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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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Creativity and Ennui

Friday, August 16th, 2013

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

Creativity is a subject that has  interested me, going back to the days long, long ago when I was an art student. Creativity is only mildly correlated with IQ, but like “intelligence”, the deeper you delve into the study of  creativity and creative thinking the more “creativity” looks like a multifaceted, multidimensional and diverse set of capacities, habits and circumstances than it does a single, universal, characteristic or ability.

Creativity has been studied from a neuroscientific, psychological, evolutionary,  behavioral, economic and social perspective but what of creativity”s opposite?  What about Ennui?

From a cognitive perspective, the two may be flip sides of the same coin, note the correlation between highly   creative  people and incidence of depression. It may also be a sign of overuse of certain brain functions, like adrenal exhaustion from an excess of physical and mental stress over a long period of time. Creativity, being in “the flow” is intoxicating but it usually involves peak exertion which accumulates weariness. Exemplary performance in one area can also come at the expense of penalties in another area.

Or perhaps ennui is the natural, cyclical ebb and flow between generative conceptual fertility and barrenness, the brain preparing itself for the next creative “surge” to come?

When are you creative and when are you not?

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The Controversial CTC Report

Friday, January 25th, 2013

The Center for Combating Terrorism at West Point released a report on domestic terrorism that raised hackles for a number of reasons. Despite the dismissals of liberal political pundits, the reasons for objections to the CTC report are legitimate but they did not need to arise in the first place and might have been avoided with a slightly different editorial approach or appropriate caveats (I just finished reading the report, which is primarily focused on the usual suspects). Here’s why I think the normally well-regarded CTC stumbled into a hornet’s nest:

First, in this foray into domestic terrorism analysis, the center chose to concentrate only on the threat of violence of the Far Right while ignoring other threats coming from the Far Left, infiltration by criminal insurgent networks from Mexico, notably the ultraviolent Zetas whose reach has stirred gang violence in Chicago and Islamist terrorism, either homegrown “lone wolves” or from foreign infiltration or subversion. In itself, this is understandable if the CTC plans a series of reports with a separate focus on different domestic threats; but without that context, it is a myopic analytic perspective, particularly given the demonstrated capabilities of various AQ affiliates or just south of the border, the criminal-insurgency of  the narco-cartels. Had all of these been addressed in one omnibus report, any complaints from conservatives were likely to have been muted or nonexistent. This is not to say that the radical American Far Right does not have a violent threat potential of it’s own worth studying; it does and it is real. But available evidence indicates it to be the least organized, least operationally active and least professionally competent in terms of terrorist “tradecraft” of the three.

The second and most problematic aspect of the report is an intellectually sloppy definition of a dangerous “antifederalist movement”  where noxious concepts like “white supremacy” and wacko conspiracy theories are casually associated with very mainstream conservative (or even traditionally bipartisan !) political ideas – coincidentally, some of the same ideas that contemporary “big government” liberal elites tend to find irritating, objectionable or critical of their preferred policies. Part of the equation here is that American politics are evolvng into a very bitterly partisan, “low trust” environment, but even on the merits of critical analysis,  these two passages are ill-considered and are largely responsible for most of the recent public criticism of the CTC:

….The antifederalist rationale is multifaceted, and includes the beliefs that the American political system and its proxies were hijacked by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order” (NWO) in which the United States will be absorbed into the United Nations or another version of global government.  They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights.  Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government

….In contrast to the relatively long tradition of the white supremacy racist movement, the anti-federalist movement appeared in full force only in the early to mid-1990s, with the emergence of groups such as the  Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia. Antifederalism is normally identified in the literature as the “Militia” or “Patriot” movement. Anti-federalist and anti-government sentiments were present in American society before the 1990s in diverse movements and ideological associations promoting anti-taxation, gun rights, survivalist  practices,and libertarian ideas 

This is taxonomic incoherence, or at least could have used some bright-line specifics ( like “Posse Commitatus” qualifying what was meant by “anti-taxation” activists) though in some cases, such as “libertarian ideas” and “civil activism”, I’m at a loss to know who or what violent actors they were implying, despite being fairly well informed on such matters.

By the standard used in the first paragraph, Glenn Greenwald, Ralph Nader and the ACLU would also be considered “far right antifederalists”. By the standards of the second, we might be in physical danger from Grover Norquist,  Congressman John Dingell and Penn Jillette. No one who opposed the recent increases in income tax rates, dislikes gun-control or thought the DOJ may have abused it’s power in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz or in their stubborn refusal to prosecute Bankster racketeering is likely to welcome a report under the auspices of West Point that juxtaposes such normal and perfectly valid American political beliefs with neo-Nazism. A move that is simply going to – and quite frankly, did – gratuitously irritate a large number of people, including many in the defense and national security communities who are a natural “customer base” for CTC reports.

As I said previously, this could easily have been completely avoided with more careful use of language, given that 99% the report has nothing to do with mainstream politics and is concerned with actors and orgs with often extensive track records of violence. As the CTC, despite it’s independence, is associated so strongly with an official U.S. Army institution, it needs to go the extra mile in explaining it’s analysis when examining domestic terrorism subjects that are or, appear to be, connected to perfectly legitimate participation in the political process. This is the case whether the subject is on the Left or Right – few activists on the Left, for example, have forgotten the days of COINTELPRO and are currently aggrieved by the activities of Project Vigilant.

I might make a few other criticisms of the report, such as the need for a better informed historical perspective, but that is hardly what the recent uproar was about.

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Boyd and Beyond Local DC Event

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Jim Hasik’s White Board Outline

 

At the suggestion of Adam Elkus, we were privileged to host our first “local” Boyd and Beyond event on 15 December. We had 14 attend, and five speakers. Logistically, we turned our family room in to a fairly comfortable briefing area, using a wall with Smart Sheets as a temporary white board. In keeping with our October events, we took up a collection and had pizza delivered for lunch. Coffee, soft drinks light snacks were provided. Each speaker was allotted 50 minutes, but given the participation of the audience, most talks lasted about 90 minutes. I should emphasize to those planning one of these events, to keep a lean speaker’s list, as the Q&A and discussion can easily double the time of a presentation—-and I believe all who attended would agree the comments/discussion made already great presentations even better.

My sincere thanks go out to my wife and partner, Kristen, for making this event look easy! She was the one who made sure everything was moving along and that folks felt at home. I would encourage others around the country to schedule and hold events through the year. We’re looking to do another in March 2013.

Our speakers were:

Jim Hasik, Beyond Hagiography: Problems of Logic and Evidence in the Strategic Theories of John Boyd

Francis Park, The Path to Maneuver Warfare in the U.S. Marine Corps

Robert Cantrell,  Which Card Will You Play?

Terry Barnhart, Designing and Implementing Maneuver Strategy in Transforming Major Organizations

Marshall Wallace, Theories of Change and Models of Prediction

I led off with a few comments on the military professional and intellectual rigor. I recommended the best book I’ve read this year: Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command, by Jon Tetsuro Sumida, and the challenges he suggests in the realm of intellectual rigor. He writes:

“It remains to be seen whether readers exist with the mind and will to accept his guidance on what necessarily is an arduous intellectual and moral voyage into the realm of war and politics.” (emphasis added)

I followed with the example from An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941, by Charles E. Kirkpatrick. Mr. Kirkpatrick’s little book provides an excellent primer to the formulation of the United States’ WWII strategy and a refreshing insight into the education of an master strategist, then Major Albert C. Wedemeyer, attached to the War Plans Division, the Army chief of staff’s strategic planners, who wrote the Army strategy for WWII in 90 days. (read the review here) I suggested that military professionals should start something akin to a book club, where they can discuss and debate strategic issues and concept.

Following my comments, Jim Hasik offered his critique of John Boyd’s work. Adam tweeted that we were a “tough crowd,” but Jim was able to discuss his misgivings with respect to Boyd’s work and a lively discussion got us started. For those unfamiliar, Jim is the author of a paper called, Beyond Hagiography, which generated controversy in the Boydian community following this year’s October event at Quantico. (reviewed here and at zenpundit.comHere is a link to the paper. (see Hasik’s white board outline above).

According to Hasik, Boyd erred when extrapolating from physical processes/science to social processes. He reviewed Boyd’s use of science in his essay, Destruction and Creation, and suggested no literal correlation between Clausius’ Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy), Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and human behavior (on this I concur with Hasik, as analogy or metaphor these scientific principles enlighten).  Hasik asked if OODA scales from air-to-air combat to large scale events, and whether OODA was original (compared to PDCA, for example). One point that generated quite a bit of discussion was whether one could “like” Clausewitz or Sun Tzu and Boyd. Hasik questioned whether Boyd’s work should be judged as social science, history, or war studies, and suggested that further work was needed to fill in the gaps in his work. In October, someone suggested Boyd needed a “Plato,” someone to address Boyd’s work with less emphasis on science (as in Osinga’s book), thereby making Boyd’s work more accessible. The Strassler model was suggested; Strassler is an “unaffiliated scholar” who has written exhaustively referenced versions of ThucydidesHerodotus, and Arrian. [personal note: I believe a Strassler-like book on Boyd's ideas would be a great resource] A great thought-provoking conversation.

Francis Park’s White Board

 

Francis Park’s talk on on maneuver warfare, the evidence of history began with “I’m a historian and I have a problem.” The irony wasn’t lost on the audience, as Francis is an active duty Army officer, speaking on the history of the USMC’s adoption of maneuver warfare (MW). Park called the Marine Corps “the most Darwinian of the services.” The venue for for the Corps discussion between MW advocates, and the “attritionists” was the Marine Corps Gazette. This venue was “unofficial,” otherwise the debate may have never happened. The Gazette’s forward-thinking editor made space and encouraged the debate, which was a ”long, bitter, and complex fight.”

Park listed and discussed the champions of MW Michael D. Wyly, G.I. Wilson, William Woods, William Lind, and Alfred M. Gray. Park recommended Fideleon Damian’s master’s thesis, THE ROAD TO FMFM 1: THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS AND MANEUVER WARFARE DOCTRINE, 1979-1989. (Adam Elkus recommended Eric Walters essay in the Small Wars Journal, titled Fraud or Fuzziness? Dissecting William Owen’s Critique of Maneuver Warfare.)

Park called the USMC adoption of MW a “confluence of fortune” that may have never happened without the vigorous efforts of proponents.

Robert Cantrell’s Which Card Will You Play? was an instructive and interactive example of Robert’s strategy cards. Cantrell has two decks of strategy playing cards, one devoted to strategy, the other to sales strategy. The user’s guide is at www.artofwarcards.com.

Robert provided examples of how the cards are used to spark strategic thought and ideas. Volunteers pulled first one, then two cards from the decks, and read aloud and commented on how the statement(s) on the cards could be used in practice. For example, “Muddy The Water To Hide the Nets” was drawn (the 8 of clubs, a bit more on card suits from Robert below). The “strategy” is to “confuse your adversary so he cannot perceive your intentions. The “Basis” is “Confused adversaries make mistakes they would not make if they grasped your intentions.”

Longtime friend of this blog, Fred Leland at Law Enforcement Security Consulting is using the cards with success. Fred’s goal is “to get cops thinking more strategically and tactically in their work. I have been pulling a card from the deck and writing my thoughts and sharing them with cops who have been passing them along to their officers.” He is using Robert’s cards for “in-service” training, and providing a low cost entry into strategic thinking.

I followed up with Robert and asked for an explanation of the card suits. Here is his response:

Hi Scott – although they are gray delineations, the Hearts are oriented on the shaping self, the Clubs on shaping the field of contest…the diamonds are isolation strategies, and the spades are elimination strategies. This is the wolf pattern on the hunt: wolf becomes all the wolf it can be, shapes the hunt, isolates a member from the heard, brings that member down. With aces high – and again also gray – the higher cards tend to be strategies used from a greater abundance of strength and the lower numbers from comparative weakness in strength. Of course from here we can talk about gaining relative advantage if we cannot have absolute advantage to gain strength for a critical moment…and so on

Terry Barnhart spoke on Boydian organizational applications in a talk called Designing and Implementing Maneuver Strategy in Transforming Major Organizations. Terry said any organizational change had to be accomplished on the realms of the moral, mental, and the physical. With that in mind, he advised mapping the social networks of the organization and speaking in “the language of the culture” and “asking for what you need” when attempting to transformation. The end goal is “aligned autonomy,” and Terry’s recommended method of choice is taken from Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict,Slide 80:

Patterns of Conflict, Slide 80

 

Search out the “surfaces and gaps”, as reference from Slide 86, POC. In Boyd’s language:

•Present many (fast breaking) simultaneous and sequential happenings to generate confusion and disorder—thereby stretch-out time for adversary to respond in a directed fashion.

•Multiply opportunities, to uncover, create, and penetrate gaps, exposed flanks, and vulnerable rears. [emphasis added]

Create and multiply opportunities to splinter organism and envelop disconnected remnants thereby dismember adversary thru the tactical, grand tactical, and strategic levels. [emphasis added]

In Terry’s words, “be everywhere at once” and establish relationships that result in buy-in, avoiding “no,” as Terry advised it can take a couple of years to overcome an objection. As aligned autonomy is reached, word will get around about the successes, and all of sudden what was a single agent of change becomes a movement. So Terry is recommending methods in maneuver warfare as a method in transforming organization culture.

During Terry’s talk, Dave recommended Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie as a guide in navigating the bureaucracy and obstacles often found in large organizations.

Marshall Wallace’s White Board

 

Marshall Wallace’s Theories of Change and Models of Prediction was our final presentation. Marshall has emerged as one of the leading thinkers among Boydeans. Wallace said, “people are lazy” as he led off his discussion of change models. [personal note: I've come to refer to this laziness as "neurological economy"] His thinking was influence by Daniel Kaneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and the Heath brother’s Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard. When change is desired, clarity is an absolute must have. Wallace offered the four models above as example of change. He said we must ask: “What is the change we want to see?” and ” What are the pre-conditions?”—instead of this model, most people begin with the idea, which more often than not, fails.

Wallace walked our group through the models and emphasized the importance of tempo and used his wife’s efforts to establish dog parks in their city. Everything in government has a process, and Wallace said in this case “going slower than the politicians” paid off. Also, for programs of change, it is best if there is 100% transparency of goals. Both Marshall and Terry recommended a book called The Progress Principle, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. The most powerful model for me was the one in the lower right corner—particular the use of “more people” and “key” people in any effort to affect change.

Post meeting, Wallace posted the following to our Facebook group wall, that rounds out and expands his thinking:

I was on the plane back to Boston yesterday morning, deeply engrossed in Terry’s book [Creating a Lean R&D System] when a phrase leapt into my head: “Target the whole organism”.

As the Michaels in our lives (Moore and Polanyi) remind us, “we know more than we can say”. I feel that quite clearly and I constantly struggle with language. I am never satisfied with any presentation I give because I know that, due to failures on my part to use the perfect word at the right moment, I left some understanding on the table.

Somehow the weekend, with spectacular conversation, a good night’s sleep, the enforced idleness of air travel, and Terry’s superb book, shook something loose.

Target the whole organism.

What flashed through my mind at that moment were pieces of the talks.

Jim prompted discussion of what the next set of books about/on/adding to Boyd should look like.

Francis drew a pie wedge with “firepower” on one edge of the pie and “maneuver” on the other. He was describing two schools of thought on conflict as represented by these extremes. Everybody seemed to agree that the balance lay somewhere in the middle and was definitely related to the context.

Robert’s exercises with his strategy decks shook countless examples of strategic action and insight loose in our minds. The combination of cards, taking one from each of the competition and collaboration decks, was especially exciting.

Terry laid out his plan to blitzkrieg his company, and invited us to make it better.

I ended with a 4-cell matrix demonstrating the four basic categories under which all Theories of Change operate (more on this later). Experience has shown that most people operate out of an implicit Theory that traps them in one quadrant, whereas social change only occurs if all four quadrants are affected.

Target the whole organism.

I got home and opened up “The Strategic Game of ? and ?”. Interaction and Isolation.

Firepower and maneuver – at the same time. Competition and collaboration at the same time.

Boyd side-by-side with his sources and several commentators. CEO, discouraged middle-managers, and the line at the same time. More People and Key People at both the individual level and the structural level all at the same time.

Target the whole organism.

A force that uses maneuver to confuse and firepower to destroy will dominate. A force that can swing rapidly between extremes and also find balance is even more slippery than one that acknowledges the “necessary” balance. The two practices can be in separate parts of the battlespace (context matters), but because both are occurring, the confusion generated may well be more intense. It looks as though the force is two distinct armies and communication among the enemy may be unintelligible because the threats being faced are so different.

Bringing collaborative concepts into competitive spaces or vice versa while not abandoning the underlying logic of the space opens up more options, challenges notions, and expands horizons. Can we interact and isolate at the same time? What does that snowmobile look like?

If we want to effect social change, we need to target the whole system. We can sequence our efforts in time, though we can’t forget to move as quickly as the circumstances allow. At the same time, every effort must be connected to the whole organism.

The target is not the target. I do not aim at the eye of the fish. I don’t wan’t to hit the bullseye.

I want to pick up the whole madding crowd of intense archers, cynical kings, and wildly cheering spectators and move them.

This was the first “local” event, and based on the response, we’ll be doing these a few times a year. Many thanks to all who participated, and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to  you all!

UPDATE: Dave shared these with our group. Francis said, “We live and die by bumper stickers.” Here is a good example:

 

Here is Dave’s interpretation of the Sufi elephant:

 

 

 

Cross-posted at To Be or To Do.

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Point and Counterpoint in Defining Warfare II.

Monday, December 10th, 2012

A few comments on the article by Lt. Col. Jill Long at SWJ and the hardheaded critique by Jason Fritz of Inkspots to which I linked yesterday.

First, the attempt that Long was making in posing an alternative to Clausewitz was a laudable one, in the sense that every serious student who picks up a classic text, Clausewitz, Thucydides, Sun Tzu, Marx, Plato, Machievelli, Musashi and so on, should do more than simply try to understand the author and accept their views uncritically. Doing so would make you a parrot, not a scholar. Instead, we need to wrestle with and challenge the text; try to poke holes in the argument, turn it inside out and break it apart, if we are able. Sometimes we can make a legitimate chip or dent but most of the time, we are going to fail – the reason people have read these books for two or twenty centuries is because the arguments of brilliant minds within them continue to have enduring relevance.

I don’t think Long succeeded in her effort here, but if every officer had as part of their PME to formally construct an alternative to Clausewitz as she tried, we’d have a more strategically informed military and arguably one that better understood Clausewitz. If nothing else, Long was intellectually more courageous than the majority of her brother officers to make the attempt in the full glare of public scrutiny and that is praiseworthy

That said, “What is War? A New Point of View” is problematic. In my view, there are three major structural flaws in Long’s article: first, I don’t think she wrestled with On War  to plausibly justify her opening claim that that Clausewitz’s definition of war was obsolete. As Colonel David Maxwell pointed out at SWJ, that kind of bold discussion requires some reference to CvC’s “remarkable trinity”. Jason Fritz was probably speaking for a Clausewitzian legion when he, quite correctly, jumped on her argument for using dictionary definitions(!),  not tackling Clausewitz’s actual definition of war in asserting it was an anachronism or that such a definition can and does apply to non-state actors making war as well as states. You can’t make sweeping claims as a declaratory preface to the subject you’d really like to talk about – your audience will demand proof of your claim first.

The second major problem, is Long similarly dismisses the accepted definition of war under international law which is not only as equally large a field as Clausewitzian thought, it’s far larger and more important – being, you know – binding international law!  Disproving either of these alone is a fit subject for a dissertation or a book, not a paragraph. Sometimes we must learn how to construct a melody before we attempt to write a symphony.

The third structural problem is one of basic epistemology. Long’s assertion that Clausewitz’s (or any ) definition is not sufficiently broad because it is simple and that her definition is because it is complex is fundamentally ass-backwards. The question of definitions is one of the oldest ones in Western philosophy and we know that simple and profound definitions are by nature broadly stated while the negative dialectical process of qualifying them narrows their scope of application by revising the definition in a more complex form.

Jason Fritz raised a very interesting objection in his rebuttal:

….Long fails to adequately describe how the world has changed or how the “Global Era” plays into this. She states that the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have changed how we should perceive the world. It seems that the she believes that that day should have awakened Americans to the threat of non-state actors. Long also states that “‘interconnected systems of trade, finance, information, and security’ demand a larger perspective when considering the engagement of imposing national will on others.” Both of these points are stated in defiance of history. Globalists enjoy selling the greatness and threats of our “interconnected systems” in the modern day, but that presumes that the world is newly interconnected. We know this is not true. Interconnection in today’s world may be faster and easier, but it is not new. States and other political groups have interacted over the elements listed for millennia – look only to the period of global colonization to see how long we as humans have been at this. Long does not describe how today’s globalization is unique and why that changes how we define war.

There are important distinctions to be made here but my short comment would be that globalization has had a significant effect upon warfare but not upon war.

As Jude Wanniski once pointed out, there is and has always been only one “system” – the whole world. What globalization has changed among the constituent parts is the velocity of transactions, their frequency, the potential number of players making transactions, where the system has degrees of transparency and opacity, the incentives and capabilities of political “gatekeepers” to control exchange of information or goods among other things. It is a different global economy than the one under the auspices of Bretton Woods or the quasi-autarkic decade of the Great Depression or the first globalization that died in August 1914.

Most of these things have direct bearing on economics, politics or policy but indirectly on the conduct of warfare as well. Balance of comparative advantages can be altered, situational awareness of conflicts can be heightened and the line between de jure war and “mere violence” uncomfortably blurred. Generally, statesmen have reacted to globalization by imposing greater political constraints – usually more than would be tactically wise or efficient –  on their own use of military force in less than existential conflicts. Generally, this is perceived as an aversion to taking or inflicting casualties and a legalistic-bureaucratic micromanaging of  military commanders and troops.Whether such politically self-imposed limits are useful in pursuing a strategy for military victory is another question, one that can only be answered in specific contexts. Sometimes restraint and de-escalation is the best answer on the strategic level.

What was good in the Long article? In my view, the root idea of conceptualizing of war on a spectrum; it is a useful cognitive device that could accommodate nuances, ideal for examining case studies or changes in warfare over time. But would be more persuasive if developed with accepted definitions.

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