Summary: Today’s post by Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) applies the analytical tools of strategy and tactics to American politics. At the end is a primer on grand strategy.
Juan Cole (Prof History, U MI), one of our most perspicuous observers on the Middle East, ran a blog post the other day that illustrates why conservatives have such a strong hold on certain segments of our society. The item featured a map showing average life expectancy by state, and Cole’s summary was:
With the exception of Utah, there is a pretty strong overlap between lower life expectancy and deep hostility to the Affordable Care Act. Those who need it most are most opposed to it.
Fair enough. But why? Although one can sympathize with Cole’s frustration, his conclusion illustrates why liberals are struggling so hard:
Know what that is called? Fatal stupidity.
So long as liberals have that attitude, they will feed the very movement they so righteously denounce. It wasn’t that long ago, for example, that Rick Santorum was making a credible run at the GOP nomination by shouting at his audiences:
They think we’re stupid!
Boyd suggested four elements of an effective grand strategy. You can look them up at Patterns of Conflict slide 139 (PDF here). The second is:
Summary: FM writer Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) describes what our military refuses to see, that 4GW has become the dominate form of warfare in our age. That others are mastering it, while we spend vast sums preparing for wars that will not occur again during our lives. And, like all war, 4GW is Hell. See the links at the end for more information.
I don’t understand it; our 4GW foes don’t need to. From Prof Sam Liles @ Selil.
We therefore repeat our proposition, that War is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds; as one side dictates the law to the other, there arises a sort of reciprocal action, which logically must lead to an extreme. This is the first reciprocal action, and the first extreme with which we meet (first reciprocal action).
— A warning by Clausewitz. From On War, Book I – On the Nature of War, Chapter I – What is War? #3 Utmost Use of Force.
Clausewitz’s observation was made in the context of state-vs-state warfare, where, as he notes, the aim is to “disarm the enemy.” In the form of warfare common today (called fourth generation or non-trinitarian warfare) that conclusion may not be so straightforward. For example, in the original paper on the subject, which introduced the term “fourth generation warfare,” Bill Lind and his colleagues noted that:
First generation warfare focused tactically and operationally (when operational art was practiced) on the enemy’s front, his combat forces. Second generation warfare remained frontal tactically, but at least in Prussian practice it focused operationally on the enemy’s rear through the emphasis on encirclement. The third generation shifted the tactical as well as the operational focus to the enemy’s rear.
Fourth generation warfare, like terrorism, might well move the operational focus back even further:
A couple of years ago, I suggested that
Involvement of allies reduces the requirement for U.S. military forces, and a show of international solidarity could alleviate the need for armed intervention. You might also raise the issue of why we’re always the ones trundling our military forces around the world searching for a place to replay the Battle of the Bulge. Couldn’t we and our allies learn some lessons from the Vietnamese, Afghans and Iraqis that we could use in those conflicts that do pop up? (Pentagon Labyrinth, p. 70)
And apparently we did. As summarized by Ivo Daalder and Admiral James Stavridis (US permanent rep to NATO and SACEUR, respectively):
… an historic victory for the people of Libya who, with NATO’s help, transformed their country from an international pariah into a nation with the potential to become a productive partner with the West. (“NATO’s Success In Libya,” Intl. Herald Trib, 31 Oct 2011)
We achieved our objectives, avoided an occupation, suffered no US casualties, lost no aircraft, tanks, or HUMVEEs, and spent a trivial amount of money. So why don’t I feel like gloating? Continue reading
Rao responds on the blog he created to discuss ideas from the book. You may also be interested in following him at his personal blog.
Tempo: Timing, Tactics and Strategy in Narrative-Driven Decision-Making
by Venkatesh Rao (Ribbonfarm, 2011; 154 pages). Reviewed by Chet Richards
A good book is read more than once while accumulating copious notes in its margins and on the blank pages that the publisher has thoughtfully provided before and after the text. Venkatesh Rao has written a good book. Continue reading
Summary: They are building a statue of RoboCop in Detroit, pointing their youth down a well-worn path leading to a dead end. Links to other posts in this series appear at the end.
Detroit is building a statue to commemorate Robocop. This is a bad idea.
From “Detroit Needs Robocop, now more than ever. Why a proposed statue of the tragic hero is a good idea for the Motor City“, Patrick Cassels, Slate, 8 March 2011:
Summary: Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century. Less dangerous but more difficult to exterminate than insurgents. Not romantic, but profitable. Like warfare, crime will always be with us — but its form evolves along with society.
We now have two chronic examples of fourth generation infections:
- The Somali pirates
- Narcotrafficking cartels and their street-gang kin
Both of these represent non-state entities, or collections of entities. Both have successfully resisted all attempts to eradicate them and have evolved to deal with the tactics used by their opponents. And neither show any great desire to overthrow the governments of the areas in which they operate and take over the respective political institutions (such as they may be, in the case of Somalia).
To me, they are more analogous to infections than to stand-up slug-it-out opponents in the military sense. More van Creveld than von Clausewitz. A few tentative conclusions: