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.