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Is Grand Strategy Democratic?

[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]


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.

21 Responses to “Is Grand Strategy Democratic?”

  1. T. Greer Says:

    Strategy may be made by the great minds above, but it is put into practice by those at the mid level. Often times decisions of great strategic import – say, should we let all these Goths in, – were and are and must be made without any direct input from the top at all. Grand strategy is what unifies the decisions of these disparate and scattered actors. It guides their individual priorities and defines their vision of victory. It cannot be imposed from above. If the spirit is missing, no number of letters will suffice.
    As such, the line between strategy and identity is blurry and very hard to draw. The political and strategic culture of the decision making class is, for all practical intents and purposes, a nation’s grand strategy. Thus a people’s ability to create, implement, and stick to a grand strategy is very much dependent on their cohesion and sense of identity – their asabiyah.. Asabiyah aligns self interest with larger group interest. It is the force that convinces individuals it is in their self interest to die for their country. It provides a powerful lens through which to view the world. When it declines the lens cracks. Individuals – or small, individual classes – put self interest over group interest and unified action becomes impossible. At best you get our current bout of strategic schizophrenia, at worst the divisions of Caesars and Athonies.

  2. T. Greer Says:

    Oops, first paragraph was cut off there. Not going to rewrite it all. Ths gist: the great majority of American grand strategy theorizing are really just personal wish lists dressed up in grand terms. The dynamics of strategy creation are usually ignored.
    I have written about this with more depth over at my place. (Though I have yet to write an essay that explicitly connects strategy with asabiyah, so termed. That one is still in the works). The two most recent pieces:
    Grand Strategy Absent Grand Ends”
    T. Greer. The Scholar’s Stage. 18 March 2013.
    Strategy is Who You Are
    T. Greer. The Scholar’s Stage. 27 Feb 2013.

  3. seydlitz89 Says:


    Interesting article by Barrett.  Three comments . . .
    His comment on Reagan’s speech at the Berlin Wall brings back memories.  RR’s invitation to the Soviet leadership to “tear down this wall” required action on the Soviet’s part, with the US providing incentives to this massive turn in Soviet policy, essentially giving up their Eastern European empire . . . but this required more RR the diplomat than RR the sword rattler.  The fall of the Berlin Wall was actually accomplished by the East Germans, but was in line with US interests as they had been defined since, what the Mr X Article?  The point here is that in grand strategy, or any strategy that the US will expect to follow today, we will  have to lean more on the none coercive elements of power.
    Barrett’s Colin Gray quote (Note xvi) regards Clausewitz’s general theory of war.  But among the doctrinal speculators who dominate the strategic discussions today there is precious little understanding of even the existence of the general theory, let alone it’s seeming necessity in strategy formulation.  The construction of the tower of babel comes to mind . . . but at this point in time the “builders” are unable to decide on what a plan would even look like . . . All of course pursuing their own individual interests while blathering about common goals.  I think specifically of those feeding at the public spending trough of the war on terror industry . . .
    Finally, and we have spoken about this before . . . what is the political context?  Is the goal simply sustaining the status quo, that is precluding the raise of any competing power, that is maintaining our supposed state of dominance?  If so, then what we are talking about is not strategy at all, but simply a desire and far too broad to approach in terms of strategic theory.

  4. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    I vehemently disagree that grand strategy is more “democratic” under today’s interconnected policy wonk-think-tank-military-industrial-academic-media complex.
    One only has to look at the ways R2P or the spate of “doctrines” (Bush Doctrine, Obama Doctrine, etc.) have come about to realize that such doctrines are just as non-democratic as the doctrines built at Yalta or Bretton Woods.  It just so happens that, in the past, there was a more rigid path to power than now, and consequently, there was more quality control of the individuals involved.
    Today, that’s not the case.  Rather, the instruments of national power come under the sway of undemocratically elected or selected personalities, who come to power by ingratiating themselves to the political establishment.  They make decisions and policy, and then reap the spoils of power.  One only needs to remember the group of people that Rumsfeld brought in from the various conservative think tanks, and then compare the outright selection of much of the leadership of CNAS by the Obama administration.
    Paul Wolfowitz and Michele Flournoy have a great deal in common.  As do Doug Feith and Samanth Power.
    Once these people are discredited, they do not pay the price of failure.  At least elites in the past did.  The costs of failure are now transferred to the public at large, while damage is done to the instruments of power.
    The solution?  Disconnect highly-undemocratic academia and the think tanks from the process of creating policy.  (I know it will never happen, but that doesn’t make me wrong.)  Utilize the talent resident within the instruments of power, where risks materialize as something more than a handsome book deal and a round on the sunday morning talking head circuit.

  5. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi NTL,
    If there were a “like” button…most of these think-tank bubbas come into “power” with policy agendas disconnected from anything approaching “grand strategy.” These advisors are more like power courtiers who are given just enough power to make a mess, but not enough accountability for their performance.
    DoD/DoS (the national government, for that matter) are closed systems for the most part—and regardless party, all tend towards policies/______ doctrines, so called, that have cost us blood and treasure and have little or nothing to do with our national interests…too much theory, as you suggest…

  6. Grurray Says:

    I agree with T. Greer.  The mid level is where the disruptive innovation originates which really wags the dog.
    Much the same way colonels always lead the coups.
    Ike looks better with each passing presidency, but he was no stranger to acting with uncertain information such as Omaha Beach or getting blind sided from intel failures like the Ardennes counteroffensive.

     What probably helped push the containment strategy thru was the fact that we had a nearly 10:1 casualty advantage in Korea and were still held to a stalemate. 

  7. Ralph H. Says:

    Does anyone (not in the depths of the blogosphere) pay much attention to the QDR these days?  Is there a grand strategic rival anywhere on the horizon?  (The PRC, for example, doesn’t really pose a national security challenge.)  Our front-burner security issue is really an international police/intelligence/low-intensity conflict challenge about which we know all too much.  In my opinion.

  8. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    U.S. grand strategy politics is only suboptimal if you assume its agenda is Benthamite equilibrium i.e. “seeking the greatest good for the greatest number”. If, as is more likely, you assume its agenda is to actively bring about a “Creepy State” rentier apparatus controlled by the sort of apparatchiks who make up the narrow target demographic of The Mouth of Sauron Charlie Rose Show, then its performance is only mediocre. If, from the textbook persepective, the U.S. is not only doing the wrong thing but doing the wrong thing wrongly, it’s doing so in such a way that continues to generate an sufficient supply of periwig-esque gaming opportunities for the military-financial complex. As with DoD, the core mission of the official and unofficial grand strategic political apparat is procurement: anything that interrupts delivery of public violence-backed securities into elite private hands is verboten.

  9. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Great point…engineers, civil servant, and military went from planning for war as a focus, to acquisition is the end-all. On the navy side, the decision was conscious in the late 80’s to move from a government engineering focus to a acquisition focus—using engineers. Imagine attracting good ones when they spend 90% of their time mired down in process…Now many navy commands are staffed by generalists at the mercy of their prime contractor—who are increasingly untalented in the martial arts and sciences as well. As an old navy Chief once told me, “any thing is possible when you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” Hence we get JSF and LCS and other madness in the technicolor of PowerPoint…all this before strateegery is ever considered… 

  10. prbeckman Says:

    Grand strategy is supposed to be about all the elements of national power not just the military. But this is what always happens, someone complains about our inadequacies at grand strategy, then the conversations inevitably default back to discussions about the military. Which is understandable, after all it’s much more exciting to be an armchair general than an armchair trade negotiator.  

    From what I’ve seen most people who have an interest in grand strategy begin with an interest in military history and as time passes and they read more they eventually become interested in grand strategy at which point they begin complaining that other people don’t know enough about grand strategy. It’s not really fair for those of us who have an interest in this area to complain that those who don’t share that interest don’t know anything about it. After all there was a time before we knew what it was too. Chances are if you don’t have a personal interest in military issues or foreign policy that you’ve never even heard of “grand strategy”.

    The underlying challenge we face is how do we spread some knowledge of strategic thinking as broadly as possible, out beyond the circle of those who have an innate interest in the subject.  

    My suggestion is that we focus on domestic disaster response rather than war & military strategy as a means if disseminating strategic thinking and here’s why. Strategy is about connecting ends-ways-means. It’s about setting priorities; about allocating limited resources to achieve policy goals. Most people have no interest in studying war & military affairs but everybody is impacted by natural disasters. Every year the US faces hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, floods, wildfires, earthquakes and other natural disasters. As we all know these pose great challenges to us and preparing and responding to them requires the same kind of strategic thinking that is required in waging war. It involves at the federal level DOD, Coast Guard and other assets; at the state level, national guard & state police; and local fire and police (and much more). If these kinds of resources were being used to fight a war we’d be demanding a strategy, but use the same resources for disaster response and we shrug our shoulders. But this is an area that is as yet unexplored by the kinds of strategic scholars who usually end up writing about the well-worn subjects of war & military strategy (and thus offers a great opportunity for ambitious strategic thinkers.)

    If we frame strategic thinking primarily in terms of national security we’re only going to reach a narrow slice of the population, but if we frame it in terms of disaster or emergency response then we can potentially reach everybody in some way. 100% of the American people & private sector institutions from businesses, charities, religious institutions etc. are impacted in some way by disasters; all governments, local, state & federal have to plan for and respond to natural disasters. Disaster response demands the connection of ends-ways-means, but where are the great disaster response strategists? If we adapt strategic thinking to disaster response we have a far greater chance of dissemination than if we continue to expect that everyone will wake up one day and decide to study national security issues. Since federal officials have usually served in some prior local and state position they will be more likely to encounter strategic thinking via disaster response than through national security experience. And it will be easier for them to transfer that experience to national security issues than for them to start from scratch. 

  11. zen Says:

    Great comments gents!
    T. Greer – “When it declines the lens cracks. Individuals – or small, individual classes – put self interest over group interest and unified action becomes impossible. 

    Nate – ” 
    It just so happens that, in the past, there was a more rigid path to power than now, and consequently, there was more quality control of the individuals involved.”
     Seydlitz89 – “
    But among the doctrinal speculators who dominate the strategic discussions today there is precious little understanding of even the existence of the general theory, let alone it’s seeming necessity in strategy formulation.  The construction of the tower of babel comes to mind . . . but at this point in time the “builders” are unable to decide on what a plan would even look like
    Nothing to disagree with there. What would be useful – though this is only a temporary band-aid – is a massive infusion of outsiders with a new administration that consciously avoids picking rotten fruit from the same barrels to disrupt the cozy, incestuous relationships that interweave k street, the MSM, Wall St., Harvard-Yale-Princeton law, the defense industry, the billionaire meddlers of Aspen/Davos and capitol hill. Of course, the political spats will be furious as they were in the early Reagan years. Reagan did not just bring in conservative appointees to liberal DC bureaucracies – he brought in large numbers of them from *outside* the Beltway-Manhattan axis who had no ties to the locals and filled up all those new slots made available by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 with non-career people. This was intentional and a strategy to “nit the ground running” and get real control of policy from Washington insiders ( who naturally resented it bitterly). While the Reagan folks either were eventually replaced or captured in time, for a few years this influx threw Washington into disarray as information that used to flow to Congress and the media to give Congress the upper hand over Nixon, Ford and Carter stopped until new relationships could be built
    Of course this unlikely event would only create a short breathing space in which to try to ram through 1-3 systemic reforms.
     Hi Ralph
    I agree China is not a threat in the sense that we used to measure them. OTOH it is definitely adversarial in many policies and is trying to rewrite large portions of international law in terms of territorial claims in ways we can’t really accept even if we don’t wish to fight about them either. The Chinese do not seem to have one voice in foreign policy but rivalrous factions below the steering committee of the politburo

  12. Madhu Says:

    The solution?  Disconnect highly-undemocratic academia and the think tanks from the process of creating policy.  (I know it will never happen, but that doesn’t make me wrong.)  Utilize the talent resident within the instruments of power, where risks materialize as something more than a handsome book deal and a round on the sunday morning talking head circuit.
    @NTL: I sometimes fantasize that if I win the lottery or something, I will start my own think tank but it will be a think tank that does nothing but debunk all the bad ideas running around the national security and military intellectual world. Forget CNAS, AEI, all the other acronym rich this-and-that in academia too. The tank will be called WDYTTSS?: why do you think that stupid &$%^ ?
    Ideology, greed, foreign interest lobbying and shaping, pride, servility, jealousy, you name it. Every kink known to man probably explains American foreign policy better than the endless PhD papers churned out year after year, unread and unloved, even if very good.
    You can trace my bad online behavior (remember when I was so sweet and nice to everyone?) to the exact moment I realized I was a fool to read all those academic papers and take them seriously.
    Nine times out of ten, there is no “there” there if you really try and track back the ideas. 

  13. Madhu Says:

    Zen, I wonder if anyone has looked at left over Reagan appointees versus Nixon appointees (current players inside the beltway) when looking at “stupid *^%$” that people think regarding my favorite kink, American, or Anglo-American nonsense toward “South Asia”? The old Nixon wallah’s in the early 2000’s were almost unthinking in their approaches, but I might be making this up.
    One of these days, I am going to bust out my “Madeleine Albright” story, all rubber chicken lunches and interviews with an audience filled with young Boston area female professionals, eager to intellectually kiss the hem of the insider….
    But it’s too nice out today and I have other things to do, so maybe later. 

  14. Madhu Says:

    @ Seydlitz:
     Seydlitz89 – “But among the doctrinal speculators who dominate the strategic discussions today there is precious little understanding of even the existence of the general theory, let alone it’s seeming necessity in strategy formulation. 
    Interesting take. I tend to think the opposite happens at times.  There is more time spent thinking about how many angels-of-Clausewitz fit on the head of a pin than understanding anything else about the world.
    I somehow never thought military intellectuals–or a subset–would be so dreamy eyed and divorced from reality. Maybe Tom Ricks is right about military education, on a certain level.
    I wrote the following on SWJ:
    It’s like you all need a Journal of Theoretical Military Science to handle all the attempts to find a complete theory of war and Journal of Applied Military Science to study ways in which American military power may be reasonably used to achieve a strategic end, and even if that end is diffuse and ill-considered, are there minimalist strategies or operational frameworks that might mitigate some of the strategic disaster?
    I’m not joking, for reasons that are unclear to me people confuse grand theoretical philosophical concepts for the hard work that must be done in trying understand a particular campaign and come up with reasonable frameworks within with to operate–that also keep in mind the American system.
    Outsiders see this which is probably why you are seeing British publications like Infinity Journal, The Journal of Operations or War on the Rocks.
    And there was an article in Infinity Journal by a West Point professor on just this topic, how few students take a course in strategy, or how to line up all your ducks in a row, so to speak….
    But, hahaha, are those British publications really, I just made that up. I never read bios. 

  15. Madhu Says:

    Also, I’ve always been kind of a know-it-all &^%* but know one seemed to mind before, there is something about some of the more serious foreign policy and military sites that is a bit, I dunno, priggish, at times? No wonder people have to READ about creativity….
    I’m so tired, I’ve been having too much fun lately, ignore my ten-kind-of-crazy, I’m barely awake. 

  16. seydlitz89 Says:

    There is more time spent thinking about how many angels-of-Clausewitz fit on the head of a pin than understanding anything else about the world. 
    This is usually how an article bashing Clausewitz starts out, the usual “Clausewitz as catechism” canard, as in William Olson’s recent attack.  Funny how I’ve never read a Clausewitzian actually referring to Clausewitz in this way, but hey if you’ve got an example . . . I’d like to see it . . .
    Strategic theory is simply a tool to deal with strategy or in military historical analysis.  You don’t need strategic theory to “do” strategy, but many people who think a lot about strategy think it’s a good thing.  Clausewitz’s general theory (which forms the basis of strategic theory) has been around for some time and some Clausewitzian thinkers since Clausewitz (Weber, Goltz, Svechin, Fuller, Mao, Niebuhr, Galula, Schelling, Münkler, Rupert Smith, Emile Simpson) have added insights to the general theory expanding it in important ways.  I would argue that JC Wylie was a Clausewitzian as well, although he didn’t realize it and had been confused by the writings of BHL Hart.  Also Venkat Rao’s concepts are very compatible with the general theory imo . . .
    So on one side you’ve got the general theory and on the other you have the various doctrinal speculators selling their version of “how war has changed” or “how to deal with this existential threat” . . . which of course involves not a small amount of “faith” for lack of better word.  So who exactly is dealing with as Olson says, “liturgical mysteries revealed by an inner light known only to true initiates”?  If you think it’s the Clausewitzians, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree . . . 

  17. Madhu Says:

    You  misunderstood my point.
    I am not an anti-Clausewitzian and I was not bashing Clausewitz. I was making the point that Pat Lang often makes on his blog, you need to know a little something about the world too, the greatest theoretician in the world still needs to know a little something about the peoples and places of the world.
    I was lampooning this ignorance so I was not making the same point as the anti-Clausewitzians. The problem most certainly isn’t studying Clausewitz, a deeply important writer worth studying indeed, but ignorance, but in thinking that all you need to study is Clausewitz and nothing else. I know I exaggerate for effect, but it is that attitude that I was making fun of….
    You’ve clearly never read my comments making fun of Lind or the “states are not important” crowd. I wager we agree more than disagree but as an educator I’ve noted that if you spend too much time on one subject, you may be woefully underprepared in other areas. That’s all I meant.
    How you got anti-Clausewitz from my comment I don’t understand? 

  18. Madhu Says:

    I am not a fan of the doctrinal speculators either, and find Clausewitz far more interesting. Again, I was making fun of the type of person that thinks all he or she needs to do is study a favorite text or conflict and ignore everything else. A third point different from the anti-Clausewitzians who I think misunderstand this and blame Clausewitz.
    Sigh, is that more clear this time around? Again, you and I likely agree a great deal. 

  19. seydlitz89 Says:

    I take strategic theory very seriously . . . 

  20. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    Many Clausewitzians get doctrinaire because the Clausewitz many of his enemies attack is not only a straw man but a poorly made designed by GOSPLAN committee straw man. If you are going to calumny a dead Prussian, at least do it with even just a minimum touch of style and verve.


    The super CvC created by his self-appointed groupies to slay the straw CvC is just as fictional. Is Vom Krieg the last word on war for all time? No. Is it an unfinished book with massive holes in it? Yes. Are parts of it impenetrable? Yes. Are some passages so vague that they can be reinterpreted to cover any imaginable future contingency. You betcha.


    But there are parts of CvC that have yet to be surpassed in the philosophy of war. Many of those bits are those cherry-picked by his detractors in drawing their CvC cartoon. So the lines harden along that front.

  21. seydlitz89 Says:

    I don’t see it that way.
    It’s simple in terms of strategic theory.  One either admits that a Clausewitzian general theory of war exists and that it forms the basis of strategic theory, or not.  That is one accepts strategic theory as a retrospectively orientated complex of interlocking concepts useful for strategic analysis of military history or as a starting point for strategic planning, or not.  You can spot a Clausewitzian strategic theorist very quickly, which doesn’t mean you’re going to agree with him/her, politics and all that . . .  That’s what I mean by “Clausewitzian”, but then I’m a strategic theorist so I would see it that way . . .  
    Now if I were a military historian, or a naval historian, I might see it differently, arguing against the possibility of a general theory at all, as van Creveld has done in his second incarnation . . . How effective do you rate his argument?  
    Some military historians don’t see any “timeless element” at all.  Clausewitz, Thucydides, Marx, Weber, Morgenthau are all products/creatures of their respective times, period.  My point here is that if you approach Clausewitz in this way, we’re talking about a lot of different flavors, whereas with strategic theory only two.
    As to the doctrinal speculators, they have an agenda, to sell their version of “how war has changed” or “how to deal with this existential threat”.  For them “Clausewitz” stands for what was being done wrong before the path was lightened by their own brilliance.  So they chop a few quotes, kick around their little strawman and then quickly go on selling their soap.  So they’re not really “enemies of Clausewitz”, they’re charlatans selling doctrinal snake oil, but at the same time degrading any possibility of a coherent strategic discussion . . . which is pretty much where we as a political community are now and have been since 9/11 and even before . . . it is much more this self-interested degradation of the strategic discussion that I think Clausewitzians struggle against.
    Finally, a “Doctrinaire Clausewitzian” for me would be something quite different, a person using Clausewitz’s early 19th Century art of war as a basis for military doctrine I would assume, which has very limited applicability, perhaps more for Napoleonic battle reenactments . . . 

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