A short and cranky diatribe.
Adam Elkus and his amigo Dan Trombly of Slouching Towards Colombia have been busy poking holes into the ill-considered and/or poorly reasoned strategic conceptions of victory-free but credible influence. Dan gets very close to something important, something worth contemplating for the welfare of our Republic:
…..Rather than a world where normal victory and political decision through force of arms give way to a world of credible influence, I see this concept ushering in a world where America’s objectives remain expansive – seeking to create social and political change – but where “twentieth century” warfare continues as usual, obscured by multilateral efforts and prosecuted as much as possible by local forces. Because the objectives are essentially unchanged – overthrow of criminal regimes, integration of societies into a dynamic liberal international order, protection of civilians – one of my real fears about the Defense Strategic Guidance is that, confronted with conflicts and challenges to our interests, and with a paradigm of military aims just as expansive as before, we will slouch inevitably towards unsustainable ways of war. Already, the new objectives of civilian protection are blurring into the old objectives of democracy promotion and liberalization – just look at the title of the new State Department Office of Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.
When a statesman selects Ends that have no rational relationship to available Ways and Means we might take that as a sign of possible incompetence as a strategist.
While that’s not good it is at least normal – most politicians in a democratic society are on average, poor strategists but pretty good intuitive tacticians. After all, acquiring and keeping political power for long periods of time requires more than luck and a large checkbook. While there are always some buffoons decorating the halls of Congress, as individuals, Members of Congress are usually pretty shrewd and a minority are exceptional people.
If the Ends selected are fantastically broad open-ended, undefined or, worse, undefinable, convoluted and insensible in their context, we are left with two even less savory conclusions:
First, that the statesman has a fundamental political immaturity and narcissism the leads them to articulate their emotively generated whims as policy objectives without regard to empirical reality. Sort of a wishcraft of state that substitutes rhetorical expressions and sloganeering for thought and analysis. We see this effect on a much larger scale in the ideological atmosphere of totalitarian regimes where 2+2= 5 and only Right-deviationist mathematician, counterrevolutionary wreckers would dare suggest the answer is 4. Geopolitical goals that are created by political fantasists – like the creation of a modern, liberal democratic state in Afghanistan in a few years time – can be appended with “And a Pony!” and still be just as likely to come to pass.
American statesmen seem to be particularly predisposed to this condition in foreign affairs (and arguably, in fiscal affairs as well). Perhaps this is an intellectual legacy of Wilsonian excess but the problem was not acute until the past decade and a half, which indicates that the driving force may be, in part, generational. Men and women born into a time of record-breaking standards of living have reached the apex of power and they are no more inclined to act with restraint, responsibility or realism now than they did in ’68.
The second conclusion is that the Ends are purposefully incoherent and recklessly broad because the real strategic objective is not in our relations with country X, but for the statesman to wrest for their faction as large a grant of unaccountable power as possible.