POLS 400G Strategy and Policy Prof. Todd Greentree 12/13/07
- Are there any fundamental strategic lessons the United States should observe in order to ensure lasting strategic superiority?
Executive Admonitions: If it ain’t broke…: Three Thoughts on National Grand Strategy
First let us begin with the recommendations. In order for the United States of America to ensure a lasting strategic superiority, our Executive Branch should observe three fundamental strategic concepts when determining and implementing policy. First, policy should drive strategy; not the other way around. Second, the Executive Branch should not interfere with the content or integrity of military and intelligence analyses to bolster support for any policy. Last but not least is the mandate to the Executive to not commit the public to a war with unclear or unstated goals. By adhering to these basic principles of classic strategic thinking, an Executive may reduce the chances of self-defeating behavior and more successfully guide our nation towards peace and prosperity.
What is IT?: Analog Semantics: IT is a Fan-belt?
Crucial to the successful resolution of any conflict is the dependability of the national machine that is navigating international uncertainty with prestige and engaging the enemy where and when necessary. The machine of course is the basic structure and complex, but straight-forward character of Gen. Carl von Clausewitz’s Iron Triangle (IT) of military affairs or IT. Due to the rigid connotations of the 19th Century Prussian general and military philosopher’s seemingly unbreakable geometry, an adaptation, allowing for a more modern analog incorporating the flexibility and resilience necessary to succeed, is warranted. I think that a Fan-belt will do. Therefore, IT is a woven steel fiber reinforced rubber triangle wrapped around three drive shafts.
In the same way that the modern fan-belt is needed to drive several important parts of an engine so is the nature of a nation at war. The triangular fan-belt connects the head of government or the Executive to the military and intelligence communities and third, the public and Congress. If you don’t have the proper amount of tension between the drive shafts, there is either a loss of power due to slippage in the absence of sufficient friction. Or, there could be too much friction caused by tension applied by external forces risking a wearing down and eventual breakage of the belt altogether. Protection of the IT Fan-belt is necessary to prevent it from excess slippage or breakage due to changes in stress and pressure whether internally or externally applied. In war, whoever’s Iron Triangle Fan-belt breaks first, looses.
The Nature of Warfare: How America lost its way.
Throughout history one principle remains clear and inviolable in matters of war. This principle is that policy must determine strategy and that the value of the political object determines the level of commitment. Clausewitz is clear in his assertion that policy driven strategy is necessary to avoid the pitfalls of miscalculation. “First, therefore, it is clear that war should never be thought of as something autonomous but always as an instrument of policy; otherwise the entire history of war would contradict us. Only this approach will enable us to penetrate the problem intelligently.” (Clausewitz. p. 88)
Do the Math: A2+ B2 = C2: Cost Benefit Analyses
According to Clausewitz there is a rational calculus to war which measures the cost and the benefit of taking a particular action or course of action in pursuit of a political object. This calculus is dependent on policy makers and statesmen determining the best policy for a nation regarding the economy, international diplomacy and prestige, focused on reasonable grand strategy and national best interests. Upon completion of this initial phase of determination the civilian government submits their policy recommendations to the military and intelligence communities to assess the feasibility of successfully conducting said policies. The military leadership and intelligence community vet the policy for any possible military conflicts or a potential conflict of national interests.
The military and intelligence communities bring their analyses back to the policy makers with their recommendations. At this point the discussion hinges on the necessary commitment of both groups to do their respective jobs to the best of their ability. In this manner a policy may be developed that is both in the national interests and militarily advisable. If this discourse fails in any way to produce an internally consistent and coherent policy with clear political objectives and a complimentary military course of action, a nation runs the risk of self-defeating behavior.
Strategically Speaking: Tomāto, Tomâto: The Best Defense…
This potentially self– defeating behavior is understood as a mismatch between policy and strategy. The US policy of Containment during the Cold War was just such an example.
Containment was a defensive strategy; primarily consisting of reactionary posturing and effective public relations that subsequently produced the policy of Containment. Clausewitz contends that this is the fundamental principle that should be observed; under no circumstances should strategy produce a policy, for strategy outside of political definitions is self-perpetuating. The whole point of the Cold War was to not fight and Containment provided a periphery for proxy wars between the super powers without an all out war. As a result of a stated policy of Containment the United States was automatically obliged to counter any Soviet moves with American forces anywhere in the world or risk suffering a loss of prestige.
Containment did allow the US and her Allies to counter force with force and let the opponent set the level of intensity. This facilitated the perception that the Soviets were the aggressors and that the Americans and Allies were just looking out for the “little guy” (Defense without Purpose, Summers). Being a reactionary posture, Containment means that the opponent constantly and consistently chooses the battle to be fought, including the time and place. Sun Tzu tells us, “those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform; they entice him with something he is certain to take, and with lures of ostensible profit they await him in strength.” (Sun Tzu. p. 93)
This was certainly the case with Vietnam towards the end of the war. The American politicians correctly feared that invading or even bombing North Vietnam’s cities and infrastructure could entice the Chinese or the Soviets to become more heavily involved. (We found out after the war that the Chinese had mobilized 300,000 troops in North Vietnam awaiting a US led invasion which would have certainly ended in disaster.) As a result the US military became severely restricted in its ability to strike back at the enemy to effect (Defense without Purpose, Summers). Because of this strategically driven political choice, American forces were denied the opportunity to fight for well defined objectives and achieve victory. But they were still called upon to suffer the friction of war.
Was IT Worth the Rub?: The Forces of Friction: Is the “War” under Warranty?
Friction is inherent in all matters of war but none felt as great as that experienced by combat troops. Friction is the material, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual cost of conflict; from broken machines to broken wills (Clausewitz. p. 119 – 121). The offset to friction is the pursuit of the political object through military means in hopes of achieving victory. The sum of friction and conviction can be expressed as morale. Sun Tzu discusses morale on page 64 in terms of moral influence which he defines as, “that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of moral peril.” Furthermore, Chang Yu reminds us that the Book of Changes states that, “In happiness at overcoming difficulties, people forget the danger of death.” Due to the severe limitations placed on the American military in striking back at the enemy, the opportunity to enjoy overcoming difficulties never occurred, exacting a heavy toll on American morale at home and in the field.
Furthermore, the strategic defense and subsequent policies that comprised Containment resulted in tactical defensives without counterattacks that were appropriate to the value of the stated political objective. To this day there remains no discernable and agreed upon positive political objective with reasonable metrics at the heart of the Vietnam Conflict. Clausewitz points out that a purely defensive stance doesn’t promote victory. It just prevents defeat. Therefore, defense should be used to alter the balance of forces into our favor then transition to the attack. “While he is enjoying this advantage, he must strike back, or he will court destruction.” (Clausewitz. p. 370) In essence, one should never enter into war for negative (defensive) purposes without resolving to determine the appropriate positive (offensive) goals for which to strive, if and when the opportunity should arise. British Brigadier Shelford Bidwell wrote after the Vietnam War; “If this [offensive strategy] was not politically realistic, then the war should not have been fought at all.”
Foreign Policy: A President’s Prerogative: i President
The nature of IT, the Iron Triangle Fan-belt, is such that each member is intended to act independently but in concert with it’s constituents to compliment each other in pursuit of a common goal. The government, as represented here by the Executive Branch, determines policy. The military and intelligence communities confer and assess the situation and the policy in question. Once the analyses have been made, they are presented to the Executive Branch for review and implementation.
It is at this point, if advisable, that the Executive prepares the people for war; to take up the slack by applying additional tension through expansion. This expansion is the Presidential Initiative in foreign policy. According to Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, it is the job of the Executive to rally the public and Congress behind the policy and dedicate their energies to pursuing the political objective. It is the military’s job to deploy and engage while the intelligence communities support both the military and Executive with additional assessments.
Together these three sides of the Iron Triangle Fan-Belt share in the friction of war and support each other. Any additional tension from one side of the triangle is exerted on and felt by the other sides of the triangle in accordance to their level of commitment or extension. If all of the segments of our nation: executive, military/intelligence, and the public/Congress are fully extended in opposing directions this can disrupt the static equilibrium that is equally displacing the external pressures of conflict facilitating a breakage, imperiling the nation.
A Test of Wills: Politics and Duty: Popularity and Fidelity
For example, if the people do not agree with the conflict or the executive’s handling of it unrest may result. This dissatisfaction could lead to protests, riots and in the worst case scenario, a coup; thus a complete failure of the Iron Triangle Fan-belt. Or, the Executive may think a policy prudent that the military and intelligence communities do not or that the known intelligence suggests is unnecessary. In this case, many Executives heed the advice of their council. Some do not, usually to their detriment and that of the nation. For if an Executive asserts their policy opinions to be the wiser they can bring enormous weight to bear on individuals within the military and intelligence communities to amend their opinions to more amiable ends and the implementation of policy. This additional internal applied pressure can stretch the Fan-belt thin as one side bends to the others will, weakening the Fan-belt’s ability to resist outside forces commensurate with accompanying screeches. It can be the equivalent of working against yourself and empowering your enemy.
Clausewitz preferred to remove himself rather than follow policy that he knew went against national interests. In 1812 Clausewitz along with many Prussian officers joined the Russo-German Legion and fought Napoleon from 1812 – 1813 and helped negotiate the Convention of Tauroggen (1812), which prepared the way for the coalition of Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain that ultimately defeated Napoleon. Clausewitz felt his duty dictated his choice to fight for what he knew to be right. It is this same fidelity to duty that is required of all service members, whether military or intelligence, in order to maintain a strong Iron Triangle and ensure that power has traction. Another reason why it is important to ensure that military and intelligence assessments are devoid of political spin can be ascertained from page 122 of Harry S. Dent’s book, Cover Up: The Watergate in All of Us, published in 1986 by Here’s Life Publishers Inc.
“…In a secret letter to General Paul Gaynor in January, 1973, McCord explained his concerns in apocalyptic terms:
‘When the hundreds of dedicated fine men and women of CIA no longer write intelligence summaries and reports with integrity, without fear of political recrimination-when their fine director [Richard Helms] is being summarily discharged in order to make way for a politician who will write or rewrite intelligence the way the politicians want them [sic] written, instead of the way truth and best judgment dictates, our nation is in the deepest of trouble and freedom itself was never so imperiled.’
The mysterious wiretap expert sent a written threat to the White House in another January 1973 letter. It was addressed to a covert Dean investigator, Jack Caulfield.
‘If Helms goes and the Watergate operation is laid at the CIA’s feet, where it does not belong, every tree in the forest will fall. It will be a scorched desert….’”
Harry S. Dent served as White House Special Counsel from 1968-1972. This was during the Nixon administration’s Watergate Scandal; a time of great unrest for an America embroiled in the Vietnam War. Whether the reason is to preserve the nation or just to ensure the integrity of its members, it has proven counter to national interests to politicize military intelligence by pressuring service members to dereliction of duty while committing the public to a war of unclear or unstated goals.
National Identity: A President’s Charge: A People’s Honor
According to Clausewitz, the final piece of the Iron Triangle is the people of a nation, the public. It is the public that the Executive needs to court in order to successfully implement a foreign policy involving military engagements, especially if the war becomes protracted (Sun Tzu. p. 64). It is the public who supplies the fresh recruits to the military’s ranks. It is the public who pays the fiscal price of war. It is the public who honors their dead. Yet it is the public who has least to say in determining policy objectives. The public depends on the integrity and wisdom of its leadership to inform them and guide them through difficult times. It is this essential trust, like children with a father figure, which an Executive must closely guard and never betray.
The Executive, in charge of determining foreign policy, is the de facto steward of our National Character and Cultural Identity (Ch 13. New American Democracy, 5th ed. Fiorina, et al. 2006.New York: Pearson Longman.). Each policy they enact will serve to shape and reshape the way the world perceives us as a nation and how we see ourselves as a people. It is because of this inextricable tie that binds National Character and Cultural Identity to acts of policy and strategy that an Executive should ensure that policy is clearly stated and strategically advisable. For many Americans the intersection of the Vietnam War and Watergate was the end of innocence in American politics. The Presidency was tarnished, the military haggard and the people divided. The national prestige of America, what it meant to be an American, was so severely damaged by those events that throughout his Presidency (1980- 1988) Ronald Reagan focused on restoring prestige and pride to the Oval Office and to the people of the United States (Ch 13. New American Democracy, 5th ed. Fiorina, et al. 2006.New York: Pearson Longman.).
Preemption as Containment: In Conclusion: Again…
Another example of unclear or unstated goals in war causing great internal and external friction was the Bush administrations assertion that Iraq was associated with 9/11 and possessed WMDs with intent. Four years after the invasion into Iraq, the American people are tired of war and even more upset at what many perceive as a betrayal of trust by their President and his staff. The justification for war in Iraq became the liberation of the Iraqi people from Sadaam Hussein when the intelligence assessments indicating the presence of WMDs proved faulty. This lack of fidelity to stated goals and the lack of a smoking gun on WMDs have cost the US prestige and credibility on the world stage. The known abuses of detainees and further suspicions on torture have removed the mandate on human rights from the US and placed it dangerously up for grabs. The ongoing conflict serves as a reminder to adhere to the fundamentals of strategy and policy with a mind towards moral influence.
Turn On: Tune In: Tune Up
As we have seen from the Vietnam War and the War in Iraq, the lack of clearly stated, positive goals and fidelity to duty can spell disaster. The politicization of intelligence in conjunction with unclear or unstated goals can leave the public feeling lied to or manipulated, which can exponentially increase the friction of war felt by a nation in the absence of a strong and broad coalition. These demoralizing effects can defeat a nation faster than any external enemy could hope for on the battlefield. In light of these actualities, just as maintaining the appropriate tension on your fan-belt is necessary for ensured longevity and proper function of a motor, it seems it is always in the best interests of a nation for an Executive to pursue sound policy supported by proven strategy with the blessing of an informed public.