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Commentary on Politics and Strategy

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Infinity Journal has a good article by eminent Clausewitzian strategist Colin Gray on the interrelationship of politics and strategy (free registration required):

Politics, Strategy and the Stream of Time

….Second, many scholars appear to be resistant to the conceptually, perhaps even morally, necessary recognition of the implications of the fact that all ‘policy’ is made by political process, and that that process, everywhere and in all periods, is run and dominated by the people who succeed in being influential over others. The substantive content of policy is made in a process of political negotiation among the people and organizations who contend for power, as they must. Decisions on national defence are taken politically, usually with input from subject-specific experts and interests. But, in all systems of governance politics ultimately rules. Prudent assessment concerning the maintenance of their preeminent popular influence flags to political leaders where the limits of the politically tolerable most probably lie. This is not to be critical, it is simply to recognize that we humans run our affairs, including our security affairs, by the means of a political process that is geared to generate power as influence, not prudent policy. Policy does not emerge, pristine and unsullied by unduly subjective emotions, as the ever dynamic product of objective expert analysis.[xviii] This is not to claim that political process will be indifferent to arguments that are armed with evidence of apparent national danger. But it is to say that strategic theorists and defence analysts (like this author) need to appreciate the humbling professional truth that their contribution to debate on public policy can always be trumped by politics.

Third, civil-military relations may well be said to lie at the heart of strategy, as Eliot Cohen claims, but it would probably be more correct to argue that public political tolerance is as, if not even more, vital.[xix] As a very general rule, people will go only whither they are content to be led. Great leaders always require willing, even if somewhat politically passive, followers. Civil-military relations vary in detail, of course, given the breadth of unique historical circumstance that is their particular foundation in every polity. However, this critically important subject does allow authority to an elementary golden rule: the military power of the state must always be subject to authority that is accepted very widely as politically legitimate. The substantive reason for this is that the well-being of society and state cannot prudently be entrusted, or surrendered, even to their coercive instruments. It is only common sense to deny those coercive instruments the opportunity to be more than they should be, given the temptations to organizational mission creep that can come opportunistically to soldiers. Military culture often differs from public and private political culture(s), and it would be imprudent to have one’s national security policy and strategy decided by professional military experts (or their civilian defence analytical associates and frequent functional allies). The price one pays for insisting upon civilian political authority over defence matters is, naturally, necessarily an acceptance ultimately of the sovereignty of a public political will that is ever likely to be inadequately understanding of security problems. It is worth noting that the danger of undue military influence over the policy realm is understandably enhanced when the polity is committed to war (even only to ‘armed politics’ or ‘politics with arms’). However, the peril to civilian (political) supremacy in war lies not only in the scope and weight of the burdens of actual armed conflict, but also in the nature of war itself. By this I mean that the balance of relative influence between the civilian and the soldier is likely to alter simply because of the dynamic and ever unpredictable course of a (necessarily unique) particular war. Whatever the constitutional niceties and formalities in relations, in wartime the state can find itself serving the present and near-term future apparent necessities of a conflict that has evolved beyond expectation, let alone confident anticipation. There is in effect a natural and inevitable tendency for the needs of an on-going conflict to subordinate and even subvert civilian society so that national priorities are reordered more and more in practice in favour of the plausible necessities of war. Not infrequently in strategic history, this re-prioritization in favour of the military security interest has occurred with good enough reason. My point is that even when military leaders are not seeking to reduce or subvert civilian political authority, a context of armed conflict may itself achieve that end.

I think in the second paragraph Gray is correct in the broad historical sense of major wars and existential conflicts. As violence escalates, the war tends to become a Darwinian (or Clausewitzian) ratchet turning in the direction toward “absolute war“. We can see examples of this tendency in historical conflicts as diverse as the Peloponnesian War, the Punic Wars, the Thirty Year’s War and of course, the Second World War, which culminated in nuclear fire.

Curiously,the United States since the end of WWII has had the exact opposite tendency than the one described by Gray: the politicization of war as a mere prop for or tool of civilian domestic politics -and strategy being subordinated to (increasingly trivial) political matters- without regard to combat effectiveness, the external strategic effects or the ultimate outcome of victory or defeat. There are, in my view, many reasons for this. Most of them are particular to the sad state of American culture and our current generation of “leaders”, but some are intrinsic to the epistemological natures of strategy and politics themselves.

Strategy, if it is to be done well, requires a clarity of vision that is willing to strip away cherished illusions, unfounded assumptions and more intentional forms of intellectual dishonesty. This is because making effective strategic decisions depend upon having a realistic calculus of actual and potential power, situational probabilities, material resources, psychological frameworks and other variables with which to work. In a trite and overused phrase, strategy has to be “reality-based” in the sense of being empirical, to the greatest extent feasible, even as it tries to shape future outcomes. As strategy is an iterative process and in warfare something done by tactics, the feedback provided by combat (“lessons learned”) and intelligence about the enemy needs to be understood in context as accurately as possible. This means that enforcing party-lines, shooting the messenger, “not-invented-here” syndrome, putting turf battles over real ones and bowing to ideological fantasies (“the Slavs are subhumans”, “they will greet us with flowers”, “they are only agrarian reformers”) in making strategic assessments is inherently a form of self-defeating intellectual derangement, a willful blindness likely to bring loss or even ruin.

By contrast, Politics is not harmed by expressions of fabulism, mythmaking, self-delusion or the construction of elaborate, closed systems of thought predicated upon ideological fantasies. Arguably, such visions are empowering and inspiring by helping to craft an attractive narrative that men find compelling, unifying and motivating to action, including the will to power or a call to arms to stand, fight and die in a “higher” cause.  That political ideas may only bear a passing resemblance to reality or may be entirely composed of ahistorical nonsense, irrational hatreds and conspiracy theories is not always relevant to their memetic success or failure. To a degree, the process of political radicalization itself, as ideas become more extreme and demanding, tend to attract the kind of true believer personalities given to turning the ideas into violent or even apocalyptic action. Furthermore the intensity of belief or the closed system nature of the ideology tends to make the followers anti-empirical – highly resistant to information (or even the outcomes of physical reality) that run contrary to deeply held beliefs, as seen in the historical examples of die-hard Communists, Imperial Japanese ultranationalists and fanatical Nazis.

If politics trumps strategy then strategy can only prosper if the political mind is rationally sound.

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Marx repeats itself

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an irresistible application of the DoubleQuotes method to a well-worn aphorism ]
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History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farceKarl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remediesGroucho

With appreciation of the wit and skill of artist David Levine and the New York Review of Books

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A racist form of Odinism and the Kansas shootings

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- still convinced we don't known nearly enough about religion -- with a quick look at the Kansas shooting ]
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The victims:

The victims of the Overland Park Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom shootings weren’t even Jewish, they were Christians — as the NYT reported:

A few hours later, a handcuffed Mr. Miller was shouting allegiance to Hitler, while three white people, two Methodists and a Catholic, lay dead.

**

The autobiography:

Religion is in fact key to an understanding of the events in Overland Park.

Frazier Glenn Miller, one time leader of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and virulent online Antisemite arrested for the Overland Park shootings shooter appears to have misjudged the religion of those he killed — but if we were to assume he was himself a Christian, we would as surely misjudge his religion. In his autobiography, available online, Miller offers us his own beliefs — a creed not of love but of warrior racism:

Every book in the bible, except one, was written by Jews, which explains, among other things, why the bible says the Jews are God’s chosen people. If I’d written the thing, my people would be the chosen ones. How odd of God to choose the rats.

God must be a racist, because He selected a chosen race. And, He practiced racial discrimination when he smited all those gentile men, women, children, and babies on behalf of the Jews. Sampson and God alone killed 10,000 gentiles with the jawbone of a jackass. And I own some valuable ocean front property in Arizona.

Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What a brilliant recipe to enslave the Shabbos Goyim.

Christianity is the second biggest trick the Jews ever played on us. The biggest was legalized abortion!

But, on the other hand, White Christians today represent the best of our Race and the best hope for our racial survival because, generally, they are sober, moral, physically healthy, and idealistic. The Jews too recognize this potential threat and attack Christianity non-stop with the vigor and determination of trained attack dogs.

I’d love to see North America’s 100 million Aryan Christians convert to the religion invented by their own race and practiced for a thousand generations before the Jews thought up Christianity.

Odinism! This was the religion for a strong heroic people, the Germanic people, from whose loins we all descended, be we German, English, Scott, Irish, or Scandinavian, in whole or in part.

Odin! Odin! Odin! Was the battle cry of our ancestors; their light eyes ablaze with the glare of the predator, as they swept over and conquered the decadent multi-racial Roman Empire.

And Valhalla does not accept Negroes. There’s a sign over the pearly gates there which reads, “Whites only.”

Oh, Glory day!

**

Shakespeare:

Humans, we are humans — Jews, Christians, Muslims, lovers, haters. How often and in how many contexts must we repeat Shylock‘s words?

If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die?

**

A Resource:

For a fuller insight into Odinism as a contemporary neo-Pagan faith, and the relation of some though not all forms of that faith to the radical right, I’d recommend the relevant section in:

  • Jeffrey Kaplan, Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah
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    Second American Revolution II: the symbolic side of things

    Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- always on the watch for the symbolic ]
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    First, let’s admit that the cattle-rancher archetype has immense popular appeal. Here’s the header from the Bundy Ranch website:

    That’s pretty hard to beat, no?

    **

    As ever, I’m concerned to keep track of the symbolic side of things, the emotional tugs, the flags, rituals, and stratagems which gather morale to a cause — in this case, the standoff at the Bundy Ranch.

    Again in this photo we see cowboys, and this time one of them is carrying the American flag held high…

    What other flags were in evidence?

    I’m pretty sure I can see the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps flags here, along with the US flag —

    **

    There’s another flag, just above the Corps flag in the photo above, that I couldn’t identify — a flag which was also captured in this Guardian shot –

    I didn’t recognize it, but our blog-friend and frequent commentator Grurray did… And here’s where things get really interesting, and I learn what I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t decided to look into this matter of the flags at the Bundy Ranch showdown.

    It’s a Latter-day Saints banner known as the Title of Liberty, and it dervives from a passage in the Book of Mormon, Alma 46 verses 12-13 and 36-37, wherein Captain Moroni

    rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it — In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children — and he fastened it upon the end of a pole … and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren …

    and…

    it came to pass also, that he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites; and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Nephites. And they began to have peace again in the land…

    Here it is, raised for an event in Washington DC:

    And here it is, catalogued for sale as a 3′ x 5′ flag:

    **

    Finally, there’s the Gadsden flag:

    — flown here at the Bundy Ranch protest alonside the US flag:

    **

    That’s it for flags, for me, at least for now… It has been an interesting ride.

    I mentioned stratagems, though. Here’s one that strikes me as less than chivalrous — but which, if push had come to shoot, would have made quite a media splash. The stratagem? Simple — put women in the front line…

    Sheriff Richard Mack explains his idea:

    Mack goes into further detail in an interview with Ben Swann. You can read excerpts here, or view the entire interview on YouTube here — the relevant passage begibs around the 4.39 mark.

    I am not by any stretch a lawyer — but isn’t that veering pretty close to the old “human shield” idea we so despised in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    **

    Thanks again to Grurray — with sharp eyes & knowledge to match!

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    Second American Revolution I: the (immediate) unlikelihood

    Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- with an eye for catching graphics ]
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    Freedom Outpost wasn’t the only outlet raising the question: Militias Are On Route Help Cliven Bundy – Face Off With Feds: Will this be the Start of the 2nd American Revolution? As I’ve noted before, though, quoting Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, the answer to questions asked by excited headlines is generally a quiet “no”.

    **

    I do think, however, that there’s a tectonic rift growing in the US… Here are two diagrams which each illustrate that thesis:

    The upper panel shows the overlap — hugely diminished over the last 30 or so years, and now almost non-existent — between House Democrat and Republican votes, and is taken from Chris Cillizza‘s post in WaPo’s The Fix blog.

    The lower panel shows network maven Valdis Krebsmost recent (2008) mapping of conservative and liberal reading habits, as tabulated using Amazon data on who purhases which books along with what other books: for the first time in Krebs’ analyses, there were no books read in common by conservative and liberal readers alike.

    **

    Here for good measure is my own analysis of the congressional situation — juxtaposing politics with religion because it’s my modus operandi to view one through the lens of the other — in DoubleQuote format:

    So simple.

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