War, Strategy, and Strength
"War is the continuation of politics by other means."
--Carl von Clausewitz
War is violent. War is disgusting. War brings death, destruction, and finality to human beings. War is an act of force to compel an enemy to one's will and the main means to do that is physical violence. War is the violent imposition of your will on the other side, either to destroy the enemies ability to resist, destroy his forces, or to force a collaborative but one-sided peace accord at terms favorable to the winner.
This is the cold, hard, ugly truth about war. No manner of words can pretty it up. No language can describe the true nature of war as anything but the horror that it is. War is the result of diplomatic failure, of bad timing, of bad preparations, and of bad awareness. War is the first choice of impetuous fools and the last resort of those shouldering wisdom of combat. But make no mistake about it: once you go to war, you absolutely must use maximum effort to end combat as quickly as possible, to disarm and overcome opponents. Half-assery has no place on the battlefield. War births extremes, with each side needing to go more extreme than the other until one succumbs.
Two things make men want to fight each other: hostile feelings and hostile intent. Hostile feelings exist in humans of all types, born out of fear and jealousy. It may be fear of death, of starvation, of losing a loved one to conditions induced by poverty, but it is fear which spurs those feelings just as jealousy brings men to take from others, to conspire against those who have something they do not. Fear and jealousy are what push men from hostile feelings towards hostile intent which then can manifest as hostile action. Even the rational minds, calm and lucid in everyday life, can find themselves creating hostility and hatred, regardless of the nobility of their intentions.
War does not spontaneously break out. It is not something which should be unexpected. Situational awareness, proper intelligence gathering, and constant checkups on the world serve to gauge the temperament of people and civilizations. From this vantage point, individual actions can be understood in context of the whole. Every action a nation and/or their military takes must be considered within the context of the whole. Once the preparations for war begins, reality rears its ominous head; the need to use maximum effort quickly finds itself at odds with the reality of one's fighting forces (military), one's country (geography and populace's thoughts on the matter), and one's allies.
Allies in the realm of war will not necessarily act simply at the behest of the ones engaged in combat. No, such cooperation tends to come later when the balance in the war has been skewed against the warring friend. Even then, should the ally country feel the war unjust or unnecessary, aid may continue being withheld. Such is the nature of global combat with hundreds of countries possessing their own problems, their own outlooks, and own perceptions of the world stage.
When one goes to war, the three objectives are destruction of the enemy's fighting force, the enemy's country must be occupied, and the enemy's will must be broken. Destruction of the enemy's forces means that they are in a condition which renders them unable to continue fighting. Occupying the enemy's country means prevent the raising of fresh forces, additional troops with which to train and/or attack with. Thus the need to break the enemy's will, force them or their populace to ask for peace. Peace treaties aid in this endeavor tremendously, for the majority of the world really wants peace and will do all it can to ensure peace remains between combatants. The longer a war goes on, the greater the desire for peace will be on either side. War weighs on the body, mind, and spirit, beckoning a return to balance.
War length correlates to war "cost" as well. How can one make war more costly to an enemy? How can one increase the expenditure of the enemy's forces and conquest of the enemy's territory? The first is invasion, sending troops to seize enemy territory not with the goal of retaining it, but rather with the goal of destroying it or making it financial viable towards one's own war efforts. General destruction and the causing of damage bring about suffering and require the expenditure of enemy forces. Second, give priority to military operations that increase this overall suffering, extracting mental and spiritual anguish upon the enemy forces or the enemy's country, reducing the desire for combat and increasing the political desire for peace. This naturally leads to the third method- wearing down the enemy by using the duration of the conflict to create general exhaustion of any resistance which may exist in enemy forces.
A fourth method exists as well: playing to the personalities of the politicians and soldiers. Do not underestimate this method. Do not exclude words from the realm of war. These words need not be vulgar, need not contain anger and resentment. They can be words of truth, words offering an olive branch, words to convince those making policy and those seeking to turn policy into action into non-threats. Addressing the people making decisions, men and women with their pulse on the populace, one can prevent unnecessary expenditures. Giving maximum effort doesn't preclude maximum effect in the verbal aspect of war. Few statesmen seek engagement in war when the sentiment of their people does not line up with their own desires for violence.
But do not forget that there is only one means in war: combat. Words can affect the overall environment, but war deals directly in combat. All action taken in war should be done in the belief that should physical confrontation occur, the outcome would be favorable. Because of this, any successful battle of the enemy's can impede one's plans. This seems obvious and simple, but betrays a deeper level. Engagement in war resembles the crashing of waves, an ebb and flow that reacts to all changes. No matter how turbulent the water gets, it will always return to a natural, level state moved only by the natural winds of change.
Now, there are two distinct aspects to this "wave of war": offense and defense. Again, this seems obvious, but they are very different and unequal in strength. Even with advances in modern military equipment, this principle remains true. Only when the offensive force is vastly superior to the defensive- ie, if military men with automatic weapons attacked a town which fortified itself using wooden shields and baseball bats- will the offensive aspect trump defensive. Defensive allows for terrain advantage, surprise attacks even when surrounded, ease of access to a local base of operations, support of the local population, and harnessing the moral force of "preservation" to gain strength that may not be found otherwise. Life is an unalienable Right, something which everyone wishes to keep. Being defensive gives one the spiritual fortitude required to safeguard one's life and the lives of loved ones.
Offense, on the contrary, occurs outside of one's base of operations. It depends heavily on taking the initiative, preventing the enemy from forming defensive positions. The timing of the offensive is super critical to success. With modern military operations, moving a sizable force internationally cannot go unnoticed. Stealth technology exists, but not for tens or hundreds of thousands of troops together with all the equipment necessary to form a remote base of operations. And, unlike defense, offensives tend to take non-combatants into account. Enemy forces hiding in populated towns, villages, or cities restrict offensive capabilities lest more innocents than necessary are killed. Such death only leads those sympathetic to the enemy's cause to contribute, adding further burden to offense.
Without taking those considerations into account, offense becomes superior in modern military times. The quickness with which death and destruction can be brought upon a region is terrible in nature. Nuclear weapons have the potential to utterly decimate an entire area, but they are not tools used in precision strikes. Collateral damage and maximum impact are what nuclear weapons bring to the table. They haven't been used since World War II for this very reason. The psychological and geographic damage caused by such weapons require a very specific type of mindset to use properly. A mindset grounded in intelligence and virtuous temperament.
This kind of "genius" consists in a harmonious combination of elements. Every soldier needs some degree of this. You will never find any "savage" or any "primitive" tribal leader in history that has been considered a great leader without having such an intelligence. It's a testament to the education of a populace, of the leader's ability to think logically, critically, taking a myriad of perspectives into account. The best soldiers, the best leaders are born from society that puts education first. "Strength" is the first step towards betterment in combat, but technique will overcome strength, and then principle will overcome technique. Principle is only understood when the intelligence allows for awareness of that reality.
Intellect also gives rise to courage. A leader in war must be courageous and that courage must be born from the proper place. A true leader is courageous both in the face of personal danger and courageous in their ability to accept responsibility. Ideally, this courage will be based in the individual's constitution, based in their upbringing and second nature to them. However, ambition, patriotism, and any kind of passion for the task at hand can also give rise to courage. In the true leaders, the first kind of courage- that which is second nature- is to be more appreciated. It allows the mind to remain calm whereas the second type can lead to blindness. Attachment to a certain position, a certain way, or a certain policy- no matter how great or patriotic- can lead to downfall. Courage born from the fleeting emotions is not a quality of a true leader in war.
This true leader in war understands that war exists in the realm of uncertainty. They are intellectually aware of how much is unknown, how the winds of change can destroy plans and contingencies in a moment. With proper intellect, glimmers of light, of hope, and of sanity will exist in humanities darkest hours; with proper intellect, that light of truth can be followed, shining upon the battlefield, illuminating that which hides in darkness, hides within the fog of war. This intellect must work together with natural courage to eliminate hesitation, to remove doubt, to create determination and progress forward. But be careful- simply acting quickly and decisively is not the goal here. Rather, the goal is to act quickly, decisively, and knowingly through the lens of reflection, through constant presence of mind. Only then will the best actions, resourceful actions take place. This self-control urges the good leaders to act rationally at all times. They are the best of us, unwavering even under attack from our most powerful emotions.
Such individuals can summon forth titanic strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They are not swept away by fleeting emotion. Emotion and the power of emotion can build incredible character, but as said, the key is to find balance, to be enabled in one's use of judgment, to maintain awareness of principles in order to "keep the ship steady," so to speak. Stability and consistency, both born from keen intellect and natural courage. This is what our leaders should be made of.
War is the continuation of policy by other means, according to Clausewitz. But a very important distinction needs to be made regarding national interests: policy is not strategy. The two are incredibly different. In fact, policy, strategy, and tactics all differ. The three are interrelated yet contain distinct characteristics.
America's failures in foreign policy stem from post-Cold War mindsets. Conflict between the US and Russia led to application of strategy; the current "War on Terror" is more a matter of policy than it is strategy. Strategy deals with absolutes, within a finite realm of conflict. It has boundaries and concrete goals achievable through implementation of tactics. The "War on Terror" policy that America has taken up is not a real war. As such, its very nature forces our leaders to participate in a "war" that spans the entire globe, has no timeframe, and no strategy. President Bush and President Obama have both failed in this regard. They went into Iraq and have engaged the Mid East with policy in mind. Prime Minister Tony Blair in the UK was guilty of this as well.
Policy relates to desires, goals for a nation. Policy is "pie in the sky" ideology used to garner support for an endeavor. Strategy deals with reality. The policies towards Iraq and Afghanistan did not take into account the regional realities nor the military capabilities of America's military. Strategy in relation to war in the Mid East has been subservient to policy. This is the ass-backwards way of conducting war. War, as described above, needs a clearly defined enemy, clearly defined space, and clearly defined timeframe. History has shown as such, and failures to adhere to the historical lessons has led America into a war of ideology.1 It exists outside the defined parameters of war.
Terrorism is a method of war. It is a strategy. For terrorists, the policy is "destroy America" and "terrorism" is the strategy to do so. Terrorism is given a set goal, set parameters, and a clear "ending" that involves the destruction of a finite enemy- the United States. Conversely, America's attempt to fight terrorism is nebulous, a war of philosophy and culture that exists in no set place. Terrorists can be born from any race, religion, or country due to the circumstances surrounding the individual(s) life. Just as every human being has the potential for murder, so does every human being have the potential for terrorism.
The "War on Terror" is not strategic. It is about eliminating a means of fighting. Even if the means of fighting were to be removed, countries and groups would still wage war. Maybe our Presidents felt that engaging in a "fair" war would be ok and that "fair" attacks on the US would be allowed because it would put us back within the realm of finality with a clear target and precise goals. The Cold War defined these (USSR), Vietnam defined these, the World Wars defined these, and every war prior has defined these. Our "War on Terror" has not.
Strategy is about action, about applying means to ends. Objectives are solidified and military force deployed as needed. But policy cannot guide strategy. Policy must be made, then strategy devised, and then policy revised to contort into the space time continuum reality has given. Strategy is that which exists at the crossroads of operational capabilities and political objectives, based in the recognition of the nature of war and the reality of combat.
War's dynamism leads to change in policy. At first we went into Iraq because of WMD's, then to establish democracy, then to push the fight against al-Qaeda, then to prevent civil war, then to prevent intervention from Iran/Syria. Now we face the threat of the Islamic State, of a war-torn Syria, of Iran not playing nice, of Russia picking sides we may not wish and more. America's strategy with the "War on Terror" cannot succeed without real, guided strategy.
President Bush cast aside and/or ignored realities given by the National Security Council, Joint Chiefs, and more.2 Military expertise must be given a forum in which to discuss policy via the truth of strategy. More so, military expertise needs to be listened to, considered, and then used to change policy in order to meet the demands of a nation. President Obama inherited the situation in the Mid East, but even his remarks concerning Syria's "red line" with chemical weapons showed ignorance in understanding the nature of war and how strategy shapes policy. Furthermore, President Obama faced the clash of policy vs strategy when the frustrations of General McChrystal became public in 2010, leading to the General's resignation.3 I'm sure this isn't the only instance of President Obama coming into conflict with his military commanders.
Understand that strategy is indifferent to emotion and morality. As such, when President Bush said that our efforts to help the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy in the Mid East was a vital element to our strategy, it was statement of morality and politics rather than a statement of real strategy. Our policy would be to build a lasting democracy in Iraq, one that would hopefully give hope to the rest of the region. Strategy would relate to the means in which to achieve this. If there was a better understanding of strategy, the war in Iraq might have been avoided in the first place. Emotions ran high in regards to Saddam Hussein in the wake of 9/11; true leaders need to not be swayed by these emotions and must bury themselves in understanding of strategy.
Remember, it is a combination of intellect with natural courage that brings about the best leaders. Intellect follows the rules of logic, of reason, and critical thinking, not the rules of love, hate, or ego. Courage allows for action on that which intellect decides upon. And all this leads to strategy.
Which brings us to strength. What is strength? What is its purpose? What is it used for? Strength of individual is very much analogous to strength of a nation. How we utilize the strength of America- the strongest nation on Earth- speaks volumes about us as a society.
Charles Darwin's concept of natural selection might suggest strength equals superiority due to its ability to defeat less "strong" opponents. It might be considered superior because of perception, like the guy who can bench 450lbs compared to the guy who can barely do 30 pushups. Weapons may be considered tools which "give strength" to their wielder, augmenting existing capabilities or adding new capabilities to those who may not have it. Through these ideas, the concept of "strength" becomes nothing more than that which can be used to conquer and defeat something else. When it comes to war, the strong are considered to be those with the manpower, the weapons, and/or the money. Thus in policy matters both foreign and domestic, there can exist an idea that the "weak" must bow to the strong or pay the price.
I do not agree with this idea of what strength is.
Strength is not about bending others to one's will. Even understanding the nature of war and combat, I maintain this to not be the purpose of strength. Even a bull can be pulled around by the ring in its nose. Strength is relative and must be recognized as such. Weapons can give an advantage, but they can also pose a weakness when they are relied upon. Over-attachment to a particular tool doesn't create strength; it creates weakness, a target which can be exploited. Bombs, guns, and knives all serve different purposes in war just like muscle strength and muscle flexibility serve different purposes in individual combat. As the saying goes, you don't bring a knife to a gun fight. You also don't engage in ground fighting against three attackers with knives.
So if having a gun, knife, or martial art skills aren't considered "strengths" and they don't make you "strong," what does strength mean?
Strength includes all those aspects, but is not limited by them. Strength is freedom, strength is flexibility, strength is the mental attitude born from intelligence and the natural courage mentioned earlier. Strength is not about the self, it is about something bigger. Being strong has nothing to do with quashing another living thing, with defeating a nation, or defeating an ideology. No, being strong is about protecting that which cannot protect itself. Country, family, self. That is the order of protection, that is the measure of strength. Could you sacrifice yourself for your family? Could you sacrifice your family for your country? These are horrible concepts to even consider, but consider them we must if we are to talk of strength.
If you are strong, you do not instill fear. You do not bring hatred. Dislike and malice will not originate from you. Wherever you go, everyone will be a little safer because you are there. Wherever you are, anyone in need will have a friend. Whenever you return home, everyone will be happy you are there. This is what it means to be a warrior.4 This is what strength really is. Strength is about something else- it always has been, always will be. Only the weak feel the need to be strong for the purpose of conquering. The strong are such in order to protect, to care, and to bear the burdens of themselves and others.
Strength requires perseverance, requires endurance and tolerance. To be strong is to understand that real freedom is about the potential for maximizing the unalienable Rights of humanity through the myriad of possibilities life offers. This is strength through courage, being brave in the face of that which we may not know, understand, or even approve of. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Being free- truly free- demands incredible bravery; that bravery gives us strength and makes us strong. Oppression, the desire to inflict harm vanishes under the light of liberty.
This is what strength is. This is the purpose of strength, the reason to be strong. It's critical to strategy and paramount to war. Please keep this in mind as you consider foreign policy possibilities.
- The idea that terrorism and non-state actors in war are somehow "new" shows how ignorant of war and strategy US policy had become. There will always be non-state actors. They've existed for centuries. When you cannot face an enemy head-on, you change tactics in order to have success. Guerrilla war and terrorism is a perfectly acceptable method to war, producing the desired- albeit absolutely horrible- effects upon enemies while remaining difficult to fetter out.[top]
- See 7 Retired Top US Military: Bush Screwed Up In Iraq and Powell-Rumsfeld Feud Is Now Hard to Ignore and Bush policy team at war with itself for hints of the conflicts between President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and thoughts from Joint Chiefs.[top]
- See General Details Pentagon Tensions With Obama on Afghanistan.[top]
- Credit to the late Dr. Robert Humphrey for formulating this creed. I quite like it.[top]