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As Long as I am on an Anglospheric Strategy Kick…..


Here’s two from the other side of the pond:

Offshore BalancerLecture Notes: Grand Strategy

….Bottom line up front: Grand strategy is a vision, not a plan. We tend to think of it nowadays as something institutionalised and  grandiose, written down in solemn declaratory documents, thrashed out by committees, created by new layers of bureaucracy. The word is rampant in public life. But just because we institutionalise and declare strategy, doesn’t mean we do it. Grand strategy is not necessarily the product of grand structures.

In fact, it might not be that at all. Systematic attempts to codify strategy often don’t work. The Princeton Project, for instance, which gathered a gang of experts on foreign policy, came up with an elaborate world view that was not very strategic, because in all the political gravitas and seriousness they forget to do the most important thing: prioritise, balance power and interests, give us an idea to organise around, and note how and where our power is limited. Committees and structures can be the enemies of strategic thought. They take ideas and disfigure them beyond all recognition. Just ask George Kennan, whose idea of containment – non-universal, pragmatic, selective – was in his own words ambiguous and lent itself to misinterpretation. It become militarised, universal and crusading.

So instead of thinking about the institutional home of strategy – the National Security Council, or the NSS – I want to return to the core of this discipline, of strategy not as a system but as a sensibility. t is a set of basic ideas and instincts about relationship between power and goals, strong enough to give us a sense of pattern in the chaos, but elastic enough to respond to crisis….

This is actually a very long post. I particularly like the last paragraph in the excerpt by Dr. Porter – the pragmatic sense of strategy there reminds me of the Greek classics, particularly Xenophon. Vision and aspiration without magical thinking.

Kings of WarIs politics the enemy of strategy?

The Faceless Bureaucrat writes…

….It is therefore interesting to wonder, as Gordon Goldstein does in his book Lessons in Disaster (references to which figure in Bob Woodward’s recent Obama’s Wars), if politics isn’t the enemy of strategy.  Because of the need to compromise, and the need to worry about mid-term elections, optics, spin, and implications, doesn’t politics just cloud what should be crystal clear?  Wouldn’t military action just be better if it were protected from the fog of politics? 

Clausewitz, of course, would disagree.  But let’s see if we can address this issue without referring to the Prussian. 

Politics has to deal with the real world, which can be larger and more complex than the battlefield.  Sometimes (a key word here) the battlefield, for all its dangers and pitfalls, can be deceptive.  Ideas like ‘clear and hold’, or ‘feed ‘em, don’t bleed ‘em’ make sense, if looked at narrowly, without reference to the need for resources, or the need to maintain support from allies, voters, and political opponents.  Sometimes military action is affected by what we might call political ‘externalities’-things that occur outside of a particular frame of reference, but which have enormous power to change the way things are viewed inside that frame of reference.  For instance, what military planner looking at a sand model of Helmand would have thought that American domestic spending patterns would factor into his or her strategy?  But, as Richard Haas and Roger Altman point out, ignoring this issue is not longer an option.  As Bill Clinton famously (and successfully) declared, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’….

I look forward to reading seydlitz89′s reaction.

7 Responses to “As Long as I am on an Anglospheric Strategy Kick…..”

  1. seydlitz89 Says:

    Am I that predictable . . . ;-)> 

    Actually, I did print out said KoW post and had a read, but my conclusion was simply . . . where to begin?

    If the "war of choice" in question is so hamstrung – or rather becomes so hamstrung – by domestic political considerations, maybe that’s a good reason not to get involved in such a conflict in the first place . . .   I would add that both Afghanistan and Iraq were more than just "wars of choice", they were essentially unlimited wars since we overthrew the governments in question and took over responsibility for their replacements, ensuring a long-term and open-ended commitment which obviously we were not really interested in fulfilling . . . or am I reading it wrong?  Also I would argue that Bush’s war in Iraq didn’t really involve any "strategy" at all, at least as how I have defined it on the post you link.  "Politics" loves a strategic vacuum . . .

    Interested to know your take on my Wylie post . . .

  2. zen Says:

    hi seydlitz89,
    Well, first, your post convinced me that I should read Wylie. Very thoughtful review on your part – I particularly liked your comment:
     Focused adaptation of divergent sources of power assisted by control over time in pursuit of a political purpose through methodological theoretical construct (strategic theory) with the aim of creating strategic effect/a strategic dynamic greater than the sum of the individual power sources. For the strong political community, strategy can be an option, for the weak it is a necessity.
    I find myself in strong agreement with you here. 
    Your observation brings me back to Thucydides and the Melian dialogue, which is often read in the humanities fields for the moral critique of Athenian behavior. That’s fine and a valid intellectual exercise, but there is also a *strategic* aspect that goes generally overlooked by moderns.
    The Athenians were arguing that the Melian leaders should look to their interests and calculate realistically -i.e. strategically – in their decision rather than senselessly attempt a futile resistance to the Athenian empire for reasons of sentimental affinity for Sparta or moral indignation that was far beyond the power of tiny Melos to execute. The Athenians, while domineering and ruthless, were appraising the strategic situation accurately and bending over backwards to give the Melians an "out" to surrender:
    "we would fain exercise that empire over you without trouble, and see you preserved for the good of us both"
    …while the Melians were viewing it ideologically, to their ultimate cost. Had the Melians, an insignificant community in the Greek world, been more strategic in their orientation, they would have submitted to a state of vassalage – something which would not affect the balance of power in the Peloponnesian War at all nor would have been unbearably onerous-  and bided their time until Athens fell into difficulties and it was safer to revolt.
    I will also second your preference for "power" over "control", though I won’t fault Wylie too much (not having read him) as I am not certain with how much precision he defined that term in his usage. One man’s "control" is another’s "hegemony", so to speak.
    An excellent post on your part.

  3. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "Also I would argue that Bush’s war in Iraq didn’t really involve any "strategy" at all, at least as how I have defined it on the post you link."*I haven’t finished the post that you linked, but, no strategy? Are you nuts???? (rhetorical question :)) If anything there was too much strategy for too many reasons. In other words, it was a puzzle https://zenpundit.com/?p=3586 why we went in there. However, what comes to mind most was that we did it to remain relevant in the world. As Thomas P.M. Barnett said, "It is not our oil". So if it is not our oil, how do we remain connected to it, if we are neither the seller or buyer, and the buyer is another empire (The Second World, Parag Khanna)? *Like a puzzle, the strategy was at first simple and tied-up in tactics. Then it got real complex (slog), which it is still mostly today. But now it is beginning to get real simplified again, the pieces are beginning to fit together, but most people are still tied up in judging the movement instead of looking at the environment our 50,000 troops are stuck in, it should be getting simpler. Is it?

  4. seydlitz89 Says:

    "too much strategy for too many reasons" :-)>

    I think you mean too much propaganda, not whatever you define as "strategy" . . . read my comment.  Consider my definition . . .

    Force was the idea and the means – not strategy.

  5. seydlitz89 Says:


    Thanks for your kind words.

    "Thucydides . . ."

    Always a good choice.  He still has so much to teach us . . .

  6. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "…if politics isn’t the enemy of strategy."I don’t think it is the enemy, more like the nine-year-old unwanted step-child. Politics is something to be ignored until it gets too unruly, then you treat it with a dose of kinetic energy to keep it "real". Because we are the nine-year-old unwanted step-child, we have a different perspective on the reality of the strategy. Propaganda is for the child, not the strategist. While relevancy is only a reason not a strategy, it points out the fact that someone or something believes in it and has a strategy to continue and remain within its relevancy. That which wants to remain relevant is the economy and it uses, or not, politics as a part of its strategy. In today’s world it might be better to ask an economist what is the best strategy to attack, and a general on the best tactics, given the economy. In a way, we have left the time-step of 4GMW, which was the Market and a battle between ethics, and progressed into 5GMW, as it moves from insurgency, incumbent and non-state actors to a puzzle, in a natural progression. 

  7. seydlitz89 Says:

    Zen and Larry-

    Thanks very much for this post and comments.  They have brought up some very interesting questions in regards to defining strategy, the nature of a general theory of strategy, propaganda, how strategic theory applies to the Iraq war and the connection between strategy and politics. 

    I have a post in mind which will attempt to tie these all together and perhaps provide a bit of insight into Wylie and Liddel Hart as well . . .  This will of course refer to strategic theory, not doctrinal speculation, but will show the clear distinctions between the two . . . 
    Should be up by the end of the week . . .   I’ll link it to this post after I post it.  Stay tuned.

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