Friday, April 18, 2014

The US Needs to Re-discover the Concept of Strategy

There are various definitions of strategy. Basically what I mean here is expressed by a simplified example from Homer. The ten unsuccessful years of the Greek seige of Troy was carried out by force driven by notions of being led by heros/exceptionalism resulting in failure. Compare that to the subsequent Trojan Horse strategy which is far more than a simple ruse. The Greeks are able to turn the Trojan’s own belief system/narrative against them, and the horse is taken into the city to strategic effect. Had the Greeks been able to conquer Troy with force and notions of exceptionalism alone, then strategy would have been unnecessary, but since they were not, strategy became a necessity.
Lets consider strategy as a complex concept of at least three distinct aspects: the first is political context and contingency; the second is dialogue supported by a coherent strategic narrative; and the third is the combined application of various sources of power to achieve an effect greater than the sum of those sources, that is strategic effect. If we combine these three aspects we can conceptualize a test of opposing wills interacting over time applying various moral and material resources within a specific political context. The environment they operate in is one of uncertainty, violence and danger adding to the friction of the entire sequence. The goal is imposing one’s will over that of the enemy, but for the whole complex interaction to be coherent, certain criteria have to be met. Is the political purpose attainable by military means? Are other forms of power more appropriate? Is the purpose worth the possible cost? Who is the enemy exactly? A modern state? A tribe? An ideology?
Following Clausewitz, war belongs to political relations, so the enemy is by nature a political one, representing a political community. What is the nature of this political community, is it cohesive or fragmented to the point that it is the foreign presence which actually calls it into being? Dialogue is the interaction of both sides, but narrative includes all audiences involved including the home front, the enemy population and neutral political communities. One can see here how the moral and material cohesion of the two or more political communities influences the number of audiences we are dealing with.
Back in the day, the end of the Cold War and the First Gulf War of 1990-91, we as political/military institutions in the US understood what strategy was and what it could do. The resolution of the Cold War was all about strategy, and we can see how all three of the main aspects were dealt with adequately in both that confrontation and in the First Gulf War. All the self-delusional blather post 1990 of how "we won the Cold War" missed the most important point of all. By using strategy and focusing on other sources of Western power, military force was unnecessary, would in fact have been a strategic failure had in been used in Europe. The First Gulf War illustrates this as well. Viewed as a failure by the Cheneyites (exclusive focus on force and US exceptionalism), the war actually illustrates a clear strategic success for the US given the three aspects of strategy. That US policy after the war was a failure is a separate issue.
So based on our conceptual model, we can deduce that strategy requires a clear and specific political context, you cannot have a strategy to simply remain the only superpower on earth, or engage against methods such as terrorism or extremism. All of these are simply too abstract to be engaged in any way by strategy since the political contexts are too broad or nonexistent. How could the lone superpower prepare against any conceivable challenge from any rising political community, let alone engage a method of violence, strategically?
Re-discovering strategy allows us to look more critically at both our recent wars in terms of political context. What was the political purpose which we expected to achieve by especially military means in Afghanistan and Iraq? It seems to have been to remake both the Afghan and Iraqi political identities, since only that would have assured the success of the new governments we wished to impose.
From this perspective, not only Afghanistan and Iraq, but also more recent possible US military action regarding Syria, Iran or in support of the current Ukrainian government are all astrategic. None of them are coherent in any of the three aspects I have introduced.
To illustrate this, let’s quickly consider Iraq. Iraq was initially portrayed as a looming threat. Operations commenced in 2002, although for some reason US and coalition air activity over Iraq was uniquely not considered military action. In the following spring, the country was quickly overrun, but the political purpose of imposing a new Iraqi political identity (as symbolized by the white, blue and yellow flag they were expected to adopt) was quite radical requirring sustained and extensive US moral and material support. An Iraqi resistance movement quickly spread with the US leadership caught by surprise. No strategy went into the planning of this campaign, instead it was based on a preference on organized violence linked with ideological assumptions regarding the market system as well as US exceptionalism.
What we have experienced since 9/11 is not strategy, but the collapse of strategy as a coherent concept in US policy formulation producing a series of astrategic spasoms involving organized violence but to no US strategic effect. Instead we only have the aftereffects, the knock off of the corruption of these events contributing to a dissolution of US political standing in the world.


  1. I think the looming problems here for the U.S. are large enough so as to make this difficult, if not impossible. They include:

    1. The lack of historical and political experience at crafting a strategic goal/goals.

    Outside the Cold War - which was "easy" in one sense (in that there was a well-defined enemy and a strategic framework ("containment") that was both do-able and flexible enough to be applicable in highly varied locales and situations - I can't think of another period where the U.S. has had a really coherent geopolitical strategy.

    Prior to 1945 there was no real need for one. All we had was "manifest destiny", a sort of strategic plan for continental expansion on the one hand, and the Monroe Doctrine, the strategic guideline for hemispheric defense, on the other.

    This doesn't really give the U.S. much to go by. The European countries, OTOH, have centuries of experience managing strategies between rival powers and in various spheres from domestic/border disputes to regional concerts to overseas empires.

    2. I see a genuine issue with defining "national interests" that ties in with your formulation of "Cheneyism".

    Certainly I see how certain groups of political elites could pull together a semi-coherent strategic vision; the old Cold Warriors as a new "containment" of whatever enemy-de-jour they gin up, whether it's Russia or China or some Islamic Caliphate fantasy. Liberal interventionists might see a strategy of "democracy-promotion" that would involve organizing against the Kims and the Assads and the Gaddafis - or even Putins - of the world.

    But I'm not sure that they - any of these "theys" - could sell this to the U.S. public without the sort of monsterous propaganda noisemaking you posit the Cheneyites as using to buy time and money for their Most Excellent Middle Eastern Adventure.

    Even with that, all that would need to happen would be an Iraq-like failure to pull the whole edifice down in ruins.

    The U.S. is perhaps as polarized as it has ever been since 1859. I'm not sure that you could get any real broad-based acceptance of a geopolitical strategy of the containment sort today short of clear evidence of some foreign danger.


    1. The Monroe doctrine qualifies as grand strategy.
      The Banana Wars followed an easily identifiable pattern.
      So did the Indian Wars.
      The establishment of the United Nations in '44 with the solidified great power dominance through the UNSC qualifies as an (abortive) strategy as well.

    2. Confusion of strategy with policy. The Monroe Doctrine was US policy as stated in December 1823, not a grand strategy in any sense of the term. US interventions in the Western Hemisphere in support of US commercial interests . . . no grand strategy there either . . .

      Indian wars? Force, mixed with notions of US exceptionalism and Western notions of civilization, which is hardly limited to the US. But not a strategy.

  2. Add to that my question would be - what IS the U.S. strategic role, if not as the "global superpower"?

    If it's not that then the next-most-logical strategic formulation would be as a primus inter pares of some sort of Western/democratic coalition, with the liberal democracies of Western Europe as its most logical allies.

    But that would involve a) giving the Euro powers some sort of role to play in developing U.S. foreign policy as well as b) alloting political power in the alliance by some formula outside military strength.

    Putting it bluntly, it would involve listening to other, allied, powers and even potentially subjugating American political and military goals and even armed forces to an alliance leadership that might NOT be "led" by an American...

    And I'm not sure but, again, I have real doubts whether you could sell a substantial proportion of the U.S. public on that...

    Here's an example of the sort of thing I'm thinking of.

    One of the main drivers of the recent Middle Eastern disasters was the conviction of the Cheneyites that you could use military force to reverse the trend of radical islamicization unleashed by the repeated defeats (by Israel and the Western Powers) of the secular governments of the Arab Middle East.

    The problem, as they found out, is that there are some political developments (or movements, or powers) that are nearly intractable. The power of religious politics in the Middle East has become toxically strong, largely because the secular governments left behind after docolonialization proved to be disasterously weak, corrupt, and venal.

    And then there was the lingering problem of Israel. IT couldn't be abandoned, even though the difficulty of getting any sort of Arab compliance without fatally compromising the secular Arab governments in the eyes of their own peoples was clarly obvious.

    So...the problem with ANY U.S. strategy in the Middle East was that - given the goals the U.S. desired (a peaceful coexistence between the Arab states and Israel as well as a pro-American stance to the regional governments) there was almost no "good option". To get Israel's neighbors to play nice required Arab governments that would need to quash any sort of anti-Israeli/anti-U.S. movement. Because most of the genuine opinion in those nations WAS and is anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. the sorts of people that the U.S. could persuade/buy/suborn into those governments were inevitably the second-raters. Because of THAT more and more U.S. "strategy" in the Middle East devolved into pouring money and guns into these craptacular despots. Because of THAT the backlash and defenestration of many of those despots, from Tehran to Cairo, was inevitable.

    So I think you've got the first part of the problem laid out.

    The next part would be "what is - or are- the sorts of goals that the U.S. should pursue in the 21st Century, and are their any potential strategies that might work to accomplish these goals.

    And as the Middle Eastern example shows; that might be damned deadly difficult...

    1. "what IS the U.S. strategic role, if not as the "global superpower"?"

      Wrong question.
      Foreign policy isn't about role-playing or acting. It's about pursuit of interests.

      There's little good going to come from policy elites who don't value the concept of cost/benefit, who know too little about the outside world and who disrespect too much of the outside world.

      Elites-driven foreign policy is too often influences by sociological affinity; old rich men in suits preferring old rich men in suits as partners.

    2. "Foreign policy isn't about role-playing or acting. It's about pursuit of interests"

      Yep. That's why I said in the first part of this comment: "I see a genuine issue with defining "national interests""

      That's kind of my point to this whole business: IMO the problem that seydlitz points up is a real one, but one that may not be so much a matter of technical correction but fundamental problems with the system of U.S. governance.

      I agree with you the "little good" is going to come to me or mine as a result of the U.S. political elite class pursuing their interests. Indeed, it already hasn't; our political choices to pursue the economic goals of being able to import lots of cheap plastic crap whilst draining industrial and commercial domestic jobs had been disastrous for my social class.

      The rentier class? Not so much.

      So one of the most crippling problems I see with formulating the notion of "interests" is; what IS my country's "national interest"? Is it keeping wages low in Haiti and the PRC so I can buy cheap crap at WalMart? But why should I cant that, if it means that I'm going to have to take Haitian wages here in the U.S. just to keep a job?

    3. For starters, the U.S: should settle on either the rule of (international) law or the rule of force. It's not going to be able to keep the hypocrisy up; forcing rule of law on others, ignoring IL at will and then pretend one is a 'world policeman'. Developed countries have a different idea of what a policeman does.

      I think the stability and reliability is offered by rules is what the U.S. needs in its trade relationships more than a navy patrolling all oceans. It's also much, much cheaper.

      But you cannot -in the long term- sabotage a system and benefit of it. That's at best free-loading on the system-repair efforts of others.

    4. The problem with that, Sven, is that "international law" provides a fulcrum for the militarily and politically weak to lever the U.S. in ways that are often unlikely to appeal to certain subsets of the elites that govern the U.S., and therefore unless there is a significant change in those elites their preference for being free to use the rifle when the treaty won't accomplish their goals is unlikely to change.

      Again; what I'm saying here is that you are correct in the sense that I agree with you - it does ME personally no good for my country to flail militarily about the globe. When I think of the wars that my country has fought during my lifetime what benefit have I or other people in my circumstances derived from them?

      How did intervening in the Vietnamese Civil War - given that there never was a reasonable possibility of a "good" outcome short of some sort of insane WW3 committment - "help" me? Maybe it helped my old man sell some nitrocellulose...

      Or the DomRep in '63? Lebanon and Grenada in '81? Panama in '89? You could say that '91 just restored the status quo that our idiotic handling of Saddam upset. Iraq? Afghanistan? Libya? the study I mention below points out - "I" don't matter at this point. Short of me and millions like me literally taking to the streets (since the whole point of oligarchy is that it becomes impossible to change the oligarchy from within...) the people who DO matter like the current system and are unlikely to want to change it...

  3. Chief makes a great point. Until 1945, the US did not seek to be a world power. It was thrust upon us, and it was intoxicating and addictive. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have had two choices, cold turkey detox, or find substitute narcotics. Problem is, that once you are hooked on heroin, lesser narcotics don't do the trick, and one's behavior becomes irrational due to the ongoing let down.

    We don't want, as a nation, to be just another "citizen" of the world. Hell, look at the way we treat "just citizens" at home. No, the American dream is power, not equality. Dominance, not compassion. Power at home, and power on the world stage. And what is the ultimate in "power" That of determining life or death. Lethal force is glorified in response to purse snatching, for crap's sake. A life for an eye and a life for a tooth. Now that's power.

    We don't want to be equals, we want to dominate. That's why we back second raters. We are bullies in search of a mark.

  4. And re: Sven's observations:

    Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

    Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

    "The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

    So it appear that at the current time it's not so much a question of whether the U.S.'s foreign policy will be driven by "policy elites who don't value the concept of cost/benefit, who know too little about the outside world and who disrespect too much of the outside world." but WHICH of these elites will manipulate the levers of power, and how.

  5. Gentlemen-

    We are experiencing the worst international crisis in some time. It's been a long time since Russian and NATO forces were in a political context where war was an actual possibility. The Cuban missile crisis comes to mind. There were reports of a carrier battle group being ordered to the Black Sea. Those are nukes boys. The CIA Director goes on a "secret" mission to Kiev . . . Reports in the German press about the opposition snipers of 20 Feb . . .

    So following the argument of this post, from a strategic theory perspective, the US is in a situation today with out the ability of generating any strategic effect. No dynamic achieved through coordinated use of power in pursuit of political purpose. Whatever the US is able to achieve will be through force, bribery, coercion, deceit, rather than any form of soft power or attraction. Residuals of course exist, but essentially we've lost most of our attraction due to a whole range of issues.

    BHO is probably expecting that President Putin will back down and allow him a diplomatic "triumph". However this goes it will be a disaster for the US.

    So the obvious question at this point is what next?

    1. As Gwynne Dyer suggests, the west will think of what Putin wants them to do.. and then they will do it.

    2. "Stupid puppet government" perhaps . . .

  6. "Dialogue" is important to the general concept since it includes the actual element of fighting. Notice the emphasis here is on "sausion", propaganda and coercion. Destruction when employed is expected to send a message.

  7. Interesting panel discussion on one of the English language Euro News stations last night. The panelists were disputing the notion of a new "Cold War" arising from the Ukraine mess. One panelist pointed out that Russia was, effectively, a "modest regional power". This led another to talk about how following the fall of the Soviet Union, the US figured the world, by default, should have simply lined up with the "winner" - the US. After all, "The American way triumphed". Never did America seriously consider that it wasn't a victory of the "American way", but just the failure of a corrupt, communist state.

    That led to a discussion of how America, in it's post Soviet glory, couldn't even tolerate the emergence of regional powers not client to the US, however unimposing those powers may be. The famous GWB, "You are either with us or against us", was thrown out. And, with terrorism becoming a popular method, one pundit offered that it made any and all contrarian groups rise to the level of existential threats, simply because they could inflict some pain.

    I wondered, how can you think strategically when the normal state of the world, wherein not everyone is going to agree with you, poses, by our wacky definition, a threat.

  8. "The ruling class in a state not only is required to struggle within the state for a particular program, that is, carry out a domestic policy determined by its interests, but is also required to defend its interests in relations with other states, that is, carry out of a foreign policy. The latter is obviously determined by the domestic interests of the ruling class and is a logical extension of domestic policy. But it also depends on the directions of the policies of other states. The domination of a ruling class is strong only when it does not interpret its interests too narrowly: the hegemony which guides foreign policy cannot sacrifice the interests of the common historical whole without causing a fatal crisis."
    Alexander Svechin, "Strategy", p 82

    One of the reasons I think the US has lost the ability to do strategy is that our elite is unable to think in terms of US national interest. They can think in terms of their own narrow interests, but national interests, that promote the interests of the American political community as a whole? Forgetaboutit . . .

    1. Excellent point Seydlitz.

      And the reason of the inability to consider the "national" interest comes from the incredibly solid foundation securing the USA and its jostling elites.

      Focusing on the "national interest" simply makes you a pansy for those pursuing their own interests. Worse, it makes you unpredictable and you will be abandoned in favor of those who engage in simple quid pro quo politics.

    2. Yes, we have to be the greatest! And being the greatest is having the largest military, since that is after all what "won" the Cold War, right? And since we have to remain the greatest . . . ever expanding military capabilities are necessary, at any cost . . . and here is where American exceptionalism comes in again since no cost could be too great . . . oh the money to be made . . .

  9. I can see France sensing a national interest: "Liberty, equality, fraternity". I can see Canada sensing a national interest: "Peace, order and good governance". Both of which tend towards the collective well being.

    "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" connotes no such notion of collective well being.

  10. There may be some in this country that believe we should be the world's policeman". But there are many, many more who agree with our first President that we should avoid all foreign entanglements. That strategy served us well. I think it was WW1 that started us down the other road. Marshal Foch was the architect of victory but you could not tell that to our admirers of Black Jack Pershing. And then the Red Scare of 1919 completely changed our world view.

  11. Al-

    . . . depressing isn't it?


    Welcome to MilPub, give us a name . . .

  12. seydlitz-

    We occasionally bump into Yanks vacationing here. Most of the time, they query, "How do you get along without.....", or "how do you deal with the substandard....", etc. Typically, they are dead wrong in the notion presented. Another "standard" query is, "How many Americans are here." When we answer that we don't know, then they immediately ask, "Then who do you socialize with?" Parochialism, at best, and xenophobia at worst. Many also assume we are here for a cheaper cost of living or to evade taxes. "Otherwise, why would you leave the US?" Meanwhile, we just enjoy life amongst some of the finest people in the world.

  13. Al-

    I know what you are talking about, I've experienced that. On the other hand I do know Americans who live here, and nobody's talking about going back . . .

  14. I would add, that there seems to be a good bit of actual dissent in the US. In spite of the level of say anti-Russian propaganda, there is seemingly a significant number of people who are not buying into the projected narrative . . .

    S. Cohen's most recent interview if you have not seen it . . .

    I thought the reaction from readers of this pro-Kiev article quite interesting . . .

    If you check out any of the hawkish editorials or opinion pieces on the NYT site . . . you see the same response. Check out the reader's picks and see how many trash the NYT view . . .

    The narrative projected by the US government is no longer coherent and simply repeating it over and over will no longer suffice. Too many things have happened . . .

  15. There is no shortage of fools, is there?


  16. And Corker will probably become head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should the GOP win the Senate in November . . . but then why shouldn't he? . . . he ranks high within the legion of Cheney's useful idiots . . .

  17. seydlitz - anon @ 1:57 on the 19th was me. Sorry, I have been on the road so did not have a lot of time.

    Jim Holmes has an interesting article on strategic misdirection that ties in with your comment on Troy. He posits that there may be religious origins to why western strategic thinkers are uneasy with misdirection.

  18. Zenpundit has a very positive review up on this post . . .

    Thanks zen!

  19. Mike-

    The West is heavily influenced by Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of "Just War", which addresses both the "right" to go to war (jus ad bellum), and acceptable conduct in war (jus in bellum). Amongst the principles of jus in bellum is a prohibition of means that are evil (or wrong) in themselves. Perhaps the basis for the notion of being "gentlemanly in war"?

    Some scholars and theologians described Augustine as being deeply concerned with "guilt" and thus how one is absolved of said guilt, and "just war doctrine" is seen, by some, as simply a way to ease the "guilt" associated with the killing and destruction involved in war. Both individual "guilt" and the "guilt" of the state.

    I studied under scholars who said that Luther, Calvin and other Reformation leaders were more Augustinian, when it came to sin and guilt, than the Roman Catholic Church he was part of. Augustine did subscribe to the notion of universal, collective and inherited guilt from the “sin of Adam and Eve”. And, is there not a notion of collective and inherited guilt upon all Jews for the Crucifixation of Christ? Thus, is it far fetched that there be a notion of “collective innocence”, particularly in dealing with something as horrible as war?

    Consequently, the "motives of the state” become a significant focus of "just war", and the individual need simply respect the limits in means he or she employs. Thus, killing is OK if it done by accepted rules as a soldier of a state conducting a just war. And, to some, the soldier is also free from guilt if his participation is forced. A logic that says something like serving was, itself, an act of “self defense” in the face of government dictates. “If I refuse to serve, I will die, but if I do serve, I might not die.”

    Back to the more modern manifestations of “Just War”. I can easily see where it can become, under an extension of Augustinian logic, that a “state”, society, or individual, might base the morality of means employed on the nature of the opposition’s use of means. If the only way I can defend myself, or the innocent, is to use means as debased as those who threaten the innocent, then it is not I who has debased the conflict.

    To me, the whole notion of “the state” being a responsible entity is about as far fetched as corporations having a form of personhood for free speech. And when corporations or states are being viewed in religious terms, even more so. But more on that in a bit.

  20. It is a mistake to identify "Just War Doctrine" as a "Christian" doctrine. Actually, it is only a Western Christian doctrine. I would pause here to offer a very excellent description of Eastern (i.e. the Orthodox) versus Western Christianity by the eminent historian and theologian, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

    The difference between Eastern and Western Christianity is not simply that the answers are different. More fundamental is that many of the questions are different.

    Just as Eastern Christianity never accepted Augustine’s notions of inherited or collective guilt, it holds no notion of war being “just”. In the Orthodox Tradition, war cannot be "justified" in the sense of it being excusable before God via rational, set rules, or the claimed righteousness of the motives of the state. War is pure and simple killing, and killing is “sinful”. The conflict is between the moral requirement to protect the innocent and/or self and the means necessary to do so, and the answer, in spiritual terms, cannot be given in advance.

    Unlike the West, Orthodoxy has no notion of the "guilt or innocence" of a state. The state has no "soul" and will not stand before The Judgment Seat at the Second Coming to defend its actions. Only individuals will be judged. Individuals who lead the state, as well as individuals who did, or did not, do the state's bidding. Thus, killing is always “sinful”, but when “provoked” in self defense or protection of the innocent, it may be forgiven, a decision by The Almighty at the final judgment, not man. In simplest terms, each soldier is accountable for his own actions, without regard to the “state”. And those actions will be judged based upon “purity of heart”. The admonition is to never let military duty turn one’s heart to hatred or bloodlust towards the “enemy”. The primary goal is not to “defeat the enemy” but to hopefully “turn his heart to peace”. (Yeah, I know there have been some contradictory cases, especially in the Balkans, but I am speaking of the centuries long teachings of the Eastern Church, not local abberations.)

    It is this underlying idea that contributed to the Soviets' need to cripple the Russian Orthodox Church, as there was no way to get the Church to support military activity in the manner of a "just war" by a given state, and the last thing Stalin wanted was people believing that they would be accountable to God without regard to the actions of the state, or to shift their “sin” away from themselves to the state. However, as things were going downhill in Operation Barbarossa, Stalin needed all the help he could get, and he did approach the Patriarch of Moscow about restoring some form of chaplaincy to the Red Army.

    How desperate was Stalin? Desperate enough to allow the Patriarch to announce the Church’s provision of “spiritual care” to troops on the Patriarch’s terms. Thus, they appeared publicly, with Stalin one step to the rear, as the Patriarch announced that The Church would provide priests to assist troops wrestling with the grave burden of “protecting the innocents of Russia” by force of arms from the advancing Nazis. The Patriarch made it clear it was not in “support of any government”, but to help troops act out of love and compassion for the “innocents” and not out of hatred for their foe. This did, indeed, bolster the will of the portion of the population with religious concerns.

    Where am I going with all this? Stay tuned.

  21. Al-

    From a traditional Christian perspective, is not the state something of this world, that is by nature profane? "Render unto Caesar . . . "

    Byzantium however made the emperor responsible for the care of the temporal world, whereas the church was responsible for the spiritual, thus the unity of state and church, but this was most of all a political development and very supportive of the Empire, and later of course the Third Rome . . .

  22. What tends to be lost in the understanding of the role of the emperor and the role of the Church was that the emperor was called upon to enforce man's law. The Church was there to assist man in following God's law. Violation of the former was temporally "punished", and violation of the latter was to be addressed at the Last Judgment. The Church/State did not engage in "enforcing" Christianity until much later, and then primarily in the West. e.g. - The Inquisition, Protestant punishing "heresy" by death and the like.

    Secular rulers of early "Christian Nations", such as Byzantium, "protected" the Church, but did not rule it nor "enforce" Christianity. The secular and religious worked side by side for the benefit of mankind.

    It's a nuanced thing, but similar to Mother Theresa. She did not include nor require spreading the doctrines of the Catholic Church as part of her primary goal of ministering to the needy. Rather, only if asked why she did what she did, would she say it was due to her faith and desire to be a Christian in her deeds. Thus, if one found such a belief system attractive, they might inquire further.

    A stark contrast to many other "Christian" missionary activities which are primarily focused on gaining converts, and simply use the ameliorating of suffering as a foot in the door.

  23. One needs to be careful about historically dividing church and state. It is no accident that the pope walks around with a stick and orb much like the roman emperors did.

    Also, note the weaseling inherent 'render unto Caesar..." Jesus was very careful *not* to define exactly what was Caesars and what wasn't. Subsequent church leaders were in no hurry to clarify matters either.

    1. I always thought the meaning behind Mark 12:17 and Matthew 22:21 quite clear. Yes, the quote comes up in two of the Gospels and both have the same context, a trap set by the Pharisees, which Jesus effortless avoids . . . totally consistent with His overall message, at least that is what I believed when I was a believer . . . hardly "weaseling" at all . . .

    2. Yes, he avoided the trap. However, note that he doesn't actually answer the (booby-trapped) question put to him. He leaves it to the listener to draw the obvious conclusion (except the obvious conclusion will vary dramatically depending on the listener).

  24. Let me expand and emphasize a bit. Considering that Christianity is 2100 years old, then the notion or practice of Churches attempting to enforce religious and/or civil law, no less impose temporal punishment is a relatively "new" practice, and only formalized in the West. At its core Christianity holds that failure to follow gets its just desserts in the afterlife, which, in their doctrine, is a far greater punishment than can be imposed in life. The denominations of the “Prosperity Gospels” that is that believers will reap great rewards in their life, is a very recent manifestation

    The line between church and state began to get blurred when temporal punishment got mixed into the equation in the West in the second millennium, primarily as a result of the Church of Rome filling the void in civil administration in states that had effectively failed during the Middle Ages.

    "Excommunication", for example, was not originally a penalty imposed upon wrong doers, but the term used to describe the state one puts oneself in when one's voluntary behavior breaks them from communion with the Christian community. As the functioning of the Western Church became more juridical, then it became a formalized, imposed punishment.

    A good example of the merging of civil and religious roles can be seen in the marriage ceremony. For centuries, the "legality" of marriage was strictly a civil issue. People went to the appropriate civil authority, got "married" and then there was a church service blessing that union. When the Roman Church had the burden of civil administration imposed upon it, that meant, for example, you went to see Fr Gino, the local civil registrar on Wednesday at “city hall” to get "married", and then on Sunday, that same Fr Gino officiated at the church blessing service. For practical reasons, the Roman Church simply altered the civil law to allow the clergy to do both the legal and the religious tasks simultaneously in the church service. Eventually, that involved the Roman Church in the issue of whether or not to "recognize" or allow the state to allow divorce.

    In the Eastern Church, which never served as the civil authority, civil and religious marriage are two separate issues. Many Eastern Churches still let the civil marriage be conducted only by civil authorities, as clergy are barred by canon law from being civil authorities, except under very unusual circumstances. In the past three centuries, in an accommodation of coexisting with Western Churches, some Eastern Churches do allow the priest to conduct the civil portion, but it is a separate service, done outside the actual sanctuary of the church. The couple then enters the church as man and wife for the blessing of the civil union. The Eastern Churches, similarly, never involved themselves in the issue of whether or not the state could provide legal divorces.

    As the formal intertwining of Church and State in the West was replaced by re-establishment of secular civil government, however, the lines had been far to blurred. While the Canons required the clergy to cease being civil authorities when the "emergency" ended, the Church's involvement could not be so easily and abruptly terminated. And, with the Reformers, by whom the Canons were rejected, clergy could freely be, and were encouraged to become, civil authorities. Thus, many Western states began carrying out a moral agenda with denominational religion at its core.

    While relations between Church and State in the lands of the Eastern Churches were at times cooperative, never were they as intertwined or interchangeable. Further, the Eastern Churches were never subjected to the influences of the "Dark Ages", Reformation, Counter-reformation and the "Enlightenment", which had a major impact on Western Christianity.

  25. So, where has all this "Church and State" been going? I have posted about this next paragraph in the past.

    If there is any article I have read that I wish I had kept, it was one by an academic, who’s name escapes me, detailing how he saw the rise of the NeoCons as one of a movement that saw life as a “battle between good and evil “. Or, perhaps more precisely, between people who were “good” and people who were “evil”, not a struggle by individuals to seek to be good and resist evil within themself. And, a major theme was that for “good” to exist, “evil” must also exist to oppose. Consequently, the more extreme understanding of such a world is that if one opposes “evil”, one is, by definition, “good”, and the greater the “evil” one opposes, the more one is “good”. Thus, striking out at a “great evil” is a higher achievement of “good”, than, perhaps simply feeding the poor. Thus, we had Reagan’s “Evil Empire” and GWB’s “Axis of Evil”, both of which had to be destroyed or at least toppled.

    Now, this whole issue of “good” and “evil” is interesting in political terms, as the civil law really only identifies “lawful” and “unlawful”. It is the religious element that adds the label of “good” to “lawful” and “evil” to unlawful. But even more insidious is the drive to make anything considered “evil” into “unlawful. Consequently, for example, the “evil” of homosexuality is addressed as a legal matter by religious conservatives, just as they wish to outlaw the “evil” evolution being taught in public schools.

    As an aside, jim and Lisa refer to Florida politicians as “mean spirited”. I would offer that the willful denial of medical coverage to the least among us, while still “lawful”, is effectively “evil”, and a uniquely American phenomenon in the industrialized world.

    In American culture, there is a significant element that promotes responding to virtually any level of “evil” or perceived wrong doing with violence. Justification or glorification of lethal force against a purse snatcher. “Stand your ground laws”. Road rage. Disproportionately harsh prison sentences. Killing potential terrorists. Accepting collateral killing of those who “choose to be near evil people”. “Evil” must be eradicated. Not by “enlightenment” or “turning their hearts to peace”, as I mentioned above. It’s as if “evil” is incurable.

    How does this pertain to America’s lack of strategic direction? Because such a mindset is not indicative of promoting the general well being or promoting compliance with civil law, but simply stamping out identified “evils” and “evil doers”. Never does it dawn upon such absolutists that indifference to suffering is not “good”. Had the suffering in Syria been due to drought or massive crop failures, it hardly would have been o blip on the NeoCon radar. But an armed conflict between a “despot” and “the people”, and suddenly there is an “evil” side to rail against and destroy or defeat. Doesn’t matter that the situation in Syria poses no existential threat to the US. In fact, there are currently no existential threats to the US. But there is more than enough arbitrarily defined “evil” out there to keep us occupied.

    I wish I could say that America is simply engaging in Whack-a-Mole, but it’s not even as elegant as that. While Whack-a-Mole provides an endless supply of moles, there is an end to the game. Rather, this obsession with “evil” simply has us bouncing from pillar to post, with no real coherent and comprehensive idea of what we want our country, no less the world to be. Each individual may know what he or she wants, but for many, the interests and aspirations of others are meaningless, especially if it takes collective contribution to achieve such ends.

  26. "What tends to be lost in the understanding of the role of the emperor and the role of the Church was that the emperor was called upon to enforce man's law. The Church was there to assist man in following God's law. Violation of the former was temporally "punished", and violation of the latter was to be addressed at the Last Judgment. The Church/State did not engage in "enforcing" Christianity until much later, and then primarily in the West. e.g. - The Inquisition, Protestant punishing "heresy" by death and the like."

    Mmmm...I dunno, Al. I think that the tradition of the State acting as the "secular arm" of the Church - whatever church, tho at least until the Reformation it was the Roman Catholic Church - goes a bit further back than that.

    Specifically, after the ascension of Constantine I to the Roman imperium among the first of his political acts was the suppression of the "other" forms of Chrstianity. Cohen (1998) gives the details: "One of the first things Constantine does, as emperor, is start persecuting other Christians. The Gnostic Christians are targeted...and other dualist Christians. Christians who don't have the Old Testament as part of their canon are targeted. There's a kind of internal purge of the church as one emperor ruling one empire tries to have this single church as part of the religious musculature of his vision of a renewed Rome."

    By the late 4th Century it's official; Priscillian, bishop of Ávila, gets the chop for heresy (officially the charge was witchcraft) five years after Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II all jointly issue the "Edict of Thessalonica" making anything but Nicene Christinanity illegal and handing the heretics over to the "civil power" for punishment. The actual text reads:

    "We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict."

  27. "How does this pertain to America’s lack of strategic direction? Because such a mindset is not indicative of promoting the general well being or promoting compliance with civil law, but simply stamping out identified “evils” and “evil doers”

    However, it's an odd coincidence that the "evildoers" - at least for the conservative neoCons - always seem to be those whose "evil" seems to consist of a) threatening U.S. political and economic interests in the Middle East, specifically 2) some sort of anti-American (or anti-Israeli and anti-American) Islamic outfit.

    Pretty much 99% of the fiddle-fucking around the U.S. has done between the Persian Gulf and the eastern Med over the past 70 years has come down to that...

    Add to that the sense of "needing to be the hegemonic power"; a hegemonic power doesn't let regional power centers develop - period - regardless of how inoffensive they may be.

    So I guess I see how a certain slice of the U.S. elites see this as a "strategy"; keep the Allah-pesterers and the anti-Americans down, prop up useful tyrants (or useful democracies - who cares, so long as they loves them some Uncle Sammy, right?), and keep the oil flowing and the profits going...

    I tend to agree that this is a short-sighted "strategy" if it even qualifies as a strategy at all. But I won't say that it somehow violates some sort of long-standing U.S. strategic tradition. Outside of WW2 and the Cold War, can anyone here come up with a period and an issue where the U.S. had "a strategy" or interlinking strategies derived from a genuine calculation of national capabilities, national interests, external allies and threats, and best-cost-to-outcome relations?

  28. And I should throw in that there is also a subset of "interventionst liberals" on the Left that see getting stuck into stuff like the Rwandan genocide, Haitian desuetude, and Syrian civil war as a good idea. But I should note that this critter has never had the power base that the Bushies had from 2000-2008. The closest I can come to as an example of where the "liberal interventionists" had a hand on the instruments of war is the Balkans in the Nineties and Libya. And there they were constrainted to painless (for the U.S.) aerial warmaking. Not exactly the making-our-own-reality fantasies of the Bushies...

  29. FDChief-

    "Outside of WW2 and the Cold War, can anyone here come up with a period and an issue where the U.S. had "a strategy" or interlinking strategies derived from a genuine calculation of national capabilities, national interests, external allies and threats, and best-cost-to-outcome relations?"

    US intervention in the First World War . . . recall from our conscription threads that we are talking about "Plattsburg" here in regards to the US political/economic elite . . .

  30. Chief- There is no "long standing US strategic tradition". WWI, WWII and the Cold War were pretty much thrust upon us while we were basically isolationist. We addressed them in a somewhat strategic fashion. However, even our various overseas adventures outside those three were not as scatter shot and incoherent as what we are experiencing since the fall of the Soviets. It's as if WWII and the Cold war made us "Big Man on the Block", and now we are thrashing about looking for something to be "Big" about. Could it be that the US was never really a first class World Leader, but, rather, exceptionally skilled at reacting to big shit? Take away the big shit, and we start lashing out at anything we can find. And if that lashing is beneficial to Big Biz, Big Oil, so be it. They are not physically at risk.

  31. Al-

    WWI was hardly "thrust upon us" . . .

    Strategy is also contingent, so a "long-standing strategic tradition" would be a plus, but hardly a requirement to form and implement strategy . . . I would also argue that this ability can prove to be fleeting . . . as we see today in not only the US, but Britain as well . . .

  32. My understanding of how the U.S. ended up on the Entente side of WW1 is that it may have been a lot of things but "strategic" - in the sense of "crafting military operations based on achieving a set of well-thought-through political goals" probably wouldn't be a good way of describing it. Wilsonian pinheadedness and emotionalism, German stupidity and arrogance (and the unbelievably, laughably slipshod performance of the Wilhelmstrasse in the Zimmerman Affair...), crafty British diplomacy and skulduggery...and then the ridiculous Wilsonian pontificating about war to end war and the clusterfuck of Versailles...if that was strategy I'm the fucking Dragon King of Bhutan.

    I'll give you WW2 and the Cold War; both more or less forced on the U.S., as Al notes, and handled by a pretty outstanding group of elites, guys like George Marshall and FDR...which, I think, kinda makes my point.

    The bottom line for me is that the short electoral cycle and the overpowering influence that money and power have always had in DC make a genuine popular set of "national interests" almost impossible to either formulate or maintain for long enough to craft any sort of national "strategy". It's not a bug, it's a feature of the way this country works. The exceptions of WW2 and the Cold War serve to proof that rule.

    Today the problem is, if anything, worse - the influence of the elite rentier class has never been greater, the nation as a whole is fractured politically in a way we haven't seen since the Depression, largely due to the whackadoodle Right, the Cliven Bundy Wing of the conservative faction of the U.S. going completely doolally and abandoning any pretense of actual governing. The chances of the current monkeyhouse doing ANYthing sensible, let alone foreign policy?

    I ain't holding my breath.

  33. The Germans were offering an alliance to Mexico in the event of war with the US - sent by coded message . . . "slipshod"? Sounds like you've fallen for the propaganda . . .

    Also US strategy needed the war to achieve their goals which included the defeat of Germany, but were not limited to that. Of far greater importance were the economic and domestic political goals . . . imo.

    Today, any semblance of strategic understanding among the US elite is gone. It's about all about "history's actors making their own reality" . . .

  34. The slipshod part, seydlitz, is that the British were panicked at the possibility that their cryptanalysis would be blown when - in order to establish the bonafides of the telegram - they had to 'fess up to how they had slipped the thing to the Americans.

    But Zimmermann himself blew the gaff, instead. Rather than trying to find out exactly who knew what, when, and how, when he was first asked about it he pretty much said, yep, we did that when he could legitimately tossed into doubt as British disinformation.

    Plus read up on how the thing got intercepted. The Auswartiges Amt was pig-ignorant about the possibility of both interception anjd codebreaking, and then naive about admitting the authenticity. Like I said; slipshod.

    I get that the U.S. had an economic and political stake in the success of the Entente. But other than that what "economic and domestic" political goals hinged on going to war? I'm willing to accept an argument that one of those goals would have included smashing the Socialists and the Left in general through the Espionage and Sedition Acts...but I've never heard anyone argue that those were actually planned rather than targets-of-opportunity...which would kinda fit the whole "making reality" definition, too...

    And given the result of Wilson's prosecution of war and the peace process was isolationism, I'd say that the "strategy" wasn't very successful.

  35. With the war came the end of the Progressive movement. Plattsburg was in part about getting the workers to see the social excellence of the elite and how good, actually "gifted", they were as leaders . . . the stratification of society would be made acceptable to the working class and they would forget about all the socialist stuff. With the war also came the "legal" appropriation of all those German chemical patents, in effect the beginning of the US chemical industry. Commercially, the US hoped to not only displace German goods, but also European goods in the Western Hemisphere.

  36. I'll buy the usefulness of the "war effort" to stifle the Reds. Not convinced that it was as much strategy as tactics developed after the fact, but the war DID have that effect.

    And I've read some accounts about the German chemical formulas, especially dyes, being the target of U.S. industrial espionage - DuPont did some sort of cloak-and-dagger stuff in Germany in the early 20's to grab German chemical secrets...but, again, it seems a trifle farfetched to suggest that the U.S. entered WW1 largely to gain German dye patents and keep German kitchen appliances out of U.S. markets.

    So I still don't see this as convincing evidence that the elites in the U.S. had much of a "strategy" in WW1 other than "for God's sake we can't let our loans to the Entente go down the toilet".

  37. I dunno, I could give some long Walter Karp, or David M. Kennedy quotes . . . The truth is the US Elite of that time, let's refer to the ideology as "Plattsburg".

    The powers that be being of course something else, but at the same time seemingly pretty good at covering up their tracks as one would expect the originators of modern propaganda, that confused mix of symbols, signs, myths and bs . . . the reality of the modern world.