enemy, who have in turn their own totality of elements that resist. It is the interaction of force and resistance which characterizes the war in question, making each war unique. So while at the abstract level of theory, general principles apply (this makes Fuller clearly a Clausewitzian), in actual cases they provide an approach, but no formula for normative action.
Strachan naturally enough starts with a definition. "Grand strategy" or "national strategy" concerns the long term, 15, 20, even 30 years into the future. "The grand strategy, as we would define it, is looking at the world today as it is going to be in 2030 or 2040 and deciding what Britain's place in that world is", Chief of the Defense Staff General Sir David Richards to the House of Commons, in 2010. He also provides a second definition from Thomas P M Barnett which also includes "enhancement" in addition to "stability":
As far as a world power like America is concerned, a grand strategy involves first imagining some future world order within which our nation’s standing, prosperity, and security are significantly enhanced, and then plotting and maintaining a course to that desired end while employing—to the fullest extent possible—all elements of our nation’s power toward generating those conditions. Naturally, such grand goals typically take decades to achieve, thus the importance of having a continuous supply of grand thinkers able to maintain strategic focus.
Of course Grand Strategy has been a buzzword in US strategic thought for some time. Yale University has been teaching a grand strategy course since 1998 inspired in turn by Barnett's tenure at the US Naval War College where he taught from 1998 to 2005. Barnett also served in the Pentagon under Bush from 2001 to 2003, writing The Pentagon's New Map in 2004. So what does Strachan think about all this grand stratergizing?
If the wars to which the United States has committed itself over the past decade are part of a grand strategy that is oriented towards some distant future, then grand strategy is in danger of proving to be delusory. The presumption within grand strategy is not just that it is oriented towards such a distant future, but also—at least if it is to have purchase in policy—that it is designed to avert decline, and even that it can make the future better. Emerging states have less need of grand strategy as they forge their empires than do satiated states anxious to hold on to what they have acquired. It is not at all clear that China, let alone India or Brazil, has a grand strategy.
It would seem that the US and UK don't have a grand strategy either, at least based on the events of the last ten years. Here is where Strachan's analysis really starts with "three sets of observations" concerning Barnett's definition. First, "while long-term in outlook, it is also opportunistic". This is connected with "risk management" which is the normal role of the military. Instead of limiting risk, the US approach since 2001 has been to exploit it, to use extensive military force to deal with essentially low-risk situations.
The assumption behind this imo is that force is seen as the preferred method of dealing with security issues, even seemingly negligible ones. Now, assume further that the US is a satisfied great power benefiting from the current global system which the US has also done the most to implement. How does engaging in foreign military adventures promote the stability of the balance of power/status quo? How does financing these very expensive "wars of choice" with borrowed money promote the US's long-term financial stability? We see here how notions of US exceptionalism, or basically that the US is "too big to fail" interacts with the preferred use of force.
Strachan's second set of observations has to do with ideology:
Second, for the United States in particular, such an application of grand strategy confronts it with a logical absurdity. As Barnett’s definition makes clear, Americans still see themselves as the democratic and progressive power par excel- lence. This creates a tension between its domestic self-definition and its external status. Its use of strategy today supports an agenda that is conservative, not least because it recognizes that change may not be in the national interests of democratic powers dependent on the workings of the free(ish) market. Unable or unwilling to shoulder the full burden of global responsibilities itself, it looks to allies to do more of that work for it. But America’s friends have already had to handle their own decline, and now have less appetite for thinking in terms of grand strategy at all: indeed, they have been told by some Americans that mid-ranking states cannot craft grand strategy, since—in Williamson Murray’s words—‘grand strategy is a matter involving great states and great states alone’.
This is about as good an explanation for US policy confusion during the Arab Spring as one could care to find. We are trapped by the assumptions of our own ideological view of ourselves, that being the "foundation of democracy" or something like that along with "freedom" . . . So once the masses are "free", how could they not want to be "just like us"? The rub of course is 50 odd years of supporting authoritarian Arab regimes which enjoyed dubious legitimacy, not to mention our waging of "wars of choice" against Muslim populations. Then of course imo there is our at times self-defeating support of Israel which has led to an quasi-assimulation of what some Israelis see as existential threats. Nice touch at the end by Strachan, reminding his readers of all the Rumsfeldian chest thumping back in 2003. He also mentions that it is precisely mid-ranking states that need grand strategy in order to best utilize limited resources. The context here is worth recalling: the Brits have got burned - as have the Germans, Dutch, Spaniards and others - following the US since 2001 and their appetite for any more military adventures is low to non-existent. Funny enough, their experience doesn't seem to have soured the French on military adventures, who missed out on Afghanistan and Iraq, while seeing intervention in Libya and now Syria as in their, that is solely French, not necessarily US at all, interest. This seemingly paradoxical French response I would see as yet further proof of US decline.
Strachan's third set of observations has to do with linking military means with political ends:
Third, establishing too close a relationship between strategy and the very long term does not allow for the unexpected—for the 9/11 attacks in 2001 or ‘the Arab Spring’ ten years later. Of course, prudent and intelligent men and women, like the authors of Strategic Trends or of the JOE, anticipate this criticism. The former has a section devoted to what it calls ‘strategic shocks’. . .
The possibility of ‘strategic shocks’, the unexpected appearing in short order, is part of the stock-in-trade of policies designed to give effect to grand strategy. No defence white paper or its equivalent produced in the western world is deemed to be complete without a reference to the ‘uncertainties’ (invariably increasing) in a rapidly changing and tautologically ‘globalized’ world. The driver in much defence policy is that procurement is a long-term process intended to deliver insurance against an uncertain future. It is also accepted that equipment is increasingly likely to be used in roles different from those for which it was first designed. Ironically, therefore, one of the pressures in the escalation of equipment costs is the very need to produce equipment flexible enough to cope with the expectation of the unexpected. So the tail wags the dog.
I think Strachan has a good point here, but misses another. Not all "strategic shocks" are of the same magnitude, that is to say "strategic". The Libya intervention was such an unanticipated military operations but within the capabilities of the US to perform. What seemingly held the US back were more domestic political considerations. Nine-Eleven was more an actual strategic shock and the military forces in place at the time were adequate to invade and overthrow the Taliban government, although in retrospect it's questionable whether "going to war" was the proper response at all.
Distinguishing between operational military "shocks" and actual "strategic shocks" would help. The US has a history of both. The failure to anticipate command and control difficulties in a mass army in 1918 and the surprise German attack in the Ardennes in 1944 were both operational military shocks, which were rectified in time. The attack on Pearl Harbor, China's entry into the Korean War in 1950 and 9/11 were strategic shocks. In each of the strategic shocks there were numerous indications that such an attack/intervention could in fact occur, but too often reacting to these indications played against political considerations held prior to the attack, inducing a strategic blindness among US political leaders. Regarding 9/11 there were security procedures put in place at the Genoa G8 conference that July to deal with Al Qaida crashing highjacked aircraft into buildings, not to mention numerous warnings of an Al Qaida attack in the US. These same political considerations inducing strategic blindness influence the formation of grand strategy, which gives us an indication of how far our current notion of "grand strategy" has drifted from conventional strategy which is essentially both military-focused and contingent.
This leads us to the final point in Strachan's paper I wish to bring out:
Strategy as it was understood by nineteenth-century generals was not vulnerable to any of the three observations entered in relation to current US definitions of grand strategy. It was not reactive, but proactive; it was about changing the status quo, not preserving it; and because it was applied in war, it flourished specifically in the realm of uncertainty.
Here we see Strachan's main point, which is a confusion of terms/concepts. This due to the simple fact that strategy deals with two actual political communities in conflict and not "maintaining states or conditions of being" - that is dealing with any potential conflict - as our current grand strategy implies. Thus there is an inherent tension between the current notion of "grand strategy" and what we define as "strategy" proper. This confusion has roots in how strategy and strategic theory have been conceptualized and taught in the US, and the irrational (from a Clausewitzian perspective) desire to come up with a positivist or normative theory of strategy that will fit all sorts of potential conflicts. In other words, what those writing grand strategy today wish for is a "cook book" with a recipe for any strategic situation which could arise. This explains the common presence of various types of (sometimes barely coherent) doctrinal speculation or what Alexandre Svechin described as "charlatanism" in US strategic thought today.
Here I leave Strachan's very interesting paper to provide my conclusion to this post. I recommend Strachan's article and my brief introduction does not begin to do it justice. Please read it for yourself and feel free to comment here.
If we look back at Fuller's original concept we see that grand strategy was impossible to formulate without a clear advisory. It was precisely the interaction between the hostile intentions, and the moral and physical characteristics that formed the potential or actual conflict in question. Thus for Fuller, even grand strategy to be worthy of the name, was contingent. What we have experienced in the US since the end of the Cold War is a confusion as to what strategy actually is and how it functions. When we say "strategy" what we actually mean is "plan" or "wish list", not the contingent interaction of two or more opposing wills over time.
As a comparison, here is my own definition of strategy:
Focused and contingent 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.
"Contingent" here means both in terms of time and specific advisory.
US policy, such as it is, has been since 1992 to maintain dominance, period. 9/11 imo provided our political elite with the golden opportunity to exercise unrestrained military force in the ME/Central Asia and to impose ever tighter restrictions at home. It seems that our elite finds it best to promote an atmosphere of constant and unending war in order to maintain dominance, both at home and abroad. The moral sprit of the nation to defend itself, the "fire" in Fuller's formulation, is stoked by means of domestic propaganda, with the nebulous enemy, "terrorism", which is not an enemy but a method, projected as a serious, even existential threat. This however does not stand up to serious questioning. In all, this situation of continuous wars, or a series of wars to undo the strategic consequences of the previous war (as with Iran) indicates a political community in crisis. This may be called various things, but "strategy" or "grand strategy" it is not.


  1. Excellent post. Really enjoyed this one. Agree with you about our elite.

    I need to read Strachan's article and then, time permitting, write a post of my own.

    My concept of grand strategy is different from Fuller's but I like the emphasis here on contingency - an important point

  2. Strategy, per se, does not exist. It is a way of thinking. A paradigm that has proven useful in the past.

    If reality does not comport with one's chosen model. don't blame reality. Chose (or make) a better tool.

    In other words, if (semi)rational actors are making clearly sub-optimal decisions then they are not optimizing what you think (or perhaps hope) they should be optimizing.

  3. "Grand strategy" or "national strategy" concerns the long term, 15, 20, even 30 years into the future."

    Which, frankly, makes grand/national strategy little more than a wish list, when you think about it. How would a U.S. geopolitical thinker have anticipated the conditions of 1930 in 1900? Or 1990 in 1960?

    So I'm with Ael; since external events are nearly impossible to either predict or prepare for then "strategy" would seem to be more a case of trying to determine "our own ideological view of ourselves" as you put it. Which leads us into the trap you've described.

    So aren't what we talking about here more of an issue of "what SHOULD our ideological view BE..?" as opposed to the current view, which seems to be summed up as "We are and should be the global hegemon and our military policies and organizations designed to make that a reality"?

  4. So I guess what I'm saying - that "strategy" as you're laying it out here is less about a nation trying to anticipate/prepare for events and more about it defining its OWN military and geopolitical outlook - is that the current "...atmosphere of constant and unending war in order to maintain dominance." IS a "strategy", but you are arguing against it as a successful strategy.

  5. What I'm saying is that "strategy", grand or otherwise is contingent, that is takes place within a specific political and historical context. As to "a way of thinking", that is strategic theory.

    The definition of military strategy, following Clausewitz, is achieving a military aim through military means in support of a political goal, of which my definition simply expands upon. So if one says there "is no such thing as strategy", what exactly would you call that particular sequence? The use of force? Could be, but how do you explain it when the weaker side wins a conflict, which isn't that unusual? Refer once again to my definition . . .

    I don't think the US currently has a strategy or grand strategy at all, the elite simply has a geo-political goal which they assume will be maintained indefinitely . . .

  6. Hmmm.

    OK, so would you classify the "maintain global dominance through military force" as a grand strategy?

    Or, since your definition includes political and historical context, would this formulation have to be broken down into more specific geopolitical and temporal limits; "to maintain dominance in the Middle East over the period 2012-2032 through the selective support of aligned nations and the suppression of anti-Western/anti-U.S. governments by force ranging from threats to invasion and of internal political movements by force ranging from subversion and espionage through FID/rebellion suppression to commitment of land and air forces to the host nation."?

    I mean, I would consider that a fairly accurate description of the U.S. posture in the Middle East...but would you consider that a form of "strategy", or not?

  7. "...the elite simply has a geo-political goal which they assume will be maintained indefinitely"

    But isn't that the case in most polities not engaged in aggressive expansion?

    Most Westphalian nations that have no designs on their neighbors would seem likely to develop a set of politico-military goals designed to either maintain a currently favorable geopolitical status quo or, if the current situation is not favorable, to tempt, bribe, coerce, or bamboozle the nations and factions opposed to them so as to improve that situation...and then to maintain that situation indefinitely or, at least, as long as possible.

    Given your earlier writings I would have expected you to argue that pre-2001 (or possibly pre-1991) the U.S. overarching grand strategy was "stability"; the preservation of the post-WW2 system of Great (Western) Power hegemony outside the Iron Curtain, but that the Bushies' angekommen an Macht threw this baby out with the containment bathwater...

  8. FD Chief-

    That's the problem. The goal of maintaining dominance does not lend itself to achievement in terms of strategy formulation since the context is too broad, the threats to that dominance too obscure and difficult to predict, not to mention the results of our own actions, the interacting of various events in the target countries themselves, and other pressures . . . Remember in terms of Fuller's original concept, to work grand strategy had to have a foreign political community to organize against and target, the characteristics of that political community would influence the measures taken, creating a very specific dynamic . . . if you read Strachan's article I think you will find a similar argument there . . .

  9. I would counter that a broad "strategy" of naval and aerial power projection would be and has been fairly effective outside the Middle East (and was there, as well, until the late 1980's...)

    But that the "big picture" or grand strategy parts of the business are fairly obvious and haven't been handled too badly; keeping a wary eye on China while avoiding tensions in the trouble spots like Korea and the South China Sea; maintaining decent relations with both Pakistan and India, engaging Russia while also keeping tabs on her actions in the near abroad, and keeping on generally decent terms with our European and South and Central American neighbors.

    It is only in the Middle East and North Africa that this overall "dominance strategy" seems to have fallen apart, and ISTM that this was entirely predictable - and predicted - by the State Middle East experts in 1948. The combination of reflexive support of Israel and the need to prop up petrodictators has led to the current dustup with the factions aligned against both. Add to that a series of poor decisions beginning with Charlie Wilson's War in 1980 and there we are.

    Mind you, I suspect that the real problem that will end this "global hegemony" plan is coming at the U.S. in the form of domestic desuetude and economic decline...but I don't think that's because of geopolitical strategic non-thought as much as poor domestic political and economic choices.

  10. I think the "broad strategy" you speak of was simply the grand strategy from the Cold War continued, but without the former political context. "Dominance" has been the result of the vacuum left behind by the collapse of the USSR . . .

  11. True dat, but like the guy falling out of the 100-story building was heard to say as he passed the 50th floor; "Well, so far, so good..."

    I think we may be reading too much into the geopolitical incoherence visible in the U.S. Middle East policies. IMO there appear to be "strategies" in place to deal with the East and Southeast Asian littoral, with the Indian Ocean periphery, with much of Africa and Latin/South America. For all that I'm sure they're sick of our ME adventures our relationship with the EU bloc still fundamentally looks pretty sound, and even the Russians and Chinese seem willing to play nice.

    On the ME, yes, I agree - there is a great deal of something that is either a complete LACK of a "strategy" or strategic incoherence. But I wonder how much of that is the collision between the desire for regional hegemony (or at least stability) and the problems we did, are, and will incur because of our support of Israel and our need to keep the oil tap open? In all honesty, I don't really SEE a way to have a coherent "strategy" for that fractious and difficult region. Not invading craptacular post-Ottoman semi-failed states would have been a good start, but, honestly, how would you have reconciled the problem between propping up/bankrolling a Western Jewish polity in an Eastern Arab region and somehow finessing an area which is still working politics like it was 1299?

    Look at Egypt. The bottom line is that a popularly-ruled Egypt is going to be less willing to work with us on Israel and in general than a U.S.-bankrolled dictator. But we can't afford to publicly play the dictator game anymore, not and still be the Arsenal of Democracy. And the Egyptian public in general is going to have an occasional anti-American spasm because (as subjects of a despotism) they assume that what comes out of the U.S. is, like their own country, officially "approved" by the U.S. government. So some mook burns a Koran or makes a Muhammad porno film and they are gonna go berserk, assuming that Obama himself signed off in them.

    I just can't see a "strategy" that works there, let alone the whole region. It's just a mess, and - while we could have done a hell of a lot better than the Bushies did - the political hand we dealt ourself in 1948 limits us pretty tightly...

  12. FDChief-

    Where exactly do we disagree? . . . Just asking.

    Liked Hafiz btw . . .

  13. While I agree with Strachan's premise, I am at a loss to understand how a long term grand strategy can stay on the rails in a democracy. Especially one where there is NO loyal opposition in foreign policy like we used to have. Or maybe 'sort of had' from time to time. Our political parties now seem to try to outdo themselves in undercut each other. And that is fair for domestic issues. But how do you get two diametrically opposed political parties to agree on long term strategies???

  14. If dominance is the policy goal, than dominance over what? If it is Islam, then how do you dominate an idea, especially when adherents to that idea are much more willing to die in support of that idea than we are willing to die to dominate it?

  15. mike-

    The problem, perhaps our chief problem, is that such grand strategy is impossible in the US today due to the political conditions you mention. Still, I think the Cold War was a success story in terms of what we're hoping to understand . . . when we talk about strategy. I think of what we could have done in terms of creating a strategic alliance with Russia back in the early 1990s . . . little chance of that even being considered back then . . . since "we'd won" instead of "we were lucky" was the presumption. Of course it had been the peoples of Central/Eastern Europe as they over threw the structure of communism who had "won", but our grand strategy still played a positive role in that massive historic political shift . . .

  16. Al-

    Dominance over any potential rival or group of rivals. Rivals defined as "states" or "nation states", exclusively, no corporations as bad guys please. "Non-state entities" are very much a mixed bag, some of status and influence, while the vast majority are ineffectual at the strategic level; limited means of projecting power, no secure geographical base, at least not in the sense of a "state".

    Of course the disadvantages are many: No real allies since they can quickly become rivals. Coalitions are specific, piecemeal, and of limited duration. Since Domination assumes superiority, weapons development is capabilities-based, not threat-based. It is unsustainable in the long-term. I'm sure you could add more . . .

  17. I have mentioned this before, but it kind of sheds a bit of light on our madness. There was a great article (wish I had bookmarked it) about how the Neocons defined "Good" in terms of the simple opposition to "Evil". No inherent "goodness" itself, such as caring for the less fortunate, just pure and simple opposition to "Evil". The greater the "evil" opposed, the greater the "Good".

    Now, the former Soviet Union was one big, honkin' "Evil" to oppose, and we could do it with nukes, large standing armies, etc. I mean, Mutual Assured Destruction, a totally insane idea, was the biggest game in town. This opposition to "Evil", as personified by the USSR, drove our foreign policy, and damn near bankrupted us as the Arms Race consumed more and more treasure. Fortunately, the USSR went broke first.

    Then those damn Ruskies decided to fold up and collapse. America suddenly lacked a serious "Evil" to oppose in order to define our "Goodness".

    So now we have Islamic extremism. You know, guys who are willing (and often desirous) of dying for what they believe in. And we have Americans who are willing and wanting to kill those Evil Bastards to protect what Americans believe in, but those Americans are not so willing to die for what those Americans believe in.

    Wait a second! We have a situation where America's desired methodology is, in reality, supportive of our "Evil" opponent's value system! They want to die for Allah, and we want to kill them because of their belief in Allah. Kind of reminds me of the difficulty a sadist faces with a masochist - the cruelest thing he can do is not inflict pain!

    The problem we face is that promoting tangible "Good" in the world results in a measure of self-sacrifice, while opposing "Evil" is more focused on the "Evil" guy sacrificing.

    How can a nation have a coherent strategic policy when it it mired in a weird values system?

  18. Al - Great analogy! But don't many sadists also exhibit masochistic tendencies, and vice versa?

    Seydlitz - Speaking of analogies: Fuller, I understand, was a student of mysticism as were many other English of that time. So he probably put great stock in his pyramidal theory. I ken the basic idea behind his pyramid. However I am not sure that I follow it 100% especially as to how it relates to what is sometimes called 4th generation warfare (if such a thing exists).

  19. mike-

    I would say it doesn't exist, as confused a concept as that particular one is . . .

  20. Al-

    I've been thinking about what you commented . . . it comes back to a thread we had before . . .

  21. seydlitz

    Some parallels indeed. However, the Neo-Cons are a "Hammer in search of a nail" in that if their values system requires "Evil" to oppose in order to be "Good", "Evil" must and will be identified, whether it is a legitimate identification or not. That "Evil" to oppose is central to the Neo-Con's identity. Without it, they could not be "Good".

    It's not easy to get one's head around such logic, as it runs counter to the more widely held notion that "Good" can stand on its own two feet, so to speak.

  22. Al-

    The Neocon "evil" is imo simply another label for "absolute enemy".

    "Just war"? That's an interesting label but what exactly does it mean?, which thinker does it refer to? . . . a pretty mixed bag spanning 500 years. "Just War" justified from a moral perspective the Crusades and the conquest of the Americas if not every other Western colonial attempt since 1492 . . .

    That, and there's always a bait and switch involved . . . identify both and you can begin to classify the larger political manipulation scam . . .


    Yes, that's what it comes down to . . . at least initially . . . we have to devise a theory in dealing with a scam-rich strategic environment . . . a world where trust is a dying commodity . . . a sad task.

    But a necessary one.

    1. Seydlitz,

      Man I hate just throwing a link on here...but here goes:

      The author's thesis is that the United States political culture has accepted the use of all instruments, up to and including whatever our "grand strategy" may be, to delude ourselves. Rather than being great, we can atleast tell our selves we're great and flaunt a few amazing military capabilities to proove it.

      Scams, well meaning or otherwise, are scams.

      I was struck the other day as I ran past the WWII memorial and there is a tribute that says "we came as liberators, not conquerors." Contrast that with dedication to Ike I saw in a pentagon museum. Upon entering Germany, he cleary posted (sort of his introduction as military Governor of Germany) "Allied forces have conquered Germany and...intend to put an end to the German militarism that has upset the peace so many times." Of course we had to conquer Germany--we had good reason for needing to do so; but giving it the "aww shucks, twarn't nothin'...Hitler started it and we're gonna end it" hick treatment is a delusion.

      Strategy, IMHO, is the expresion of a future reality that a political body wishes to assert. There are normative, subjective, objective and existential implications to that. We've become so comfortable with taking shortcuts--rewarding ourselves as if we had achieved the end-state when we've just unveilled the plan--that we're living in a culture of delusion. Grounded political competitors see through our sham more than we do, I suspect.

      This probably relates to the way that U.S. school children lead the world in their self assessment...they believe themselves to be the best students in the world in spite of huge evidence to the contrary.

    2. Jeremy-

      Agree with the points made both by you and in the link. I've equated our national "belief system" to shards of colored glass in a child's kaleidoscope.

      Consider also that your definition of strategy is a collective concept, that is it deals with a collective/political community and their goals/aspirations/sources of power. But how to arrive at that in a society in the middle of dissolution? When the only two shared "values" seemingly are "if it feels good do it" and the total avoidance of any discomfort/pain?

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. By way of my own epistomology, I believe that ideas find people rather than people finding ideas. I have therefore enjoyed when an idea that I'm having resonates with makes me feel like we're litterally on the same wavelength.

      I'm chuckling because after much thought I have come to using a prism analogue (I call it the prism of efficacy) to describe how political bodies percieve their own capacity and desire to achieve a new future reality. I selected the analoge because the "facets" are like normative, subjective and objective planes (by which you percieve moral, cognitive and physical domains). The substance of the prism is an existential strata of common societal memory/experience. I'll send you more on email, but shards of glass in a kalleidescope and a prism are not too far from eachother. Perhapse your model better acounts for chaos and fragmentation...perhapse mine implicity assumes a unity that isn't there.

  23. Seydlitz -

    I would also call 4GW a confused concept, or perhaps a flawed one. Why do its proponents ignore history of warfare before the end of the Thirty Years War? Or some of them even before the Napoleonic era? There were certainly wars or hostilities by what they call non-state actors all through history. And their focus on asymmetric warfare as unique to 4GW is, IMHO, also bogus. It (asymmetric warfare) has been used all throughout history and is used by conventional forces as well as irregulars. Case in point would be WW2 German and American submarines as commerce raiders - or Douhet's theory of war on cities while ignoring the enemy armed forces.

    I do believe though that the idea of 4GW can be useful. If we use it as a way to look at all possible challenges. Something Bush/Cheney and their administration should have done prior to 9/11. And it makes us focus less on technology, on which I believe we are overly dependent.

    1. mike-

      Agree, but the the problems seem to far outweigh its limited utility. I had a discussion with Col. Lang about 4GW and Lind on his blog a while back. Sorry, but I can't seem to find the thread . . . His analysis was devastating . . . I agree that 4GW has some utility as a historical framework of military technological development, but beyond that? I would recall that the original article in the Marine Corps Gazette which I read back in 1989 was simply a list of possible future scenarios, hardly a "theory" at all. What gave 4GW the status of "theory" was the incorporation of Martin van Crefeld's "The Transformation of War" thesis which Imo was a polemic as I've written in the past . . .

      So, in all a reified concept that hides more than it illuminates . . .

    2. Mike,

      Good point. I too believe that 4GW implies an evolution that isn't there...but I do like the way it begins to classify what I can expect from certain "types" of enemies. The USSR was a 2/3G adversary because their society was composed a certain way; structurally dependent, synchronized but not integrated, highly regimented from the top-down. Groups like AQ, and Hezb (or Hezb until the 2000s) are less system dependent, are ad-hoc, demonstrate less compartmentalization and sophistication, and are guided by a "meme" rather than an individual. They are therefore likely to fight a certain way. If we acquiese to the use of "4G" than atleast the lable can be a useful conceptual handle if not semantically accurate.

      Unrelated...but of note...I have decided to stop using undefined terms like "5th gen" to talk about aircraft. I can find no document that deliniates how variouse "generations" of aircraft are uniquely categorized. Same with cell-phones. 1G (1970s) and 2G (1090s) were technical protocols more or less...3 and 4G are gimmicks.

    3. Gentlemen-

      This was very much Col. Lang's point as I recall it. "4GW" was more a marketing term, but also later let the generals off the hook. It sounds cool and of course we now have "5GW" as well, which Lind has trashed. Could "6GW" be that far away . . .

      But the alibi element is there as well . . . if they were dealing with "4GW" in Afghanistan and Iraq, how could they have known, or better prepared for something that was "completely new"? More scams for the rubes . . .

  24. seydlitx: [i][b]The Neocon "evil" is imo simply another label for "absolute enemy". [/b][/i]

    Perhaps, but the article I was speaking of was more concerned with the NeoCon notion that "Good" can only be defined as the opposition to "Evil", not simply "Good" itself. The premise is thus that the NeoCons must always have an "Evil" to oppose in order to be a force of "Good".

    1. Al and Seydlitz

      Good...Schmood, Evil....Knievel! Those words are tossed out by the Neocons (like so much week old Gefiltefish), for La Degustation by the twin party Pols of congresscritterdom.

      The Neocons are not noted for being clever wordsmithies, but rather, for being the targeteers (pretty successful as of late), of the Israelite tails that wag the Murrican Bow Wows. That is their only Mission Order!

      I breathlessly await a riposte from this speakeasy's resident Hasbaras.

  25. Seydlitz -

    I should have quoted the Gazette in my 1 Oct 0850pm comment. Great article there by a Captain Polidora on flaws in 4GW theory. I borrowed heavily.
    It is online, unfortunately a subscription is required.

    As for Lang's analysis, perhaps 4GW ended up as a marketing term. But that is true of all new buzz words in the defense realm. I put little stock in most of what he says, the man is a curmudgeon. That is not a slam BTW, he admits it proudly. His only saving graces are that 1] he campaigns against hasbarat agitprop in our capitol, 2] he occasionally has some good guest posts, and 3] he is a proud Virginian. The rest of his pap is opining of the worst kind IMHO.