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What diplomacy is for

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

[by Lynn C. Rees]
What Angelo Codevilla writes on what diplomacy is for has rarely been topped:

By their very nature, diplomacy and military force are means to the ends of statecraft as well as channels by which governments press their agendas onto others. Neither is inherently more or less useful than the other. Diplomacy verbally communicates realities that may move nations (it is not to be confused with any particular message diplomats may carry or with its effects), while military action (not to be confused with war) physically communicates a government’s wishes by trying to sweep away resistance to them. Whereas diplomacy represents realities, military operations create them. Statecraft—with which neither diplomacy nor military action should be confused—is about managing reality, coupling ends and means in ways that advance a country’s interests. Far from being antithetical to one another, diplomacy and military force are complementary insofar as they serve the same political ends.

Diplomacy is often popularly thought of as the peaceful alternative to violence, but in fact, diplomacy serves to prepare as often as to avoid war. It is an important part of waging war, often makes the difference in who wins, and nearly always codifies wars’ results. Again, diplomacy is the verbal representation of compelling international realities, and military force is one of those realities.

Conventionally, major military action is called war. The connection between means and ends determines the character of actions. War is military operations tailored to achieve one’s preferred peace. Only insofar as a military operation is so crafted as to bring about the desired peace does it qualify as an act of war as opposed to senseless violence.

The study of history helps us to see through the fog of contemporary loose talk…Studying history helps us to understand the arts of diplomacy and of war for themselves and as tools of statecraft.

[...]

Imagine two persons at odds over any given matter. A friend might suggest: “Why don’t you resolve your differences through diplomacy? I’ll set up the meetings.” But, what could each say at those meetings that would make the differences less important than they were before? If the differences remained important, why should either side accommodate the other’s wishes? Perhaps the differences were not real—mere misunderstandings. Perhaps, though real, they were small in comparison with other interests that either or both are willing to take as currency in exchange for giving up their claims in the matter at hand. Perhaps new events have reduced the controversy’s importance for either or both. Or, one side may present to the other realities of which it was ignorant that lead it to change its position. If so, the meeting may produce agreement. But if neither side presents to the other anything it did not know before, both sides will be lucky if the meeting just leaves the controversy where it was and does not worsen it.

John Quincy Adams, a student as well as a practitioner of statesmanship, believed that governments understand their own and others’ interests quite well. His involvement in diplomacy, which lasted from 1778 to the end of his presidency in 1829, convinced him not that negotiations are superfluous, but rather that they ratify the several parties’ recognition of existing realities regardless of agreements or lack thereof. Diplomacy can make it more comfortable to live with reality by clarifying mutual understanding of it. On the other hand, Adams’ magisterial notes on his 1823 recommendation that America spurn the invitation to join Britain in a declaration disapproving any attempt to recover Spain’s American colonies…

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From the Journal of John Quincy Adams:

Washington, November 7th. -Cabinet meeting at the President’s from half past one till four. Mr. Calhoun, Secretary of War, and Mr. Southard, Secretary of the Navy, present. The subject for consideration was, the confidential proposals of the British Secretary of State, George Canning, to R. Rush, and the correspondence between them relating to the projects of the Holy Alliance upon South America. There was much conversation, without coming to any definite point. The object of Canning appears to have been to obtain some public pledge from the Government of the United States, ostensibly against the forcible interference of the Holy Alliance between Spain and South America; but really or especially against the acquisition to the United States themselves of any part of the Spanish American possessions.

Mr. Calhoun inclined to giving a discretionary power to Mr. Rush to join in a declaration against the interference of the Holy Allies, if necessary, even if it should pledge us not to take Cuba or the province of Texas; because the power of Great Britain being greater than ours to seize upon them, we should get the advantage of obtaining from her the same declaration we should make ourselves.

I thought the cases not parallel. We have no intention of seizing either Texas or Cuba. But the inhabitants of either or both may exercise their primitive fights, and solicit a union with us. They will certainly do no such thing to Great Britain. By joining with her, therefore, in her proposed declaration, we give her a substantial and perhaps inconvenient pledge against ourselves, and really obtain nothing in return. Without entering now into the enquiry of the expediency of our annexing Texas or Cuba to our Union, we should at least keep ourselves free to act as emergencies may arise, and not tie ourselves down to any principle which might immediately afterwards be brought to bear against ourselves.

Mr. Southard inclined much to the same opinion.

The President was averse to any course which should have the appearance of taking a position subordinate to that of Great Britain. . . .

I remarked that the communications recently received from the Russian Minister, Baron Tuyl, afforded, as I thought, a very suitable and convenient opportunity for us to take our stand against the Holy Alliance, and at the same time to decline the overture of Great Britain. It would be more candid, as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cock-boat in the wake of the British man-of-war.

This idea was acquiesced in on all sides, and my draft for an answer to Baron Tuyl’s note announcing the Emperor’s determination to refuse receiving any Minister from the South American Governments was read.

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—that jointness would have added nothing to the reality of parallel British and U.S. opposition to such a venture—underlines the central fact about diplomacy: though it conveys reality, it does not amend it.

In 1968, Fred Ikle published How Nations Negotiate, which is used by diplomatic academies around the world. Too many graduates, however, forget its central teaching, which is that the diplomat’s first task is to figure out whether agreement is possible on the basis of “the available terms”—in short, whether both sides’ objectives, though different, are compatible. Only if they are can negotiations proceed according to what Ikle calls “rules of accommodation”—making sincere proposals, honoring partial agreements, etc. If the objectives are incompatible, the diplomats may choose to walk away, or to “negotiate for side effects”—to use the negotiations to undermine the other side’s government, sow dissension among its allies, deceive it, pocket partial agreements and renege on commitments, buy time, gather intelligence, etc. Disaster looms when one side follows the rules of accommodation while the other negotiates for side effects. The essence of Ikle’s teaching is that the negotiator’s primordial job is to judge correctly whether the other side is negotiating for “available terms” or is waging war through diplomatic means, and hence to choose whether to negotiate for agreement, walk away, or treat the diplomatic table as a battlefield. That choice is “perpetual,” he writes, because human motives are variable.

The history of U.S. diplomacy since World War II is in too-large measure that of what happens when this judgment is made badly. Whether with regard to the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Soviet Union, or the Middle East and North Korea in our time, the default U.S. modus operandi has been to consider diplomacy as an independent factor, for diplomats to treat all interlocutors as “partners,” and to treat negotiations as mutual good-faith searches for agreements. Of course this has permitted, even encouraged and rewarded, America’s adversaries to treat negotiations as instruments of conflict. Just as important, by validating the other side’s bona fides, American diplomats have placed themselves in the awkward position of taking blame for the failure of negotiations to achieve the ends that they themselves proclaimed were at hand. The embarrassment of revoking certifications of bona fides granted gratuitously has pressed American diplomats preemptively to dismiss the option of “walking away” and to worry lest the other side take it up. Hence also, American diplomats are wary of exerting pressure through “side effects” lest they “sour” the negotiations. Thus they end up valuing less the substance of any agreement than the appearance thereof. The result has been not just the practice but also the advocacy of international agreements that are no such thing.

Most often, today’s high-profile agreements are written purposely so that both sides may interpret them precisely as they wish—that is, precisely as if no negotiation had taken place. Whom does this benefit or disadvantage? Clearly, governments who depend on public opinion and who publicly subscribe to the fiction that an agreement has been reached must realize that if and when they subsequently take action in response to the other side’s undiminished pursuit of its goals, they will impeach thereby their own judgment and performance. Moreover, make-believe successes are guaranteed to turn into real defeats that cannot be spun away. That is why—the case of U.S. negotiations with North Korea illustrates the point well —diplomats have caveated their claims of agreement by adding the word “framework.” But what is a “framework agreement” other than the codification of an agenda and a pledge to agree later, maybe? Agreements to agree really advertise that no agreement exists.

Even more transparently unnatural are so-called agreements on “Processes”—e.g. “disarmament processes” and “peace processes.” You wanted disarmament and peace; you have armament and war. But you’ve succeeded in engaging the several parties in procedures that will overcome substantive intentions—tomorrow. Casting thin veils over unpleasant realities is not, however, diplomacy. The ultimate in such see-through diplomatic garments is surely the 2005 agreement on the Bush administration’s “roadmap” to Arab-Israeli peace. Here policymakers and diplomats cannot manage to pretend that there is any agreement even on a diplomatic agenda, much less on the fundamental issues. But they tout agreement on ambiguously phrased interim goals as tracing the road to talks leading to a process.

Why then do policymakers and diplomats, followed by the media and academe, so abuse the fundamentals of their craft? Because doing the craft badly is easier than doing it well. Competent diplomacy requires deciding on one’s own course of action before making diplomatic contact rather than during negotiations. In book 8 of his history, Livy tells us of a meeting of the Latin cities to instruct their joint delegation for a meeting with the Romans. After much wrangling, one Lucius Annius said: “How we act will affect the main issue more than what we say. Once we have set our plans in order, it will be easy to find words to fit our deeds.”

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[8] but the Romans, though quite certain that the allies and all the Latins were going to revolt, nevertheless, as if concerned not for themselves but for the Samnites, summoned to Rome the ten chief men of the Latins, that they might give them such commands as they might wish.

[9] Latium at that time had two praetors, Lucius Annius Setinus and Lucius Numisius Circeiensis, both from Roman colonies, through whose contrivance, besides Signia and Velitrae —likewise Roman colonies — even the Volsci had been induced to draw the sword.

[10] it was determined to summon these men by name. Nobody could be in doubt why they were sent for; accordingly, before setting out for Rome the praetors held a council, and explaining how they had been summoned by the Roman senate, asked instructions touching the answers they should give to the questions which they supposed would be put to them.

4.

[1] while one was suggesting this thing and another that, Annius arose. “notwithstanding I have myself referred to you,” said he, “the question as to what our reply should be, nevertheless I consider that what we are to do is of more importance to the welfare of our nation than what we are to say.

[2] it will be easy, when we have straightened out our plans, to frame words suitable to our conduct. for if we are able even now to endure slavery under a shadowy pretense of equal treaty —rights, what is left for us but to give up the Sidicini, and obeying the behest not of the Romans only but also of the Samnites, make answer to the Romans that we are ready to lay down our arms at their beck and call?

[3] but if our hearts are pricked at last with a longing for liberty; if treaties, if alliances, mean equality of rights; if we may now glory in the kinship of the Romans, of which we were formerly ashamed; if they mean by “allied army” one which added to their own doubles its numbers, one which they would not wish to make its own war and peace, apart from them; —if

[4] these things are so, I say, why are not all things equalized?

[5] why is not one consul furnished by the Latins? where a portion of the strength is, there, too, should be a portion of the authority.

[6] for us, indeed, this is not in itself any too great an honor, since we suffer Rome to be the capital of Latium; but we have made it seem an honor by our prolonged submissiveness.

[7] and yet, if ever at any time you have desired to share in the government and to use your freedom, behold, now is your opportunity, bestowed on you by your valor and by Heaven’s favor!

[8] you have tried their patience by denying them troops; who can doubt that they were enraged when we broke the tradition of two hundred years? yet they swallowed their resentment. we waged war on our own account with the Paeligni; those who aforetime withheld from us even the right to defend our own borders by ourselves, never interposed.

[9] they have heard how we received the Sidicini into our protection, how the Campanians have left them and joined us, how we are raising armies against the Samnites, their confederates, —and have not stirred from the City.

[10] whence comes this great restraint on their part, if it come not from the consciousness of our strength —and their own? I have good authority for saying that when the Samnites were complaining of us, the Roman senate answered in such wise that it might readily appear that even the Romans themselves no longer demanded that Latium should be under their authority.

[11] do but take up in your demands what they tacitly concede to you. if there is any man whom fear prevents from saying this, lo, I declare that I myself will say it, in the hearing not of the Roman People only and their senate, but of Jupiter himself, who dwells in the Capitol; that if they wish us to observe the treaty of alliance, they must receive from us one consul and a moiety of the senate.”

[12] These bold encouragements, and even promises, were received with a general shout of approval, and Annius was empowered to act and speak as might seem conducive to the welfare of the Latin state and befitting his own honor.

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Jobs in policymaking have always been attractive, but making hard choices is naturally unattractive.

Second, figuring out what “the available terms” may be and securing them requires some creativity. Consider Thucydides’ account of the Spartan general Brasidas’ conquest of Thrace, accomplished very largely through diplomacy. Brasidas made offers the other side could not refuse and asked for little. He passed through neutral territory with a small force after professing friendship at the border and getting those who had stopped him to go home for consultation. On his way to Amphipolis, home of the Athenian garrison in Thrace, he secured the nominal alliance of cities (he needed and asked for no more than that) by offering friendship and trade while holding hostage the cities’ ripe crops. After seizing Amphipolis’ landward approaches and farmlands, and knowing that Athenian reinforcements were on the way, he offered everyone in the city, Athenians included, safety, political rights, and respect of property in return for letting him free the city from the Athenian empire, immediately. He figured correctly that few would be willing to risk their lives and surely lose property by fighting a superior Spartan force for the sake of the Athenian empire. Brasidas’ diplomacy fit ends, means, and circumstances just right. Diplomacy’s need for solvency is not just an old story. It is also the leitmotif of the twentieth century’s leading American diplomatic historian, Norman Graebner.

Third, in the balance of incentives, an edge in the capacity to instill fear usually outweighs positive factors. Again, consider Thucydides. As the Athenians were trying to round up Sicilian allies against Syracuse, the local great power they were besieging, they told the people of neighboring Camarina that siding with Athens would free them from their ancient hegemon and that Athens could not oppress them because it would be too far away. By contrast, Syracuse’s Hermocrates offered no positive incentives. Small cities like Camarina, he said, cannot escape being under the big ones’ thumbs. Camarina must keep in mind that, whatever might happen, Syracuse would surely remain nearby, and that if Camarina sided with Athens, sooner or later it would not escape “the lasting hatred we should feel for you.” Thucydides tells us that the Camarinans’ fears drove them to spurn uncertain hopes to side with their ancient oppressors. The reality that Syracuse was going to be there for the long run, along with its venom, made up for the besieged tyrants’ lack of present incentives.

Fourth, diplomacy is not about tricks, lies, bluffs or misrepresentations. It is about representing reality in precise words on which all may rely, and of course on the compelling qualities of the things the words represent. Reputations for reliability are hard won and easily lost—by countries as well as by individuals. Hence it is incumbent on a diplomat to brandish only consequences that follow naturally from events, and the fulfillment of which is in his country’s interest as well as capacity, which it intends and may not even be able to avoid—in short, to warn but not to threaten.

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War on the Rocks: A New Nixon Doctrine – Strategy for a Polycentric World

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

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

I have a new piece up at the excellent War on the Rocks site that is oriented towards both history and contemporary policy Some Excerpts:

A New Nixon Doctrine: Strategy for a Polycentric World

….Asia was only the starting point; the Nixon doctrine continued to evolve in subsequent years into a paradigm for the administration to globally leverage American power, one that, as Chad Pillai explained in his recent War on the Rocks article, still remains very relevant today. Avoiding future Vietnams remained the first priority when President Nixon elaborated on the Nixon Doctrine to the American public in a televised address about the war the following October, but the Nixon Doctrine was rooted in Nixon’s assumptions about larger, fundamental, geopolitical shifts underway that he had begun to explore in print and private talks before running for president. In a secret speech at Bohemian Grove in 1967 that greatly bolstered his presidential prospects, Nixon warned America’s political and business elite that the postwar world as they knew it was irrevocably coming to an end [....]

….China was a strategic lodestone for Richard Nixon’s vision of a reordered world under American leadership, which culminated in Nixon’s historic visit to Peking and toasts with Mao ZeDong and Zhou En-lai. In the aftermath of this diplomatic triumph, a town hall meeting on national security policy was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute that featured the Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird squaring off with future Nobel-laureate, strategist and administration critic Thomas Schelling over the Nixon Doctrine and the meaning of “polycentrism” in American foreign policy. Laird was concerned with enunciating the implications of the Nixon doctrine as an operative principle for American foreign policy, taking advantage of the glow of a major success for the administration. Schelling, by contrast, was eager to turn the discussion away from China to the unresolved problem of the Vietnam war, even when he elucidated on the Nixon doctrine’s strategic importance. [....]

….What lessons can we draw from the rise of the Nixon Doctrine?

First, as in Nixon’s time, America is again painfully extricating itself from badly managed wars that neither the public nor the leaders in two administrations who are responsible for our defeat are keen to admit were lost. Nixon accepted defeat strategically, but continued to try to conceal it politically (“Vietnamization,” “Peace with Honor,” etc). What happened in Indochina in 1975 with the fall of Saigon is being repeated in Iraq right now, after a fashion. It will also be repeated in Afghanistan, and there it might be worse than present-day Iraq. [....]

Read the article in its entirety here.

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Ramadan, the military and the Bible: misplaced juxtapositions, paradoxes, nuances

Monday, July 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the paradoxes, double standards, accommodations and hypocrisies -- whatever you call them, however you see them -- that arise when religions overlap -- or bump up against one another ]
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That’s a juxtaposition of title and photo, straight out of my morning mail from Vision to America News a few days back.

As you know, juxtaposition is a particular favorite of mine, the rhetorical flourish I most enjoy — but it can manifestly be abused. Do you suppose the personnel in the photo were under orders to perform the characteristic Muslim five-times-daily prayers known as salat? Were they led, perhaps, by an officer or senior NCO? Isn’t that what this juxtaposition suggests?

Or is the photo simply a photo of Muslim members of the armed forces at prayer, in accordance with their beliefs?

**

Pamela Geller uses the same photo with the title you see here:

Her text, below, begins:

Our troops must adhere to the sharia during the Islamic month of Ramadan in Bahrain and other Muslim countries. Subjected to dawah (proselytizing) by an Islamic cultural adviser at the Naval Support Activity, soldiers are forced to sit through lessons on Islam. No eating, drinking, alcohol, smoking during the month of Ramadan.

This is what the Obama administration and the US military are obsessed with as armies of jihad tear through the Middle East.

**

By way of contrast, back in 2009 Army dot Mil datelined Fort Jackson, SC, FORT JACKSON, S.C., September 24, carried the same photo under the headline Soldiers celebrate end of Ramadan

with the caption:

Muslim Soldiers bow down in prayer during the celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr Sunday at the Joe E. Mann Center. Eid-Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims worldwide.

and text that begins:

About 100 Muslim Soldiers gathered at the Joe E. Mann Center Sunday to celebrate Eid-Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

“It’s a great honor and privilege to do this,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School, who presided over the ceremonial part of the celebration. “We want (the Soldiers) to be empowered through the spiritual foundation that Islam provides. Eid-Al-Fitr is a culmination of the fasting during the month of Ramadan. As a result of that, we do the celebration traditionally for three days, but the biggest (part) is this particular day.”

**

And the truth shall set you free.

**

The fact is, though, that much as I think Vision to America and Ms Geller are playing dirty pool here, I do think we have a bit of a paradox going when we offer our troops in Dubai sensitivity training in Islamic traditions and ask them to be respectful of them…


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— even going so far as to ban and burn Bibles in Pashto and Dari sent to troops in Afghanistan, because they might be used by enthusiastic evangelicals to evangelize the locals:

Military personnel threw away, and ultimately burned, confiscated Bibles that were printed in the two most common Afghan languages amid concern they would be used to try to convert Afghans, a Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday.

The unsolicited Bibles sent by a church in the United States were confiscated about a year ago at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan because military rules forbid troops of any religion from proselytizing while deployed there, Lt. Col. Mark Wright said. Such religious outreach can endanger American troops and civilians in the devoutly Muslim nation, Wright said.

“The decision was made that it was a ‘force protection’ measure to throw them away, because, if they did get out, it could be perceived by Afghans that the U.S. government or the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims,” Wright told CNN on Tuesday.

Hey, I have to say I sympathize with that argument —

**

But I also sympathize with the Air Force kid who wanted to put a Gospel verse up on his personal whiteboard, and was ordered to take it down. As Onan Coca writing at Eagle Rising pointed out:

The truth of the matter is that no Christian would have complained had a Jewish or Muslim cadet placed a verse from their religious scriptures on their whiteboards.

I certainly hope that’s the case — Baruch haShem, and Allah knows best.

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An unprecedented, unkind, under-the-radar cut

Friday, May 9th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an argument on behalf of the Fulbrights from the words of Muhammad Ali ]
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Muhammad Ali famously described his strategy versus Sonny Liston thus:

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.

I’m not sure if it’s been noted that floating like a butterfly is here, and perhaps must always be, the precursor to stinging like a bee –but I’d like to note it, not for the purpose of making a dent in discussions on strategy which my pay grade doesn’t permit, but to use it as a simle for the non-obvious, non-brute-force side of things, such as knowing your enemy, and showing it to a depth that shows you also know what “knowing” is…

And that doesn’t just go for your enemies, it goes for your friends, your potential enemies, your potential friends, your frenemies… old uncle Tom Cobleigh and all, as we say in the UK.

**

Here’s a significant example, as described by Ann Jones in three powerful punches paragraphs:

Will the State Department Torpedo Its Last Great Program?

Often it’s the little things coming out of Washington, obscured by the big, scary headlines, that matter most in the long run. Items that scarcely make the news, or fail to attract your attention, or once noticed seem trivial, may carry consequences that endure long after the latest front-page crisis has passed. They may, in fact, signal fundamental changes in Washington’s priorities and policies that could even face opposition, if only we paid attention.

Take the current case of an unprecedented, unkind, under-the-radar cut in the State Department’s budget for the Fulbright Program, the venerable 68-year-old operation that annually arranges for thousands of educators, students, and researchers to be exchanged between the United States and at least 155 other countries. As Washington increasingly comes to rely on the “forward projection” of military force to maintain its global position, the Fulbright Program may be the last vestige of an earlier, more democratic, equitable, and generous America that enjoyed a certain moral and intellectual standing in the world. Yet, long advertised by the U.S. government as “the flagship international educational exchange program” of American cultural diplomacy, it is now in the path of the State Department’s torpedoes.

Right now, all over the world, former Fulbright scholars like me (Norway, 2012) are raising the alarm, trying to persuade Congress to stand by one of its best creations, passed by unanimous bipartisan consent of the Senate and signed into law by President Truman in 1946. Alumni of the Fulbright Program number more than 325,000, including more than 123,000 Americans. Among Fulbright alums are 53 from 13 different countries who have won a Nobel Prize, 28 MacArthur Foundation fellows, 80 winners of the Pulitzer Prize, 29 who have served as the head of state or government, and at least one, lunar geologist Harrison Schmitt (Norway, 1957), who walked on the moon — not to mention the hundreds of thousands who returned to their countries with greater understanding and respect for others and a desire to get along. Check the roster of any institution working for peace around the world and you’re almost certain to find Fulbright alums whose career choices were shaped by international exchange. What’s not to admire about such a program?

I’d like to repeat a phrase that bears repeating:

  • it’s the little things coming out of Washington, obscured by the big, scary headlines, that matter most in the long run
  • **

    Ms Jones suggests we visit the Save Fulbright site.

    The “little things” she speaks of are the ones that “float like a butterfly” in Muhammad Ali’s terms — and do we really want our foreign policy devised for us by Sonny Liston?

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    Seydlitz89: “The US Needs to Re-discover the Concept of Strategy”

    Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

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

    Our Clausewitzian friend, Seydlitz89 commented on my recent post on politics and strategy and has a new one of his own that accurately frames a solution to the geopolitical disarray in which the United States finds itself today. Seydlitz89 asked for my comments so I will be making some where appropriate [ in regular text]:

    The US Needs to Re-discover the Concept of Strategy

    by Seydlitz89

     

    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.

    This particular symbolism chosen by Seydlitz89, of Achilles vs. Odysseus representing antipodes in strategy – of brute power vs. metis – were themes in Charles Hill’s Grand Strategies and Sir Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy: A History and the question of relying more on force or stratagem echoes in many contexts of military history and diplomacy. The “heroic” comment is particularly interesting to me. Homer’s Greeks in the archaic period  lived in aristocratic societies that had replaced the petty monarchies of the Greek Dark Ages in which The Illiad was set, but predated the Greeks of the polis of classical antiquity with which most people are more familiar.  The highest value of the the archaic Greek aristocracy (and for many classical Greeks as well) was “Arete” – an epitome of excellence in spirit and action, a virtuous nobility of character.

    The Trojan Horse is a turning point for the Greeks, as Seydlitz correctly notes.  While all the major leaders of the Greeks in The Illiad are presumed to have arete, the stress on individual action, like the unstoppable battle-madness of Achilles outside Troy, makes unified action difficult and gives rise to bitter quarrels over place and spoils. Adopting the strategy of the Trojan Horse legitimizes collective action in light of arete; this shift in the direction of metis and strategy morally reinforced the iron discipline required for the phalanx, which became common Greek military practice in the century or two after Homer. So much so that while classical Greeks  marveled at the prowess of the legendary Achilles, the death of Aristodemus at Plataea received a far more grudging recognition from the Spartans. Strategy trumped heroics in terms of arete.

    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?

    A good riff here.

    If you don’t care to take the time to understand the context in which you propose to operate, if you are unwilling to make rational choices about allocating your sources of power, if you are unwilling to acknowledge who (or what) constitutes “the enemy”, then your strategic narrative will be incoherent, unpersuasive and your effects anything but strategic (unless perhaps we count a debacle as being “strategic”).  Asking what the political purpose of military force  being used is for, much less the probability of success, seems to be the questions the Beltway prefers to ignore rather than answer.

    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.

    Seydlitz here has written a paragraph to which Col. John Boyd would readily assent. The moral position your use of force communicates matters greatly to a variety of audiences, particularly if your actions contradict your words and your strategic narrative. Boyd argued for a grand strategy that would “Pump-up our resolve, drain-away our adversary’s resolve, and attract the uncommitted” , a task made impossible when marrying hypocrisy to cruelty while boasting of our own virtues. It is hard to lose a popularity contest with a ghoulish, beheading, paramilitary cult of sociopathic fanatics, or a brutal movement of unlettered zealot hillmen who throw acid in the faces of women, but at times the United States government managed to do exactly that. If the current and previous administrations had run WWII, we’d have had half the people of occupied Europe weighing their chances with the SS.

    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?

    Declaring that we were in “The War on Terrorism” was the American elite’s way of finessing two aspects of the conflict they found most disturbing – the inconvenient reality that two American allies, Saudi Arabia and especially Pakistan, had done much to create the radical jihad movement from which our enemy had come and the elite’s own enormous political and psychological revulsion at grappling with the enemy’s sincere religious motivations and claim to defend Islam.  Not being willing to identify your enemy, even to yourself, will make discerning his center of gravity rather tough. Nor will anyone be impressed with demonstration of moral cowardice in fearing to do so.

    Maintaining your strategic position relative to others?  This is more of a political task to emphasize the fundamentals, especially economic growth and moral confidence in the legitimacy of the model we present to the world, that make up the various aspects of national power of which military force is but one. A society that is ill-governed, corrupt and enduring social decay might be relatively more powerful than others (for a time) but it is unlikely to use its advantages effectively, much less wisely or decisively.

    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

    Complete agreement. The Bush administration based its claim to strategy on a narrow worldview of preemptive unilateralism, while the Obama administration has appointees who actively promote anti-strategic/astrategic models of national security decision making and disdain strategy altogether.

    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.

    “Collapse” is an apt description.

    Let us be clear that the supreme responsibility for this cognitive, cultural and moral collapse lies with the self-congratulatory, bipartisan elite, inside and out of the executive and legislative branches. They make policy that the military strives to carry out, they craft the strategic narrative or refuse to do so and they decide whether or not to focus on strategy and the exigencies of war or their ideological trivialities, they set the national moral example of careerism and brazen efforts to game the system for the personal enrichment of their relatives and cronies.

    They are failing us and have been doing so for nearly a quarter-century.

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