Tuesday, December 24, 2013

NSC-68 Version 2013: Balance of Power. Schema & Notes for Part 2

IV. Underlying Conflicts Among Nations


V.  Potential Threats and Capabilities—Actual and Potential


VI. U. S. Intentions and Capabilities

                “When a country abjures its intention of exploiting a conflict between two other parties, it is in fact signaling that it has the capacity to do so and that both parties would do well to work at preserving their neutrality.  So too, when a nation expresses its “deep concern” over a military contingency, it is conveying that it will assist—in some as yet unspecified way—the victim of what is has defined as aggression.” (Kissinger, 1994, p. 724)

VII.           Present Risks


      Risk One.  Wars of National Union/Reunion (Evera S. V., 1996)


      Risk Two.  Wars of Democratization and Nationalist Secession (Evera S. V., 1996)


      Risk Three.  Wars of Great Power Geopolitical Competition (Evera S. V., 1996)


      Risk Four.  Wars of Nuclear Proliferation (Evera S. V., 1996)


      Risk Five.  Wars of Regional Hegemony (Evera S. V., 1996)


                Risk Six.  Transnational Wars Against Non-State Actors.

Transnational wars refer to wars transcending existing national borders against non-state actors, such as Al-Qaeda and others.



VIII.          Nuclear Proliferation and Risk of War


      The fact is that whether we like it or not, nuclear weapons establish a balance of power. Admission to the nuclear club provides an insurance policy against external aggression; though not internal (and often centrifugal) forces such as in the case of Pakistan.


IX. Possible Causes of Action


      Foreign Policy


A.  The First Course—Continuation of Current Policies, with Current and Currently Projected Programs for Carrying out These Projects


B.  The Second Course—Isolation

C.  The Third Course—Continuous Military Intervention

D.  The Fourth Course—Dependence on International Institutions

      The problem with the guarantee of rights in international law is that the rights of the strong are those which are guaranteed at the expense of the weak or the vanquished.  For example, Henry Kissinger explains that for Count Metternich, rights existed in the nature of things.  “Whether they were affirmed in law or by constitution was an essentially technical question which had nothing to do with bringing about freedom.  Metternich considered guaranteeing rights to be a paradox.  “Things which ought to be taken for granted lose their force when they emerge in the form of arbitrary pronouncements… Objects mistakenly made subject to legislation result only in their limitation, if not the complete annulment, of that which is attempted to be safeguarded.” (Kissinger, 1994, pp. 84-85)

E.  The Remaining Course—Balance of Power Policies Combining the Above Policies as Necessity Dictates



Sunday, November 24, 2013

Notes to Clausewitz On War, Book Two, Chapter Two: On the Theory of War [Part I]

2.2    Chapter Two: On the Theory of War

Clausewitz considers why a theory of war is necessary and what are its limitations.  He begins this chapter by discussing that originally the art or science of war was concerned with material factors only.  “It was about a relevant to combat as the craft of the swordsmith to the art of fencing.  It did not yet include the use of force under conditions of danger, subject to constant interaction with an adversary, nor the efforts of spirit and courage to achieve the desired end.”  (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 133)

Clausewitz next states that reflections on the events of war led to the need for a theory and efforts were made to “equip the conduct of war with principles, rules, or even systems.”  This was a positive goal but their advocates failed to take into account the complexities involved.  The problem is that a system or model has a finite nature of synthesis and “the conduct of war branches out in almost all directions and has not definite limits.  Therefore, “An irreconcilable conflict exists between this type of theory and actual practice.”  (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 134)  As a result theorists again found themselves drawn to the material basis of war. “As in the science concerning preparation for war, they wanted to reach a set of sure and positive conclusions, and for that reason considered only factors that could be mathematically calculated.”  (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 134)

Here is the crux of the problem.  While these ideas may be of analytical use, “synthetically, in the rules and regulations they offer, they are absolutely useless.”

They aim at fixed values; but in war everything is uncertain, and calculations have to be made with variable quantities.

They direct the inquiry exclusively toward physical quantities, whereas all military action is intertwined with psychological forces and effects.

They consider only unilateral action, whereas war consists of a continuous interaction of opposites. (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 136)

COMMENT: No better assessment of American military action in Vietnam can be made. While Americans claimed to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese they did so using mathematics and dollars.  How do you monetize “hearts and minds”?  According to a Congressional Research Service Report, “Costs of Major U. S. Wars”, the United States spent $738B in FY 2011 dollars for 1965-1975   (Dagett, p. 2) in Vietnam. (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22926.pdf See Table 1, p. 2.) More recently, we have spent almost $2T in the war on Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time the Report was written (June 29, 2010) between 2001 and 2010 we had spent $1.147T in FY2011 dollars.  While staggering, these figures say nothing of the thousands of American lives lost and whose value cannot be monetized.

Clausewitz observes that theory faces particularly difficult problems when moral factors are involved and moral values cannot be ignored in war. 

Military activity is never directed against material force alone; it is always armed simultaneously at the moral forces which give it life, and the two cannot be separated…

Since danger is the common element in which everything moves in war, courage, the sense of one’s own strength, is the principal factor that influences judgment…

Everyone rated the enemy’s bravery lower once his back is turned, and takes much greater risks in pursuit than while being pursued.  Everyone gauges his opponent in the light of his reputed talents, his age, and his experience, and acts accordingly.  Everyone tries to assess the spirit and temper of his own troops and the enemy’s… What indeed would become of a theory that ignored these?  (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 137)

Principal Problems In Formulating A Theory

Of The Conduct Of War

In order to get a clear idea of the difficulties involved in formulating a theory of the conduct of war and so be able to deduce its character, we must look more closely at the major characteristics of military activity. (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 137)

THE FIRST PROPERTY is that of “moral forces and they effects they produce.  Essentially combat is an expression of hostile feelings.  But in the large-scale combat that we call war hostile feelings often have become merely hostile intentions.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 137)

Modern wars are seldom fought without hatred between nations; this serves more or less as a substitute for hatred between individuals.  Even where there is national hatred and no animosity to start with, the fighting itself will stir up hostile feelings; violence committed on superior orders will stir up the desire for revenge and retaliation against the perpetrator rather than against the powers that ordered the action… Theorists are apt to look on fighting in the abstract as a trial of strength without emotion entering into it.  This is one of a thousand errors which they quite consciously commit because they have no idea of its implications.  (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 138)

In order properly to appreciate the influence which danger exerts in war, one should not limit its sphere to the physical hazards of the moment.  Danger dominates the commander not merely by threatening him personally, but by threatening all those entrusted to him; not only at the moment where it is actually present, but also, through the imagination, at all other times when it is relevant; not just directly but also indirectly through the sense of responsibility that lays a tenfold burden on the commander’s mind. (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 138)

[There are other emotional factors which come into play as well]  The higher a man is placed the broader his point of view.  Different interests and a wide variety of passions, good and bad, with arise on all sides.  Envy and generosity, pride and humility, wrath and compassion—all may appear as effective forces in this great drama.  (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 139)

Clausewitz notes that the intellectual qualities of commanders differ and the diversity of intellectual qualities results in a diversity of roads to the goals sought to be achieved.  (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 139)

THE SECOND PROPERTY:  Positive Reaction.  “The second attribute of military action is that it must exert positive reactions, and the process of interaction that results.” The concern is not with calculating reactions but rather “with the fact that the very nature of interaction is bound to make it unpredictable.  The effect that any measure will have on the enemy is the most singular factor among all the particulars of action.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 139)
THE THIRD PROPERTY:  Uncertainty of All Information.  “Finally, the general unreliability of all information presents a special problem in war: all action takes place, so to speak, in a kind of twilight, which, like fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 140)
Despite advances in information gathering and speed of data acquisition, this property remains at the heart of the problem.  For example, in a June 13, 1991 article in the New York Times:
Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf complained to Congress today about the quality and timeliness of intelligence given his forces during the Persian Gulf war.
The general was especially critical of the analyses of intelligence provided to his staff by specialists in Washington on the Iraqi military, saying they had been "caveated, footnoted and watered down" to the point of being useless.
"There were so many disclaimers that by the time you got done reading many of the intelligence estimates you received, no matter what happened, they would have been right," he said. "And that's not helpful to the guy in the field." (Wines, 1991)

Clausewitz notes that given the problems a positive doctrine of war is unattainable.  “[I]t is simply not possible to construct a model for the art of war that can serve as a scaffolding on which the commander can rely for support at any time… the situation will always lead to the consequences we have already alluded to:  talent and genius operate outside the rules, and theory conflicts with practice.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 140) This should not be a surprise to anyone, yet it is.  In sports, games have specific rules.  Yet it takes knowledge and talent to take advantage of the rules to one’s favor.  For example, I know the rules of soccer well and I know how to kick the ball straight.  But this will not make me (nor anyone else for that matter) a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Leonel Messi anytime soon.  In war, the rules are even more amorphous and lacking in guidance. 
A commander is faced with situations which are not part of the “manual” so he is without a set of rules which will provide a ready-made solution.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Clausewitz On War, Book 2 Chapter One

Notes to Carl von Clausewitz, On War.  Ed. and Trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret.  Princeton University Press, 1976

On War Book 2:  On the Theory of War

While Book 2 is not considered complete, yet it is so important to understanding Clausewitz’s study of war, that it cannot be disregarded.  Thefore I offer the following notes. 

2.1    Chapter One: Classifications of the Art of War

With respect to what is war, Clausewitz offers an elemental observation that can some-times be forgotten in everyday use. We speak of ‘war on drugs,’ of ‘wars’ on something or another but: 

Essentially war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities generally designated as war.  Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter. (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 127) 

Fighting has determined the nature of the weapons employed.  These in turn influence the combat; thus an interaction exists between the two.

But fighting itself still remains a distinct activity; the more so as it operates in a peculiar element—that of danger. (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 127) 

[I]f one accepts the idea of an armed and equipped fighting force as given: a means about which one does not need to know anything except its chief effects in order to use it properly.  (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 127) 

Essentially, then, the art of war is the art of using the given means in combat; there is no better term for it than the conduct of war.  (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 127)

The conduct of war, then consists in the planning and conduct of fighting… [because war does not consists in a single act as shown in Book one but rather a series of engagements] This gives rise to the completely different activity of planning and executing these engagements themselves, and of coordinating each of them with the others in order to further the object of the war.  One has been called tactics, and the other strategy.   (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 128) 

We have to remember that strategy may pursue a wide variety of objectives:  anything that seems to offer an advantage can be the purpose of an engagement, and the maintenance of the instrument of war will often itself become the object of a particular strategic combination.  (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 130)

            In speaking of the other activities characteristic of war such as logistics, engineering, etc.  these “[M]ay be split into two main categories: those that are merely preparations for war, and war proper. The same distinction must be made in theory as well.”  (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 131) 

[T]he maintenance of troops in camps or billets may call for activities that do not constitute a use of the fighting forces, such as the building of shelters, the pitching of tents, and supply and sanitary services.  These are neither tactical nor strategic in nature.  (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 131)

While the organization and administration of forces must include such matters as artillery, fortification, etc. these are necessary for the creation, training and maintenance of fighting forces.  (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 132)

The theory of war proper, on the other hand, is concerned with the use of these means, once they have been developed, for the purposes of the war.  All that it requires from the first group is the end product, an understanding of their main characteristics.  That is what we call “the art of war” in a narrower sense… 

The art of war in the narrower sense must now in its turn be broken down into tactics and strategy.  The first is concerned with the form of the individual engagement, the second with its use…

The primary purpose of any theory is to clarify concepts and ideas that have become, as it were confused and entangled.  (Book Two, Chapter One, p. 132)

            The statesman or general should manage campaign exactly to suit resources, doing neither too much nor too little.  (David Jablonsky, ‘Why is Strategy Difficult’ in US Army War College Guide to National Security Policy and Strategy (June 2006), p. 115-125).

At the tactical level, the Prussian philosopher wrote, “the means are fighting forces trained for combat; the end is victory.” For the strategic, however, Clausewitz concluded that military victories were meaningless unless they were the means to obtain a political end, “those objects which lead directly to peace.” [internal citations omitted]

Thus, strategy was “the linking together (Verbindung) of separate battle engagements into a single whole, for the final object of the war.” And only the political or policy level could determine that objective. “To bring a war, or any one of its campaigns to a successful close requires a thorough grasp of national policy,”… (Jablonsky, p. 115-116).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

National Security Addiction

Today I sent this email to President Obama 
President Obama:
 I am writing to you about my opposition to the NSA surveillance program and all of its offshoots.  I served 28 years in the United States Air Force to protect us against authoritarian states which use East German-like security practices.  Today I read that the German Chancellor Merkel had summoned our ambassador to demand a full accounting about her phone being tapped.  Yesterday it was the French...  This is NUTS!
 I cannot imagine a worst impact to our foreign policy than of having us appear as freaked-out East Germans running around the world spying on everyone else, friend as well as foe, and on each other.  It reminds me of Mad Magazine's 'Spy vs. Spy' comic.  Unlike the magazine, however, this is not funny because our foreign relations as well as our domestic trust  have been deeply affected--all to the detriment of the United States as a nation and as our home.
 The sad aspect of all this is that it appears that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda have won the war on terror.  after all.  By making us to adopt the kinds of activities, which violate the spirit, if not the letter of our constitution, we have become like them--zealots. In short they have broken the fabric of who we are and what we stand for.  We are trading our freedoms and our beliefs for a national security addiction. I cannot image a worse result for us. 
 We must not allow ourselves to become prisoners of our own fears.  And we cannot hide under legalisms that some act or other authorizes these activities.  Once there were laws that authorized slaveholders to kill their slaves.  These laws were legal, but there were morally repulsive.  This is what our Stasi-like surveillance program is, legal maybe, but it is morally repulsive to the values for which the United States stands for.
 Get on rehab and cease this madness;  NOW!
 Gonzalo I. Vergara, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret.)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Notes to Clausewitz's On War, Book 3, Part I

Notes to Carl von Clausewitz, On War.  Ed. and Trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret.  Princeton University Press, 1976

On War Book 3:  On Strategy In General

It’s important to note that only Book One of On War is the only book that Clausewitz considered as complete.  Books Three (On Strategy in General) and Eight (On War Plans): Peter Paret considers the most beneficial and integrated with respect to Book One.

“The Enduring legacy of Clausewitz is that he ignored question of “how” “posed by modern science since the 17th century and returned to earlier questions, the Platonic “what is” and the Aristotelian “what for,” which are more valid ones for investigating social phenomena like strategy and war.”  (Creveld, pp. 42-43)

3.1    Chapter One: Strategy

Strategy is the use of the engagement for the purpose of the war. (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 177)  Strategic theory must therefore study the engagement in terms of its possible results and of the moral and psychological forces that largely determine its course.  (Id.) 

The strategist… will draft the plan of the war, and the aim will determine the series of actions intended to achieve it:  he will, in fact, shape the individual campaigns and, within these, decide on the individual engagements… The strategist, in short, must maintain control throughout.  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 177)

Strategic theory, therefore, deals with planning; or rather, it attempts to shed light on the components of war and their interrelationships, stressing those few principles or rules that can be demonstrated. (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 177)

A prince or general can best demonstrate his genius by managing a campaign exactly to suit his objectives and his resources, doing neither too much nor too little.  But the effects of genius show not so much in novel forms of action as in the ultimate success of the whole.  What we should admire is the accurate fulfillment of the unspoken assumptions, the smooth harmony of the whole activity, which only becomes evident in final success.  (Book Three, Chapter One, pp. 177-178)

In fact, the means and forms that the strategist employs are so very simple, so familiar from constant repetition, that it seems ridiculous in the light of common sense when critics discuss them, as they do so often, with pompous solemnity.  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 178)

In other words, in was as in politics results count.  Clausewitz states that strategy cannot be reduced to examining only material factors as it cannot exist outside the moral realm.  Contrary to the beliefs of some operations analysts [number crunchers] and academic theorists [who usually have no military experience other than reading books] it cannot just be reduced to “a few mathematical formulas of equilibrium and superiority, of time and space, limited by a few angles and lines.”  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 178)

The relations between the material factors are all very simple; what is more difficult to grasp are the intellectual factors involved.  Even so, it is only in the highest realms of strategy that intellectual complications and extreme diversity of factors and relationships occur.  At that level, there is little or no difference between strategy, policy, and statesmanship … there their influence is greater in questions of quantity and scale that in forms of execution.  Where execution is dominant, as it is in the individual events of a war whether great or small, then intellectual factors are reduced to a minimum.  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 178)

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.


"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Clausewitz observes that “Everything in strategy is simple, but that does not mean that everything is easy.”  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 178) This is the equivalent of the modern observation that it is easy to start a war but it is not so easy to complete it successfully.  Why?

Once is has  been determined, from the political conditions, what a war is meant to achieve and what it can achieve, it is easy to chart the course.  But great strength of character, as well as great lucidity and firmness of mind, is required in order to follow through steadily, to carry out the plan, and not to be thrown off course by thousands of diversions.  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 178)

Clausewitz states that it takes “more strength of will to make an important decision in strategy than in tactics.”  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 178)  The reason for this is that there is more time for deliberation and “ample room for apprehensions, one’s own and those of others; for objections and remonstrations and, in consequence, for premature regrets.”  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 178)   It takes a person of strong will to make strategic decisions which will affect the course of the war.  However, strong will is not enough.  It has to be combined with knowledge of what you are doing.  Saddam Hussein had a strong will and made disastrous strategic decisions because he didn’t know what he was doing. 

The other aspect to be admired concerns the difficulties of execution.  Maneuvers designed to turn a flank are easily planned.  It is equally easy to conceive a plan for keeping a small force concentrated so that it can meet a scattered enemy on equal terms at any point, and to multiply its strength by rapid movement.  There is nothing admirable about the ideas themselves.  Faced with such simple concepts, we have to admit that they are simple.

            But let a general try to imitate Frederick! [the Great] (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 179)

This is the part of strategy that most would-be generals fail to understand.  The concepts of strategy are in of themselves simple. Their execution is what separates a Frederick the Great or a Napoleon from a Saddam Hussein.

Another difficult of execution involves exertions and great hardships imposed on the armed forces.  Clausewitz states that during Frederick the Great’s Campaign of 1760 against the Austrians and the Russians, his army was constantly on the move and had to be ready to fight on a moment’s notice.  Under these conditions, he decisively defeated the Austrians at Leignitz and at Torgau.  (McCleod, p. 322)

Could this be done without subjecting the military machine to serious friction?  Is a general, by sheer force of intellect, able to produce such mobility with the ease of a surveyor manipulating an astrolabe?  Are the generals and supreme commander not moved by the sight of the misery suffered by their pitiful, hungry, and thirsty comrades in arms?  Are complaint and misgivings about such conditions not reported to the high command?  Would an ordinary made date to ask for such sacrifices, and would these not automatically lower the morale of the troops, corrupt their discipline, in short undermine their fighting spirit unless an overwhelming belief in the greatness and infallibility of their commander outweighed all other considerations?  It is this which commands our respect; it is these miracles of execution that we have to admire.  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 180)

Clausewitz own experience is in the Napoleonic Wars.  Napoleon made the same point in his maxims:  “XV.  The first consideration with a general who offers battle should be the glory and honour [sic] of his arms; the safety and preservation of his men is only the second; but it is in the enterprise and courage resulting from the former that the latter will most assuredly be found.” (Chandler, p. 60)

In strategy:

We are constantly brought back to the question:  what, at any given stage of the war or campaign, will be the likely outcome of all major and minor engagements that the two sides can offer one another?  In the planning of a campaign or a war, this alone will decide the measures that have to be taken from the outset.  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 182)

If we do not learn to regard a war, and the separate campaigns of which it is composed, as a chain of linked engagements each leading to the next, but instead succumb to the idea that the capture of certain geographical points or the seizure of undefended provinces are of value in themselves,  we are liable to regard them as windfall profits … [W]e also ignore the possibility that their possession may later lead to definite disadvantages… [J]ust as a businessman cannot take the profit from a single transaction and put it into a separate account, so an isolated advantage gained in war cannot be assessed separately from the over result…
By looking on each engagement as part of a series, at least insofar as events are predictable, the commander is always on the high road to his goal.  (Book Three, Chapter One, p. 182)

Thus war is a continuum both in time and space and breadth as well.  The strategist must be able to link these engagements into one whole sequence in order to succeed. 


Chandler, D. G. (1988). The Military Maxims of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan Publishing Complany.

Creveld, M. v. (1986). Eternal Clausewitz. In M. I. Handel (Ed.), Clausewtiz and Modern Strategy. London: Frank Cass.

McCleod, T. (2001). Fredrick II 'the Great', King of Prussia. In R. Holmes (Ed.), The Oxford Companion to Military History (pp. 321-323). London: Oxford University Press.




Wednesday, October 2, 2013

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism in a Multi-Polar World

On September 11, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin published an opinion in the New York Times regarding possible American military intervention in Syria.  In response  to President Obama’s address to the nation regarding the intervention, Putin said:
And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.  (A Plea for Caution From Russia:  What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria, New York Times, September 11, 2013)
President Putin’s opinion piece caused much consternation and anger in the United States.  I don’t wish to waste time on the responses because they are predictable.  Rather I would like to focus on President Putin’s point that it is dangerous for America to see itself as exceptional.  I do not agree.  The fact is that Russia as well as America has seen itself as exceptional throughout its history. 
Henry Kissinger in his seminal work, Diplomacy  (New York, 1994) points out that Russians like Americans thought of their society as exceptional.
Russia’s expansion into Central Asia had many of the features of America’s own westward expansion, and the Russian justification for it … paralleled the way Americans explained their own “manifest destiny.”
The openness of each country’s frontiers was among the few common features of American and Russian exceptionalism.  America’s sense of uniqueness was based on the concept of liberty; Russia’s sprang from the experience of common suffering.  Everyone was eligible to share in America’s values; Russia’s were available only to the Russian nation, to the exclusion of its non-Russian subjects.  America’s exceptionalism led it to isolation alternating with occasional moral crusades; Russia’s evoked a sense of mission which often led to military adventures.  [p. 142] 
Norman Podhoretz  addressed the question directly in “Is America Exceptional?”  Imprimis, Vol 41, No. 10 (October 2012)
First of all, unlike all other nations past or present, this one accepted as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal … the individual’s fate would be determined not by who his father was, but by his own freely chosen pursuit of his own ambitions.
There remained, of course, the two atavistic contradictions of slavery and the position on women; but so intolerable did these contradictions ultimately prove that they had to be resolved—even if, as in the case of the former, it took the bloodiest war the nation ever fought.  [p. 1]
Secondly… To become a full-fledged American, it was only necessary to pledge allegiance to the new Republic and to the principles for which it stood.
Thirdly … [i]n America… the citizen’s rights were declared from the beginning to have come from God and to be “inalienable”—that is, immune to legitimate revocation. [p. 2]
Podhoretz claims that the term “American exceptionalism”  did not originate with de Tocqueville as many believe but may in fact have originated with Iosif Stalin “who coined the term … but only to dismiss it.” [p. 2] 
Thus, when an American Communist leader informed him that American workers had no intention of playing the role Marx had assigned to the worldwide proletariat as the vanguard of the coming socialist revolution, Stalin reputedly shouted something like, “Away with this heresy of American exceptionalism!”

Stalin on American Exceptionalism as a Positive Factor

Iosif Stalin, in his “Foundations of Leninism” (Stalin, Selected Works. Tirana, Albania, 1979), a series of lectures delivered at Sverdlov University between April and May 1924, speaks of a Leninist style of work.
What are the characteristics features of this style?  What are its peculiarities?

It has two specific features:
a)      Russian revolutionary sweep and
b)      American efficiency.

The style of Leninism consists of combining these two specific features in Party and state work.  [p. 100]…

American efficiency, on the other hand, is the antidote to “revolutionary” Manilovism and fantastic scheme concocting.  American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows or recognizes obstacles; which with its business-like perseverance brushes aside all obstacles; which continues at a task once stated until it is finished, even it if is a minor task; and without which serious constructive work is inconceivable. [p. 101]

Stalin went on to say that American efficiency may degenerate into “narrow and unprincipled practicalism” if it is not combined with Russian revolutionary “sweep.”  [p. 101]

 This is what is exceptional about America.  It is a willingness to tackle all problems with a practical approach to a conclusion; no matter the odds.  If we have to overlay a little bit of moralism to our endeavors, so be it.

Exceptional America

 The  very best of American exceptionalism is the fact that we are not afraid to examine ourselves and our motives in the world.  As Kissinger notes, as a result of the Cold War a new variant of American Exceptionalism surfaced, an inspired call to the cause of freedom.  [p. 471]

 Kissinger quotes George Kennan, who formulated the foundations for the policy of containment:

To my own countrymen who have often asked me where to best apply the hand to counter the Soviet threat, I have accordingly had to reply:  to our American failings, to the things we are ashamed of in our own eyes, or that worry us; to the racial problem, to the conditions in our big cities, to the education and environment of our young people, to the growing gap between specialized knowledge and popular understanding.  [p. 471]

 Today we can add growing disparity of wealth (1% vs. 99%), unemployment, health care, etc.  America is exceptional in this regard.  We examine ourselves even to the point of appearing ridiculous in the eyes of world and each other; yet we emerge stronger.  As Fredrich Nietzche reminds us “That which doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger.”

 We are not exceptional in the nature of our military power or our willingness to impose our views on others.  We should not be exceptional because of our military industrial complex and we should not waste our national treasure in areas whose cultures and populations we do not understand, pursuing policies where our national interests are not at stake. 

 In international affairs, we have a deep belief as expressed by Woodrow Wilson that “resistance to aggression [should] be based on moral rather than geopolitical judgments.  Nations [should] ask themselves whether an act was unjust rather than whether it is threatening.”  (Kissinger, p. 227)

If we sometimes appear moralistic in our tone, it is because it is the language of our idealism.  For example, President Richard Nixon, 

[T] ook American idealism seriously in the sense that he shared Wilson’s passionate internationalism and belief in America’s indispensability.  But he felt equally obligated to relate America’s mission to his own conclusions about the way the world actually worked…

[Thus] This is why Nixon preferred to operate on two tracks simultaneously: invoking Wisonian rhetoric to explain his goals while appealing to national interest to maintain his tactics.  (Kissinger, p. 706)

The challenge to American political leaders is how to present our ideals in a manner like, for example, Ronald Reagan.  “Reagan rejected the “guilt complex” which he identified with the Carter Administration, and proudly defended America’s record as “the greatest force for peace anywhere in the world today.” (Kissinger, p. 767)  No one doubted that Reagan really believed what he was saying; at it appealed to us.     Ultimately, a matter may be better judged and one’s position better understood if presented in a manner that is convincing. 

 Bottom line:  To paraphrase Stalin, America is exceptional because of the characteristics of (i) American ideals combined with (ii) American business efficiency.   Regardless of the nobility of our motives, results count.  American leaders should combine our noble motives with efficient and effective business-like results.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Notes to Williamson Murray’s Thucydides: Theorist of War

Some minor notes on a very interesting article by Williamson Murray entitled “Thucydides:  Theorist of War.”  Naval War College Review, Autumn 2013. 

Oddly enough, I am currently reading Murray’s book, Strategy for Defeat:  The Luftwaffe 1933-1945 (Air University Press, 1983)—highly recommend this book in particular for an analysis of the effect of the Battle of France on Luftwaffe operational strength; and the devastating effect of the Battle of Moscow on the Germans.  Murray’s assessment which I concur wholeheartedly with:

Nevertheless, the defeat in front of Moscow represented the decisive turning point of World War II.  From this point on Germany had no chance to win the war; and with her inadequate production, she faced enemies who would soon enjoy overwhelming numerical superiority in the air and on the ground.  (p. 107)

Thucydides:  Theorist of War

In addressing the difference between Clausewitz and Thucydides as theorists of war, Murray makes the following observation: 

In fact, there is a noteworthy and important difference between Thucydides and Clausewitz:  the latter focuses almost exclusively on the conduct of human conflict and military operations, as he makes clear from the beginning of On War... However, the larger issues involved—grand strategy, policy itself, morality, and the impact of war on the values of civilized states—he leaves to others to examine…

Thucydides has taken as his subject the whole tapestry of the Peloponnesian War: the origins of the conflict; the impact of war on the human condition; the inherent tension among expediency, morality, and humane behavior under the unremitting pressures on conflict; and the fundamental nature of war, including the psychological aspects of battle, where soldiers are engaged in the bloody business of killing. (Murray, p. 32) 

In his outstanding article, Murray states:

It is the purpose of this article, then, to draw out some of the more significant
theoretical observations that The History of the Peloponnesian War offers in its dark portrayal of that terrible war, which destroyed the economic and political basis of the greatest cultural and literary flowering in human history. We will begin with a general discussion of Thucydides’s basic depiction of the fundamental nature of war and then move on to areas where I believe he presents his most pertinent and thorough observations on conflict and the human condition: his examination of the factors that led to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War (factors that have contributed to the outbreak of other great wars as well); the impact of war on human society and civilized standards, including the tensions between morality and humane behavior; and finally, the reasons why civil wars represent the most terrible of all human conflicts. (Murray, p. 32)

In this blog I have previously discussed Book One of Clausewitz On War.  In light of Murray’s article, I note the following.

In Volume II or his seminal five-volume work, Order and History, the political philosopher Erich Voegelin, discussed Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C)

Voegelin writes that for Thucydides, what was of importance was great units of events.

Thucydides gave the name kinesis [italics in original] to the type of unit created by him; the war he described was a movement, or upheaval.  It was the greatest kinesis that had ever occurred, since it affected not only “the Hellenes but also part of the barbarians, one might almost say the majority of mankind. (Voegelin, p. 351)

In this regard:

Thucydides takes a peculiar pride in the greatness of disaster … the greatness of kinesis heightened a “modern” self-consciousness in opposition to the “ancients.”  (Voegelin, pp. 351-352)

In seeking to explain history or in describing historical events, Thucydides rejected the idea of the rise and fall of existing things – such a political power (e.g., Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers).  Voegelin states that Thucydides rejected Herodotus’ hypothesis of a “compensatory rise and fall of all existing things as the principle for explaining the court of human affairs.”  (Voegelin, p. 354)

Thucydides’ feat of transforming the knowledge of the craftsmen into a science, however, inevitably raised grave problems for the future of political science.  The kinesis was a “disease” of political order… the political science of Thucydides was a model study of the suicide of a nation but hardly a study of successful political order. (Voegelin, p. 357)

Murray’s article suggests Thucydides’ writings as those of statecraft. 

It is deeply imbued with a theoretical understanding of war, its conduct, and the terrible consequences that it produces. The sad record of the 2,400-some-odd years since its completion is an endless repetition of the same pattern. Yet while The History of the Peloponnesian War is of great importance in the twenty-first century, the modern age is perhaps even less prepared than its original audience for its deep and abiding insights. Thucydides has provided us with an understanding of war and strategy from the highest to the lowest level.

Voegelin is more to the point.  Thucydides describes a lack of order as opposed to describing what order is.  And while, description may be the task of the historian, order is the mark of the statesman.

The science of Thucydides explored the idea [italics in original] only of kinesis, of the disturbance of order; Plato explored the idea of order itself … the two thinkers compliment each other:  Thucydides studied a political society in crisis, and created the empirical science of the lethal disease of order; Plato created the other half of politics; the empirical science of order. (Voegelin, p. 357)   
Thucydides view of war:

When Thucydides said war he meant a movement that was more than a series of diplomatic and military actions in so far as, beyond physical clashes and conflicts of passions, it had a dimension of meaning extending into the regions of moral breakdown and transfiguration.  (Voegelin, p. 358)

He was clearly on the side of Athenian enterprise and innovating activity, but he was appalled by the moral disintegration and physical destruction which, apparently of necessity, balanced the ephemeral splendor of Periclean Athens.  (Voegelin, p. 359)

Conflict between necessity and justice, a topic very pertinent to American foreign policy in the 21st century, Voegelin writes that for Thucydides “It is immoral to let oneself become weak through changing circumstances if remedial action could maintain or restore strength.” (Voegelin, p. 360)

This is the perennial problem of a progressive power in dealing with its slower neighbors.

Should it be considered a principle of justice in social relations in general, and in political relations in particular, that a man or society, willing to put their energies to good use, should restrain themselves and courteously keep step with the marginal stragglers and laggards?  (Voegelin, p. 361)

Voegelin adds that Thucydides sides with the former view. 

Rationality and ethics.   For Voegelin Thucydides is of an unclear mind with respect to these.

He would not see that the sphere of power and pragmatic rationalism is not autonomous but part of human existence which as a whole includes the rationality of spiritual and moral order.  If the controlling order of the spirit and morality breaks down, the formation of ends in the pragmatic order will be controlled by the irrationality of passions; the co-ordination of means and ends may continue to be rational but actions will nevertheless will become irrational because the ends no longer make sense in terms of spiritual and moral order.

When the corrosion or reason has reached a certain depth … effective leadership in terms of reason becomes difficult and perhaps impossible … in a further degree of corrosion a man of such qualities [moral leader] will, precisely because he possesses them, find it impossible to reach the position of leadership; and in a final degree the society by its corruption may prevent the formation of a man of such qualities even if by nature he should not be lacking in gifts.  This connection between corruption of society and the impossibility of rational leadership Thucydides was unwilling to admit.  (Voegelin, p. 363)

Voegelin “The development of theory as a subtle heightening of the typical in reality may be called the essence of classical culture.”  (Voegelin, p. 368)

The bottom line of all this is that war is chaotic in nature.  As physicist Steven Weinberg [Nobel Laureate], notes, “A chaotic system is one in which nearly identical initial conditions can lead after a while to entirely different outcomes.”  (Weinberg, p. 36) Essentially every simple system contains chaos which makes predictability of its outcomes almost impossible.

As the recent past has shown, it is easy to get into a war—but the predictability of its outcomes is almost impossible.  Add the corrosion of weariness, waste of resources, etc., then effective leadership may be impossible—and we are still stuck in the war and its unpredictable outcomes.

Works Cited

Murray, W. (Autumn 2013). Thucydides: Theorist of War. Naval War College Review, 66(4), 31-46.

Voegelin, E. (1957). Order and History: The World of the Polis (Vol. II). Louisiana State University.

Weinberg, S. (1994). Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist’s Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature. . New York: Vintage Books.