Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why I Want to be a Strategist

In response to NDU Press tweet: The article “Developing Air Force Strategists,” will be in JFQ 58, read it here in advance of its publication: posted May 6, 12:24PM P.S.T., I am posting an essay which I wrote as a student at the US Army's Command and General Staff College a few years ago on the subject.

Now nothing can be more important than the work of
a soldier should be well done. But is war an art so
easily acquired that a man may be a warrior who is
also a husbandman, or shoemaker, or other artisan ...
No tools will make a man a skilled workman or master
of defense, nor be of any use to him who has not
learned how to handle them, and has never bestowed
any attention upon them.


Nothing is more important than the work of a soldier should be well done, and nothing is more important than strategy which outlines the work needed to be done in the first place: to win the nation's wars. How to win the nation's wars is the purview of the strategist. Commanders without strategists are like bodies without brains, or as we say in Air Force slang 'all mach and no heading.' The role of the strategist is to provide the heading to the commander who will have control of the throttles.

I want to be a military strategist because, first I love my profession, the profession of arms, and I believe that I can best serve it in this capacity. I am of an intellectual nature and a seeker of truth: I want to understand war, to know war, to explore its every facet, so that if I am ever called to give advice or state my opinion on an given course of action, it will be based on fact and not mere supposition. Second, I truly enjoy pondering the problems of political statecraft and of the uses of the national instruments of power to achieve national aims. Military strategy is always subordinate to the political instrument because as Aristotle said that the science of strategy is subordinate to the greatest of sciences, political science. Strategists must be able to properly translate political guidance into military strategy so that our means equal our ends. This has been a problem for the United States in particular, for example in Vietnam, where we used a firepower strategy which alienated the people who we were there to support; it is hard to convince someone of the justice of your cause when you have just burned his house down.

The only way to become a strategist is to study strategy, both theory and practice. An officer wishing to become a strategist must study politics, history, economics, and diplomacy in order to fully understand what in the words of Marshal Foch "De quoi s'agit il?" [What is the agitation all about?] The method of study is primarily one of self-study because what is taught formally at institutions is but a mere starting point. All strategists of renown, whether Napoleon, Moltke, Mahan to name a few have all been voracious readers of history for history is the laboratory of strategy and war.

The negative aspect of formally being a strategist, at least in the Air Force, is that you are limiting yourself professionally to rank no higher than of colonel and to be shuffled off to Air University into an academic setting. Indeed, the Air Force does not have a strategist identifier; it is not a formally recognized skill. While I agree that an academic setting is of value to a strategist and every strategist should have a tour in one, it is not where the action is. This means that you are going to be outside the planning organizations where your skills are most needed.

This is a major reason why at various times the United States has not been able to achieve the political goals that it set out to accomplish through military operations, for example in Bosnia, where we planned to control the fighting through the use of air-strikes; in a mountainous area and with the nature of the conflict, this was unrealistic and futile.

Without strategists, alas, we are bound to reap the harvest of the Quran's saying that "if you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there."

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