zenpundit.com » Perception

Archive for the ‘Perception’ Category

Is Grand Strategy Democratic?

Friday, August 9th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski – a.k.a. “zen“]

Grand strategy in 1941

A very interesting article at Small Wars Journal by Captain Sean F.X. Barrett, USMC on the state of contemporary grand strategy. Definitely worth the time to read the whole thing:, but I am only going to make meandering comments on a few sections:

The Democratization of Grand Strategy 

Calls for a formalized strategic planning process and grand strategy have been mounting for years.  However, those sounding these calls erroneously remember a past that rarely if ever existed and overestimate the importance of a formalized process and a final product.  Most disconcertingly, they assume that government is necessarily the only supplier of grand strategy, while ignoring that those in government are not incentivized to actually produce it.  In fact, the proliferation of communications technology, which provides the means for accessing a wealth of open source intelligence and for disseminating ideas, and the plethora of academics, analysts, and other intellectuals outside of official government communities provide a more effective, democratic, and transparent substitute to the (oftentimes imagined) Project Solariums of the past.  The environment in which these intellectuals operate nurtures “real devils,” who vigorously propose policy and strategy alternatives in which they truly believe and have a stake in seeing implemented, resulting in a de facto strategic planning process, whose merits far exceed those of a de jure one. 

I think the call for a formal process, or at least an institutionalized forum for “doing grand strategy”, derives from both the lack of incentives correctly noted by Barrett and the frequently piss-poor and astrategic performance of American statesmen after the Soviet collapse. That the resulting criticism, proposals, counter-proposals, debates and domestic politics in drag relating to grand strategy are an alternative, open-source and more effective mechanism than formal planning is an intriguing idea.

Certainly, if a statesman or senior policy adviser have not done hard thinking about geopolitics and grand strategy while in the political wilderness then they won’t do it at all. Once in office, there simply is no time even if the inclination is present. Richard Nixon, who thought very seriously on these matters, as POTUS was militant about having Haldeman carve out undisturbed time for him to continue doing so in a secret “hideaway” office in the EOB. This was highly unusual and difficult even for Nixon to maintain – most presidents and senior officials faced with 18 hour days, 6-7 days a week, simply want to unwind in their off hours, see their loved ones or sleep.

….Furthermore, when formalized strategic planning processes and grand strategy have actually existed, their importance has largely been exaggerated.  For example, Richard Immerman debunks some of the myths surrounding Project Solarium, which is often referenced today as a model for grand strategy.  In referencing the intelligence that was ostensibly utilized during Project Solarium to guide the formation of grand strategy, he argues that, even though President Eisenhower—whose highest priority was to exploit the full resources of government to formulate a more effective and sustainable national strategy—was welcoming of CIA input, this input had minimal impact on President Eisenhower’s policies or grand strategy.[viii]  After such a long time serving in the Army, President Eisenhower had already developed highly formed beliefs about national security, and while intelligence has been perceived as playing a critical role by confirming his beliefs, a lack of confirmation would not have significantly impacted or altered his decisions.[ix]  Furthermore, Immerman claims that he has “never been able to locate a scintilla of evidence collected by the CIA and other agencies that changed Eisenhower’s [mind].”[x]   

While Barrett is correct that in discerning grand strategy in historical eras it is often reified and exaggerated retrospectively -that is because grand strategy, much like strategy itself, has a deeply iterative character. In facing the Soviet challenge,  Project Solarium both responded to and built upon a solid foundation laid by the post-warwise menNSC-68, Containment policy, the Marshall Plan, the National Security Act, the creation of the CIA , NSC, NATO, the Department of Defense, the Truman Doctrine, the X Article, the Long  Telegram, Bretton Woods and stretching back to WWII, the geopolitical vision of The Atlantic Charter, Potsdam and FDR’s Four Freedoms. Project Solarium was not ex nihilo but an effort to improve, shape, refine and surpass what the Eisenhower administration had inherited from it’s Democratic predecessors.

Barrett is also on target when he identifies a strong ideological-political predisposition in formulation of grand strategy. Eisenhower had not only operational/experential preferences but a worldview that he brought with him into the White House and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, had even stronger convictions that, especially in regard to his fierce and almost Calvinistic anti-communism, sometimes render him a caricature today. We have to be careful though in parsing public statements and private assessments. Dulles, despite his hardline reputation, was a sophisticated and highly influential figure in American foreign policy as the senior GOP adviser through most of the 1940’s. Despite talk of “rollback”, neither Dulles nor Eisenhower had any appetite for leaping into Hungary militarily to support the anti-Soviet revolt or supporting the Franco-British-Israeli debacle in the Suez. Still less attractive was the prospect of military intervention in faraway Laos. Grand strategic ideas were applied with realism and prudence by the Eisenhower administration.

….It should come as no surprise that three of the first four members of the 2014 QDR’s “independent” panel are those that self-selected into the DOD and conformed and performed so well as to achieve flag officer rank, including retired Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; retired Air Force Gen. Gregory S. Martin, former commander of Air Force Materiel Command; and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, former Defense Intelligence Agency director.[xx]  The fourth member, Michele Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, has been deemed politically palatable enough by both Congress and the Obama Administration, and one must assume the DOD well, since nominations are not made, and consent by Congress not given, without DOD’s at least tacit approval.  That we insist on calling this panel independent should be disconcerting enough in itself.  The first four members were selected by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will appoint the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the panel, and the other panel appointees will be made by the chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.  This situation is not entirely dissimilar to China under the Ming emperors, wherein the emperors’ concern for stability, obedience, and conformism overlapped with the bureaucracy and their strong aversion to changing the status quo.  The imperial literary examination system of Imperial China helped breed this mutually beneficial conformism, and its effects prove quite relevant in this regard.  While the examination preserved the cultural unity and political stability of China, it also impeded originality and experimentation.[xxi]

Yes.

Arguably, the period of Ming-Q’ing decline may have been superior in the sense that the Confucian classics and the exams upon which they were based that were the gateway to the mandarinate were at least, an objective and respected yardstick, however ossified and ritualized. All we have by contrast are partisan politics, bureaucratic culture and the increasingly oligarchic client-patron networks within the Beltway and Manhattan..

….President Eisenhower commissioned Project Solarium in part to devise a strategy for coping with a lack of knowledge about the Soviets’ intentions and capabilities.  Today, however, more and more strategic intelligence is publicly available.  For example, the National Intelligence Council’s[xxiii] new Global Trends series is unclassified.  We now arguably suffer not from too little information, but from too much. This has increasingly democratized the arena of grand strategy and enabled more and more even amateur analysts to help process the wealth of information in the public domain and formulate it into alternative visions for the future.  One might argue that what these different entities focus on is simply policy or at best strategies for individual instruments of national power.  However, even individual policy or strategy analyses might instead be seen as reflections of the overarching principles that they support (and that are often enumerated in the mission statements of many of these think tanks, institutes, and analysis centers), which as Sinnreich contends, are what in fact help form the basis of an enduring grand strategy

Sort of. There are two other ways to look at this picture.

First, that we have an insufficient consensus bordering on ideological schism within the elite as to what America is and is supposed to become that executing  foreign policy, much less enunciating a grand strategy, cannot get beyond the lowest common denominators between left and right and bureaucratic autopilot. This in turn causes the cacophony of voices on grand strategy. I partially subscribe to this view.

Secondly, that our elite, whatever their divisions over political passions or personalities have a consensus grand strategy ( or at least, an ethos) for generational and class aggrandizement at the expense of the rest of us and American national interest in a way that the former 20th century governing class called the Eastern Establishment would have neither imagined nor tolerated. The resulting ferment of “bottom-up” grand strategy is a result of increasing divergence of interests between rulers and the ruled and an erosion of the former’s legitimacy as a result of their self-aggrandizing game-rigging , abandonment of the ethic of leadership as stewardship for “ubi est mea” and a deficit of competence that contrasts with their enormously inflated collective sense of self-importance.

I partially subscribe to this one as well.

Share

Pie Jesus, dona eis requiem

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — of Ozymandias, as Shelley’s story-teller friend reminds us, all that remains are “vast and trunkless legs of stone” ]
.

I am very fond of the long view, in which each of us becomes (physical) dust and enters (mental) oblivion — not necessarily in that order — see Shelley, Osymandias, best read by the wonderful Eleanor Bron

I take the video below, with its scenes both of a young girl playing a tribute of flowers to the fallen of 9/11 and of Osama bin Laden, set to Fauré‘s plangent and beautiful Pie Jesus, dona eis requiemBlessed Jesus, grant them peace — as truly comprehensible only in that long view, where oblivion meets forgiveness…
.


.

**

The notes accompanying the video tell us:

Uploaded on May 4, 2011
Pie Jesu (from Requiem by Gabriel Fauré)

Words : Tommaso da Celano (1200 – 1265)
Music : Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924)

Conductor : Michel Corboz
Soprano : Alain Clement
Organ: Philippe Corboz
Berne Symphony Orchestra

Recording on May 1972, in Casino de Berne, Switzerland

Verse :

Pie Jesu Domine (Merciful Jesus) ,
dona eis requiem (grant them rest) ,
sempiternam requiem (grant them everlasting rest) .

Notes:

1) The War in Afghanistan (1979 – 1989)

was a conflict involving the Soviet Union and her puppet against the indigenous Afghan Mujahideen and foreign “Arab–Afghan” volunteers. The mujahideen found military and financial support from a variety of sources particularly Saudi Arabia and the United States.

2) September 11 Attack

The September 11 attacks were a series of coordinated suicide attacks by al-Qaeda led by “Osama bin Laden” upon the United States on September 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 victims include 343 firefighters and 60 police officers died in the attacks.

The United States responded to the attacks, invaded Afghanistan. This war is not over yet.

3) Osama bin Laden (1957 – 2011)

Osama bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. On 1979 he joined the Afghan Mujahideen as a volunteer. After withdrawn USSR, he founded “al-Qaeda” in the war-devastated land and took the decisive action on September 11 2001. U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he had been killed by US armed forces on May 2 2011.

Fauré’s Requiem is one of the classic works of sacred choral music, and Michel Corboz deservedly one of the pre-eminent conductors of that repertoire.

This video, as you may have guessed, comes from the same source as the other examples of strange pairings of music and visuals which I discussed recently in Taylor Swift, Sara Mingardo, JS Bach and a quiet WTF, and I hope brings closure to that piece.

**

I tracked down the picture of the young girl. it is titled:

Cazzandra Peterson leaves flowers at Ground Zero in memory of father William Peterson during the 7th annual 9/11 memorial ceremony September 11, 2008 in New York City.

Family and friends of the victims, heads of government and others gathered at the annual ceremony to remember the attacks that killed more than 2,700 people with the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

(September 10, 2008 – Source: PETER FOLEY/Getty Images North America)

**

Pie Jesus, dona eis requiem.

Share

Moral Degeneration in the Crucible of War

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

 

The recent post on Is 4GW Dead? stirred a great deal of interest, so I would like to extend the discussion on a point that that is critical not only for those who have responsibility for conducting military campaigns, but for statecraft and policy as well.

One of more important tenets of 4GW was the importance of “the moral level of war”, drawn from Colonel John Boyd’s thinking on the strategic impact of a combatant’s behavior, immoral  or exemplary, on all observers – belligerents, civilian noncombatants, neutral third parties, the media, the combatant’s own soldiers and citizens back home. Here is Boyd:

Morally our adversaries isolate themselves when they visibly improve their well being to the detriment of others (allies, the uncommitted), by violating codes of conduct or behavior patterns that they profess to uphold or others expect them to uphold.

· Morally we interact with others by avoiding mismatches between what we say we are what we are and the world we have to deal with, as well as by abiding by those other cultural codes or standards we are expected to uphold.

In a Reader’s Digest version of Boyd,  heroic, noble and magnanimous  behavior is admirable and attractive while hypocrisy, cruelty and cowardice are repulsive and antagonizing characteristics. While the former won’t guarantee your victory and the latter, unfortunately, won’t ensure your defeat, they will be a significant factor in ameliorating or generating friction.  The impression given by an army impacts the will of the enemy to fight, the morale and discipline of the soldiers, the restiveness of the civilians, the loyalty of allies and the goodwill of neighbors.

Boyd developed his thinking about the moral level of war in Patterns of Conflict  all the way up to grand strategy and above. The rub about the moral level  is that war is a crucible that puts every “cultural code” or “standard” to the test, as well as the character of the men fighting it and their leaders upon whom great responsibility rests.  Even with the best of intentions in policy and careful generalship in the field, the horrors of war can erode moral fiber and military discipline in an army, in a company or in the heart of one man. Nor does every army begin with good intentions and effective discipline – some fighting forces are scarcely to be regarded as “armies” at all while others embrace the darkness as a matter of policy.

In terms of warfare, let us define “moral degeneration” as a degraded state of moral decline where a belligerent has effectively abandoned the operational and tactical restraints on conduct mandated by the Laws of War (i.e. war crimes are SOP) and in some instances, the vestiges of civilization.

A textbook example of this kind of moral degeneration came to light a few weeks ago when a jihadi lunatic in Syria, a rebel commander Khalid al-Hamad, who goes by the name of “Abu Sakkar”, cut out the heart of a (presumably) dead government soldier and ate it on video. Charles Cameron expounded at length upon this minor atrocity here. I am not, to say the least, a fan of radical, revolutionary, transnational Sunni Islamism but I cannot honestly say that its proponents like Abul Mawdudi , Sayid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden and their ilk ever openly advocated cannibalism. It is much more likely that Mr. al-Hamad’s behavior is explained by the ferocity of the civil war in Syria eroding customary norms of the combatants than  it is by Islamist ideology.

Moral degeneration in war seems to spring from two directions:

a) As a calculated act of Policy, from the top down, enforced by the leadership by military discipline and bureaucratic control.

b) As a spontaneous reaction by soldiers or fighters, appearing from the bottom up, without orders and frequently, in spite of them, possibly due to a breakdown in the chain of command, an erosion of discipline or sheer mutiny for the age-old purpose of reprisal, pillage and rapine.

The first category often occur with war as a convenient cover rather than a cause of grave crimes against humanity that leaders and  ideologues had long wished to carry out. The Armenian Genocide, as John Keegan wrote, belongs properly to the history of Ottoman imperial policy than it did WWI; in truth, the Genocide was the greatest and worst in a long succession of vicious pogroms that the Ottomans had launched against their Armenian Christian subjects during the reign of Abdul Hamid and the Young Turks. The Holocaust (which had some inspiration in Hitler’s mind, from the fate of the Armenians) was more closely tied to the evolution of  Nazi war policy but once Operation Barbarossa opened up the vast spaces of Soviet Eurasia, “the East” in Nazi parlance, the war itself increasingly took a backseat to expediting Hitler and Himmler’s ghastly and murderous racial priorities. This is a pattern of a priori planning, an escalating ideological radicalization of society that tends to be present with most of the large scale democides and genocides. It is the organizational powers of  coercion utilized by the state, or a mobilized faction of , it that makes the enormous scale of death possible, not the war.

What is different and also dangerous about moral degeneration from the bottom-up, is that it is cultural evolution driven by the psychological effects of extreme violence at work and, unlike an act of policy, more likely to be diffused widely across society as a permanent change for the worse. Too many German soldiers in WWI, former peasants and artisans and boys from middle-class families, returned from the Western Front morally coarsened and addicted to the adrenalin rush of combat and became in succession Freikorps paramilitaries, Communist streetfighters, Nazi Stormtroopers and SS men. The World War also gave Russia the men of the Cheka, the Red terror and the first Gulags on the Bolshevik Left and brutal and mad warlords on the White Right.

In more recent two decades, the break-up of Yugoslavia unleashed atavistic passions of ethnic hatred and atrocity, while organized society in Western African states and central Africa broke down entirely in transnational regional civil wars with unrestrained massacres and mass rape. As a result, there is little that is political but much that is primeval, at this juncture, to explain Joseph Kony’s motivations; he resembles nothing so much as a 21st century Kurtz. Mexico too is degenerating from the escalating violence of cartel insurgency and narco-cultas – there is not much tactical or strategic value in pagan death cults or human sacrifice but it is spreading:

…Our impression is that what is now taking place in Mexico has for some time gone way beyond secular and criminal (economic) activities as defined by traditional organized crime studies.3 In fact, the intensity of change may indeed be increasing. Not only have de facto politicalelements come to the fore-i.e., when a cartel takes over an entire city or town, they have no choice but to take over political functions formerly administered by the local government- but social (narcocultura) and religious/spiritual (narcocultos) characteristics are now making themselves more pronounced. What we are likely witnessing is Mexican society starting to not only unravel but to go to war with itself. The bonds and relationships that hold that society together are fraying, unraveling, and, in some instances, the polarity is reversing itself with trust being replaced by mistrust and suspicion. Traditional Mexican values and competing criminal value systems are engaged in a brutal contest over the ?hearts, minds, and souls‘ of its citizens in a street-by-street, block-by-block, and city-by-city war over the future social and political organization of Mexico. Environmental modification is taking place in some urban centers and rural outposts as deviant norms replace traditional ones and the younger generation fully accepts a criminal value system as their baseline of behavior because they have known no other. The continuing incidents of ever increasing barbarism-some would call this a manifestation of evil even if secularly motivated-and the growing popularity of a death cult are but two examples of this clash of values. Additionally, the early rise of what appears to be cartel holy warriors may now also be taking place. While extreme barbarism, death cults, and possibly now holy warriors found in the Mexican cartel wars are still somewhat the exception rather than the rule, each of these trends is extremely alarming, and will be touched upon in turn.

The crucible of war either tempers a people or it breaks them.

Share

Human beings a whole lot more interesting than expected

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — human beings are a whole lot more interesting than was previously thought, evidence suggests ]
.
First, you should know that the English Defence League is, by its own account, “an inclusive movement dedicated to peacefully protesting against Islamic extremism.”

Now read on..

Or as Qur’an 49.13 puts it:

O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.

**

The Gospel suggests, Matthew 5.44:

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…

and I am put in mind of this pair of images, both of which feature people I learned about for the first time in just the last couple of days:

**

Rev. Will D Campbell is the one shaking hands with Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy after the MLK assassination, in the top panel of the DoubleQuote above. He was a rare man — as the NYT puts is, “one of the few white clerics with an extensive field record as a civil rights activist” — which naturally reminds me, too, of my own mentor, Fr. Trevor Huddleston.

C.P. Ellis was a Ku Klux Klan leader until he met civil rights worker Ann Atwater, with whom he is pictured immediately below Abernathy and Campbell.

**

Wait, there’s more —

The first pair of images, above, comes from the UK, and the second pair from the US. So what’s the difference?

Apparently, the Brits serve tea while the Americans sip whiskey

Abernathy’s reverend friend is the gentleman described in the lower panel here, the one who drinks whiskey with Klansmen. Go figure: love trumps hate.

**

To get the full charge of these various stories, you might want to read:

  • Woolwich Attacks: Muslim Leaders At York Mosque Invite EDL In For Tea
  • EDL March With Muslims In Ipswich In Memory Of Lee Rigby
  • Rev. Will D. Campbell, Maverick Minister in Civil Rights Era, Dies at 88
  • The Ann Atwater approach
  • **

    Of course, the type of beverage you offer on these occasions must depend to some extent on the dietary habits and restrictions of both parties…

    Share

    America the Home of the Brave?

    Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

    An excellent op-ed in the Washington Post by Small Wars Journal editor and author of War, Welfare and Democracy,  Peter J. Munson 

    An America Cramped by Defensiveness by Peter J. Munson 

    ….Since I returned home, a darkness has grown in me as both I and our nation have failed to live up to the sacrifices of these young men and women. I had no expectation of “victory” in Afghanistan or Iraq, whatever that would mean. Nor did I expect some epiphany of strategic insight or remorse from the nation’s brain trust.

    I just found that I could not square the negativity, pettiness and paranoia in the discourse of our country’s elders with the nobility and dedication of the men and women I had seen and served with in Afghanistan.

    Over time, as I listened to the squabbling, I realized that about the only thing Americans agree on these days is gratitude bordering on reverence for our military. It troubled me that the sum total of consensus in our discourse is deference toward the defenders of our nation.

    Eventually, it dawned on me that the focus on defense was the root of our problem.

    After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States sent its military off to war and fretted about post-traumatic stress disorder — but paid little attention to the fact that America itself was traumatized. Americans became angry and withdrawn. We are fearful and paranoid because after a strike on our nation we chose to focus on defense rather than the resilience and vitality that made America great. In our defensive mind-set, we bristle at every change in a world undergoing an epochal transformation.

    We have little reason to be so negative. Certainly the rest of the world is gaining on us, but this represents the success of explicit U.S. policies. After World War II, the United States sought to create a world of economic interdependence and prosperity, hoping to banish the malaise that helped precipitate a global conflict. The prospect of rapid growth in the developing world was not viewed as a threat but rather offered the promise of robust markets for American goods and ingenuity. We were confident and focused on the positive tasks of expanding our economy rather than fearing change…..

    If you go back and look at news coverage of September 11, you will be struck by the calmness of ordinary citizens in New York in the face of carnage, their lack of panic and firm determination to help. The bravery and sacrifice of firefighters, EMT and police, the dogged resolution of rescue workers digging for victims, the sheer heroism of the passengers of  United Airlines Flight 93 who, led by Todd Beamer, stopped the al Qaida hijackers from ramming another plane into another skyscraper or perhaps the Capitol Building.

    All of the security theater, the attacks on liberty, the surveillance state machinations, creeping normalization of government thuggery, bureaucratization, centralization and paternalism that have since been justified in the name of 9/11 were not needed on that day nor wanted by the overwhelming mass of American citizens afterwards.  It was wanted by our “leaders” – who were largely irrelevant to events on September, 11 – because it conformed to their worldview and overweening personal need for “control” of a democratic citizenry they would prefer to be less autonomous and more passive, docile, compliant and disengaged.

    We need to revive the American spirit and the first steps are rolling back much of the illiberalism of the past decade.

    Share

    Switch to our mobile site